Savannah Scenes # 3: Savannah

Ok, I’ve really got to pick up the pace on this project now because I’m developing a backlog of movies. The library had The Conspirator ready for me sooner than I expected, Netflix got CBGB here faster than I expected, and I still haven’t watched my friend Nathanael’s copy of Forces of Nature after holding it hostage for 3 months. (Sorry, Nathanael!) Now I’ve got plans to watch CBGB on Tuesday with my movie-and-punk-music aficionado friend, Jim. If I don’t tear through this review of Savannah now, I’ll start getting details mixed up, like thinking Joey Ramone was a duck hunter or something. …God, that’s a fabulous image.

Savannah was filmed here in 2011 by Unclaimed Freight Productions, a very busy local studio which is also responsible for the afore-mentioned CBGB and a soon-to-be-made Gregg Allman biopic. It’s based on a book called Ward Allen: Savannah Market Hunter, by Jack Cay. It’s the true story of Ward Allen, a local aristocrat born and raised for the genteel lifestyle who told everyone to suck his decoys and became a duck hunter instead. He continually battled local bureaucracy for his right and the rights of other hunters to shoot and hunt along the Savannah River and sell their haul to local hotels and other businesses. Oh, and his best buddy was a black guy. In the Jim Crow south. If you’re interested, here are a couple of Savannah Morning News articles about the movie, one from February 2011 and the other after a screening in March of 2012.

I remember when they were filming this three years ago. I think every actor and extra in town was involved one way or another. I have to hand it to Unclaimed Freight- they pulled in some A-list talent for this low-budget flick about a guy hardly anyone in Savannah, and no one outside of Savannah, has ever heard of. Jim Caviezel (Jesus himself!) played Ward Allen. Jaimie Alexander, now famous for playing Sif in the Thor movies, portrayed his wife Lucy. I think the frosting on this celebrity cake, though, is Chiwetel Ejiofor. He plays Ward Allen’s hunting buddy Christmas Moultrie. Probably not a lot of people knew (or could pronounce) his name in 2011. But now that Ejiofor is bound to be carried out of the Academy Awards under a pile of glittering Oscars for his work in 12 Years a Slave, we can all be retroactively proud that he made a movie here first. There was also Hal Holbrook, looking like he had a great time playing a sympathetic judge. Holbrook, of course, is better than A-list- he’s legendary.

So, how do I think this low-budget period piece fared? And did it make good use of our fair city? Um… well… it certainly had its good points and its… not so good points. Let’s rip off the band-aid and go straight to one thing that did NOT work:

Savannah, Christmas Moultrie, Chiwetel Ejiofor


Oh, hey, an unexpected bonus: I learned that if I use the PrintScreen function while watching a movie on this computer, it will automatically save a screen capture to the Dropbox folder! Anyway, back to the point I intended to make here. OH DEAR GOD WHAT IS THAT? Movie making and theatre are both very dependent on illusion. You, Unclaimed Freight, were trying to create the illusion of a luxurious and well-funded period piece. While I admire your ambition and your general ingenuity on display throughout the film, this is a moment that makes your limits painfully, terrifyingly obvious. When the only old man makeup you can afford comes out of a jar labelled “Uncanny Valley Nightmare Cream,” you should have the good sense to avoid close ups. Shoot him from behind or in silhouette or hire an actual old guy to stand in for Chiwetel Ejiofor, anything but this!

Ok, now that’s out of the way, let’s move on to recognizable locations. First up, it’s

First Baptist Church, Savannah

Pictured: not a courthouse

First Baptist Church pretending to be a courthouse! The church was built in the 1830s in the Greek Revival style, which was very typical at that time. I have had people on my tours comment that Christ Church, also from the same time period and of the same style, looks like a courthouse, so I’m not surprised the production team felt this one did too. I read in one of the newspaper articles about Savannah that they shot the interiors in an actual historic courthouse in Effingham County.

Lucy, Savannah, Chippewa Square

Jaimie Alexander as Lucy with Chippewa Square in the background.

A lot of the in-town scenes were done around Chippewa Square for some reason. Here is Ward Allen’s eventual wife, Lucy, crouched in the square with his dog. You can see the pedestal of the Oglethorpe monument there just left of center.

Perry St., Savannah

Perry Street town homes

Here is Ward Allen coming to deliver freshly shot fowl to Lucy’s house (romantic?) on Perry Street, which, again, is right alongside Chippewa Square.

Savannah, Jim Caviezel, Perry St.

No anachronistic details here. Nope.

I must pause to point out one little detail that drove me nuts. See that sort of small beige box on the door frame to the right of Ward Allen’s elbow? Yeah, I’m pretty sure this house actually has an intercom or something right there. I meant to go have a look myself, but never got around to it. It drives me crazy that the production team just, I don’t know, stuck a box over it? It doesn’t look like something that belongs there in 1918, it looks like something that’s being covered up. They couldn’t use a plant or swing the camera around and shoot from the other direction or something? Argh!

Savannah, Harper-Fowlkes House

A very tidy market indeed.

Also very close to Chippewa Square is the Harper-Fowlkes House (I’d recognize that back porch anywhere!), which served as the duck market (duck monger’s?). I must say, that is a very, very clean and sparsely populated open-air market. That was another small problem I had with this movie: it feels a little bit sterile and a little bit empty. I’m sure it’s because they could only afford to hire and costume so many extras and there’s a limit to how much dirt you can truck in to cover the street when you’ve only got a $1 million budget. Oh, speaking of dirt!

Savannah, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bull St.

For olden times, just add dirt.

I often tell my tourists it’s so easy to shoot a period film here. You just get rid of the parking meters and cover the street in dirt and you’re in business! Unclaimed Freight clearly operates under the same philosophy. This is a shot of Christmas Moultrie with the camera pointing out from behind the columns of First Baptist Courthou- I mean Church. As is the norm, they hid the asphalt with a tractor load of soil and mulch. And how fortunate most of the sidewalks downtown are herringbone brick and not concrete. I am a little insulted, however. Savannah is not so backward that we were still putting up with dirt roads after WWI. The major streets at the very least, like Bull Street there, had already been paved in brick for a few decades. Hmph.

Aside from places, I was able to spot a few people I recognized as well. Here we have Savannah’s favorite ice cream man, Stratton Leopold!

Stratton Leopold, Savannah

You brought me some Mocha Chocolate Chip, right?

Stratton Leopold is the owner of Leopold’s Ice Cream, which has been in business since 1919, never mind a three decade hiatus. He is also a successful movie producer, so seeing him in front of the camera took me by surprise. He only has a brief scene near the end in one of Christmas Moultrie’s flashbacks.

Then I got to see a much closer acquaintance of mine, or at least he is since I was in Our Town at Asbury Methodist in November:

Billy Hester, Savannah

Those sermons ain’t gonna write themselves!

It’s the Reverend Billy Hester! He runs Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church, which also has a killer theatre program. Performing in Our Town there was one of the things that distracted me through the fall and kept me from blogging for such a long time. Billy and his wife Cheri do, in fact, have professional acting resumes. Cheri was also in Our Town. I played Mrs. Gibbs and she played my neighbor Mrs. Webb. She told me a little bit about living in New York many years ago and how she used to be a hand model there for a little while. She said that was a really weird job. I think we got on that topic because I complimented her manicure. Anyway, later on she was telling some of us about Billy’s involvement in Savannah and that she was kind of annoyed he ended up in this costume here-

Billy Hester, Savannah

Wardrobe department get confused about the setting?

-without any on-screen explanation. So why is Billy wearing Wickham’s coat from Pride & Prejudice?

Wickham, Pride and Prejudice, 2005

For real, what movie did the wardrobe people think they were making?

According to Cheri, poor Billy is the foolish-looking victim of the editing process. There was a scene that ended up on the cutting room floor in which a bunch of these guys are involved in some kind of historical reenactment. Probably Civil War something, but I can’t remember now. So, Billy’s just stuck there in his last scene looking like he raided his great grandpa’s steamer trunk long before Macklemore made that sort of thing trendy.

At this point, I have to give credit where it’s due and show you where, I think, most of the budget went.

Savannah, marsh, aerial

Just to make sure you remember the title of the book.


Savannah, marsh, aerial

I believe I can fly

Savannah, marsh, aerial

I believe I can touch the sky

Savannah, marsh, aerial

I think about it every night and day

Savannah, marsh, aerial

Spread my wings and fly away

I don’t know how much these wheeling aerial shots cost, but I’m guessing “nearly all of the money”. At first, seeing the camera swoop over the marsh every few minutes annoyed me because I thought it was gratuitous, if attractive, padding. Then I realized, “Oh, duh, Ward Allen is a duck hunter. This is the perspective of a bird in flight.” Once I got it, I really appreciated these moments for their cinematic beauty and atmospheric serenity. Also, the music was really good. Then the movie had to go and vaporize my good will with one of the very last shots:


Jim Caviezel, Savannah, greenscreen


Seriously?! You’ve been spoiling me for nearly two hours with graceful visuals and now you offend my eyeballs with this obvious and heinous green screen? Not even Jim Caviezel is pretty enough to make up for it!

Ok, so, I would not call Savannah a failure, but it had some pretty serious shortcomings. Most of the problems are with the writing, honestly. I applaud Unclaimed Freight for choosing to make a movie about a local hero in a small(ish) city embroiled in conflicts that hardly anyone alive now can appreciate. The thing about trying to turn an extremely localized story into a successful movie is you have to find some way to universalize it, even for Savannahians like me. I didn’t know a thing about Ward Allen or why he might be interesting. I still feel like I’m waiting for some kind of punchline. There were a lot of ways to tell Ward Allen’s story, but this movie felt like it was trying to tell it in all directions at once. There were many themes to choose from and I really wish the writer and director had chosen one, maybe two, and developed that more fully. Is this a love story between Ward Allen and Lucy? Is it a story of stalwart devotion between a black man and white man in the racist turn-of-the-century South? Is it about a man who eschews society’s expectations and chooses wildness over civility? Is it about a vanishing way of life? Sadly, Savannah tried to cover all these things, which left the finished product feeling rather shallow.

I had some problems with the structure too. Framing it as a flashback from Jack Cay’s perspective is kind of ok, since the movie is based on his book. The problem there is that Ward Allen was dead long before Jack Cay came along, so Cay’s recollections are actually stories that were told to him by Allen’s pal, Christmas Moultrie. That mean’s Cay’s flashbacks are actually someone else’s flashbacks. And then the characters experience flashbacks of their own within those flashbacks! It’s disorienting and, frankly, sloppy. If you are not Christopher Nolan, you probably should not be creating a world with that many levels. I understand the desire to make sure Jack Cay had some kind of presence in the film, but perhaps it would have been better from a storytelling perspective to streamline things and let Christmas Moultrie alone tell it from his perspective. At any rate, no more flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, ok? And certainly not from multiple points of view.

I’m a little undecided about the acting, particularly Jim Caviezel. I read a critic’s assertion somewhere that Caviezel was the only actor in Hollywood who could underplay while still overacting. It made me giggle and it may be correct. I enjoy watching him play Mr. Reese on Person of Interest, but I really watch that show for Michael Emerson. Seeing Caviezel in Savannah didn’t really sway me one way or another, though. Jaimie Alexander had little enough to do in this movie, really. Lucy is a character that comes in strong already and never really grows from there. I guess it’s forgivable since this movie wasn’t about her. I found Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Christmas Moultrie to be the most relatable and real person in the film, though there wasn’t nearly enough of him. Why would you put a talent like Ejiofor in your movie and then hardly give him anything to do? Part of the problem was that Ejiofor came across so easy and natural and it made everybody else look like they were acting. Also, there were the accents. I’ve gone over this already and yes, the dreaded Hollywood Southern was in full, ear-bleeding force here. Poor Jaimie Alexander came off especially bad. How can that be when she was born and raised in the South?! Then again, it’s happened before: see Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias. Chiwetel Ejiofor sounded most natural to me and he’s English! Same deal in 12 Years a Slave, which featured two other English actors as Southern plantation owners. Why are English actors so much better at this than American actors?

There you have my thoughts on Savannah. Worth watching? I guess if you’re a completest (like me). It’s fun picking out people and places I recognize. But if you don’t live here it may not stand up too well on its own merits. If you like watching Jim Caviezel pretend to be uproariously drunk a whole lot, though- go for it!

Savannah Scenes #2: Glory

Ok, let’s just gloss over the fact I have neglected this blog way, way too long (Look, I was in a show, then it was the holidays, and we also had to move my unwell grandma up here from Florida- my neglect is completely legitimate!) and pick up right where I left off.

Luckily for me, being on a budget as I am, the library system here has many locally shot movies available for free. I watched Glory months ago and I’ve got another DVD sitting on the shelf that’s due soon, so I need to get this post taken care of and move on to the next one.

Glory came out in 1989 and it’s about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the Federal army’s first all-black regiment. We’re talking about the Civil War, of course. This regiment was perhaps obscure to most (white) Americans before 1989, but we live in a post-Glory world now, so you better be ashamed of your ignorance if you don’t already know what I’m talking about. Much of the story’s first half, training the soldiers and whatnot, is set in Massachusetts, whereas the second half, the attack, is set in South Carolina. Exactly none of the movie was shot in either one of those places. It was all shot here, near here, and down the Georgia coast.

A lot of the scenery is in some random field or woods or marsh that could be anyplace nearby, but several locations were easily recognizable to me. After the opening battle sequence, things slow down for a minute and you see all these Federal bigwigs hobnobbing inside some fancy, fancy house. Then, Matthew Broderick (as Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th’s newly appointed commander) steps outside the front door and has a chat with Carey Elwes while leaning against the front gate of the house.

Mercer-Williams House, Savannah, Georgia, Mercer House

The Mercer-Williams House

Oh, hi, Mercer-Williams House! Yeah, they used it for the interior as well as exterior shots. I knew that, yet I had kinda forgotten and it caught me by surprise for a moment. Now, some of you undoubtedly know this was the infamous residence of Jim Williams, the Savannah socialite forever immortalized in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Speaking of which, I guess I’ll have to cover that one too eventually. Anyway, Williams was still alive and living at the house during the shoot. I can’t remember if he had finally been acquitted of murdering Danny Hanson yet or if he was still tied up with his fourth trial. I could check THE BOOK I suppose, but I just don’t feel like it. Hey, this is a blog, not an essay. Go find yourself a Grad student if you want real work.

I had a family of five for a tour recently and mentioned the movie to them when we walked by the house. One of the guys was a fan of Glory and was so pleased when I told him it had been shot here in Savannah. He had no idea. (I guess he never bothered to watch any of the extras on the DVD?) I snatched that pic up there from Flickr just so you’d know which house I was talking about. I found screen captures online for several of the other locations I’ll mention, but simply could not find that one scene with Broderick in front of the Mercer House! I don’t know what the deal is with that.

So then the action moves to Jones Street for a minute or two where the new recruits are signing up:

Glory, recruits, Jones Street, Savannah, Georgia

Glory’s recruitment scene, shot on Jones St.

I think that’s the block between Whitaker and Barnard. Remember now, this is all supposed to be in Massachusetts. It’s great how Savannah can dress up as pretty much any 19th century American city. It’s definitely way cheaper than filming in Boston and way warmer when you’re shooting in February and March (like these guys). I often tell people on my tours all you have to do to film a period piece here is remove the parking meters, cover the street in dirt and poof! Unclaimed Freight Productions turned that formula on its head, though, when they filmed CBGB here in 2012. Don’t worry Punk fans- I’ll get to that one later!

So, the next location to catch my eye was the training ground for the new recruits of the 54th Mass. Their barracks was our roundhouse:

54th Mass., Glory, Savannah, Georgia, Roundhouse Railroad Museum

Training camp for the 54th Mass.

I am ashamed to admit this, but I have never visited the Georgia State Railroad Museum. I know, I know! Shut up. It’s on my to-do list. I did attend a friend’s wedding there a few years ago. According to the Coastal Heritage Society  the “Georgia State Railroad Museum is believed to be the largest and most complete antebellum railroad repair facility still in existence, in the world!” You can tell they’re very excited about that. So, if trains are your thing, you’ll be glad to know this place is just a couple blocks west of the Historic District, right down Louisville Rd. Even though I haven’t toured the place (yes, I know- shame!), I still knew exactly what I was looking at because of the distinctive, massively recognizable round smoke stack you see in the middle there. I watched the DVD’s commentary track and the director said the point of setting the barracks there was to emphasize the built-up and industrial nature of the North so it would contrast with the later scenes that take place the pastoral South.

Most of the good stuff develops in this camp. You know, it occurs to me how gutsy it is to make a Civil War movie that sets most of its action far away from the battlefield. But Glory isn’t so much about fighting, it’s more about becoming. Robert Gould Shaw starts off as a privileged, though diffident, gentleman and transforms into a real commander. The black men he commands go on different journeys. Thomas (Andre Braugher) learns to be a fighter, Trip (Denzel Washington) learns to stop picking fights all the time, and Morgan Freeman, um… ok, not sure on that one. He’s a mentor… which he is in every movie. Well, if I owned a copy of that DVD and could watch it again, I’m sure I’d pick up on something. And the white folks all around them, um, a few of them learn to be ever so slightly less racist. A tiny bit. Keep in mind I’m talking about the movie here. I know that in reality probably nobody involved with the 54th Mass. was anywhere near so lovable. It all made for good cinema, though.

Moving on to the last location shot I want to point out:

Glory, Savannah, Georgia, River Street

A much-altered River Street in Glory.

Look, it’s River Street! But where’s the river? Since when does River Street have two sides? What black magic is this?!

I remember another tour guide (Who was it? Was it Don?) telling me about this. To shoot the scene where the army parades down a street in Boston, the production team did up the buildings on one side of River Street, then built a facade of completely fake buildings down the other side. They did a bang-up job. I had to stare at this scene pretty hard before I could spot anything I recognized. In this screencap, you can easily make out the dome of our City Hall right in the back. I don’t think that’s architecturally appropriate to the mid-19th century, but I bet the filmmakers shrugged and figured nobody would be looking at that anyway. Movie makers do that a lot, actually. It’s funny how often they’re right. In one shot of this scene, I think I also juuuuuuust made out the edge of the Hyatt behind Matthew Broderick’s head during a close-up. Ah, sometimes an inch of framing is all that separates the 1860s from the 1960s.

There was shooting in other nearby locations, but nothing especially recognizable. One salt marsh or woodland looks much like another. The last part, where they attack the fort, was done on Jekyll Island, about 1 1/2 hours down the coast. I really need to get my act together and visit Jekyll Island too. That’s another thing on my to-do list.

So, my opinion of Glory? I liked it more than I thought I would. I don’t usually care much for war movies and I’m always bored to tears by the Civil War (bad Southerner!). I was afraid at the beginning this was going to be one of those movies that’s ostensibly about black people, then the whole story is told from the perspective of some white main character. Hollywood reduces black people (or other minorities) to second-class status within their own narrative all the time because it makes the head honchos feel safer about their investment.  It looks like I was mistaken, though. It did feel like a movie about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and not about Robert Gould Shaw. I know Matthew Broderick got top billing (and that was probably a marketing strategy), but it was much more of an A-list ensemble piece. Glory shows up pretty well if you do a race-centric version of the Bechdel test on it: 1) it has at least two named black characters in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides the white characters.

All in all, Glory is a classic Savannahians can be proud of the city’s involvement in. But I’m not getting too comfortable. I know I’ve got a whole lot of bad-to-mediocre movies coming at me. Stay tuned….

Savannah Scenes #1: Cape Fear (1962)

This seems like a good opportunity to initiate a little project I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’m gonna round up every movie I can get my hands on that was shot in Savannah and write about them! I bet you’ve watched all kinds of movies that were shot here and you didn’t even know. I mean, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is kind of a giveaway, but how about Glory (which I haven’t seen) or Something to Talk About (which I… also haven’t seen) or The Last Song (which I’m not looking forward to seeing)? Not to mention the just-released independent film Savannah, starring Jim Caviezel, and the to-be released on October 11th CBGB with Alan Rickman! Ok, I guess it’s a no-brainer a movie called Savannah would be shot here, but CBGB is about that club in New York. Savannah substituted for 1970s New York City in a movie about the birthplace of punk rock! That is hilarious and how would you ever have guessed if I didn’t tell you?

This project may morph into a movie-centric walking tour. There’s only one movie tour in town and that’s Savannah Movie Tours. I suppose I could ride along with them to snag some material, but I don’t want to poach their stuff. Besides, Georgia’s decade-long film making dry spell ended in about 2010 when the legislature finally put together a real sweet incentives package to lure filming back here. Worked like magic and now there are all sorts of new movie stories to assemble. I know several actors in town who have had small speaking parts in various movies or who got to be extras. I’m sure I can round up some good stuff. Hell, I was an extra myself in an episode of Ruby several years back. If you ever watched that show, by the way, my dad is a mailman and delivers the mail to her house.

So, I begin my new adventure with a silver screen classic: Cape Fear, the 1962 original starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. I became aware of this movie last summer when SCAD’s Cinema Circle screened it at the Trustees Theater. I really wanted to go because Connect Savannah did a very nice write up about it and mentioned much of the movie was shot in Savannah. Robert Mitchum was even arrested for real in this town and put on a Georgia chain gang when he was about 14. Reportedly, he was not very happy to come back to Savannah for filming. I missed the show because of work or something and have been meaning to rent a copy ever since. How lucky I am it popped up under the Free Movies heading in Comcast On Demand!

I had a great time watching it last week. It was such a surprise to see the Universal International logo, then BAM! there was the Gordon monument in the middle of Wright Square:

Cape Fear, Gordon Monument, Wright Square, 1962

Wright Square takes front and center at the beginning of Cape Fear.

Yeah, I used my iPhone to snap pictures of the screen. There was probably a slicker way to get these images, but oh well. Technology fail, yeah!

Then POOF! there was the Customs House and Bay Street (and Robert Mitchum prancing through traffic like a total fool, a very dangerous thing to do on Bay Street today).

City Hall, Cape Fear, 1962, Robert Mitchum

The front of City Hall at the beginning of Cape Fear.

Then Mitchum went sailing right inside the front door of City Hall. They used the actual interior of City Hall too. God, the set designer had the easiest job in the world for the first half of this movie. That old elevator shaft on Mitchum’s right is still there and still looks just like that and they still use the damn thing:

Cape Fear, 1962, Savannah City Hall interior

The interior of City Hall as it appears in Cape Fear.

For Mitchum’s first ominous encounter with Gregory Peck, when he reaches in the window and snatches the keys out of his car, all that was done in a Bay Street parking lot just east of City Hall in front of the Cotton Exchange. Don’t worry, I don’t have any cheesy pictures of that. I was puzzled for a little while, though, by this shot right here:

Boar's Head, Cape Fear, 1962, Savannah

A shot of the entrance to the (I think fake) Boar’s Head in Cape Fear.

It’s implied that’s a restaurant in town, close to the docks. There is, in fact, a restaurant on River Street called The Boar’s Head Grill and Tavern, but there’s no way this shot could have been done anywhere near there. You would never see exposed shore and waves washing up anywhere along the waterfront. If you do, that means you’ve gotten your stupid self caught here in the middle of a hurricane. I had to review these few seconds a couple of times to convince myself this was a fake. It looks so much like the actual Boar’s Head and yet not quite. The real Boar’s Head says on their website they originally opened up in 1959. I wonder if someone saw that restaurant and decided to recreate the exterior in a more preferable location. The interiors were certainly done on a sound stage.

Later on in the movie, we have a clear view of the old Armstrong House, which is supposed to be the girls’ school Gregory Peck’s daughter attends:

Armstrong House, Cape Fear, 1962, Savannah

A shot of the Armstrong House serving as a girls’ school in Cape Fear.

That’s it there on the left. I only just now remembered Armstrong Junior College (Armstrong Atlantic State University these days) didn’t leave that location and move to the south side until 1965. I’m so accustomed to walking by that house and knowing it’s been a law firm for decades, it feels weird to look at it and know it was still a college at the time.

Just as Gregory Peck’s movie daughter is getting out of school, we get these shots of Robert Mitchum-

Forsyth Park, fountain, Savannah, Cape Fear, 1962

A shot of the Forsyth Park Fountain in Cape Fear.

Robert Mitchum, Forsyth Park, Savannah, Cape Fear, 1962

Robert Mitchum struts down the center of Forsyth Park in Cape Fear.

-striding through Forsyth Park as sinisterly as a man can stride anywhere. Of course our signature fountain had to be in this movie somewhere. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s a legal requirement for every movie that shoots in this town.

Those are most of the recognizable bits that caught my eye. I’m pretty sure the Bowden family home (Gregory Peck’s character) was also somewhere around here, but I didn’t recognize it. Looked like it might be on Skidaway Island or something. If I owned a DVD of this movie with a commentary track, maybe it would say. Oh yeah, and some of the shots on the beach looked like they were actually done around the Tybee Pier. I don’t know about the marina scenes when Peck first takes a swing at Mitchum, but one marina looks much like another to me. I guess they probably shot the cypress swamp/river scenes around here too. They would only have to drive a few miles outside of town to put in boats at the Ogeechee. All the finale with the houseboat and everything was clearly done on a sound stage back in L.A. A very well-built one, but still a sound stage.

So, my thoughts on the experience of watching Cape Fear? It blew my mind how much downtown Savannah still looks just the same. I did spot a few background items, the facades of which have since been restored, or buildings I know were torn down later in the 60s or 70s. But really, it looked to me like someone parked a bunch of vintage cars on the street, stocked up on some black and white film, and rolled camera. That movie could have been shot yesterday. As for the movie itself, the script is tight and tense, it tackles uncomfortable subject matter without being salacious about it, all the actors hit the right pitch, and all of the characters are well-developed and smart. Thrillers these days have an awful tendency to feature characters who compound their difficulties by making obviously stupid decisions. What I love about Cape Fear is that the good guys get deeper and deeper in trouble in spite of making all the right decisions. I think this movie is a noir masterpiece and it makes me proud to know it was shot here.

If you are a Cape Fear fan, as I now am, why sit at home and admire the setting from afar? Schedule a trip down here and take a walk with me in the very footsteps of Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck! I promise not to drown you, shoot you, or hit you in the head with a rock.

And then they came for my house museums….

The neighbors are at it again. Tour guides and tour company owners like myself have already spent more than a year dodging the choler lobbed at us by Historic District residents. Looks like the house museums are up next. Guess it’s their turn. I don’t mind the reprieve, frankly.

I’m being a little unfair, I know. The downtown residents are often my ideological allies, such as when they furiously defended their turf against the encroachment of double-decker tour buses. That prevented a massively stupid development, utterly inappropriate to this setting, while also eliminating another potential competitor for me. Denizens of downtown also vocally opposed the possibility of a cruise ship terminal along our waterfront, which probably would have been no less disastrous for us than it has been for Charleston. I do think City Council would have reached that conclusion on their own, but it’s still nice to know someone’s got an eye on them. I love Savannah too and find comfort knowing it is inhabited by these legionnaires of legality who will leap to the city’s defense at the tiniest provocation and save me the trouble of rattling my own saber. (I don’t have one.)

Sometimes my allies become my enemies, though, as a result of our differing requirements: I use the Historic District to earn a living and they use it to live in. While tour operators sometimes make the mistake of dismissing residents’ needs or simply having no manners while on the job, downtown residents sometimes make the mistake of being peevishly possessive and misdirected in their ire, which has led to the present kerfuffle with the house museums.

The Savannah Morning News ran this article, “Issues arise with historic home,” on July 17. The follow-up ran in Sunday’s paper: “Museum operators wary of potential ordinance change“. Basically, it’s been all party-party at the Harper-Fowlkes House over on Orleans Square for two years and the people who live nearby are “fed up” (as the two articles repeatedly state). They got the City onto it and the Harper-Fowlkes House Trustees were cited for breaking the Savannah Zoning Ordinance. As it turns out, it is illegal for the museums to lease themselves out for private events because they do not count as “assembly halls” under the definition spelled out in the ordinance, which dates from 1960. The first article cites Metropolitan Planning Commission staffers calling it an “error… of omission”. It also says that nobody ever enforced the prohibition except when there were complaints.

Ok, let’s deal with the legal issues on this one first, then I’ll get into the financial problems. The people living near the Harper-Fowlkes House or any other museum have every right to be annoyed when that venue hosts disruptive events. However, I think the neighbors on Orleans Square are mistaken in coming down so hard on the Harper-Fowlkes House Trustees, which were guilty only of rudeness and amended their booking practices in February. The real problems here are 1) the City’s failure to update a 53 year old ordinance that was written at a time when no sane person would want to have a wedding or party of any sort in downtown Savannah and 2) the City’s failure to enforce it’s own crap rules until somebody compels them to do so. Lackadaisical enforcement of existing ordinances is also a problem in the tourism industry. Along that line, Adam Van Brimmer (the columnist) pointed out in Sunday’s article that use of the Charles Morris Center in Trustees Garden for special events is also illegal under the current rules. Charles Morris developed that area expressly for the purpose of hosting special events! Did no one review the paperwork when he was building it? I mean, there is a ton of permitting and bureaucratic hoop-jumping involved in restoration and new construction and nobody at the City realized, “Hey wait a minute- this compound’s very reason for existing is illegal”? Seriously? And house museums all over the Historic District have been hosting weddings and receptions with no complaints for years. I don’t think any of the curators even knew it was illegal (or at least none are copping to it), and who can blame them if the City has never enforced this law before? So, neighbors of the Harper-Fowlkes House, while it was wrong of the museum to ignore your initial complaints, the real problem here is that we are all saddled with a dumb and outdated ordinance and the City has no desire to enforce it anyway.

Your grievances having been acknowledged, what is it you want, downtown neighbors? The Harper-Fowlkes House made the initial mistake of setting few restrictions on event hours and noise, probably because they lacked experience handling that kind of thing. The proposed amendment to the ordinance which is under consideration now would set hours for music, delivery and breakdown of equipment, and require each historic property to petition the Zoning Board of Appeals for every event. That sounds alright to me, but the attorney representing the spurned inhabitants of Perry Street is quoted as saying it “doesn’t protect the neighbors” without any elaboration. That was in the first article, but the second one provides no further clarification. What is that supposed to mean? And is the lawyer actually being vague or is this just a case of bad reporting? Because I really have no idea what the problem is and it makes the people involved seem vindictive and childish.

I have no doubt some of the aggrieved individuals are making their gripe without having a proper idea of how the museums function and what they require in order to keep functioning. Tour guides have encountered the same problem- people making counter productive proposals because they don’t know how the industry works. One of the neighbor ladies is quoted as saying, about the Harper-Fowlkes House, “The house that once had been a hallowed hall became a setting for loud, even raucous parties in the courtyard.” First of all, I hate when I hear tired old phrases like “hallowed hall.” Almost nothing we now think of as a “hallowed hall” ever actually was, much less a building that used to be somebody’s house. People lived in there. And let me tell you, no one knows how to party like 19th-century high-society! The underwear was crotchless and all the drugs were legal, so you just work that equation out on your own. But that misperception is a minor personal peeve and has nothing to do with this legal conflict, really.

Time to talk about money. The perilous thing about this quarrel is it endangers a vital revenue stream for local museums. Where do people think the money comes from to maintain these houses? The people who own historic property downtown must have an idea how much their homes cost them. I would expect them to have more sympathy for curators who have to magic up the money to maintain large houses and gardens while also minimizing the compounding damage from thousands of visitors tramping through every year. I’ll bet you a dollar at least some of the angry neighbors who started this legal action assume museums are able to cover their costs with only admission fees and the money they get from hosting weddings and stuff is just “extra”. Luckily, the article from August 4th cited some real numbers to combat that impression: the Harper-Fowlkes House made $90,000 off rentals last year, but still faces a $70,000 shortfall this year; rentals make up 5% of the Davenport House’s revenue; and the Telfair Museum stages 50 external events a year that subsidize 150 educational programs it presents all year long. Several other museums in town are considering renting themselves out for special occasions because they need the money, so a lot of people have their eye on how City Council updates the ordinance.

So, I hope City Council comes through on this one (they get things right sometimes) and works up a satisfactory amendment. They’ve already gotten off to a blazing start by… postponing action for another six weeks. Well… the slower they move, the easier it is to catch them before they do something stupid.

In sickness and in health

Why is it when I really want some more business, there are no tourists to be found and when I really, really wish everyone would go away and leave me alone, tourists from near and far suddenly start burning up my cell phone minutes? Convenient timing is never an option when you’re self-employed, is it?

Let me back up. It all began, I’m pretty sure, on May 29th. I had a couple of people for a ghost tour and began to notice partway through I was having a little trouble speaking. As in, I had slight difficulty getting air to make noise as it exited my mouth. Whatever. I shrugged it off. The next day, I had one tour in the morning, then two tours in a row later on. The later tours were both with the same ladies- a history tour first, then a ghost tour. They had Living Social vouchers to redeem. Now, by the time I got around to meeting those two ladies late in the afternoon, I knew I was not entirely well. I felt perfectly fine, but my throat had become increasingly sore and my voice distressingly insubstantial. By the time I got home that night, I was swallowing razor blades and could barely even drink anything. I forswore speech in the hope all would be well the next morning. No small talk with the cats, no blathering to myself like a lunatic. Complete nun-like silence.

The pain had dissipated by morning, but I still kept my mouth shut because I had a large tour scheduled for that evening and was doing my best to save my voice. This was no ordinary tour: my friend Christa and I had been planning it for a while. Christa is the webmistress for the local branch of this group I hang with called No Kidding. It’s a social group for people who don’t have kids. Anyway, she had asked me months beforehand if I would like to conduct a ghost tour for No Kidding and I thought it would be fun. I did a history tour with much of the local gang last year. Since I have a policy of not making repeat customers pay when they bring new people, I knew that would complicate things this time around. How could I remember who had done it before and who hadn’t? And most of the group was bound to be repeats anyway. So, I had the brilliant idea to do the tour for free, but in exchange for tips and, most importantly, online reviews. Christa sent the word out via Evite, but that got only a tepid response, so I expanded the circle and created an invitation on Facebook as well. I think I sent it to around 80 people. I knew, of course, only perhaps 30 would respond at all, maybe 18 would plan to come, and at least a few of those would flake out. So, I was not worried at all about having too large a crowd. There you have my plan for Friday, May 31st: meet group of friends and acquaintances at 8pm in Johnson Square, deliver 90-minute ghost tour, rake in tips, beg for internet reviews. I knew a bunch of people were coming, I knew some of them were bringing friends and had kind of planned their night around it; it was important to me not to pull the plug on the whole thing since rescheduling and getting everyone to commit again would be impossible.


My mom called late Friday morning and I answered my phone. Imagine my horror, my utter dismay, when I found I could not speak! I could barely make any noise at all! Poor Mom on the other end of the line said, “Are you there? I can’t hear you” a couple of times before I was able to make her understand me. It doesn’t help that my cell phone typically gets poor reception inside my apartment, so she probably thought it was a technical malfunction at first. It wasn’t until she actually said, “Oh, you have laryngitis” that I thought, “Oh God, I do have laryngitis!” Noooooooooooo! I earn my living talking to people! How could this have happened? I’ve had my voice get a little tired and my throat a get little sore after putting in a long day, but never anything this catastrophic! And just when I had tours on my book through the weekend!

I put a notice on Facebook about my predicament, but let everyone know we would go ahead as planned. 8pm rolled around and I was all set in Johnson Square. I ended up with a nicely sized group of 17 people. By the time we began, I was able to make an unattractive squawking noise and form it into word sounds. I told everyone they had to stand real close and listen real hard. If it had to be that way, I’m glad it was with people I knew and who would be sympathetic.We had a good time, but I was glad when it was over. At least my ploy worked. I did well on tips and racked up a few new reviews on TripAdvisor and on my Google listing. Kyle at the Small Business Development Center tells me Google likes to show you off in the search results more if you’ve got reviews with them. Sure thing, Google. Whatever it takes. Some generous souls even added reviews to my listing on Yelp.

I was supposed to do another ghost tour at 10, but had broken down and asked those people if we could move it to the same time the following night. They kindly agreed, which was such a relief to me. (As it turned out, I still wasn’t in very good shape the next night, but oh well.) I almost never ask people to reschedule or cancel a tour. I think the only time I ever cancelled on people was a few years ago when I became very sick for no apparent reason and rolled around in pain all night. So, rest assured, if I ever call you up and cancel or ask to move your appointment, it’s only because I have been rendered physically incapable of providing the tour you want.

After that Friday, I began to feel the cold (I guess it was a cold) the laryngitis had heralded. And of course it knocked me flat right when I had some steady business. There was so much phlegm in so many wrong places! It made me cough hard enough to hurt myself and the cough kept me up at night and made me so tired. I was able to work, but wasn’t good for much else once I got home. The cold wasn’t debilitating enough to justify staying in bed, but just severe enough to afflict me with low-grade misery whenever I was conscious. It went on for weeks. I’m not sure I’ve ever had an illness that lingered so badly. I’m still coping with the last remnants of that hellacious post-nasal drip even as I write this. I’m not sure that was an ordinary cold at all. I don’t know what that was. I’m glad I’m (mostly) over it. Naturally, now that I’m not hacking like a 19th century consumptive, there are almost no appointments on my book.


Savannah: impulse-buy of the South

Savannah’s actual nickname is “The Hostess City of the South,” but I’m thinking we need to change that. For one thing, I always get this picture in my head of one of those little Hostess snack cakes (the chocolate ones with the white squigglies on top) and the Talmadge Bridge in the background. For an another, it’s completely inaccurate. Savannah rarely gets the chance to play hostess to anyone because no one ever takes the time to make plans before coming here. Despite the best efforts of the Tourism Leadership Council and Visit Savannah, this place is still not a primary vacation destination. It’s an afterthought for most people or an impulsive last-minute decision at best.

I’m not the only person to make this observation. I’ve been hitting up the downtown concierges a lot lately (trying to drum up some business) and many of them have been telling me the same thing. It really seems to be the case that people just sort of wake up in the morning and say, “I think I’ll go to Savannah today.” So, they drive down from Atlanta or up from Jacksonville or whatever, stagger into the hotel, set their luggage down, then stand around with no idea what to do. They confusedly gravitate toward the biggest, shiniest attraction they see, like bewildered, sunburned little moths. That’s how everybody ends up on a 90-minute ride with Old Town Trolley and a brief sojourn on River Street, then drives back home Sunday morning thinking they’ve covered all the important stuff and have no need to return and continue exploring. It makes me sad. Most of the reservations I get are from people who are in town only for the day or only for the weekend, lots of last-minute gigs. The time I meet up with them is about the time they are just beginning to realize there is a lot more to do here than they thought and they should have planned ahead or should have planned to stay longer. Hardly anyone ever tells me they are staying for a week or two weeks or a month. I can probably count the number of such tourists I’ve met on one hand. I have met many people who tell me they have come to Savannah several times, but “Never made it up from River Street.” Oh, that also makes me so, so sad.

What people also tell me is that they have been to Charleston several times or they’ve been coming to Hilton Head for years and finally decided to spend a day in Savannah. A lot of visitors only think to come here once they have exhausted all the good stuff in neighboring cities (or think they have, anyway). Savannah doesn’t appear to be a first choice for much of the traveling public. It’s the place you go to when Charleston, Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte, and Jacksonville have all lost their appeal. I do find it encouraging that some of those same people also say, “There’s so much to do here!” or “It’s so beautiful- we should have come sooner!” But will it be in their budget to come back again any time soon or even in the next few years? I don’ t know. I also meet a lot of tourists who are on their way to or from somewhere else. “Oh, we’re going down to Miami and decided to spend a day in Savannah.” “We’re coming back up from Florida to Virginia and are stopping in historic cities along the way.” Savannah tends to be part of a larger itinerary, not an attraction in and of itself. People don’t come to coastal Georgia for the purpose of visiting Savannah. They visit Savannah because they happened to be in coastal Georgia.

So, there you have my little theory. Savannah is the vacation equivalent of an impulse-buy, an item you tack onto your list after you’ve already checked off the “important” stuff. Hm. In that way, I guess it is like one of those little snack cakes that grabs your attention as you’re pushing your cart toward the cash register. Well, that does add a new layer of meaning to our title as Hostess City.


“Where’s your accent?”

Oh mah Gawd! I really wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me that on a tour, or its variation “You don’t sound southern.” I would have enough dollars to pull a Scrooge McDuck and swan dive into a vault full of them (much softer than gold coins).  Do people in other parts of the country get asked that as often as Southerners? Do Canadians go to Chicago and ask the folks there “Where’s your midwestern accent, eh?” (Not a stereotype. Canadians totally say “eh”- I’ve heard them.) Do Hawaiians visit New Jersey (though why you would trade Hawaii for Jersey is anyone’s guess) and ask “Hey, how come you don’t sound like that guy from Cake Boss?” I wasn’t even doing one of my own tours last week, but training with the Savannah Slow Ride, when a lady from Philadelphia asked me that.

I especially love the way people say “You don’t sound southern,” accusatory emphasis on the “sound,” as if I’m an imposter infiltrating the Old South for some nefarious purpose or maybe just screwing with them in particular. I used to get that a lot when I worked as a cashier at Cracker Barrel years and years ago. I think diners at the restaurant felt cheated because here they were in the most countrified eatery they could possibly find and the cashier didn’t even have the courtesy to sound like a good little redneck.

Look, people, Southerners don’t live in a vacuum any more than you do. We’re really just like you except we survive in a hotter, sweatier part of the country. Also, our food is better. There are many factors affecting my accent. For one thing, Savannah is a city. Not an especially big one, but it’s not a podunk hick town either. Just as with any city, especially one with a port, Savannahians and their accents have long been been influenced by the myriad people with their myriad languages and dialects going to and fro. We have never been isolated. Within the city itself, accents vary depending on class, level of education, and outside influence. If you were born here, but your family had moved from Virginia, you might not sound the same as your neighbor whose family has been here for 5 generations. So, the local accent can vary from household to household and even within the same family. My sister sounds noticeably more southern than me and we grew up together! Similarly, my dad and his sister (my aunt June) were both born and raised here and grew up in the same house; their speech is very different, however. She sounds just how you’d expect a southern woman to sound, but he sounds like he could be from anywhere. In his case, it may have something to do with a lifetime of high academic achievement, including two college degrees. I don’t know why, but higher education tends to refine regional accents. As for me, I think it’s because I have been involved in theatre since I was a kid and part of the process is learning to speak clearly and without an accent. Also, lots of reading and high academic achievement.

I know some of you have been led far astray in your expectations by the media, especially Hollywood. Let’s start with the grandmother of all bad, bad Southern accents- Gone with the Wind. If you love that movie, that’s just fine. It is a Technicolor American masterpiece. It is a classic. But Vivian Leigh’s Georgia accent was rubbish. Pure, putrilaginous, infuriatingly persistent rubbish. It’s been a while since I’ve watched that movie, but I don’t remember being convinced by anybody’s fakety-fake accent. Scarlet herself sounded the worst, though. Nobody down here talks like that. Nobody ever talked like that. The only people who talk like that are gay men named David and Blanche Deveraux. And it’s an affectation for both of them. What drives me nuts about Gone with the Wind more than anything is it set the tone in Hollywood from that point forward. Actors portraying Southern characters would just lazily adopt Scarlet O’Hara’s idiotic style of speaking without any consideration for regional differences in accent. They couldn’t be bothered to put the work into getting it right. For everyone in the country who didn’t live south of the Mason-Dixon line, that was usually good enough. For everyone who did live south of the Mason-Dixon line, it was an insult. So, for decades movies have only acknowledged two kinds of Southerners: affected society belles who talk like Scarlet O’Hara and inbred bigots who are barely comprehensible. I’m here to tell you there is a lot of variation in between those two extremes.

So, let’s discuss where media portrayal of the Southern accent is going in the 21st century. To address the Savannah connection first and foremost on your mind, Paula Deen, let me go ahead and tell you what any native Savannahian will tell you: She ain’t from here. Paula Deen lives on Wilmington Island now, but she’s originally from Albany, GA (or “Al-benny,” as they pronounce it there). Albany is straight west and a little bit south of here, in the middle of the state. I’ve never been there, but I have driven west all the way to Americus and I can tell you that part of Georgia ain’t nothin’ but two-lane state roads and pecan groves. It’s exactly where you would expect to find a more isolated population with a more pronounced accent. But also, Paula Deen has an image to maintain now and that image is Southern and sassy, so I’m sure she dials it up a little bit for the cameras.

Outside The Food Network, Southern characters have been developing a stronger and less cartoonish presence on TV. Gone are the days of Gomer Pyle and Andy Griffith; arrived are the days of Sherrif Rick (The Walking Dead) and Detective Amanda Rollins (Law & Order: SVU). These are characters who happen to be southern and who play an active part in their respective series, not southern “characters” whose only job is to lighten up the situation by acting like ignorant rubes. Basically, the southern straight man has finally become a reality, at least on TV. Feature films still kind of seem to lag behind. The most recent cinematic release I can think of that portrayed a bunch of southerners living in the Deep South was Beautiful Creatures and that thing was a mess. Plus, Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson are English, as was Vivien Leigh, and we all know how that turned out. Oh, wait, there was also Beasts of the Southern Wild. That one’s set in Louisiana, and Louisiana is a very special case when it comes to accents (or anything, really). Still, everyone sounded convincing to me, though I remain ambivalent about the movie as a whole. Anyway, Hollywood is still a bit of a wasteland when it comes to taking people with southern accents seriously, but television has really opened up. There are characters with noticeable accents on Law & Order: SVU, CSI, CSI: Miami; there are multiple shows set in southern states like Justified (so I’ve never watched it, but it is set in Tennessee), The Walking Dead, and True Blood (which I have also never watched because I’m too poor for HBO, but it’s set in Louisiana). And it may surprise you to learn that silly fluff like May Name is Earl also scores pretty well on the accent-meter.

So, fear not, dear Yankees! You are not being cheated. The truth is,  I do speak with a southern accent. You just don’t know what that accent actually sounds like. You have been mislead for years. It looks like popular culture is coming around, though, so maybe the next generation will have the right idea when they visit here.

Then again, while southerners are portrayed more realistically in fictional TV shows, they are becoming more ridiculous in reality TV shows (Swamp People? Myrtle Manor?!). Looks like we’re still screwed after all.


The good thing about not having much work on my book is it frees me up for other things. The housework is always done, for example. I’ve been cooking and baking a lot the past year. I’ve turned into a regular Betty Crocker! Or maybe Betty Draper is more apt- she was closer to going completely crazy. On the not-making-me-crazy side of things, though, I got to do a show recently. I haven’t been on stage in such a long time! Well, it’s probably only been a year, really, but it feels like forever.

I did a monologue for the Bay Street Theatre’s production of A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer (MMRP). They decided to shake things up this February and do that instead of The Vagina Monologues, which they’ve done the last few years.The show was put together by the same playwright, Eve Ensler, in 2008 or 2009, I think. Like The Vagina Monologues, performances of A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer are done to raise money for The V-Day Foundation and to support a local charity, in our case, the Rape Crisis Center. Ensler only wrote one of the monologues this time around, called “Fur is Back”. For the rest, she solicited literary donations from various authors and playwrights that troupes can select from when putting the show together. Here’s a picture of the theatre bedecked with the lovely poster Morgan Daniels drew for our production:

Poster courtesy of Morgan Daniels

MMRP is not like a regular play, so the production was very loosely organized. We had 4 women directing a few actresses apiece and a total of  14 performers. JinHi Rand directed me in the monologue “In Memory of Imette,” by Periel Aschenbrand. JinHi said she chose that piece and wanted to work with me specifically because she thinks I’m good. Maybe that’s true, but I also suspect she just felt sorry for me because I’ve had no luck getting cast in anything lately. Well, this beggar will not be choosy!

“In Memory of Imette” is about the murder of Imette St. Guillen. I originally wasn’t sure if the monologue was referencing a real event or not, so I had to look it up. I found plenty of information and, luckily, news broadcasts so I could hear how to pronounce her name correctly. She was killed in 2008, I think, in New York City. She was only 25 and attending John Jay University for her Master’s Degree. She went bar-hopping with a friend one night, they parted ways, and Imette was never seen alive again. Her brutalized body was found by the side of the Belt Parkway later on.

So… yeah, I got the heavy-hearted downer monologue. The tone of the show overall is pretty heavy. Not that there were no laughs to be had, there were even a few snicker-worthy lines in my segment, but it’s just very different from The Vagina Monologues. That one has some weighty material, but it’s a celebratory piece at its heart. MMRP is specifically about rape and violence toward women and it’s kind of hard to put an optimistic spin on that. Not putting a happy face on that problem is, in fact, the point. One night, I think it was before we went onstage for our second performance, Sheila (an actress and one of the directors) asked the group one by one to give the reason they had chosen to do this show. Out of us 14 women, I was surprised when more than half expressed a connection to the material because “something bad” had happened to themselves or a woman they knew. It was chilling to hear. It also illustrated another point of the show: abuse is not something that only happens to those women or other women. Those women are all around you and often very close to you. I must confess I was well into my 20s before it dawned on me that not having been raped, harassed, molested, or beaten put me into some kind of minority among my female peers. I felt kind of sheepish and stupid admitting to the rest of my MMRP co-stars that I was there simply because I hadn’t been on stage in a while.

As is typical with non-musical dramatic material in community theatre, we had a hard time attracting an audience. My usual standard of success is when the audience outnumbers the cast, which it looked like we just managed on opening night. They were a quiet crowd too. I hate that. I hate an audience that gives you no feedback whatsoever. It’s like performing to a sentient wall that you’re pretty sure thinks you’re an idiot. Our Saturday night audience, though, was AWESOME! It was the biggest crowd we had during our three-night run, though by no means standing room only. They actually clapped between each woman’s performance and they weren’t afraid to laugh at the funny bits. During Kenya’s “Black Vaginas” monologue, which she delivered every night with evangelistic energy, I thought for sure she was about to get a chorus of “Amen!” and “Preach it!” from the crowd. A few people I could see from my chair looked real close to it. Sunday’s audience seemed a little timid, much like the first night, but oh well. We wrapped up the show, raised some money for the Rape Crisis Center, and I was proud of my work. Also happy to have finally done something at the Bay Street Theatre.

I see so many good shows there. I hope I get to be in more. It looks like they’ve only got two more non-musicals planned for this season: Speech and Debate and The Santaland Diaries. Guess we’ll see how my schedule looks then. If I’m working too hard to do a play, I wouldn’t complain.

A Slow Ride for Slow Times

Well, 2012 was a dismal year and 2013 isn’t shaping up to be any better so far. I simply cannot figure out what changed between December 2011 and January 2012 that would cause my business to collapse like the sunny side of an iceberg. The decline is especially galling in light of the fact that Visit Savannah keeps insisting tourism was up this year. It makes me wonder what their definition of “up” is. Or maybe they don’t actually know what “tourism” means. My understanding is the only numbers they really have to work with are the hotel occupancy rates. More people coming to Savannah should mean more people doing tours and shopping and stuff, but that does not appear to be the case. I’ve heard from numerous other walking tour owners (with a few irritating exceptions) and other business owners that 2012 was a bad year. I don’t know what conclusion to draw from this disparate data. How can tourism be up and down at the same time? It did occur to me that Savannah’s participation in the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon the last couple of years might be skewing the numbers. It brings 20,000 people to the city all at once, but they’re here to run, not play. Most of them only stay overnight or for a day, then they’re gone. So, there’s that. Maybe the type of tourists that came to Savannah was different this year. Visit Savannah has the specifically stated goal of attracting high-caliber travelers, but perhaps their aim is off. They may have flung their nets wide and only drug in the beer-guzzling boors who stay overnight to party a bit, do a ghost tour, and leave the next afternoon. I don’t know. I just don’t know what happened.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, though. Another tour guide acquaintance of mine let slip at the Crystal Beer Parlor one night that the Savannah Slow Ride was in desperate need of certified tour guides. I contacted one of the owners through Facebook to offer my services and Samantha was glad to accept my resume. I’ve ridden along on one of their daytime tours (conducted by my friend Lawrence) and one of their ghost tours (led by one of my other friends, Louis) to get the hang of things. Samantha still hasn’t given me any paid work to do yet, which I hate because I need money and I needed it yesterday. Thing is, February is still the slow season even for a business that is doing better than mine. The timing is just awful. I have so many bills that come due in January and February and those are the months when I have the least money, even in a good year. I have to renew my business license, pay my car insurance, pay for my vehicle registration, pay for my website, and so on and so forth. Samantha told me they have a lot of tours on the books next weekend, but I won’t be available for any nighttime work because I have a show to do at the Bay Street Theatre on the 15, 16, and 17, which I had already committed to before I ever contacted the Slow Ride. Why is all of the timing always bad?! Damn you, February! You will always be a 28-day, twisted dwarf of a month who drags his clubfoot across the calendar and makes everyone else uncomfortable! I hate you.

If  I can claw my way through the month, though, the money should be pretty good once the season hits high gear in the Spring. The Slow Ride is only entering its second year in business, but it has become very popular. The story I heard was that Samantha got the idea when she was in Milwaukee (beer, anyone?) and saw this giant bicycle thing being pedaled by all these people who were having a great time and drinking beer as they went. She got all fired up and her husband built what’s called a quadricycle and they started this company. The quadricycle is like a giant table on wheels with a cover over it. There are seats along each side and the riders pedal to make the thing go. A driver at the front is in charge of steering and braking. This rattly contraption is designed to only go about 4mph at most, which I think is all wrong. The carriage horses pee on the street corners at a higher velocity. I would take off the controls so the speed of the Slow Ride was directly proportional to the number and speed of the pedalers. Then I would rename it the Savannah Thrill Ride, skip the Historic District entirely, and send the group flying down Highway 80 to the beach. Yeah.

Speed or no speed, beach or no beach, both groups I rode along with earlier this month had a really great time. I am entirely mystified, frankly. I mean, I can’t figure out what makes the Slow Ride so much fun for people. As a tour, it’s very, very history-lite and ghost story-lite. There’s a lot of chit-chat and joking amongst the group, as well as plenty of drinks for the excursion. The tours take two hours, the guests make a few stops and get off the quadricycle at a couple of places to snack and refill their drinks. It strikes me as primarily self-generated fun. The people I rode with were already in a good mood before it began. Only the glummest of tour guides could have ruined their good time and I don’t know that the chipperest of tour guides could perk up a group that was in a funk from the get-go. More than being informative, it is the guide’s primary to responsibility to keep the laughs coming. It all looks deceptively easy, but there’s a hidden aspect to the job: making sure the guests have a good time without getting too drunk or becoming too disruptive. That’s especially hard on the ghost tours. People tend to get extra rowdy and be a little too liberal with their drinking when they’re out after dark.

Whatever. I just need something to keep me afloat until I can figure out how to get my own business back on track. I have an appointment at the Small Business Resource Center tomorrow afternoon. Samantha told me they were very helpful to her. I wonder if they can tell me where all the classy people who want to do private tours have gone. Where did you go, romantic couples and well-heeled retirees? How do I find you?

A night at The Jinx with Superhorse, an Evening with Legs McNeil

Yeah, it’s been too long since my last post. I know that. Whatchu gonna do about it, huh? Huh?! I do have one or two good excuses on top of my usual laziness: family emergency and then the computer died. Don and I had to replace the hard drive. Work is slow, but I’ve been trying to fill my days with interesting things. I spent the night of Saturday, January 5th doing something I’ve never done before: working for a band!

The band in question is a local group called Superhorse, often referred to as a “superband,” though I’m not sure if that’s a comment on the quality of their music or the unwieldy seven man lineup. I’m friends with the drummer, Jim- the same Jim who runs the Psychotronic Film Society. So, there’s one drummer, one keyboardist, one bassist, and… four guitars? One of them belongs to the lead singer, though, and he doesn’t play on every song, so I guess sometimes it’s just three guitars. You can read a good write-up about the band in this Connect Savannah article. You can listen to a selection of their music here.

So, I knew Superhorse was gonna be playing The Jinx that Saturday, but I didn’t plan on going because I’m too poor to pay a cover charge and I’m more devoted to local theatre than live music and the music’s always too loud for me anyway and blah blah blah, but then Jim put out an APB on Facebook for someone to work the band’s merchandise table. Don and I had just seen The Hobbit a few days before, so I kind of had a Bilbo Baggins moment and decided I would volunteer myself for a night of adventure. I guess that would make Jim… Gandalf? And the other band members would be a company of six doughty dwarfs on a quest to, um…. eh, that analogy got away from me. Anyway, Jim was glad to have someone he knew in charge of the money, plus my handy dandy iPhone with the handy dandy Paypal Here app would make it possible for them to accept payments other than cash. No one in the band has a smartphone, so it has to be all cash all the time whenever Superhorse plays. You’d think out of seven guys, statistics would favor one of them having acquired a smartphone by now. And anything that makes it easier for people to give you money is a good thing. Jim said they didn’t usually sell a whole lot, though, so no one worried about it much.

The music wasn’t even set to start until about 10, so I arrived at The Jinx around 9:30. Knew it was gonna be a late, late night, but hey, sleeping in is what Sundays are for! The Jinx is a fixture among live music venues in town, but I had never been to the place. I took some pictures before it filled up and during the performance, which you can see on my Pinterest right here: Bonnie Blue Tours Pinterest- Downtown Events and Venues. I also just added a couple of new shots from last night’s outing to the Bay Street Theatre to hear Legs McNeil read from his book Please Kill Me as well as his newest book, soon to be published yet still untitled. More on that later.

Jim set me up with Superhorse merchandise: t-shirts, a special edition poster, their first album (rock) and their (sort of country) EP, and chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were there basically because Jim had joked with someone about selling cookies at the show, so he actually brought some to sell at $1 for a bag of two. Or at least sell the ones he didn’t go ahead and scarf down. Cookies and beer, the dinner of champions! Jim also brought a jar of earplugs to sell for $1 a pair, which strikes me as somehow genius, considerate, and cynical all at the same time. I had the good sense to bring my own earplugs from home. I’m not very experienced at this “going to clubs and listening to live bands” thing, but I’m no fool either.

I set up like a good little merchandise girl, folding and stacking the t-shirts just like I used to do when I worked cash and retail at Cracker Barrel, oh, so many years ago. There were two different shirt designs and Jim had me clip one of each, along with a few bags of cookies, to the suspended section of chain-link fence that served for display. The Jinx is that kind place. The decorating scheme abounded with bats and skulls, the bartender looked like the only thing longer than his beard was his rap sheet, and every hand had a PBR Tallboy in it before the end of the night. My base of operations was in the back corner to the left of the door as you walk in. The floor rises up a couple steps and there are some booths and tables along that wall. The rise on the left side coupled with the bar on the right side creates a kind of canyon in the middle of the club that pushes all the people toward the stage like a human waterfall crashing down onto a drum kit. Funny thing about those booths- the tables are actually old arcade games. Working ones! My merchandise table was Frogger and I think the people one booth over from me were sitting down with Mrs. Pac Man.

The opening act was supposed to be a San Francisco group called Whiskey Pills Fiasco, but they missed their flight so Superhorse had to scramble. That’s why the show started late. Luckily, local band Bottles & Cans was just finishing up a set somewhere else and didn’t mind racing down the street, picking up Superhorse’s instruments, and playing a bit to warm up the audience. As I once explained to a friend, I can hear the difference between good music and bad music, but I can rarely tell the difference between good music and great music. Jim sat down with a beer and assured me that Bottles & Cans is really good. He said their guy plays the drums better than he does, but it’s not like I would ever know the difference. The music sounded good enough to me, especially once I put in my earplugs. It’s nice to have that “listening from across the street outside” sensation while being able to remain in the room. Bottles & Cans are kind of blues-rock-ish or something. Their singer sounded a lot like Louis Armstrong with some extra handfuls of gravel in his throat. The audience swelled and swelled and swelled and loads of people I knew showed up. Hm, when and how did I ever become so connected? Sales were actually quite brisk, especially the earplugs. Those sold like hotcakes, though there was still no shortage of people out on the floor who seemed to think a live music experience wasn’t complete unless you left with a hearing impairment.

I had the presence of mind to shoot a little video with my phone. I still forget about all the things an iPhone can do. I caught most of Superhorse’s first number (minus the opening verses), which you can view here: Superhorse- Shadows and Shapes. That’s the video of it I posted to Superhorse’s Facebook. I tried to upload the thing from my phone to the computer, but stupid Windows Media Player kept playing the video upside down! What is wrong with you, Windows? And now with the new hard drive and re-installation of Windows, the Media Player says it doesn’t recognize the format (.mov) at all. Ugh, seriously Microsoft, how did you become the only game in town? Here’s a second video I took later in the night: Superhorse- Joyride. I got cut off because of this guy who was trying to get my attention. I thought he wanted to buy something; turned out he was just asking if he could fold up his jacket and leave it with me.

That was another quirky development of the evening: my little space became Coat-Check Corner. I think it was JinHi who started it when she asked if she could leave her jacket there with me. Then she bought a t-shirt and I stashed that for her too. Then Jamie bought a poster, but didn’t want it to get creased up, so I hid that for her in the box behind me until she came back for it at the end of the night. Then Mandy came in and asked if I would hold on to her coat too and, Jesus, I think I had a whole department store’s worth of outerwear tucked into the booth with me by the time the show ended! I guess once everyone I knew had put me in charge of their clothing, I should not have been surprised when strangers began to follow suit. The guy who interrupted my filming process was a nice young man in a button-up shirt who thoughtfully offered to share his shrooms with me when he discreetly pulled the baggie out of his jacket pocket. I politely declined.

So, a good time was had by all and a very good time was had by some. The band made out better than usual in terms of merchandise. Plenty of the sales were cash, but having the use of my phone did nab about $90 the guys would have missed otherwise. They sold around $300 worth of stuff all in all, which Jim told me that was three times what they usually sell. He thought it was because a lot of new people came to see the band that night, but I noticed more than a few familiar faces at my table. Plenty of friends and acquaintances bought stuff just because they like Jim and wanted to be supportive. He has the novel effect on people of making them want to give him money, while also having the misfortune of knowing only a bunch of penniless losers such as myself. He’d be all set if he’d start hanging around with a more well-heeled crowd. I finished up the night by going all middle-school and having Jim write his PayPal ID on my arm so I could transfer the band’s money to him from my account. I was traveling light and hadn’t bothered to carry my purse, so I was bereft of things to write on and things to write with.

I snagged a cheap hot dog from Sweet Melissa’s on my way back to the car. They make a killing being the only place open after the bars close down. I got bumped into by some drunk guy, kidded around with by some other drunk guy, and finally got home and made it into bed sometime after 3am, I think.

My little excursion to the Bay Street Theatre last night was also rock ‘n roll, but less drunk and noisy. Jim runs an organization called Knocked Out Loaded through which he promotes live music and other music-centric stuff. He snagged Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain for a stop in Savannah to answer questions and read excerpts from Please Kill Me! The Uncensored History of Punk as well as from McNeil’s newest book, which he hasn’t even given a title to yet. I know exactly squat about the history of American music, rock music, or punk rock, but even I still know that sitting in a room talking with Legs McNeil about The Ramones and Iggy Pop is totally cool. In case you don’t know, Legs McNeil is the guy who started Punk Magazine back in the 70s and is credited with giving the genre its name. He hung out at CBGB’s night after night with people and bands who are the stuff of legend now. I still wasn’t going to go because I’m not that much of a fan girl and, as usual, I’m poor and didn’t have $10 to spare for a ticket. But Jim came through again with the need for someone to sell merchandise, just some special posters he’d had made, and offered me the job. So, I got to enjoy the reading after all.

This January was bookended by serious rock ‘n roll submersion, which surprises me. I’m not sure how that happened. I think I was minding my own business and got sucked into this punk rock vortex. I mean, Jim showed the movie Rock ‘n Roll High School last summer, then CBGB filmed here, then I heard Superhorse play for the first time (and got to take home each of their cds for working the merch table!), then Legs McNeil came to town. What’s next? Whatever it is, I hope it involves Alan Rickman filming another movie here.