Way Down South

I had never been to an away ultimate frisbee tournament before, so when a friend of mine from my summer team extended an invitation to join his team, I accepted. I was also intrigued since the tournament would take place in Savannah, Georgia. I have never been south of North Carolina (during my college hunting days) and since Key West in Florida doesn’t count as the South, thought it might be a good opportunity to see what this uncharted territory was like. My weekend was looking droll anyway, and besides, as my friend said, “You should do these things when you are young.” So I agreed to go. I packed my bags Friday afternoon and took the metro to Alexandria at around 9pm, as the plan was to drive throughout the night and arrive the next morning. However, one of my other friends who was supposed to go bowed out for a Red Sox game in Boston (like that’s ever an excuse) so it would be only the two of us. I forgot to warn my friend that I wasn’t too familiar with stick shift (read: I really hadn’t done it in several years), so when he pulled up in a small Miata I was worried for his transmission. But it was too late at that point, so off we were.

map

Traffic somehow was still brutal as we made our way out of DC , even after we passed an entire tree that managed to falla cross the highway, so somewhere in Virginia we stopped for food, or rather, we hit up a Wendy’s drivethrough. I haven’t been to a Wendy’s in ages, but noticed they did have a new burger called the Baconator. I ordered it without hesitation. It was delicious, especially since I was expecting McDonald’s type quality, but it tasted similar to a Five Guys burger, which is good by me any day. Around 2 in the morning it was my turn to drive, which was interesting to say the least. There I was, sleepy as hell, trying to relearn stick shift so I could drive on the highway. It was painful, but we were on the road eventually, and I managed to drive the next two and a half hours without a problem. We needed gas at that point, so I pulled to an exit ramp, and when I came to an intersection we basically did a Chinese fire drill and switched spots. We filled up and moved on.

At about 5:30 am we made our way into Hilton Head. I knew a lot of friends who spend time at Hilton Head, but assumed it was just a nice beach area. Instead, the area we drove through resembled a swanky retirement community. The land was extremely flat, and the roads were lined with palm trees, which I was not prepared for, as I had only run into these in Florida. Every hundred meters or so it seemed like another community popped up, with titles such as Palmetto Bay and Shelter Cove Harbor. We also passed a university campus, which looked a lot like some place I would vacation at rather than study. We followed directions to one of our teammate’s house, and after what seemed endless circles and man-made lakes found the house which was his. I stretcehd out after the long ride, we grabbed a few bags out of the car, and as light began to break on the humid morning, we opened the door to his house and crashed on some air mattresses and a couch for much needed sleep.

I awoke to the sound of kids running around and the smell of eggs in the pan. I lay there with my eyes closed, confused as to where I was, and then remembered I was on a journey to the South. The mother of the kids scolded them for being tardy for their swim lessons, and hastily made her way out several minutes later. I cursed myself silently for forgetting to take out my contacts overnight, and glanced around. My friend was already settling into breakfast, and Carlos, the Columbian friend who so kindly hosted us, offered me the next omlette, an offer I couldn’t refuse. As I sat down to join them at the breakfast table I noticed how nice the house was – modern, airy, with a nice backyard visible through the glass doors surrounding the kitchen. It turns out that my friend and Carlos hadn’t talked much since meeting in South America, and had much to catch up on. It turns out he is now the curator for the Coastal Discovery Musuem, whose main focus recently has been sea turtles (or “toot-les” as he calls them with his accent). I still wondered how he could afford what must have been a steep real estate price for his house, when he explained he ran a couple of business ventures on the side. Before I could let my mind wander what that meant, he explained he takes private tours to Costa Rica and South America, and sets up room and board and boating trips though friends in South America. he argued that Americans pay top dollar for such specialized tours, especially with a knowledgeable field guide like himself. He did complain though, that some stupid, rich Americans pick the tour that is the most expensive so they can brag about it, only to find these are tours without the fancy amenitites they are accustomed to, and more catered to naturalists.

Once we finished breakfast we headed out to Savannah, just down the highway. As we drove out of the gated communites we quickly headed into a more subdued area, as the road was lined with nondescript yards with wild grass, motor homes, and rusty mailboxes. My friend pointed out this is what much of the South looks like, not where we just were. I commented on the several baptist churches we passed by, and he echoed my sentiment that religion is big down here. He flipped on the radio, remarking that one of the best things about the South was the radio stations. As if on cue, the second radio station we hit offers some good ol’ Christian advice.

“Mommy, I want to play with Billy and Kate, but Daddy won’t let me.”

“That’s right honey, because they are dirty and not Christian.”

“What do you mean Mommy?”

“Did you go over to their house and play with them yesterday in their sandbox?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“And did you come back from their house all dirty?”

“Yes…”

“Well, that is because they are not Christian like us. They are filthy.”

“Why?”

“The only way to make them clean and show them the Lord’s way is to invite them over to our house. I am reminded of the Second Corinthians, in which it is written, “Beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” That way you will be clean, and they as non Christians may learn how to live.”

(Breaking into song, Mickey Mouse Club style)

Follow the Lord’s way
It is the right thing to do
The Lord’s hands or the Devil’s bands
The choice is up to you

WTF. First off, talk about indoctrinating the nieghbors. They aren’t Christian so they can’t play together? And the Second Corinthians has nothing to do with this – it addresses cleansing one’s own sin thorugh disassociation with harlots and the like, but does not extend this to the family next door, which is extreme. But as the show went on (yikes) I realized that this was normal around here.

Just as we found another station we pulled into a convenience store to pick up some water, ice and other supplies for the day. I followed my friend in to see if I could help and maybe grab some snacks for the day as well. My friend asked me whether I had ever had dried pork rinds, a Southern specialty, and since I hadn’t, picked up a bag for me along with some roasted peanuts and insisted I would love it. As I was checking my items out, I noticed the man behind me, was waiting to buy a 40 of Malt liquor. And it wasn’t even 8 in the morning. Ah, now there was a Southern speciality, indeed.

We followed I-70 across the border to Georgia, on the way passing some beautiful scenery. We left the shade of the moss covered trees and drove inot the open, along the salt marsh, which spread as far as we could see on either side. The mix of yellow stalk rising from the marsh and the trees dotting the landscape along with the blue sky was quite a spectacle. The peacefulness of it all gripped me, with no other cars around us, with no houses to interrupt the scenery… as if it was some last bastion of unfettered wilderness and only us two were there to see it.

The marshes gave way to the Port of Savannah, which I hadn’t even known existed, but is, as my friend pointed out to me as we crossed the high suspension bridge over it, the fourth busiest port in the U.S. He also pointed out that the waters of the Savannah river belonged to the State of Georgia, although traditionally rivers are geographically split in the middle when they form state boundaries. Shortly afterwords we entered the city of Savannah and made our way towards the fields.

The fields are located in the heart of the city, in Forsyth Park. The park, built in the 1850s, spans some 30 acres,and is famous for the statue below.

The fields themselves are surrounded by the trademark moss-coverd trees of the area, hence the name of the tournament, Toss in the Moss.

Most of the teams at the tournament were formed of young players form the area, either still in college or just out. Roaming the sidelines I even noticed that members from the University of Florida were represented (they won the college championships last year). They might have been from the club B team, it wouldn’t have mattered; they are all over 6 ft and would easily kick our asses in their trademark orange and blue monogrammed cleats. My team, on the other hand, was, um, different. Here is the rundown:

Me – young 20’s

My friend – 40 year old USAID officer, who was on call for the division should a natural disaster have occurred during the weekend

The city lawyer for Savannah – late 30s

Carlos the Columbian, musueum curator and expedition leader – late 30s

Air Force Academy graduate now in the Navy – late 30s

J.J. from “Good Times” clone, except half the height and twice the personality, 30s

California kid, jumped form college to college, now in the Air Force in South Carolina, young 20s

The founder of the tournament/pirate, late 50s

Personal trainer form South Carolina, early 30s

Contract worker, 40’s

…You get the general idea. And I am not kidding about the pirate thing. He showed up dragging a wagon with all sorts of gear for the team, which also flew a pirate flag. He also is deaf in one ear and blind in the other, which means he sometimes had to a 360 to figure out who was calling him and where the disc was, which was interesting to say the least. The black eye patch, weathered face and cockeyed demeanor only added to the effect. I am pretty sure we were that odd team in Dodgeball with Steve the Pirate. This man though clearly predates the sport, and much due credit has been awarded to him for creating the Savannah league and creating the tournament.

Anyhow, the tournament was a bit rough on us, mostly because the other teams were way more athletic and ahd been playing together longer, while we had to gel that day. I would say for any tournaments going forward I would like to try being with people I have played with before if it all possible, as this transition may have been more comfortable.

During the bye period we had in the middle of the day I decided to grab some lunch, and asked my friend where to get a bite to eat in the area. He said there was a vegan place closeby and a grocery store down the street, so me and the kid from California went to check it out. We introduced ourselves, since even though we had just played two game with each other, we did not know anything about the other. Turns out he went to several colleges but couldn’t afford it and enlisted in the Air Force, and worked on figher jets. I asked him if he liked flying, and he said, no, not particularly, it was just the best way to support himself. he had a girlfriend too he was obviously enamored with, but as she was studying to become an electrical engineer he felt it more important that he be able to move wherever she needs to go. Anyhow, he was a chill guy and I was happy to have some company, especially considering I knew so few people on this trip.

The vegan store smelled funny, but perhaps that is normal, I had never been in a vegan store before. We made our way to the Deli and took a galnce at the items on the chalkboard. Two young girls were behind the counter, and I noticed they had a jar on the countertop which read, “Tip us like we’re stippers”. I took a look at the two girls and decided they undoubtly were, in fact, strippers. Shame, it is too bad I don’t tip strippers well. The two girls, younger than us, rather flirtingly asked us what we would like. I asked if everything here was vegan (I quickly sized up my companion to be a meat eater as well) and they laughed and one girl told us, no, the turkey and chicken is not vegan. I realized I didn’t have cash on me and asked if they accepted credit card, to which they said above 5 dollars. We asked what was above five dollars and they said the chicken salad sandwich was $6.40. We pressed that this was steep for a chicken salad sandwich (I had no idea if it in face was). They then gave us free samples of the chicken salad, which was tasty, but we both looked at each other and as soon as they were busy made our exit.

So to the grocery store it was. The store was surprisingly big, and must have been the main market for Savannah. We made our way to the Deli once again. They had a plethora of choices, and for cheap ($2.99 for a 6 inch, $4.99 for a footlong sub). We settled on a buffalo chicken wrap, and got the lady behind the counter’s attention.

“Can we have the buffalo chicken wrap?”

“The what?”

“Buffalo chicken wrap.” (pointing to the menu card overhead).

” No wraps. We are out of tortillas.”

“Uh, ok. Can you just put it on white bread then?”

“Huh?”

“Same sandwich, just with different bread.”

“No, we are out of white bread, too.”

Christ, this is a grocery store, how are they out of bread. This deli is surrounded by loaves.

“Ok, what do you have?”

“Wheat.”

“Great, wheat would be fine.”

“So a sub?”

“Well, what about buffalo chicken?”

“We don’t have any tenders.”

Looking at a whole assortment of tenders before him in the glass encasing, my friend enquires, “What about these?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can’t you just use these?”

“Um, I wouldn’t know the price.”

The price is clearly marked.

“Well, just charge us whatever, that’s fine.”

She leaves us and goes to huddle with her other deli friends, looking bewildered. Finally, we yell at them it was fine, and just request a a roast beef sub, on wheat. While she makes our sandwich we wander to a nearby table where free smaples are being served. A young black woman, maybe in her late 20s, converses with my friend, explaining how this cheese was healthier than other brands. While we were stuffing ourselves full of this healthy cheese she asked where we were from, and when we responded DC/Connecticut and California she gave us a dumbfounded look. We explained we were down for a Ultimate Frisbee tournament (we lost her on that one too). She asked if we were in school, and when my friend answered he used to be but is now in the Air Force, she responded:

“You know, school…it’s not for everyone.”

“Yes, I agree…” I said.

“You can go on without school, it don’t matter.”

“Well, yes, if you are able to be successful and do what you want to do without school, hey, that’s great, more power to you.”

“Yeah…Michael Jordan, he went to UNC, right. He got kicked out, and he doin’ fine now.”

Yeah, I would say he is “doin’ fine” now…um, when you are the greatest basketball player ever I think it is ok to leave school early.

“Well, I don’t think that is right, he went professional after three years, but no, that’s correct, he did not graduate…”

“And that past president, what’s his name…?

“Clinton?”

“Yeah, Clinton, that’s him. He had a C average in college.”

“Bush.”

“Huh?”

“You mean Bush. Bush had a C average.”

“Bush did? No, I think it was Clinton…”

Ugh. Georgetown’s claim to fame on the line here…

“Well, actually Clinton was Rhodes Scholar and went to Oxford after graduation.”

“Rhodes what?”

“Nevermind. But Bush got a C average at Yale.”

“Yale, that’s right.”

“But your argument is right, he became the president of the United States.”

“Yeah…” looking thoughtful. “But he better get our boys home. I don’t want them dying over there.”

I decided to leave it at that, and besides, our sandwiches were ready. I excused myself. I was reminded that despite the tourism Savannah attracts, and its genteel city center, it was still in many ways suffering, with rare signs of improvement (the murder rate has actually tripled over the last decade, and 18% oif the population live in poverty). Per education, Savannah has some of the worst public schools in the state, forcing those that can afford it to place their children in nearby boarding schools. In 2003, only 25% of the population older than 25 had a bachelor’s degree. We walked back to the fields and ate our sandwiches in the cool shade of the trees, relaxing before an afteroon of two more games.

We actually played well in the afternoon against two very good team, although several costly tournovers cost us. During the last game of the afternoon dark clouds collected overhead, and although rain would be welcomed in place of the heat, it also cut our game short. As a strong rainstorm torrented water down on the city, my friend from DC and I grabbed a ride back to the Hilton Hotel in the center of the Savannah, where the Air Force/Navy guy had rented a room. We eagerly took showers to cleanse ourselves of the dirt and sweat that enveloped our bodies after the day, and I took my sweaty jerseys and hung them on the balcony outside to dry. When I slid open the door, I was reminded immediately that we were on the second highest floor of the building, the thirteenth. For a city with graceful architecture, most of the buildings were generally low to the ground, with any higher ones if at all near the river. So I was greeted with a termendous view of the entire city looking west. What made it even more awe inspiring was that the thunderstorm had now subsided, and only a dry heat was left. Against a backdrop of clouds and a setting sun, a purple hue framed lightning bolts that would seemingly spring from the ground over the city all the way until the horizon. Although beautiful, a recent incident reminded me how deadly these can be. We settled on the bed and watched some TV, channel surfing from Walk the Line to Sportcenter, where we caught Ankiel’s two home runs.

The tournament rented out a bar for the night, so we made our way out to grab some much needed dinner beforehand. As I collected my stuff, I realized that I was missing my wallet. I emptied the contents of my bag, thinking perhaps it got misplaced with all my equipment, but to no avail. We did check in the trunk of the car as well, but found nothing. I was discouraged, as I was worried I would need my ID to get into the bar for the night, although I had all my cash in a seperate location. We walked up to the concierge desk and asked whether a wallet had been returned, and were directed to the front desk. The young man said, yes, he thought they had found a wallet, but wasn’t sure where it was, checking random drawers in the desk as if it was a menu I was looking for. He asked the older woman in charge, who promptly found it, handing it to me, telling me that they had all commented how nice it was. I laughed and thanked them (it had been found in the parking garage and returned by someone). Had this happened up north, I am sure the wallet would have been a goner, the front desk unhelpful, and if it had been found, secured in some safe location. But as it was, this was the South, and the wallet was returned by a stranger with all its contents, and the front desk had it laying around waiting for me, perfectly confident that I would promptly claim it and that it would be safe from its frontline staff.

Relieved, we finally headed out to dinner. We made our way through the streets of the city for the first time on foot, which really is the only proper way to see Savannah. It had little traffic, was astoundingly clean, and it seemed every few blocks a new park or square would pop up. We passed one statue that looked like a pirate, which I left the group for a minute to check out. Turns out the ‘pirate’ was General Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia.

We finally arrived at Vinnie Van Go Go’s, a reknowned pizzeria boasting New York style slices. It was located on a strip of bars that I can only describe as the anithesis of Adams Morgan – calm and tidy, but more inviting and less pretentious than Georgetown. A very casual atmosphere surrounded the area, much like I had encountered in Europe, something I really miss here in the States. The pizza was excellent, coupled with a very friendly server. My friend asked if she was working there 10 years ago (she replied she had) and he remarked that he remembered her from last time. She seemed to enjoy the job, and like much of the locals I had run into, seemed very content. I also sampled my first Southern sweet ice tea here – it tasted closer to Chick-Fil-A than I expected, and my companions pointed out authentic sweet ice tea is super sweet, “so you can pour it on pancakes.” When it came time to go, I noticed that everyone simply grabbed their beer and went, and walked down the streets. I was about to question this practice, as I did not want to get in trouble with the police unnecessarily, bu thought that the native Savannaians who had joined us at this point probably knew what they were doing. We arrived at the bar, and I stopped cautiously short, wondering what to do with my drink, and wondering which of the gentlemen milling outside was the bouncer. But then I realized that the others were just walking into the bar, cup and all. So I did the same, discovering that there was no bouncer and no one stopped and checked IDs, and it was perfectly legitimate to walk in with a half full cup of beer from another establishment. God, I am loving the South already. It turns out there is no open container law in Savannah, which makes from some wicked St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

We went to the top floor of the bar, which had free beer for everyone, and a smattering of the frisbee crowd was already there, drinking up. I noticed our older teammate, the pirate, and went up to talk to him. While everyone else was dressed casually, he was sporting dress shoes, black slacks, a white tuxedo jacket, cuffs, black bow tie, slicked back hair, earrings, and of course the eye patch. It was quite a sight to behold. He went from a pirate to a Bond villian, and I even heard someone remark, “Is that Skeletor?”. Anyway, we chatted about the games that day and the tournament, and he lamented to me that the state of Savannah ultimate has gone south (no pun intended) in recent years. It seems as if the league sponsors the teams for tournaments, causing tension when advanced players only want the best players to go, unlike WAFC, in which teams are largely independently created. As I was grabbing a refill of beer, I ran into a kid who threw up on the field the first game that morning, apparently suffering from the effects of his birthday. Well, he was still going strong, and I saw he was wearing a shirt that listed 21 things he needed to do before the end of the night, checklist style. These ranged from wearing only underwear while hitting on a girl, to getting spanked 21 times by 21 people, to a ‘sunrise surprise’. When I caught him he was prepping for a chug, but a frisbee chug, which would be a disc filled with beer. As anyone can attest, a lot of beer can fit on the flip side of a disc, but he was game. A crowd gathered around and the disc was filled, and he sure enough chugged it. Luckily, a trash can was next to him, because it ended up there a couple of seconds later. Less than a couple of minutes later he asked me if I could chug a beer, and incredulously, I asked, “Can you?” But he insisted that he needed to check off “Chug a beer with a stranger from his list.” So we had a chug off, which thank god no one was watching, because even though I thought it wouldn’t be close I absolutely was creamed at it.

Anyway, it turned out to be quite an entertaining night. College is such a community, it is easy to meet people, but once out in the working world, approaching other people can be like pulling teeth. So I enjoyed the rare opportunity to be part of a community where I knew no one but everyone was immediately friends. I played endless games of flip cup, talked to people that spanked our team earlier, and even ran into the brother of a DC teammate of mine who was there with the Gainesville team and recognized me via his attending a Pittsburgh tournament where he ran into my twin (complicated, but this is how being a twin works). I would say the only downside was since they got rid of the coed division, males outnumbered the females, so as the night progressed and people would pair off to go dance by the live band downstairs, it kinda died down upstairs. I did receive encouragement from my teammates regarding a blonde girl I had been conversing with for part of the night, and they left me with a map, hotel key, and prayer that I would make it home that night (or not). Anyway, nothing really transpired and I was more keen to get some rest anyway, so I headed back to the hotel eventually. The hotel was closeby, but in the short amount I walked I passed more bars, many who had live music. Another reason to like the South, I hear live bands are a lot more common, and I wished I had the chance to explore this more…

After our first morning game we had a bye before the consolation game, and seeing as I hadn’t eaten anything execpt some fruit I pilfered from the hotel as we left I wandered back to the grocery store to get some food. As I walked toward the entrance I noticed a lady hawking free copies of the local Sunday paper, and as I had time to kill, I approached her to pick one up. She immediately greeted me and offered me a paper, but at the same time explained that I would get a discount subsciption for the year and how I would enjoy its features. I explained to her that I was actually not from Savannah, and as much as I would like to read about the city every week, I am sure delivery would be a problem. Rather than hand me the paper (or not) and move on to the next potential customer as us Northerners would have likely have done, she asked me where I was from and what I was doing in the city of Savannah. I briefly described the tournament and how I came down from DC, and then we got into a conversation of the area. She told me that she was actually from Smithville(?) South Carolina, that she drives the hour and a half to do this job, but added quickly and with an earnest look, “This is just a job though…What I really enjoy is being with my kids, raising them.” I found the way she threw this into the conversation as a bit defensive, if not endearing, as if she needed to divulge or justify to me, a complete stranger, her lifestyle. She told me how great her hometown was and that if I had a chance I should check it out. I thanked her, and told her I would be back to pick up the paper, which I half apologized for free loading (even though I pointed out to her I was about to take advantage of the free food samples inside as well, and that Southern hospitality seemed endless). She held a copy for me, and I entered the store to find breakfast. Unfortunately it was too early for samples, but the cheese woman from yesterday raved about the potato salad, so I scouted these out. I was met with more options than I thought possible, everything from basic potato salad to southern style to egg mustard to sour cream, etc. I finally settled on the egg mustard, found my way back to the fields, and had a tasty breakfast.

Our final game of the tournament was against the Gainsville team, and we ended up merging with another team from Savannah. At this point I was pretty exhausted, not really from the frisbee but from the entire weekend itself. I played well, but we too often found ourselves not in position to make plays. The kid from California did have endless energy, calling the team together for “vision quests” and giving me a scolding after one play, saying “When I look at you, you remind me of the Julius Cesaer quote, ” Let me have men about me that are fat/Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights/Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look/He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” I need that look from you.” Hmmm, quoting Shakespeare for motivation… I think he must have been in the sun too long at that point as well. As soon as the game headed, we wanted to head back to the hotel for one last shower before we hit the road, so that we could get back to DC on time. And it is a good thing too, because as we walked in I noticed the hotel was hosting the Miss United Nation’s Pageant, which I didn’t know existed, but for which I would have gladly volunteered my judging abilities. I attempted to mingle with the fine ladies, but after five minutes of interested loitering I made my way up to the room.

The road back was long once again, and as glad as I was to catch some rest, I forgot how small and uncomfortable a Miata can be. We stopped in North Carolina for some food, at a Texas steak house, where I sampled another Southern speciality, fried okra. It was pretty good, a bit similar to zuchinni. Our drive continued past endless stores selling fireworks, and outlets advertising strange items such as wigs and pants size 42 and up. Finally, at about 12:30 am Sunday morning, we made it to DC, after a long but fulfilling weekend. I had played in tournament, made new friends, learned some stickshift, gotten a tan, seen a beautiful city, and had pork rinds, sweet ice tea, and okra. Not a bad adventure, can’t wait to see what’s next…
 

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