The Savannah Music Festival. The SCAD Film Festival. St. Patrick’s Day. The Telfair Art Fair.
The food festivals—Greek, Jewish, Asian, Seafood.
The list of things to do in Savannah seems to go on forever—from September until the end of May, that is.
Just past Memorial Day, the activity ceases, or so the Savannah lore goes. From early June through mid August, Savannah’s pace drops from slow to slower, with July seeming to be the ebb tide of the year-round tsunami of area events. Anything that might happen in late August is just a warm up for the real action, which commences after Labor Day.
Never mind that this very magazine bursts at the seams each Wednesday all through the summer with bands, art shows, theater performances, and community groups from the Audubon Society to Yogalates classes. The legend of “There’s Nothing to Do in Savannah in the Summer” is as firmly planted in this town as the statue of the Waving Girl. The paradox of this Savannah myth is that “doing nothing” is the truest form of summertime entertainment in these parts.
(And by the way, don’t let anyone tell you that by mid-July summer is nearly over. Everyone who’s spent a summer season in coastal Georgia knows the truth—for us it’s the longest season of the year. The school kids may go back to class in August, but for the rest of us, the calendar says that September 21 is the first day of fall, and around here the weather actually abides by that timetable.)
In Savannah, we are not sheepish about our do-nothing midsummer “activities,” but neither do we embrace them pridefully. The most skillful local artisans of summer nothingness practice their craft with an understated grace. The trick to doing nothing is to approach the art with just a touch of creativity, but not too much energy, lest the Zen of nothingness be inadvertently swallowed up in mild frenzy.
Here, then, is a short primer to aid any “do nothing” novices, or a review guide for readers with some experience who may be feeling rusty in their “no-it-all” summer livin’ skills.
As a practice run, take this paper, head to Café Ambrosia or the Legion, and have a beverage. Just one.
Don’t delay—why put off until tomorrow what you can not do today?
A meal and a smile
All it takes is one hour a week
In early June, with two months of summer break stretching out in front of her, Savannah kindergarten teacher Jane Camacho had some time on her hands.
“When school let out I was thinking, ‘What can I do other than taking courses and workshops?’ “
“I was riding down the road and I saw a Meals on Wheels van, and I thought, ‘I can do that.’
“I went in the next day [to Senior Citizens, Inc.] and filled out an application. I was trained a couple of days later and then I was on my own.”
Now Camacho spends about an hour each Wednesday and Friday delivering hot lunches to elderly people who live in the Ardsley Park and Rendant Avenue neighborhoods.
She is covering Meals on Wheels routes that are regularly served by volunteers who are out of town this summer. For Savannahians looking for a useful break from the strain of doing nothing all season, filling in for vacationing volunteers is a sure fire win-win.
“That’s our biggest summer need,” says Tim Rutherford, Vice President of Senior Citizens, Inc, the agency that operates the Meals on Wheels program. “We have lots of regular route drivers who go on vacation.”
Meals on Wheels isn’t the only seasonal volunteer opportunity available through Senior Citizens. Rutherford notes that their summer projects run the gamut “from administrative help in the building to mowing a senior’s lawn to painting projects to helping out at our adult day care center.”
Camacho likes the fact that Meals on Wheels volunteer routes are designed to be doable in under an hour. “It’s a short period of time. It doesn’t mess up your day,” she says. “You’re automatically smiling because everybody is so appreciative. Sometimes you get a hug. Sometimes you get a story.”
“The other aspect of Meals on Wheels beyond the nutrition is that our volunteers are often the only point of contact for the seniors,” says Rutherford. The volunteer training includes information on signs indicating the senior is in trouble. If problems come up, volunteers are armed with phone numbers for the clients and for Senior Citizens staff.
“During the training the staff go with you on the route,” says Camacho. “They introduce you to the people, give you telephone numbers for contacts. It’s all very organized so we know what we are giving to everybody.
“It’s great fun. You’re always greeted with a smile and you leave with a thank you. I’m enjoying it more than I expected I would enjoy it.”
In early August, Camacho will turn in her route slips and return to Esther S. Garrison Elementary School to prepare for the 2006-2007 school year, but she’s not saying goodbye for too long. “I plan to do it again next year,” she says.
Contact Meals on Wheels through Senior Citizens, Inc. Darla Cady, Volunteer Coordinator. 236-0363.
In a city of great air conditioners, one theatre’s chilly history
On July 19,1956, the high temperature in Savannah was 95 degrees, according to the National Weather Service daily summary. On that same date in 1966, the Coastal Empire experienced a veritable cold snap, with temperatures topping out at a frigid 89 degrees. Last year’s July 19 hit 93 degrees, and the all time record high for this date was noted in 1986 when the mercury climbed to 104.
Savannah’s sweltering summers are nothing new but that doesn’t stop the locals from talking about it. What has changed in the past 50 years is the number of indoor spaces in which Savannahians (and unsuspecting tourists visiting from cooler climes) can seek respite from the one-two punch of high temperatures and high humidity.
Asking to name the Savannah building with the best air conditioning system is a difficult riddle to answer. A long roster of public spaces lists contenders for the prize.
The Bull Street Library and the Oglethorpe Mall are two potential winners that offer other attractions besides chilly air—namely, stuff to borrow and stuff to buy.
Most any grocery store is bound to be nominated, with a special nod to the Red and White on Habersham Street. A posthumous hall-of-fame award is in order for the now-closed Smith Brothers’ on Habersham; in its day the check out clerks wore thick cardigans all summer long to counter the frosty air from the open freezers.
More recently constructed candidates for best local AC? The condensation-coated windows at Savannah Mall’s Target Store warn approaching shoppers that a deep freeze lies ahead.
In downtown Savannah, the Jepson Center for the Arts children’s gallery’s extra-cool temperatures defy the laws of physics in a building constructed almost entirely of heat-magnifying glass.
But the top prize in Savannah’s “Best AC” contest must go to the Lucas Theater on Abercorn. Not only does the theater stay cool with a consistent kick, it also is home to the most famous condenser in town.
Built by Arthur Lucas in 1921, the theater claims to be the first in the south, and one of the earliest in the United States, to be constructed with air conditioning.
“They boasted of that because it was a way to get people into the theater,” says T. Mills Fleming, a Savannah attorney who is the former president of the Lucas Theater for the Arts, and a great grandson of Arthur Lucas. “I don’t know if we could 100 percent verify that, but we found that claim in some old placards and advertisements.”
The system was state-of-the-art in its design, and many components of that original system are in use in the restored theater.
“When we were redoing the theater we could still use the original duct work,” says Fleming, who spearheaded the theater’s restoration and is the unofficial authority on all things Lucas.
“It was sheet metal that had been wrapped with cork board as the insulation. There wasn’t anything wrong with it.”
Part of the original cooling system is a giant fan above the domed ceiling that operated like a heat pump, pulling hot air out of the theater so that the cooler air could come in.
“It’s about a ten-foot diameter fan. It’s so well-calibrated you can move it with your pinky,” says Fleming.
Necessary elements of the AC system like pipes to carry cool air and ventilation registers were incorporated into the decorative design of the theater, notes Fleming.
“When they talk about LEEDS [environmental design] awards, well the Lucas Theater had this hands down, just because of the way it was built. Those guys knew what they were doing,” says Fleming. “The Lucas is to air conditioning what the Owens Thomas House is to plumbing.”
Friends find themselves taking
to the water at the JEA
Case studies in doing nothing are plentiful at the beach or at poolside. Sitting and sipping, talking with friends, then slipping into the water for a quick cool down is de rigueur Savannah summer activity.
Sound relaxing? For adults who don’t know how to swim, this seemingly easy activity can be anything but restful. This summer two friends have turned their aversion to the water into a call to action.
When Rachel Green and Lynda Mock found out they’d be heading off to Boy Scout camp in July with their sons, they decided they’d better use their summer to learn how to swim. They were worried that as chaperones they might have to take the required swimming test that is administered to all the campers.
“We decided we needed to work on our strokes,” says Green, a 45-year-old art professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University. “I was a beginner. I could dog paddle. That was about it.”
“We both sort of knew how to swim,” says Mock, 40, the CFO of Power Brake and Wheel in Savannah. “We knew how to keep ourselves afloat, but neither one of us had any formal training. I grew up at the beach, but you never swim laps at the beach.”
“I was a major beginner,” Mock adds. “I could hold my breath and get through the water but as far as any formal training, I hadn’t [had any].”
Through other parents, Green heard that adult swim lessons were offered by appointment at the Jewish Educational Alliance (JEA) on Abercorn Street. The series of four 30-minute classes are typically taught one on one, instructor to student, for four consecutive weeks. Green and Mock decided to take the classes together. After completing their first class series, the women signed up for a second; they have one class left before they head out of town. They try to practice swimming every week, and both plan to continue lessons after they return from camp. As a result of their efforts, each woman has progressed from being unable to swim a lap to being able to swim eight or ten laps.
“If you’re going to live in Savannah you need to learn how to swim,” says Drew Edmonds, the JEA’s sports and wellness director. “There’s too much water around.”
Of the six or so adult students they teach each month, “we’re getting a lot of beginners,” says Edmonds.”People who have never been in the water, who are afraid of the water. The people who were afraid, they could never put their head under the water. They come out of the sessions losing that fear.”
Prior to swim classes, “I had a little nervousness about going in over my head,” says Green, “but I jumped in over my head today and it worked out fine.”
“Being a teacher, I’m all for learning things you don’t know how to do,” adds Green. “My teacher [Irene Daigle] says the same things to me that I say to my art students: ‘Believe you can do it and you can. Make that effort and practice.’ It’s all the same principles.”
“We have the most wonderful coach,” says Mock. “She relates to us very well. She’s very patient.
“I’ve been very apprehensive about swimming over the years,” adds Mock. “It has really been a liberating thing. I enjoy it so much and physically it has made me feel so much better. I think it’s been a great mental health thing as well. It relieves a lot of stress.”
Says Green, “It’s a good thing to try. My father died in May. When that happens it’s so hard, and then you feel a little bit like you don’t want to try new things, just a little diminished. This has helped to tell me I can do something new.”
Contact Drew Edmonds at the JEA to schedule adult swim classes for members or non-members. 355-8111.
The road to nowhere
These teenage brothers came 500 miles
to do nothing on Tybee
It’s nearly noon on a Wednesday, and Kelsey Parker and Justin Wright have just stirred from their tent at the Rivers’ End Campground on Tybee Island. The Chesapeake, Va., teenagers are stepbrothers who are part of a 50-person family reunion spending a week at the beach.
Most of the family is staying together in a house near the main curve on Butler Avenue, but Kelsey, Justin, their parents and their eleven-year-old sister Gabi have opted for the shady, quiet campground at the north end of the island.
“I love this place,” says Justin. “It’s nice to get away.” The 18-year-old graduated from high school earlier this year and will head to Lackland Air Force base for basic training in September. Kelsey, at 17, is a rising high school senior.
This is the family’s second consecutive year at Tybee. After their visit last year the young men couldn’t wait to come back. In describing their typical Tybee schedule, it’s clear they’re spending their time doing what many island visitors and residents do. Not a lot.
“This is our day. We wake up…whenever,” says Justin.
“Eleven or twelve,” says Kelsey.
“We go out and find something to eat,” continues Justin. “We go to the beach. We pick up girls.”
“We go find something else to eat,” adds Kelsey.
“At some point we go the house where the rest of the family is staying,” says Justin. “Then we do typical teenager night-life type things. We don’t usually come back to the campsite until like four in the morning, which is why we get up so late.”
For these guys, the fluid schedule is what makes the 500-mile trip from home worthwhile. “We don’t get bored,” says Justin. “We have no concept of time. Yesterday when we left the beach, I said ‘What time is it?’ It was like 8:00 p.m. We’d been there all day. This is the kind of place if you’re going to come here, you’re not going clubbing.”
“If you want all that upbeat stuff, go to L.A.,’ says Kelsey.
The family rents bikes for the week for their main mode of island transportation. The boys sleep in a tent and the rest of the family stays in their pop-up travel trailer. For about $400 for the week, the entire family has a place to stay that includes showers, restrooms, cable TV and electricity hook ups, water, and recreational amenities.
The electricity powers an air conditioner and other appliances in the travel trailer, says John Wright, a City of Norfolk firefighter who is father to Justin and step-father to Kelsey.
“He’s not really camping!” say the teens.
The boys’ wardrobe needs are simple. “I wear my bathing suit all week,” says Justin, “because no matter where I go I might be getting in the water.”
Although the duo is enthusiastic about their island experiences, their stories lack a certain level of detail, as if trying to avoid self-incrimination in front of John. For his part, he doesn’t seem too worried about them getting in harm’s way. “I think they’re safe down here—perhaps a little safer now that Justin is headed off the Air Force. He’s having to be a little more careful.”
When asked to elaborate, John smiles. “I really don’t want to know,” he says. “What happens on Tybee stays on Tybee.”
She reads, she sells, by the seashore
Summer reading’s not
just for kids anymore
Summer Reading. By uttering those two simple words, an adult with a sadistic streak can ruin any teenager’s July mood and cause grown ups to grimace with painful school day memories. Nothing takes the fun out of diving into a book like being told you have to do so—not to mention the dreary reporting postscript that most middle and high schools mandate for their students’ so-called summer free time.
Between the tedium of cranking out the book report and the tendency for many teens to emulate the seize-the-day grasshopper instead of the plan-ahead ant, (causing some to attempt a multi-book reading marathon in the last week before classes) the ages-old vacation reading assignment may have done more to boost the sales of Cliffs Notes “study guides” than any other event.
And the internet has infinitely expanded the ways that 21st century students can access “supplemental information” to help them better understand the required literature.
The sad reality of summer reading is that most of the novels selected for that dubious honor are truly good books. When read without the prejudice that accompanies their assigned status, most hook the reader from the first page.
Many have a nearly universal appeal. Some of these books were the Harry Potters and Da Vinci Codes of their day, living their lives as magazine serials or bestsellers before they were awarded with the mixed-blessing “classic” label.
Since most novels on assigned lists were written for adults instead of teens, a twenty-something or mid-life reread of a classic will probably clarify details that didn’t make sense in 10th grade, and the experience might just prove to be…well…fun. With no mandate, no deadline, and no homework, there’s no reason not to pick up that long forgotten Hemingway novel instead of another John Grisham.
Besides, if over 15 years has passed since your last glance at Pride and Prejudice or A Tale of Two Cities, a lot of your memories of the story are probably hazy.
Savannah’s original book lady, the late Anita Raskin, was quoted as saying “It’s a new book if you haven’t read it.” Go ahead and reread one of your summer book list titles. It’s also a new book if you can’t remember it.
Some classics to read again
Here’s a list of the top five summer reading selections required by public and private schools in the Savannah area, as identified in an unscientific survey by the staff of E. Shaver, Bookseller, in downtown Savannah.
1. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
2. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
3. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.
4. The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck.
5. Night, by Elie Wiesel.
The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, is a close sixth place, they say, and stands out as the only book mentioned that was written in the 21st century. ç