Ok, so I know what the general reaction is going to be to this post, so let me just say, Ive had a long standing grudge with the city even before the bitterness of a nasty breakup, Ive just recently found a good outlet for my angst. The following is my submission to Cathrine Prices website devoted to her book 101 Places Not to See Before You Die:
Ahhh Savannah, the proverbial Southern city with its classic charm (read: the last bastion of Southern White privilege). With its 24 squares, spanish moss and riverside dining who could ask for more. Well, me for starters and probably Lorraine Bulloch niece. Behind its romantic facade, Savannah has as dark an underbelly as its sordid past in the Atlantic slave trade.
For starters, on the lighter side of things, is its sad attempt to create a tourist industry. Granted it is thriving, whether or not its sustaining is in question but unique it certainly is not. Expounding on the ever so original concept of ghost tours (note the sarcasm here), Savannah streets are dotted with campy hearse carting the elderly and over weight revelers lead by high school dropout guides doing their best impressions of Elvira and Uncle Fester. The St. Patrick’s Day parade is the 3rd largest in the country, although I’m not sure how they measured this, whether by actual length, by amount of people or by the number of college frat boys throwing up in the street. Its a good time to be had by all unless you have prefer not to be spit on, beat up or pay $500 a night for a room at the Hampton Inn. Savannah has also incorporated another aspect of a top notch mediocre tourist destination, a culinary scene highlighted by average food, poor customer service and inflated prices. You can sit on the patio and watch the freight ships come in the Port of Savannah at Hueys if you wait 2 hours. Youll then be able to pay $35 for a steak that tastes like horse meat and the waiter will come back only after you chase them down out back.
With the loss of its cheap labor at the beginning of the 20th Century Savannahs economy has suffered. The minimum wages of the tourism industry provides just enough to keep some residents above the poverty line but not enough to afford them career opportunities or financial advancement. Few other options for sustainable income exist, aside from the paper plant and the port. As a result the city of 130,000 has seen violent crime and murder rates 3 times the national average over the last 2 decades.
But never fear, the artist will save you. Enter Savannah College of Art and Design, because if a good college can turn a small rural mid-western town into the hottest, hippest town in hectares (isnt that how they measure distances in the country?), like Austin, Texas and Louisville, Kentucky, it surely could do the same with a stubborn, culturally frozen southern town right? Oops guess what, apparently being the leading school offering undergraduate and graduate courses in several arts and entertainment fields doesn’t preclude students from actually contributing to the local economy or culture. Maybe its because of the course load or maybe they’re just all stoners but SCAD students live in a bubble between Forsyth and the River only crossing MLK Drive if they are unfortunate enough to be stuck in the converted Howard Johnston overflow dormitory. At the annual SCAD alumni commencement concert the depth and poignancy from even the brightest of the cities former residents is shown in sending off their doe-eyed graduates by saying “Hey, here’s some music that was popular when we were in college… you know, before the internet”, such as G. Love & Special Sauce (No really they booked them in 1998, they were just busy until 2010), George Clinton (not that its bad but it’s such a safety choice, he’s like the liberals James Taylor) and the barely breathing Godfather of Soul, James Brown in 2005.
Clubs are left empty or the few that are turning out a crowd are doing so with the “gangsta’s” and service men on furlough who are always in the mood for a toss. Yes, nothing says “Savannah” like a drive by shooting, an accidental baby stabbing or a night club knife fight. Favored music at the clubs of choice will most likely include at least 5 Lil’ Jon tracks. No, instead of having impromptu DJ sets, jam sessions or art openings from former SCAD graduates now internationally recognized (India.Arie, Circle Takes the Square, etc) returning to do business in the city that created their career, youre more likely to catch a sparsely populated goth night that was probably started when all the ghost tours guides got off work and went to the same bar.
To cap off your visit to the Ole South be sure to swing by a tea shop that will take you back in time to the first half of the 20th century, particularly if you aren’t white. The Savannah Tea Room is run by a brood of old women that would make the Witches of Eastwick look like Mary Poppins. No reservation required but approval is. Yes, Savannah really is a magical place filled with nostalgia for a time long since forgotten, filled with people that have an innate ability to replicate it to sub-par standards. While it was spared on Sherman’s March to the Sea, a weekend getaway will leave the astute traveler wondering, “Why?”.