Savannah Morning News
July 30, 2017
Face it. We’re living in an age of dwindling perks, when bonuses are passe, when most people have never heard of “fringe benefits” (or the plus side of unions), when only folks from New Orleans or southern Louisiana know the value and have experienced the surprise of a lagniappe (an unexpected tip, i.e., a free 13th donut when you buy a dozen).
A free ride in the 21st century? Fuhgetaboutit. Pull your old bad self up by your bootstraps (if you have any boots).
But wait. While the government giveth and the government taketh (something like that), this time it’s a “giveth” and it’s forever as in forevermore. As in perpetuity. Right now the feds are offering a one-time-only pass to all 2,000 federal recreation areas in the US of A for $10. For life. But only until Aug. 27. Then it goes up to $80, the first increase since 1994.
Except here’s the deal. Heh heh heh. There’s always a deal, right? You have to be 62 and over. Depending on your starting age, your luck, your genes, your karma, your family history this could save you a wad of cash.
I can’t imagine who thought of this but I’m going with it. So are a lot of other people. The passes are selling like the proverbial hotcake. You can pay $10 more and mail in your request or, if you’re in or about Savannah, you can drive to Ft. Pulaski (you know, that beautiful open space you always pass in your haste to get to Tybee Island). That’s what I did. I came away with a laminated credit-card-size pass featuring a photo of a red cactus flower from the 1.8-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, established by President Clinton in 1996. But be warned. You need proper ID, of course. It’s not like at the movie theaters when it’s easy to slide past the ticket-takers who have two categories – young and old.
After that humongous $10 expenditure there’s no excuse: you have to start going to some of our parks. I started with Ft. Pulaski, the day I got my pass. The last time I was there it wasn’t even my idea. Some friends and I were entertaining Constanza Ceruti, a world-famous high-altitude archaeologist and anthropologist from Argentina. She was in town to lecture at the Jepson Center and Armstrong State University on her discovery of several incredibly preserved mummies (let’s just say the hair on their arms were still visible), two young boys and one young girl, buried 500 years earlier in a volcano site 22,000 feet high in the Andes Mountains during an elaborate Inca ceremony.
When asked where she wanted to visit during her stay in Savannah, this mountain climbing explorer chose Ft. Pulaski. It wouldn’t have been my first choice but it was her call. It’s a beautiful spot, no doubt. The undulating mounds of grass leading to the fort. The moat with the occasional lounging alligator. The wide open parade ground within the fort. The humongous fig tree, surely the largest I’ve ever seen. The remaining 100-year-old pecan tree (its pair downed by the winds of Hurricane Matthew). The millions of bricks in the walls – most of them original, dating back to 1847 when work on the fort was completed.
So there we are, weaving through the tunnels, considering the low-tech cannon as a major weapon of war, hearing about the explosives in the cavernous magazines (which, a guide told us, is Arabic for warehouse), seeing where the wall was breached – when all of a sudden we spot someone with blood dripping from his face seeping through dirty, raggedy bandages, hands gripping his slashed neck, followed by other deathly white characters with even worse lacerations. We start to rush forward to ask if they’re OK when – right before our eyes – we see Abraham Lincoln – yes! Old Abe! – in the parade ground. We were flabbergasted and confused. Then we saw the cameras, the techies, the lighting people. Then we learned they were making one of two movies that came out that year about Lincoln. This one, an 1860s period piece called “Abraham Lincoln vs. the Zombies,” was the B-rated version.
Ceruti, this risk-taking, adrenalin-seeking, accomplished scientist, was fascinated. She couldn’t leave without a photo of her with some of the film’s bloody characters, the zombies. “Take my picture,” she said. “So I can show my students and tell them this is what happens if you don’t pay attention.”
But that’s about it for me and national parks. Except for some early in-my-twenties cross-country visits to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and the Grand Tetons, and several visits to our own Cumberland Island, also a national treasure, I can’t say I’ve been to that many parks. That has got to change, starting with the highly touted Congaree National Park in Hopkins, S.C., a mere two-and-a-half-hour drive from Savannah.
The next big question is where to go to see the two-and-a-half minute Aug. 21 solar eclipse. Where would Constanza go?