Parking, tourists and a wedding too

Savannah Morning News

April 2, 2017

A few years ago a Savannah transplant from San Francisco was telling me about what it was like to live in the west coast city we all dream about inhabiting.

“And you moved here?” I said, somewhat puzzled.

“Let’s just say in San Francisco if you’re driving and you find a parking space you take it,” she said. “And then you figure out how to get home – bus, taxi, whatever.”

That’s how I felt last weekend in Savannah when I ventured downtown to a few of the dozens of activities going on – once to an art show for the talented and lovely Christine Sajecki at Roots Up Gallery, another to a tour of Clermont Lee’s gardens, a third time to the wacky and wonderful Flannery O’Connor birthday party and parade in Lafayette Square, more parade than birthday party but cake nonetheless. Three wildly different women.

But it was the same drill each time: find a parking place. Then proceed to squeeze in and head for designated activity. Then remember where you parked – was it near the fire station? Or was that yesterday? Was it on Liberty or Oglethorpe? I credit 10 years of living in Chicago for learning how to parallel park as good or better than any of the girls who go to St. Vincent’s Academy, where they practically earn a minor in maneuvering their vehicle every morning between two stationery cars.

But that’s downtown. Heading a little further south, not much, have you tried to park near Brighter Day or the Sentient Bean lately? Very challenging. When I first heard the city was talking about putting meters in the spaces by the tennis courts and/or on the north side of Park Street, I thought, hmmpf. Ridiculous. How can they do that? We’ve never had meters there before. That’s not how we do things. Now I’m not so sure, especially when I hear about people who perch their vehicle by the courts for most of the day and walk to their workplace. At this point I’m thinking put in the meters for heaven’s sake. I’m willing to carry around a boatload of quarters. We had to learn to do that for Tybee (for the newbies: Tybee used to remove the top half of the parking meters during the winter, which made parking free); we can do the same thing in Savannah. At least then there’s a fighting chance for a spot.

What’s happening to our city? a friend asked rhetorically.

It’s popular. That’s what’s happening. Especially in March, with people heading to any number of dance/jazz/string band Savannah Music Festival concerts – and tours of historic homes and gardens – all while meandering into the streets, eyes glued to maps and cell phones, dazzled by the beauty, immune to real world issues.

That was me during the tour of Clermont Lee’s gardens. You’re supposed to be following a leader, keeping up, looking at the person in front of you, but you’re also listening to conversations from other people on the tour and trying to decide how to offer corrections without being rude, intrusive or offensive.

“Have you gone to the murder house yet?” Uh, we don’t call what happened at Jim Williams’ house, where Danny Hansford was killed, a murder; it was a shooting in self-defense. Or, “Who’s this Flannery O’Connor anyway? Was he a writer or something?” Um, earth to tourist: Flannery O’Connor was a she and yes, she was a writer.

You’re doing your best to keep up on the walking tour all the while admiring the King Charles or the poodle on the end of the leash of a local who looks familiar and not paying a whit of attention to the cars/buses/trolleys/bicyclists circling the squares, or the drivers inside the cars who are fighting road rage. They simply want to find a parking space.

The night before this madness you go looking for a restaurant without a 20-minute wait or a line out the door and you start to wonder about mission creep, just exactly what that means. That’s when you visualize the greedy goose that laid the golden egg and you ask, just exactly how much is too much?

Fortunately, there are other geographic beauties to Savannah, starting with Old Fort Jackson, a 19th-century brick fortification on the Savannah River. (Note: “Old” is always in the title). It sounds familiar but you can’t quite picture it, right? You know it, sort of. You’ve seen the sign on President Street on the way to Tybee and you think, “I need to go there someday.” But you never quite get around to making the trip. I put the question to as many people as I could last weekend  – “How many of you have ever been out here?” We were gathering for a wedding between two fine fellows in marching white jackets in a grand open green space with plenty of breeze (not so many gnats), container ships creeping by looking so close it feels as if you could reach out and touch them, and the piece de resistance, a booming shot from a cannon.  Only one or two answered yes, they had been there before.

Isn’t that strange?

And all that parking, too. A great location for a concert. Or a wedding.


From hurricane to plant swap

Savannah Morning News

March 26, 2017



Jean Carson likes a project. She may not know what it is but she knows it’s out there. For 15 years she’s been remodeling the house she and her husband Robert bought 19 years ago when they relocated to Pooler from central Pennsylvania. They loved their house.  So when Hurricane Matthew whooped them bad last September they did what persistent, stubborn people do. They moved their furniture into a pod, lived in one or two rooms that weren’t damaged, started pulling up the sodden floors and waited for their contractor to put it all back together again.

The property was perfect for them. They had woods on both sides and the city’s recreational park behind them. While they waited to rebuild they continued on with their lives. Robert is an orchid aficionado. He’s got close to 700 beauties in his two greenhouses. Jean, a gardener and a receptionist in the emergency room at St. Joseph’s Hospital, had an acre and a quarter of land to play with.

“See that pile over there?” she said pointing to a stack of plants. “I got them at the fall plant swap eight days before Matthew. They’re still in their pots. I never got around to planting them.”

Matthew was a whopper of a hurricane, but it was the second storm in January that did it. That’s what made the couple sit up and reevaluate their decision to stay and remodel. After the rains stopped Jean slipped on her wading boots and went outside to examine her plants and Robert’s orchids. That’s when she saw the extent of the damage.

“We knew it didn’t used to flood when we moved in,” she said. “But when the city of Pooler decided to cut down the trees and put in a parking lot that’s when it started. That’s when we could see the retaining ditch they dug wasn’t deep enough. The parking lot they wanted made sense. It opens up to the park. But the concrete slab they put in was higher than our property. We used to drain into them. Now the water has nowhere to go but into our yard and in a really big storm into our house.”

The second big storm arrived in January – two days before the contractor was due to start working on their house. That was it for Jean, who is nothing if not practical.

“No sense in throwing good money after bad,” she said.

The city did right by them. A deal was struck. It bought their cinder block house and property. Not long after, the couple found another home on two-and-a-half acres in Rincon. In a few weeks they’ll move to their new property, along with their submersible pump, a tank less water heater, some of the windows in the house, the collapsible greenhouses, the stack of wood from a bookshelf and the pile of plants she got from the fall plant swap, the plants she never had time to put in the ground.

All that means leaving behind tons of other plants, trees, bulbs and vines Jean planted, babied and watched grow. That’s when she thought about the spring plant swap next Saturday. A three-year veteran of the biannual swap she knows the deal, she knows the people, she knows the drill.

“I really didn’t want to have a giant give-away here so I thought you might want to come out and get them,” she said in an email. “I can’t stand the idea of the bulldozer coming in and destroying them.”

When they bought the house, which sits across from the Pooler wastewater treatment plant, it had two selling points, Jean said – a separate dining room and some big, impressive elephant ears along the back of the house. She’ll be taking a few of those elephant ears, but the rest are on the list of plants she’s anxious to share. She’s got white amaryllis with red pinstripes, sweet shrubs, quince, day lilies, blueberries, red passion vines, lime trees, elderberries, scarlet spider lilies, queens tears, milk weed, cockspur, coral trees, banana trees, daffodils, oregano, snow drops, ferns, mums, gladiola, canna lilies.

“I just want to find good homes for them,” she said.

It all sounds possible – and very generous – as long as my back holds out and the creek don’t rise (again).