When Buddhist philosopher Jon Kabat-Zin (or was it Buckaroo Banzai?) wrote "wherever you go, there you are," it was to gently remind us that we can't escape ourselves, no matter how far we run or how high we climb.
I take it to mean that we’re all locals, no matter what the GPS coordinates.
As a former denizen of sprawling desert metropolises, tiny California hippie towns and now Savannah, I do my best to cultivate a mindset of provincial pride everywhere I live.
Or wherever I visit, for that matter: One of my proudest moments was being asked the way to the Empire State Building while visiting New York City, where I have only lived in my imagination. (The imaginary rent’s still ridiculous, but my fictional closet is huge!)
In a world where most of us are transplanted from somewhere else, I’ve developed a little formula for growing local roots:
First, familiarize yourself with the events and personalities profiled in the area’s alternative independent newsweekly, as in the fine one you’re reading right now. There may be other square-shaped, free publications around, but you’ll know it’s really “alternative” and “independent” from the unapologetic liberal opinions and Rob Brezny’s Real Astrology in the back.
For the best crash course ever, get your hands on a copy of their annual “Best Of” issue (Connect’s “Best of Savannah” drops on May 21; if you’re reading this before midnight on April 23, you can still vote!)
Next, spend some time in the independently owned coffeeshops. (There will not be a mermaid on the paper cups.) Chat up the baristas, even the cranky ones. Bear in mind that true locals—at least the welcome ones—always tip and bus their own tables.
You’ll want to get yourself good and lost a few times, since that’s the way to discover the best views and the secret parking spots, which can often overlap. (Case in point: Top level o’ the Robinson Parking Garage on Montgomery Street. Always plenty of spaces and 360 degrees of gorgeous, baby.)
Most importantly, put your money where the action is. While your blood might have to run blue to be deemed native around here, anyone can become an instant local by supporting the artisans, shops and services within an arm’s reach. Micro economies are the wave of the future, and “hyperlocality” is the new buzzword. (“Sustainability” still reigns, but it’s so 2009.)
The big brains at ThincSavannah have deemed 2014 the “Year of the Local,” and they’ve opened up their hip co-working space and entrepreneurial incubator above Ellis Square to showcase how art, commerce, food and activism collide.
It was pretty thrilling to stand smack in the middle of the intersection a couple of weeks back as Thinc partners Ashley Bowersox and Tom Shimada filled their space to bursting with homegrown names that could end up as your favorite brand:
Frothy IPA from World Beer Cup gold medalist Moon River Brewing Co. flowed under a massive canvas of dueling pugilists by artist Jared Seff, part of an exhibit curated especially for the evening by the creative revolutionaries of ArtRise Savannah.
Deliciously represented were the one-woman enterprises of Savannah Squeeze juice ace Chelsea Dye and confectionary temptress Kelly Spivey of the Chocolate Lab. The air was redolent with the aroma of summer barbecues courtesy of Legendary Live Oak Charcoal, and samples abounded from Verdant Kitchen, hawking their tasty ginger syrup harvested on Savannah philanthropist Howard Morrison's Lebanon Plantation.
Fresh grub grown just a few miles away graced the tables, much of it prepared by 22 Square’s Chef Lauren Teague, who stepped off the elevator with the smell of fresh-baked bread wafting behind her. Striding next to her was the lovely and charming Jane Fishel, who has landed a perfect post as 22 Square’s food and beverage manager since closing down the Sparetime.
(This Jane shouldn’t be confused with über local Jane Fishman, also in attendance and quite lovely, but who would probably laugh hysterically if you tried to order a Manhattan from her.)
The conversation continually circled around how to grow all these little local seedlings into a vibrant economically, artistically and environmentally sustainable garden: ArtRise director Clinton Edminster kibbitzed with Bluknowledge tech star Erika Tate, writer Kris Monroe chatted with realtor Jason Nielubowicz.
Proceeds benefitted the Forsyth Farmers Market, and director Teri Schell was presented with a check to help keep our local farmers flush with customers.
“We’ve got to keep bringing together local business, local products and local talent,” exhorted Ashley, wagging his head of wild silver hair.
“Eventually magic is going to happen.”
Held quarterly, each Year of the Local event is a giant loop encompassing how to eat, think and do business meaningfully and responsibly in Savannah. Some people call this “networking.” I call it subversive economic rabblerousing that diverts money away from the soulless corporate-political megasystem.
It may cost a little more in the short run to buy local, but the rewards come back around fast. Social scientist Michael H. Shuman writes in his book Going Local that keeping our dollars close to home “does not mean walling off the outside world,” but rather moving control of our economies “from the boardrooms of distant corporations and back into the community where it belongs.”
“Locals only” used to be the turf warning of jerky surfers, which isn’t very Zen. In 2014, think of it as your invitation to the party.