Becky says things about … an American road trip – Part 2: Savannah, Georgia

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.

Dear America:

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. 

Becky says things about … an American road trip – Part 1: Daytona Beach

Cherished Listener, behold a tale of two English women’s road trip in south-east USA.

My friend Sarah and I galavanted through Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisiana in a whirl of suffocating humidity, BBQ ribs, gallons of beer, Trump T-Shirts, life-changing hangovers, bears, and a dramatic home invasion escapade – and I would like to say things about it.

So without further ado, turn off Netflix, get yourself a cool beverage, tell the cat to shut up, and we shall begin.

DAYTONA BEACH 

The car journey from Orlando airport to Daytona Beach started badly and went downhill from there.

I first tried to leave the Hertz car park through an exit clearly marked STAFF EXIT ONLY and was ushered back out the right exit by a polite Mexican; then within minutes of being on the freeway (freeway or highway? Is there a difference? Does it matter? What does anything even mean?) we had missed three exits and I was trying to quell the rising urge to go back to the airport, fly straight back to London and tell everyone we’d made a terrible mistake.

After eventually deciding we were going the right way, and navigating the 319 inexplicable toll booths that all charged 75 cents for the privilege of driving past an unmanned shed, it was all going well, until there appeared in the road ahead of us the jagged, ripped flesh of a car tyre that looked like it had been spat out by a T-Rex. There’s not much one can do at 70mph on a four-lane freewayhighway packed with rush-hour traffic, so I elected to simply run over it. This felt similar to driving over a tree branch embedded with six-inch nails.

Clearly I had just irrevocably damaged the rental car we had been in for less than half an hour, and our pierced tyres were going to flatten and flop about and eventually spasm off and whip into the air causing a devastating multi-vehicle pile-up, the tragedy of which would pale in comparison to the $3million we would have to pay Hertz, so I got off the freewayhighway and checked our tyres in a McDonald’s car park.

Anti-climactically, they were fine.

I then spent the next 20 minutes trying to get back on the freewayhighway. You Americans may wonder at my driving abilities, but let me tell you, when one is sitting in the wrong side of a car, on the wrong side of a road, everything becomes wrong; in this case, driving two miles in the wrong direction, performing approximately 13 illegal and wrong manoeuvres, driving the wrong way down a road, and inadvertently and wrongly turning on my windscreen wipers during a frantic three-point turn.

It was then that I vowed we would never again exit a freewayhighway unless the SatNav told us to, and even then it’d have to have a damned good reason.

Miraculously and only partly wrongly, we made it to our oceanfront Holiday Inn, and the next morning’s sunrise from our balcony made up for our distressing car journey, and for a night battling an air conditioning unit that sounded like King Kong with a chest infection.

We waded through the cloying 95-degree-4895%-humidity in search of breakfast, and it was on this short journey that all our fervent hopes that America is playing a massive practical joke on the rest of the world were shattered – for slapped on an electricity generator was a bumper sticker that defiantly yelled TRUMP PENCE 2020.

To keep our spirits alive we breakfasted in the Daytona Diner – a nostalgic haven of movie and TV memorabilia, adorned with plentiful images of Betty Boop being provocative with a Harley Davidson – and the waitress patiently explained to us the 297 different ways we could have our eggs.

After breakfast there wasn’t an awful lot to do up our end of Daytona Beach, unless we fancied getting a tattoo or visiting the mini golf where we could ‘feed and hold live gators’, so we spent the day by the hotel’s oceanfront pool.

It was at the pool that I made the following three important anthropological observations about our American cousins:

1. Americans do not swim. At least, not those Americans in Daytona Beach. Not a single one of the 20 or so Americans in the pool swam more than two meters. Instead, they plopped themselves in, arranged themselves in a convivial circle, and had a semi-submerged chat. An hour later, they emerged wrinkled and refreshed, and flopped onto their sunbeds with the laboured sigh of someone who has just swum the Channel.

2. Beards are there to be worshipped. The 60-something whale-bellied dude who had the bushiest, silkiest, lushest beard we’d ever seen (for this reason we inventively named him Father Christmas) lounged against the side of the pool sensually stroking his facial mane, while a hareem of adoring women bobbed round him, clearly seduced by the silken foliage. Sarah and I were mesmerised, particularly when he told a story in a deep, chocolatey southern drawl about his previous hotel in South Carolina where a kid shit in the pool.

3. The pool is a perfect place to show off one’s dedication to the gym. An oiled terracotta beefcake, adorned with hoops in both ears and a signet ring the size of a golf ball, spent two hours manfully astride his sunbed staring down at his pecks, which he flexed in turn to the beat of ‘America’s Greatest Stadium Ballads’ that he was kindly playing on his portable radio for all the pool to hear.

After a few hours of my skin slowly dissolving in the sun, I went for a stroll on the beach.

And it is stunning.

It is endless, silky (much like Father Christmas’ beard). Clouds floated in the wet sand. Clusters of tiny birds scuttled back from the lapping waves. Children busied around castles and moats. Elderly couples lounged under marquees, holding hands and peering contentedly into the blue. A topless man frantically pawed at the sand, whipping up torrents with his hands, muttering under his breath ‘It was here somewhere. Motherfucker was here somewhere.’

I called it a day and went back to the hotel.

That evening, after a cab journey to Daytona Beach’s main drag, I decided we should go to a biker bar. When in Rome, and all that.

A quick glance at Google Maps told us that the promisingly-named Main Street was the place to go for biker bars.

It was 6pm on a sunny Saturday evening in Daytona Beach.

Walking down Main Street at 6pm on a sunny Saturday evening in Daytona Beach was simply a sunnier re-enactment of the opening scenes of 28 Days Later where the dude wakes up to discover that he’s the last human left on earth.

There was no one. I mean no one. Despite the many inviting bars with names like Dirty Harry’s, Filthy Mike’s, Downright Unpleasant Steve’s, and the echoes of heavy metal wafting onto the baked pavement, there was not a soul to be seen.

After making it to the end of Main Street without seeing so much as the lovingly-coiffered fronds of a beard, we came to the conclusion that a) Main Street is actually an abandoned film set that no one’s got round to demolishing yet; b) Main Street doesn’t come alive until much, much later when the hoards of bikers emerge from their cocoons of corrugated steel and drink beer and compare clutch brackets until dawn; or c) Main Street had been hit by a devastating and extremely localised plague, which had wiped out its entire population, and the chipped, peeling facades actually concealed piles of decomposing corpses.

Whatever the reason, we had abjectly failed to have an authentic Saturday-night biker experience, so joined the gaggle of tourists at the end of the pier at Joe’s Crab Shack.

And there I innocently ordered the fish and chips, and innocently discovered that the batter of the fish was basically KFC skin.

I don’t mean my fish was coddled in actual chicken skin – although I wouldn’t put it past you cheeky Americans – I mean that the Colonel’s secret herb and spice mix had somehow found its way into my fish batter.

And after 13 seconds of resisting this heinous abomination of an English classic, I gave in.

We had a post-dinner stroll along the dingy Boardwalk, passing the amusement arcades, fried chicken and doughnut outlets, and the decaying bones of a wooden roller-coaster.

We weren’t 100% sure about this dusty, tattered edge of land that was Daytona central, although it didn’t fail to provide a somewhat clichéd introduction to the South, particularly in the form of the baby-holding guy who was wearing a T-Shirt that proudly growled ‘Spare me the debate – I’ll stick to my guns’, lovingly embroidered with images of rifles.

After finding ourselves on the outskirts of a U2 tribute concert, we decided we would permit jet lag to get the better of us, and wearily taxied back to the hotel and the throaty splutters of our air conditioning unit.

Conclusion: Daytona Beach is stunning. Daytona is like a humid, unkempt Brighton. And we never did find out if Main Street rose from the dead once the blazing red sun went down.

UP NEXT: Moonshine, the hangover from hell, and the best Monday afternoon ever in beautiful Savannah, Georgia. 

 

Becky says things about … commuting

A multiple choice question for you, lovely Listener.

Would you rather:

a) Peel off your own cheek, rub salt into the bloody gaping hole, then staple the skin back to your now irreversibly deformed face;

b) Attempt to crawl inside the anus of an elephant who has just suffered from what his keeper calls ‘a wobbly tummy’; or

c) Stand in a confined space with your face inside the armpit of a stranger, and breathe in not only his gasses and vapours, but the gasses and vapours of a million other people in the same confined space for an indeterminate amount of time, twice a day?

commuter1

If you have opted for a) or b), you are most likely a commuter. Hello, fellow commuters. My name is Becky, and I am a commuter.

Twice a day, I stand in a train carriage along with approximately 2,450,957 other people. There is nothing pleasant about this.

I am short, Listener. I am 5 foot 4 inches. I therefore spend a great deal of my time standing below the faces of people taller than me, and when I am trying to read my book it is difficult to concentrate when I am caught in the violent torrent of a tall man’s nose breath.

commuter2

I board the morning train looking like this:

commuter3

and disembark looking like this:

commuter4

This is displeasing. It has also taught me that tall men breathe A LOT. More than is probably necessary.

I try to use the commuting time to read a book, in order to edify my mind. However, due to the fact that I am crammed into a small box with those 2,450,957 other people, this doesn’t always work out.

Example of failed reading #1:

commuter5

Example of failed reading #2:

commuter6

Oh, the intimate proximity of others, Listener. Faces everywhere. I turn my head to the right and my eyeball brushes against the eyeball of the man next to me. I turn my head to the left, and the girl chewing gum over my shoulder accidentally bites off my nose. I am so trapped I can only stare directly at whatever is straight ahead of me. On a recent journey, this happened to be an old, faded streak of bird poo on the back of a man’s jacket. By the end of the journey I was livid. JUST GET IT DRY CLEANED YOU FILTHY MONSTER. A whole journey staring into the face of another human’s evil disregard for cleanliness. Hellish.

commuter7

As a commuter, you learn to perform everyday actions at a minute fraction of their normal spatial requirements: sliding an object out of your bag with a movement invisible to the naked eye; holding your phone against your retina in order to text. This doesn’t always work out: last week my headphone wire got caught in the spokes of my umbrella as I was trying to fold it away into my bag, and my head ended up being sucked into my own handbag.

commuter8

And what if a song that you don’t like comes on your iPod? Or if the volume is UNBELIEVABLY LOUD AND IS LITERALLY RIPPING YOUR EAR DRUMS TO SHREDS AND WILL CAUSE YOU UNTOLD AURAL PROBLEMS FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE??? There is nothing you can do about it. One of your arms is wedged against the testicles of an overweight businessman, and the other is pinned to your side by the force of 594 school children. You must spend the journey either being musically abused by the song you don’t like, or being deafened to the point of tears. The only thing you can do is just be brave, Listener. Brave.

commuter9

I entered a train carriage the other week to be faced with a man’s backpack. It was preventing me from getting my whole body inside the carriage, which is often necessary for a safe journey. I politely asked the man to take off his backpack so there was more room for me.

The man answered me with a cold, hard stare that said ‘When you die, I will not only give an incorrect church address to all your mourners, but I will visit your lonely grave and write in marker-pen on the gravestone: ‘I’ll wear my backpack wherever the f*ck I like”.

I was thus forced to hope that my body was mostly inside the train carriage, and as the doors closed, I was relieved to discover that I had not lost a crucial appendage – until I realised that my hair had become trapped in the door. I realised this because it forced my head to slowly lift towards the ceiling, so I had to spend the entire journey gazing quizzically aloft and pretending I was thinking deeply about something, with this bastard’s backpack wedged against my chin.

commuter10

Commuting is like being thrown into a Room 101 filled with all the horrendous things about human beings that you already hate. Incessant clearing of throats. Loud breathing. Snorting. Sniffing. Swallowing. Loud chewing. Random and inexplicable grunting. Loud private conversations about Sebastian’s unreliable cornet tutor or Roger’s worsening hernia, or loud business conversations filled with buzzwords and acronyms that make you want to vomit into your own sleeve.

commuter11

 

Commuting is the Devil’s journey. Commuting is our penance for all the bad things we have done in our lives. And our reward for our morning’s worth of psychological and physical abuse?

Work.

Brilliant.

 

Becky says things about … fear of flying

Yasas from a remote cove somewhere in Greece, most precious and distant Listener. I hope you are in fine health and jovial spirits.

I am thoroughly enjoying my holiday in Greece, thank you. I thoroughly enjoy being in any place where I can sit and stare at a 90 year-old fisherman’s bottom poking out of his shorts as he bends over to tend to his boat for an hour. Who wouldn’t?

HOWEVER.

What I don’t enjoy, my loveliest listeners, is the mode of transport I must utilise in order to get here.

Let me tell you how much I dislike flying: I would rather lie naked under a rhinoceros with unpredictable bowels than get on a plane.

flying1

In my fearful little brain, me boarding a plane and me approaching an ill-humoured bull, calling it a smelly idiot, punching it in the face, then donning a red shell suit and standing in front of it, will have the same result: I will definitely die.

flying2

If, by some miraculous good fortune, the plane’s wheels don’t burst on a piece of debris that fell off the plane in front and we career off the runway in a blazing ball of flames and body parts, then one of the following Death Events will certainly occur: Death by birds sucked into engines, Death by plane wings falling off, Death by power failure, Death by lack of oxygen, Death by random explosion, or, perhaps the most unfortunate of aviation deaths, Death by choking on a forkful of quivering, gelatinous scrambled egg on an otherwise safe and uneventful flight.

flying3

An irrational fear? A rational fear? I don’t care what it is; the simple fact is that my brain does not currently have the ability to comprehend how a huge metal tube can fly me and many, many other people to my destination without something going horrendously and irreversibly wrong.

flying4

I’ve learnt to cope with this fear over the years – inasmuch as curling up into the foetal position, stuffing my fingers in my ears and crying constitutes “coping” with anything – and fortunately the fear loses against my determination to continue to travel.

However, as well as having to cope with this chronic and traumatic fear of instant and pulverising death, one must also contend with those Things That Happen on a Plane That in No Way Help to Alleviate Your Fears or Calm Your Nerves But Instead Make You Want to Commit Aviation Genocide and Scream:

1. Noises.   

You KNOW in your heart that that whirring sound you hear when you first board the plane is just the air conditioning or general harmless mechanical noises, but your fear-addled brain tells you it is SOMETHING GOING DRAMATICALLY WRONG WITH THE PLANE AND THERE IS A FLURRY OF PEOPLE UNDERNEATH YOU DESPERATELY TRYING TO FIX THIS PROBLEM BEFORE IT KILLS YOU ALL. 

flying5

And you KNOW that that hideous cranking noise just after take-off that sounds exactly like a major piece of the aircraft falling off and hurtling to the ground, is simply the wheels tucking themselves neatly back into their compartment – but unfortunately, your fear-consumed brain tells you that A MAJOR PIECE OF THE AIRCRAFT HAS JUST FALLEN OFF AND HURTLED TO THE GROUND AND WE WILL DIE AS A CONSEQUENCE. Because that is precisely what it sounds like.

(Note to any listeners who make airplanes: PLEASE do something about this. ANYTHING would be better than listening to the wheels-tucking-themselves-back-where-they-belong sound.)

flying6

2.    Children and Babies

I understand that children and babies are not silent creatures. I understand that, despite the efforts of the leathery old sow in front of me who yelled ‘Shut up!’ down the cabin to a crying baby, the baby in question is not going to respond thus:

flying5

However, when one is faced with the certainty of imminent death, the last thing one needs is babies screaming and playful 5 year olds making the following comment on the plane’s noises: ‘What was that sound, Mummy? The plane’s broken! Hahahahahahahahahahahaha the plane’s broken!’

Not funny. Not funny at all.

3.  Difficult Passengers

One wants to relax before Certain Death. One does not need to be riled by the aforementioned leathery old sow making loud demands for gins and tonic (at 8.30am no less), or saying to the person in front of her ‘Excuse me, but I think you’re abominably rude to put your seat so far back into my lap,’ and then proceeding to put her seat so far back into my lap that I was practically eating breakfast off her head.

flying7

Nor do I need to be vexed by a nearby passenger saying this to a stewardess:

flying8

Yes, that really happened. The stewardess deserves the ‘Diplomacy in the Air’ Award for not replying ‘Yes that’s fine. In fact, why don’t we stop off in Munich and get you some strudel?’

We’d all like an omelette or some strudel. None of us enjoyed the food. But your ludicrous demand has only served to increase my stress levels and pique my ire. Stop it.

4.  Turbulence

You know that planes don’t just fall out of the sky. You know that turbulence is just ‘bumpy air’ (what the ruddy hellfire is ‘bumpy air’????). But when you are suddenly thrown from your seat and the woman behind you starts saying the Lord’s Prayer, it does absolutely NOTHING to reduce your conviction that YOUR DEATH IS ON THE VERY IMMEDIATE AGENDA.

flying9

If I can offer you one piece of turbulence-related advice, it is this: do NOT look at the faces of the stewards. Your frantic search for comfort in a calm, smiling face will backfire spectacularly if the steward has

‘OH SHIT’

written all over their face. It happened on a flight from New York. I didn’t enjoy it.

flying10

Other than all that, I love flying.