Lost in Time: Savannah, Georgia; Tybee Island; Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub; You Can’t Go Home Again.

Leaving Rome, Georgia at 6:30am I found myself rushing. Not going too fast but thinking: “Ok, better not stop for breakfast – the traffic is going to be terrible the later I get to Atlanta.” I realized that once again I was leaving the present moment, projecting myself into the future, imagining what something might be like instead of BEING HERE NOW. That brought me back to the present and I began to relax and settle into just enjoying the ride. The sun was starting to rise in a blue/gray sky, the mist still blanketed the hills, I was on Big Red, my Harley and all was right with the road.

I-75 south through Atlanta, despite morning rush time, was easy, especially using the HOV lane.  I stopped for gas, Dunkin Doughnuts and coffee in Morrow, Georgia and memories flooded back. When I was a fresh, young philosophy graduate from the University of Georgia back in 1976 I managed to get my first real job and it was here in Morrow. I was hired as a child protection worker. I know, a philosophy major doing child protection work doesn’t make sense. I did the best that I could but I was still immature, under-trained, naïve to the realities of what parents could do to their children, and inexperienced in professional work. I saw some terrible things, worked some rough cases and did the best I could with 40+ families (the recommended load is 20). Still, I could have done much better. Driving around brought back memories of families I had worked with and children I had placed into care. I lasted a year and a half there before going to work at a psychiatric hospital.

I stopped in Macon, Georgia and visited with my oldest friend Joe. We met in our first year in high school and have stayed in touch over the years. He even visited me when I lived in Ireland.

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I-16 from Macon to Savannah is a long, let’s just say uneventful road. Pine trees, oaks, mimosa, and crepe myrtle, repeat for about 160 miles. The only exciting thing for me is to try and figure how far the Spanish moss has crept northwards since my last trip. The farthest north I’ve spotted it so far is exit 49 in Dublin and then its sporadic until closer to Savannah.

After three hours I entered the incredibly beautiful city of Savannah. Google it to see better photos than I could make (also because my camera, though packed at the time, was damaged in the dust storm I had been in over in Arizona a month earlier). I stayed at my favorite place, 1790, an old inn in the historic district. My great grandfather had built part of the house and lived there for a while. I highly recommend the place.

I did my usual things in Savannah – walking and sitting in the squares – they always mesmerize me with their huge canopies of live oak trees and swaying Spanish moss, and especially when the moss hangs on the crepe myrtle trees – the pink flowers, the grey moss, the green leaves, the peeling grey and brown bark.  I walked the cobblestone streets, shook my head at the beauty of the old colonial and gingerbread architecture and sat by the river. I ambled down the river walk to Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub. I had been coming there since the 1980’s. It has an ‘old world’ European feel about it and it has Harp beer on draught. It also has good Irish music 7 nights a week. When I lived in Ireland for 17 years it was hard to find it even one night a week.

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My grandparent’s house.

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The path by the Savannah River

An excellent musician, Carroll Brown, was playing at Kevin Barry’s. He took requests and surprised me by playing some of my favorite old tunes, like “The Mountains of Mourne” and “The Town I Loved So Well.”  Before I realized it, I was crying. Crying because of the Troubles Ireland had endured and because of my troubles there, my divorce, which caused me to leave the country that had been my second home. Twenty-two years was a long time to be married to someone.

Walking the streets of Savannah other memories came to me: of when as a teenager I had delivered calendars to the clients of my dad’s insurance business, C.F. Powers; of when I worked after high school as a lineman for Southern Bell Telephone Company and lastly, in the 1990’s, when I managed a child protection unit and did foster and adoptive home studies. A swirl of memories and emotions.

The next day I had breakfast at Clary’s and then rode my 2004 Harley Road King down to Tybee. The marsh road was just as I had remembered it. The cordgrass – green, gold and brown. The tide was out, and you could see the driftwood, mud and oysters. The oleanders were blooming, the sky was blue, and the breeze carried the scent of memory, freedom, and possibility.

Later, I ate shrimp and grits, and crab stew at the Pink House while listening to the piano player play the standards and joke with the crowd. I couldn’t face another evening at Kevin Barry’s, so I walked around the city. I remembered the last time I had brought my father to town. He was 94 years old but still wanted to make it to one last Savannah St Patrick’s Day celebration. We walked the streets one last time together and he was so happy. He died a few months later. Tonight, I just enjoyed the salty breeze and the fragrance of night blooming flowers and looked for more traces of ghosts I once knew.

Thomas Wolfe wrote “You cant go home again” and he was right. Home changes the moment we leave it. It’s never the same when we return and, thank God, neither are we. But in Savannah things change much more slowly and the city always leaves a piece of what was, behind, in the old colonial and gingerbread architecture, the cobblestone streets leading down to the river, the blooming azaleas and the scent of jasmine, all left as a path to follow into the doorway of memories.

 

Day 17: Wall, South Dakota to Sioux Falls; Badlands; Harley Has 98,000 Miles on Her; Free Heimlich Maneuvers; Native American Flute played at McDonalds; Nearly Out of Gas.

I headed south on Hwy 240 and got to the Badlands where a cute park ranger took my cash. I was about to ask her if there was a Mr. Park Ranger but I’m too old for that old rigmarole. Besides, look at me.
Here’s a photo of one area in the park.
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The park has “sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.” (Wikipedia). The beauty of the layered colors got to me – tan, orange, limestone colored, the immensity of the place, as well as the silence of the wind blowing across the prairie. I saw grazing buffalo, vigilant prairie dogs and wandering bighorn sheep.
Leaving the park I caught up with scenic highway 44, which was scenic and also bumpy, offering what was tantamount to free Heimlich maneuvers every ten yards. I drove back up to I 90 and found it much smoother. I rode it until I needed gas and after crossing the wide beautiful Missouri river I exited at the town of Chamberlain. While there, I went, of course, to McDonalds. While I was having a coffee, I heard a guy playing the flute and walked over to him. He stopped and handed me the flute. He told me he had made it, described its features and pointed to the inlaid crushed turquoise. “That’s what took me the most time. It’s a pentatonic scale in the key of F.” He told me that his grandfather taught him how to make them but that his children didn’t want to learn. I thanked him for letting me see it and that it was beautiful. I could tell he was proud of it. He should be. I drifted back to the table and listened more to the dulcet, warbling tones of his flute. The sound of the Native American flute is so soothing and ethereal.
I had only 136 miles to go to Sioux Falls and a full tank of gas. The speed limit was 80 and I cruised at that speed, forgetting how much gas Big Red drank at high speeds. At about 115 miles I realized I wasn’t going to make it. I cut my speed to 75 and started looking for gas. No Luck. My warning light came on. Then I went down to 70mph and then 65. Still no gas. Finally, after about five more miles I spotted a sign and coasted down the long exit. I managed to get her over to the nearest station without her conking out. I filled her up and then asked the clerk about the bar across the street – Big J’s Roadhouse. She said the food was very good. So Big Red and I moseyed on over and got some fries and a nice Bell’s lager. The waitress kept calling me “sweetheart”. I don’t mind that. In Georgia I get called ‘honey’, ‘darling’, and ‘sugar’. I like it. Last night, the male bartender kept calling me ‘Captain’ in what I assume was a response to my rugged and commanding bearing. Or maybe he was thinking of Captain Crunch?

Day 16: Thunder, Lightning, Rain, Gusty Winds; 98 miles; Deadwood to Wall, South Dakota.

I had a wonderful breakfast at the 1899 Inn and then rode down to Starbucks for some coffee and to write my blog. I kept looking for Nancy (see yesterday’s blog) but I didn’t spot her anywhere. As I sipped on my coffee and wrote, I noticed the sky was darkening. I checked the radar on my phone and it showed a big storm coming. I looked out the window again and the rain started pouring. Since I had nowhere to go and no time to be there I decided to wait it out. I keep realizing things while I’m on this trip. I was thinking about how I was tempted to say that it was “a bad day”, but where does that idea come from? It means I must have a mental construct of what a good day is and a bad one. Once again, where does that come from? Why do I label one day as good and another as bad? Aren’t all days equally beautiful if you don’t have any expectations? So much stress comes from expectations. We believe that things must be a certain way and get upset when they’re not. There’s certainly something beautiful in watching and feeling a thunderstorm, if we look and just accept things as they are. The temperature began dropping as well. The day before it was in the 90’s and today it had dropped to the low 60’s.
After 2 hours the rain cleared and I thought I’d head out. With it being colder I decided to put on my leather jacket. The only problem was that the jacket was strapped on the bike and the outside of the jacket was soaked. It was as heavy as an anchor. I put it on anyway and then put my rain jacket on top. I didn’t get far before the rain came back, puddling the road and accompanied by a wind that looked, and felt, like it was lost and in a hurry to get somewhere. This resulted in me being blown around on the interstate, and the wind trying to steal my helmet again. What’s so special about my helmet that it’s dead set on yanking it off?
I managed to ride about 98 miles and got off at Wall, South Dakota, home of the famous Wall Drug Store. I decided to find a place there. The lowest price was a Super 8. I hunkered down there, except for a brief spell at Wall Drug and the Badlands Grill and Saloon. In its own way, it was a beautiful day.