Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Into The Heart of The South
by James Glaser
March 11, 2011
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I have been on the road. While North Florida is definitely in the South, rural Georgia seems to me to be more in the middle of the South. Wanda and I took a trip to Western Georgia, Pine Mountain to be specific, which is close to the Alabama border. There we stayed at Calloway Gardens, where Wanda attended a business conference with her company. Me? Well, I went shopping.

The town of Pine Mountain had a brochure about their town's shops, and it listed 20 with a little blurb about each. I went to every one, and I must tell you that the people working in small town rural Georgia are open, friendly, and fun to talk to. I went to antique stores, art galleries, gift shops and even ladies dress shops. However, I must tell you, Wanda does not allow me to pick out any of her clothing.

From Pine Mountain, I went to Warm Springs, "Home to President Franklin D Roosevelt's beloved Little White House."

The two towns were very different. Pine Mountain was clean, felt upbeat, and the people seemed to want to please you. Warm Springs seemed to have its heyday back in the 1950s, and it felt like a tourist trap. Many buildings were in need of repair and many were closed. I'll tell you, I spent more money in Pine Mountain, probably because the town put me in a better mood. The people were nice to me in both places, but in one they were filled with energy, while in the other (which was about 13 miles away) they seemed depressed.

The place we stayed, Callaway Gardens, is a huge multi-thousand acre resort with a couple of golf courses, and the best part, a huge, and I mean huge vegetable garden. I got exhausted just looking at it. There was only one guy there, and for a minute it looked like he did the whole thing, but he said they have a big crew when it comes to planting, tending, and harvesting. It is still early spring up there, so nothing has been put in the ground for this year, but I could see the hundreds of feet of cabbages and broccoli from fall, and the different herb sections, each bigger than my whole garden.

It was nice that they had little signs telling which herbs were planted and a little bit about each. I was taking notes. I drove from where we were staying at the edge of the resort a good mile still inside the resort to where the garden was. I passed lakes, streams, walking trails, and I was the only person there. I could drive at two miles an hour and look at everything and not bother anyone.

I went back out to the main road and drove to the top of the mountain and ate lunch on a glassed in area that looks out over a valley where you can see for miles. I never knew there were mountains in Georgia, and, in truth, they had no snow covered peaks, but my ears did pop as I drove to the resort.

Everything seemed idyllic, but it really wasn't. You know I have this habit of talking to people. Not just chit chat, but asking hard questions. Like what are their lives like and how do they look at the future. Some people clam right up and have other things to do, but some people are just waiting for somebody who wants to hear what they are doing and thinking.

One lady working a gift shop told me how she had just got her job and was so grateful. She hadn't worked for a year and a half. She told me she had to rent out her house to make mortgage payments, and moved in with her sister. She really didn't know what the future held, but having a pay check made more things seem possible.

I was wearing a Marine Corps shirt Wanda had bought for me, and one proprietor asked if I was a real Marine or was just wearing the shirt. I rattled off my serial number, and he came back with his. Seldom does a Marine forget his number. Well, by his number I could tell he was an "old salt" having a number much lower than mine.

We talked about different bases we had served at, the VA, our government, economics, food, women, children and in no time it was like we were old friends. That can happen any time one Marine meets another.

Well, it seems that even though Pine Mountain looks clean and prosperous, things are not what they were. Yes, there are still thousands of people coming to Callaway gardens to vacation or have a business meeting, but those people are not spending like they used to.

Also, this guy's costs are going up—insurance, utilities, and everything else like food and gas. The same things are happening in Georgia as the rest of the country. We started talking about retirement, and this man had planned to retire a couple of years ago, but now with the economy in the tank, his shop is worth way less than before, even if he could find a buyer, which he can't. I am sure there are thousands, probably tens of thousands of American shop owners in that same boat.

There was one real bright spot, and that was an artists' co-op in Pine Mountain. There was some really good work there, and I got to talk to a couple of the artists. I told them their prices seemed very low, and they said it was either that or stop selling. I know how that goes. However at least these two we very upbeat about their work and were very thankful that they can still continue to work in their chosen medium.

Now that I think about it, I saw no construction of any kind going on. I saw a couple of logging trucks but neither had a full load of logs. The resort had a painting crew touching up trim, but that was it for tradesmen.

We drove home in a rain storm. We stopped in one small town to get gas, and the gas station had bars on the windows, and the cashier was in a barred, glassed-in case with an opening like a bank teller has. Strange, but the rest room was immaculate. We didn't stick around long.

We needed the rain, and seeing as I had just planted our vegetable garden, the rain was very timely. Everything was safe and sound at home, and it was nice to sleep in our own bed. After a trip like that, not much gets done the next day, but I have high hopes for this weekend.

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