Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Spring Break in South Georgia!

Five vital life lessons I learned while just fiddling about in Savannah and Tybee Island


Talk about a bittersweet moment - I recently went upon my LAST spring break vacation ever.

Now, before you start worrying whether or not I’ve developed some sort of Mandy Moore-esque terminal illness, rest assured that my health is still quite decent - although for the life of me, I can’t figure out why every time I get full, I start coughing up a storm.

No, the reason why I use the term “last” is because I’m supposed to be graduating from college, after spending the last eighteen years of my life in higher education. Uh, that number may or may not be just a little inflated, by the way. So, where did I elect to travel on this, my final opportunity to party down while still being able to apply for FAFSA money?

Why, Savannah, Georgia, of course!

Admittedly, I really didn’t know a lot about Savannah culture (outside of it being Big Boi’s old stomping ground, obviously) before my trip. Somehow, after returning, I think I have even LESS knowledge of the surrounding environment now.

OK, so the term “Savannah” may be just a little off here, since technically, I spent a majority of my break in Tybee Island, which is sort of hanging to the side of Savannah. It is to Savannah, essentially, what Long Island is to Manhattan (or more relatable in regards to my target audience, what Belial is to that one dude in the “Basket Case” movies).

There really isn’t too much pre-information you need to know about the area: it’s way down south, it borders the Atlantic ocean, and there are a shit load of turtles there. There’s some beachside real estate, and a lot of weepy looking oak trees - and I’ll be all sorts of damned if the place I was staying at didn’t look JUST like the cottage from “The Golden Girls.” 

Where I roomed with a Sicilian octogenarian, her hyper-masculine daughter, a saucy Southern belle in her 60s and a borderline retarded Minnesotan for a solid week.

You know, a lot of bloggers would just post a couple of pictures from their trip, write a few nondescript sentences, and call it good. Well, not me, amigos and amigas. Instead of giving you a visual summary of my trip, I’ve decided to give you a cerebral insight into my mind AS I experienced said vacation. Did you ever see that one movie, about being John Malkovich (I think it was called “American Beauty,” if I remember correctly)? Well, think of this posting as being Jimbo T. American…in essence, a journey into my very consciousness as I get all sun-soaked and toe-sandy.

So, what deep and profound things did I experience/learn while on my weekend adventure? Well, there are five primary things I figured out while in Savannah and Tybee…and I reckon these “stream of consciousness” observations might just be beneficial for you, pending you ever head south of Turner Field or not during your lifetime.

LESSON NUMBER ONE:
MARINE LIFE IS HORRIFYING AND WANTS YOU DEAD AND PEE-COVERED.

And unfortunately, I was all out of missiles when I ran afoul of it...

Seeing as how I live nestled snug between the urban desolation of one of the nation’s ten largest metropolitan areas and a bunch of mountain people, it’s not really my “thing” to explore or interact with marine life. Following my trip to South Georgia, I have come to the realization that a good two thirds of the planet is covered in water, not because it helps with currents and wind and all of that other nonsense you learn in science class, but because if we saw half of the shit that lived in the ocean on dry land, we’d probably all have heart attacks and die on the spot.

Laugh if you want, but it wasn’t until the ripe old age of 26 that I encountered a jellyfish up close, and rest assured, I now have an extra lifelong phobia to deal with. I’m not really sure what it is about those damn things, but it probably has something to do with the fact that they look just like those brain sucking alien monsters out of “Metroid.” Additionally, they kind of reminded me of portabella mushrooms, which will now be a whole hell of a lot harder to eat this summer, that’s for damn sure.

The thing that really got me about the things, however, was that your only natural defense against them is a full bladder, as a first aid reminder back at the cottage suggested that if one is ever stung by a jellyfish, the best way to immediately disinfect the poison is to have someone pee on you (which may or may not explain why R. Kelly never leaves his summer beach house, but I digress.) The science is that human pee is the closest thing we have in our system to vinegar, which neutralizes the effects of jellyfish poison - and additionally, I learned that male urine is a whole lot cleaner than female urine, proving once and for all that men are indeed superior to women biologically.

The thing is, jellyfish aren’t the only things you have to worry about at Tybee Island. There are also these huge assed cranes with gigantic, needle-shaped beaks that are about the size of a medium sized dog that just sort of stalk the sea, periodically doing these corkscrew dives into the ocean to impale whatever looks like it’s moving underneath. My aversion to hummingbirds is pretty well documented, so seeing these things in action was about as horrifying a sight to me as a picture of rusty scissors must be to John Wayne Bobbitt. 

Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A...RUN!

Hell, even the seashells you find scattered around the place can be pretty intimidating - as demonstrated by this abandoned shell, which looks more like an end boss out of a “Contra” game than something you could make a necklace out of.

LESSON NUMBER TWO:
FOOD IS THE ULTIMATE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND ALL THINGS IN AMERICAN CULTURE.

I’ve never really noticed it before, but on my trip, it suddenly dawned upon me just how important the “food” element is to American culture. Yeah, that sounds pretty stupid, with food being an absolute necessity for the species and everything, but let me explain.

What I mean is that practically EVERYTHING we can think of as a social construct ties back to food, somehow or someway. In other words, you really can’t partake of a social function or go into a business or an event without SOMEBODY wanting you to pay money for a foodstuff of some kind.

When was the last time you went into a store that DIDN’T sell food of some kind? You can go into a DVD store and get a Coke, you can pick up energy bars at a shoe shop, and there’s probably going to be some overpriced candy on display at a home decoration outlet. Go to a movie, or a concert, or a sporting event, and what do the in-house ads want you to do? That’s right, waddle your fat ass out of your seat and go buy some more popcorn and cherry soda. It sort of seems like we are only being entertained as a precursor to consumption - like what we do is nothing but a lead-in into being co-opted or coerced into eating stuff. 

Umm...jelly is kind of a food, isn't it?

For whatever reason, my generation in particular has equated caloric consumption with the experiential, turning simply eating into the entertainment source itself. The signifiers of the fast food industry have become these omnipresent indicators of consistency, kind of like save points in a video game or something. Hell, you really don’t even have to offer “good food” to attract patrons anymore, as I spent a good hour trying to wedge myself into a crowded pizza parlor just so I could try a specialty, all-white-cheese pie called a “Honky.” For the rest of my life, one of the few regrets of my college years will be not being able to land a booth at that eatery.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that modern fast food (or even restaurant-oriented businesses appealing to lower culture tastes) have these inexplicable “attractions” for kids alike me, who are sort of drawn in by the visuals and the atmospherics, with the false belief that by consuming their offerings, we’re actually “experiencing” an event of some sort. It’s a weird feeling, but every time I sit down in a Huddle House, I feel more “at home” than I am when I chow down at a regional restaurant, or especially a mom and pop. There’s probably a ton of stuff Baudrillard would have to say about this, which is an excellent segue into my next vacation-borne epiphany about the realities of all that is…

LESSON NUMBER THREE:
SOCIAL STRATIFICATION IS ONE PART INSTITUTIONAL AND ONE PART ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONING.

Really, you can only go so far in life when your walls are the same color as sharp cheddar...

While doing some demographical research on Savannah, Ga., I came to the startling revelation that a majority of the community was living abnormally penurious lives. The annual median income was somewhere around $20,000, and almost a third of the city lived under the poverty line. Comparably, the median income for Tybee (a tourist destination populated mostly by old, rich white a-holes), was easily double that of its neighboring city. 

It’s a real douchey move to bring up the element of race here, but damn it, the numbers are pretty much unavoidable. Tybee is about 9/10ths white, whereas more than half of Savannah’s total population is African American. Taking a glance at the infrastructure of Savannah, I noticed a lot of peculiar sights- among them, a general lack of public schoolhouses, and a DFCS building that was larger than most hospitals in the surrounding area. It seems to me the general formula for poverty is on display in full in Savannah: a shitty home life + a lack of cultural resources and academic opportunities = people continuing to be impoverished for a long, long time to come.

That said, I soon found myself confronted with something I’ve never really thought about - too in depth, anyway - regarding the factors of economic stagnation.

So, there’s this pizza place in Savannah called “Mr. Pizza.” It’s a particularly crappy restaurant, in a particularly crappy part of town (it’s actually sharing retail space with a tourist center, which apparently, hauled ass out of there quite some time ago.) It’s right across the road from a couple of SCAD dorms (additionally, when your largest place of higher education is a graphic arts school, you know you’re going to have to cater to some cultural exports to keep shit even halfway operational most of the time), and my half hour in the building was like being an extra in “Gummo” or something. Behind me, two teenage Latinas sipped on wine coolers while some tattooed chicks made out while waiting in line for their pepperoni pies. About four homeless people waltzed by, looking angry as shit. At one point, a cop walked in, analyzed the settings, and just walked out. And - as, of all things, Whitesnake - played over the radio, it sort of dawned upon me; you know, maybe being “poor” is actually a form of socially learned and ENFORCED behavior.

Pictured: a place where poor people generally aren't.

Throughout my vacation, I heard that one song advocating that juveniles “get drunk” and “smoke weed” about 55 times. Clearly, poverty and marginalization are things that can be ingrained in the social code (via poor family financials and being lumped into a geographical area sans any forms of cultural enlightenment), but is there NOT a certain ideology promoted by the culture ITSELF that tells people that they SHOULD remain poor, uneducated, and stuck in their dead-end existences, doing the same things over and over again that are guaranteed to KEEP them in poverty for the rest of their lives? Our music, our friends, our employment opportunities, our family, our totalistic cultural milieu - essentially, the one thing all of these things tell us is to “stay the same.” Via environmental conditioning, we never gain a desire to improve upon our lots in lives, figuring that not only are we destined to live out lives of mediocrity and powerlessness, but it’s actually somewhat VIRTUOUS and socially acceptable to do so.

And to think…if we had vouched for Taco Bell that evening, I probably never would have figured any of this shit out.

LESSON NUMBER FOUR:
ST. PATRICK’S DAY IS KINDA’ STUPID, WHEN YOU REALLY THINK ABOUT IT. 

A map of downtown Savannah. The white boxes are all the places you can find people sleeping in their own vomit. 

Did you know that Savannah is home to one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the Southeast? Well, I figured that out pretty quickly, as apparent by the 18,000 drunk people shambling down the streets of downtown like a bunch of Irish zombies.

Now, I’m not really a drinker, and practically everything I know about Irish culture has been curbed from all of those “Leprechaun” movies. That said, I STILL don’t know what the appeal of the holiday is, and I’m infinitely befuddled as to why ANY major city or burgh would authorize such a celebration at all.

Let’s look at the schematics here. Savannah - the fourth largest city in Georgia, by the way - is home to a good 20,000 incorporated citizens. On St. Patrick’s weekend, an additional 50,000 revelers flock to the Chatham county area, to get all sorts of wasted, hammered and generally shit-faced on the streets of South Georgia. As a city planner, you just HAVE to know what sort of chaos and carnage this is going to wreak upon your community - and while the city may experience a quick upshot in hotel and restaurant revenue, you also have to mull a shit ton of other expenditures to keep things from going all “State of Emergency” on you.

First off, there’s the problem with traffic. Savannah is pretty big, but it’s not built for Atlanta-sized traffic. As such, you have to completely redirect and reconfigure local traffic patterns, placing cops at pretty much every intersection in town. Now, with your police force doing predominantly traffic duty, that leaves a major dearth in on-foot officers, and since a good three-fourths of the city is liquored up and hankering for some ultra violence, you are really just one smashed window away from having a full-scale riot on your hands. There’s a financial reward, no doubt, to be picked up from such festivals, but when the RISK is that freaking large, you kind of have to wonder just how bad the county’s budget sheets are when the risk-analysis folks say a potentially leveled city is WORTH the instantaneous cash flow.

Those aren't tire tracks; it's actually his mother's foot prints.

I really wonder just how good these sort of events are for businesses, too. With such massive patronage, it becomes almost impossible to seat or serve anybody, and with about 100 people in a building designed for no more than 30 or 40...well, the shit can easily, easily hit the fan at any minute. Looting, stealing, property damage - all possible, if not likely consequences of such mega-parties, in addition to the foregone problems of under-staffing and loss of inventory. That, and GOOD LUCK finding a toilet anywhere in town until mid April - by the time St. Paddy’s day is good and over, the city’s commodes and latrines are sites of biological warfare for several weeks afterward.

Hell, on DAY ONE of the shindigs, the city’s parks and cemeteries were littered with empty beer cans and bottles. By Monday morning, the entire city looked like a junkyard, with half-dead third year freshmen sprawled out on the sidewalk like Jonestown victims or something. Whatever revenue the city generated for St. Patrick’s Day, I’m guessing at least HALF of it had to go towards cleaning up and remodeling the town’s infrastructure…which will probably be remedied, just long enough for everything to get messed up all over again next year.

That said, I did make at least one profound, positive observation about the nature of St. Paddy’s Day: how beneficial is it that vomit just happens to be the same color as “Irish Pride?”

LESSON NUMBER FIVE:
IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOU END UP, BECAUSE THE IMPORTANT THINGS IN LIFE REMAIN THE SAME.

You really have to trout some of the sleeping arrangements down south...

It’s a chill Sunday night in Tybee Island - a good 300 or so miles away from my base of operations, mind you - and you know what I’m doing? Essentially, the exact same stuff that I’d be doing if I was at home.

OK, so the landscape, obviously is different, but for the most part, I’m partaking of the exact same activities. I watch the sun go down from behind a sand dune, really no differently from when I watch it go down from behind all of this hills and factories in my hinterlands. I’m kicking back, stretching my self out against a futon, jamming slice after slice of pizza into my maw - in essence, pretty much what I do EVERY weekend, even if I’m doing it now in some timeshare next to the Atlantic Ocean. And I fall asleep, wrapped in an array of blankets, while the song that plays at the end of every “The Wonder Years” episode seeps out of my laptop. All we need now is a Super Nintendo jutting out of the carpet, and this place, essentially, WOULD be my home away from home.

And alike many spring break revelers, I too got the opportunity to experience crabs firsthand.

I did a lot of stuff on my last spring break ever, and the funny thing is, I really didn’t do ANYTHING that I don’t normally do at “home.” I ate at the same restaurants (or at the least, the same kinds of foods), I hung out at the same locales (the “Social Science” section at Barnes and Noble, and right next to the nearest claw vending machine, of course), and listened to the same kind of music (although, dabnabbit, I forgot to bring the latest Merzbow for the car ride to and fro.)

So, what does all of that say about me, and by default, human nature? Well, probably nothing at all, really, except we’re experiential beings, and we like the experiences we’re already used to, I suppose. It’s cool to see new things and locales, but at the end of the day, we’re sort of stuck in our ways…and that, all in all, really isn’t a bad thing.

Fun fact: people in Tybee Island are only three inches tall.

I don’t know if you kids are old enough to realize it, but in life (rated M, for mature), things have an unfortunate tendency to change, usually quite abruptly and without you ever realizing it. Your best friend one year may become a phantom the next, and the absolute most important thing in your world might be completely inconsequential in a few months’ time. People leave, tastes change, and over time, you’ll develop new perspectives that both discredit and disconfirm what you THOUGHT you knew, as well as strengthen and embolden what you’ve known from the start.

As human beings, we strive for consistency and normalcy. We want things to be as controllable and predictable as possible, so we’re ALWAYS trying to routinize the shit out of everything. Now, as a teenager, that sounds like the lamest thing in the world, but you know what? It is, and by the time you’re my age (which is OLD), you’ll come to the realization that “lame” is a whole lot cooler than you think it is.

As you get older, you’ll probably spend a whole lot more time reading and cooking than you will drinking and Xbox-playing, and as weird as it may seem, that’s actually a positive. Slowing down - and thus, pursuing that sense of “normalcy” as stated above - is really a natural part of life, and in all honesty, a pretty enjoyable one at that. In other words? It doesn’t matter if you are in your backyard or Starry Oskol, Russia - what is good in life is what is good in life, and that don’t change according to the time zone you’re in. 

A rainbow over I-75. Imagine my disappointment when instead of finding a pot of gold, I just ended up in Macon.

 And so, on my last spring break ever, I didn’t get hammered. I didn’t get tore up. I didn’t get lit, smashed, tanked, blitzed or a million other euphemisms that kinda’ sound like the names of Atari 2600 games. Rather, I just kicked back, enjoyed the scenery, and thought some deep, wondrous thoughts about all sorts of non-related things that, ultimately, are EXTREMELY interrelated in the grand scheme of things. Alas, I returned from South Georgia sans any tacky souvenirs - unless you want to count that monstrous sunburn I have on my right arm, which makes me look like some sort of half human, half Wal-Mart bag mutant experiment. Even so, alike Kevin Arnold in oh so many a misadventure, I learned quite a few things that are transcendent from any sort of vacation experience - the things that stick with you, that you’ll never ever forget, that in some way, you will always cherish and hold dear to your heart.

And also…I may have left my phone charger down there.

In the mood for more vacation-related mayhem and madness? Check out the J. Swift 2011 Christmas Special Extravaganza RIGHT HERE!

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