Happily, the 230 mile journey from Daytona Beach to Savannah can be considered a success, because I only ended up on the wrong side of the road once, and nobody died.
Around 2pm, we crested a wave on the freewayhighway and sank into the plush green garden of Savannah.
Savannah is a small city near the east coast of Georgia, across the Savannah River from South Carolina. At its centre is a lush green canopy of live oak trees which hides a serene underworld of dolls’ houses and secrets. The grid of streets is puckered with 22 grassy squares, gently breathing under the tangle of branches. The pavements are tickled by the braids of Spanish moss that trail from the trees.
It was immediately the most beautiful place I had ever been in my life.
Our Airbnb was a wooden Victorian treasure trove just off Forsythe Park, complete with an actual porch and an actual wooden swing seat suspended from the porch ceiling. This caused perhaps over-zealous excitement.
After a lazy stroll through the squares, gulping in the green-sweet air, we emerged on the cobbled riverfront where an old steamboat hissed at the bank. There, we experienced a clear sign from God: it began to drizzle just as we spotted a chalkboard offering $5 margaritas. So we ‘popped in’ to a restaurant bar called The Shrimp Factory.
Four hours later, we popped out again.
Allow me to introduce you to our new Shrimp Factory friends (who will assume the names we prescribed them the following morning when our memory of exact details was quite sketchy):
Boston Sue and Donald Sutherland, a middle-aged couple from Boston. Sue’s initial reserved seriousness was magically transformed by the shots I was palming off on her, and suddenly she was whooping and hollering and trying to set Sarah up with the bartender; Pissed Ruth, a 45-ish woman travelling alone from New York, who sank margaritas and told us she’d had a terrible day, and who ended up getting absolutely smashed and hanging off our shoulders telling us we ‘motherfucking ruled’ for doing our road trip; and finally Mr and Mrs Jim, a charming couple from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (We did know Jim’s wife’s Christian name at some point during the evening, but it is forever lost to Drunk Lost Property.) Married 45 years; ‘he still makes me laugh, and I still make him cry’. Jim happily supped beer and looked on while Mrs Jim downed cocktails at superhuman speed and clamoured over us, wanting to know our life stories.
By 7pm, we were all best friends and they all watched eagerly as the bartender gave Sarah and I two shots of Moonshine. This Moonshine was 100% proof. This could have set a dangerous precedent for when we returned to the UK.
When deep in such boozy conviviality, it is astounding how many topics you can cover. In this case: Trump (“the most retarded president we’ve ever had” according to wise old Boston Sue); the Catholic Church; youth vs age; the moral debate about legalising cannabis; the US penitentiary system, and death. All light, fluffy stuff.
By 9pm, we were all steaming drunk: Boston Sue and Pissed Ruth were dancing, Mr Jim and Donald Sutherland were swayingly discussing golf, and Mrs Jim was tearily confiding in Sarah about their gay son and about how Mr Jim was absolutely fine with it.
By 9.30pm we were back at our lovely Airbnb and I fell up the porch steps.
Despite a hangover the next day that was in the ‘top three worst of my life’, Sarah gallantly made it through a trolley bus tour of the city, and survived a surprisingly chirpy me dragging her round the muggy squares while I took millions of photos of millions of trees from millions of different angles.
At 4pm, an ice cream still hadn’t sorted her out, so the only thing for it was to have a drink.
It didn’t go down well.
We had an early night.
Fact: if you google ‘Savannah, Georgia’ the following picture will appear:
It’s not a mythical land, it’s not a scene from a Disney film, it is the Wormsloe Plantation, and I took the above photo the following morning whilst hanging out of the car window as we trundled slowly beneath the silent mesh of trees. Not bad for a woman in charge of a moving vehicle, eh?
We had a sweaty walk through what was essentially a tropical rainforest that screeched with peculiar insects, including forest crabs that scuttled willy-nilly across our path. This was unsettling, but I suppose it was preferable to the plethora of entirely possible alternatives.
The plantation ruins were a little underwhelming. I mean, they were only from the 1700s, and when we Brits have got castles and churches that date back to 120AD, it takes quite a lot to astonish us.
On our way back to the city, we broke a world record: the Longest Time Two Humans have Spent Trying to Fill Up a Car at a Gas Station.
28 minutes to be precise.
In our humble land, we fill up our vehicle with petrol, and we then pay for the precise amount of petrol we have used.
America likes to turn this simple process into a perverted game, whereby you have to guess how much petrol your car needs and guess how much it is going to cost. Before you so much as lift the pump from its clasp.
To make things even more fun, the little screen at the pump inexplicably needed to know our postcode, presumably so it could send us a Christmas card, and after the 17th time of being asked for this information and there was still no sign of petrol appearing from the pump, we were becoming desperate.
After what felt like three days of hopeless fannying around, an assistant finally coaxed Sarah inside, where Sarah guessed how much it would cost to fill up our little Hyundi with three quarters of a tank. Sarah’s guess was $60 off the mark.
Whilst we were delighted that it had only cost $20 to fill up the car, it meant another embarrassed trip to the assistant to get $60 put back on Sarah’s card.
After a fat Ruben sandwich at Clary’s Diner, and a cultured tour round the beautiful Mercer-Williams House, the muggy heat of the day got to us, so we sought refreshment in Pinkie Master’s.
Pinkie Master’s had been suggested by our Airbnb host in response to my question ‘where do the locals drink in Savannah?’, and it very quickly became the second most beautiful thing I had seen next to Savannah itself.
At 4pm on a Monday afternoon, it was just us, the bartender and the locals, and as we sipped jars of tequila and grapefruit slushies (which are gifts from the Heavens), we sank deeper into the wonderfully eccentric world of a local dive bar in an eccentric city.
As one local left, another took their place. We met Big George and Tiny George, Gregory ‘The Legend’, Irish Ian, and when the door opened and a big guy walked in to greetings of ‘Hey, Coach!’, I lost my shit.
We were told about the guy who used to come in to the bar with a tortoise on a lead (‘Fuck that tortoise’, grumbled the barman); we discovered that it was here that Jimmy Carter first announced he would run for President (apparently); we watched a good-natured argument across the bar between two locals, which ended with one happily saying to the other ‘I wish you were dead’.
When Carol and Ian from Bradford – yes, Bradford, England – came in, and we learnt that they had fallen in love with Savannah ten years ago and had actually moved here when they retired, I may have reacted strangely.
As the day darkened outside, and as the neon signs around the bar glowed ever brighter, I decided I wanted to move to this peculiar, beautiful town, and hole myself up in this dim neon-glowing room and become an eccentric local, and drink tequila and grapefruit slushies. Forever.
BEHOLD ITS BEAUTY.
Unfortunately, we had to drive to Tennessee the next day, so we dragged ourself off the bar stools, bid farewell to our 5-hour friends, stumbled home and assassinated a pizza.
Conclusion: If you go anywhere in the States, go to Savannah. It is impossible not to fall in love. And I don’t just mean with tequila and grapefruit slushies.
UP NEXT: Mountains, Dolly Parton and bears in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.