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Guns & Gators

June 6, 2010

As Savannah, Georgia bears the moniker “The Hostess City of the South” I thought it would be an excellent place to begin seeking accommodation through the website Up until this point I’d been exploiting the relative comforts of staying with friends of friends of friends but I felt I had reached the point in my trip where self-imposed boundaries had to be tested and what better way than to stay on the couches of complete strangers. So now picture me, a fledgling couchsurfer, with all my worldly possessions laden on my back, walking the final block to a new alien destination, when alongside me rolls a local police car with “protect and serve” emblazoned along the side:

“What y’all doing?” drawled the copper.

“Oh hello officer, I’m staying just up the road with a friend” I chirpily responded, veritably oozing British charm.

“Y’all not from round here are you?”

“Um, no.”

“Well this is not a nice neighbourhood” he maliciously mumbled…and then with no further adieu he promptly drove off leaving me feeling no safer and utterly terrified. So having now had the surrounding war zone brought to my attention, I scuttled onwards to my final destination, just waiting to be mown down by the next neighbourhood drive-by. When I eventually reached the house of my host I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t inhabited by a den of murderers & thieves, but the next worse thing…a coven of student radio djs.

So two hours or so later after introductions and flat orientation I found myself out on the balcony drinking Miller High Life (the ‘Champagne of Beers’), chewing the fat with my hostess Myrriah, and listening to two rockabilly musicians who were at the house jamming. This perfect Savannah scene was only made complete when four gunshots from down our street shattered the dulcit tones of Hank Williams that had previously filled the night air. For Savannah may be ‘The Hostess City of the South”, but, for all her picturesque town squares and southern charm, this pretty lady has a dirty hem to her skirt. So someone in the neighbourhood having promptly been pumped full of lead my second cop car of the evening rolled up and hailed us up on the balcony:

‘Y’all guys hear any gun-shots up in here?’

“Sorry officer, but we thought they were fireworks” came the universal response. Lesson no.1 in Savannah: ‘Thou shall not snitch’. Other examples of native colour include the top quality of ‘crazies’ in Savannah such as the man who always dresses in the replica garb of Forest Gump – tucked in and top-buttoned shirt, chinos, briefcase, gump haircut and all. It is a city after my own heart.

So back to the balcony I would like to introduce you to my very first Texan on the trip, Zak, who hosts the ‘Real Country’ show on Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD) Radio. With a Mark Kermode-esque quiff and chops combination, cowboy boots, a self-proclaimed spiritual link with Hank Williams Jr, and a hankering  for Lone Star beer and Jim Bean whiskey, he was everything you could possibly want from a Texan. I would like to relate to y’all a story Zak told me about his most memorable drink of whiskey ever…a story that took him a full hour but I will try to relate in a paragraph:

So Zak’s grandfather was a very old and very sick man who seemed to be on his last legs as far as this world is concerned. Now his grandpappy’s dream was that the family house, which was looking as old and worn as he, could be returned to its previous glory before he kicked the proverbial bucket. Zak, being a true Texan family man whose Grandfather played an essential role in his upbringing, decided to take this mammoth task upon himself and began the renovation process single-handed. Now Zak’s shaggy-dog story was padded out around this point as he took us through all the minute details of his work: clearing away endless brush (a true Texan pastime), scrubbing and re-varnishing the porch, and other various facets of home-improvement. Throughout all of this strenuous labour the Old Man watched from his mobility scooter and consistently criticised every aspect of the project: ‘I dunno whether to scratch my watch or wind my butt y’all bin taking so long’. And long did this continue until finally Zak broke down and said to his Grandfather that he couldn’t make it no better and this was as good as it was going to git. Silence ensued. Slowly the Old Man wheeled his scooter up onto the porch and then stubbornly lifted his frail body into his favourite chair. When he was settled he beckoned Zak to come and sit alongside him before breaking the desert still with a holler to the Old Lady inside:

“Arleeeene. Go git me the good shiiiit.”

Out came Grandma with a bottle of Jim Bean Blue label (which is almost $200 a bottle and many believe does not exist) and poured two tumblers. It was the best dram of whiskey Zak ever had. I was almost in tears by the end of the story and you could have cut through the balcony atmosphere as if it was a Paula Deen Gooey Butter Cake.

So from Savannah I moved along again to Gainesville, or “Gatorland”, in Florida to meet up with Daniela who was the first host on this trip that I had actually met before. I first met Daniela in a hostel in Montreal, Canada where I was staying with 21 other men on a University Rugby Tour. Little D was a young arts student travelling alone and struck lucky when she strolled upon our boisterous crowd. For the next week she pretty much became our mascot coming to watch all our games, engaging in the heavy drinking, and changing hostels with us when we got kicked out for bad behaviour. So it was exciting that here I was two years later to see what sort of psychological damage was still visible from those heady days.

First day in Gainesville myself, Little D, and her friend Leah went trailing through the swampy landscape to try and set up my first Man vs Beast moment with an Alligator. It seemed as well that we had found the perfect candidate for me to initiate a death roll with when we met the photographer Chuck Littlewood on the trail and he told us of the legend of “McNasty”, a particularly aggressive alligator who torments tourists by hanging around next to the viewing post. Unfortunately on that day McNasty didn’t rear his ugly head…however in the epic battle between man and reptile I felt that I gained a minor victory after I had alligator tacos for lunch. It was in Gainesville as well that I first learnt how to really holler down women on the street from out of car windows. One of D’s friends Danny is a self-proclaimed alpha male who took me under his wing and taught me the mantra of “Hey Gurl” as we drove around the sunny University of Florida. Unfortunately our cat-calls of “Shake your money maker” and “Get in Bebe”, alongside the usually flawless “Hey Gurl” holla, didn’t actually obtain us any women on these fishing trips, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up since.

The final notable story from Gainesville is probably my most life-changing. Over-hung from a night of graduation celebrations and stuffed full of baby-sized breakfast burritos, Little D’s boyfriend Chisum, my second Texan on this trip who is named after his family’s ranch, decided it was about time on my journey that I went and shot a gun. An hour or so later Chisum’s friend arrived with a trunk-load of guns and ammo, because of course every true Texan knows at least one person with a gun and one person with a truck. The trunk was opened and we weighed the cold and heavy weapons in our hands as if we were Cuban revolutionaries before moving swiftly and excitedly on towards the shooting range. As we drove into the range there was an isolated, bullet-riddled oil barrel just burning in the parking lot…of course. Inside all we had to do was hand over our driver’s licenses, which weren’t really checked, and from there we could take whatever guns and ammo we wanted, nor did we really have any supervision once inside. One of the guns that you could have rented behind the counter was called “The Judge” a handbag-sized gun which could be loaded with shotgun shells. An imaginary scream of “Y’all been judged” rang through the air.

 So I wish I could tell you what calibre weapon I shot, or even describe the make to you, but the adrenalin has hazed my memory and I only now know the weapon as “The Mule”. It was a huge Dirty Harry hand cannon upon which I had no control…because of course it kicked…like a mule. Our target is notable as well as we were using ‘hostage situation’ targets where you had to shoot the two black silhouettes who were either side of the victim. First shot I took…straight through the victim’s mouth. My weapon theory was similar to that of Keanu Reeves when he shoots his partner in the leg in the film Speed to save him from, RIP, Dennis Hopper. Except I would have shot him in the mouth. Anyway safe to say it was a pretty intense experience and I will almost certainly shoot again.

So I hope this has been worth the wait and I will try and get onto another blog asap. However my present movements around the country have been as swift as shit through a goose so please make some allowances. In the past week I have been to about 5 0r 6 places…including a 2 day excursion to the Grand Canyon. So lay off Dad…alright?



4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rachel permalink
    June 6, 2010 15:25

    Browner—excellent post, mate. Definitely had a good laugh reading through this section, particularly the reference to Speed (top ten film, clearly) and the idea that “Y’all been judged.” Priceless. Proud that you’ve learned to keep the cat calls up and to go out with guns blazing.

  2. annemarie permalink
    June 7, 2010 07:23

    “Excuse me, miss. You’re looking quite lovely this evening. Fancy joining me for a drive? Would you please allow me the honor of paying you some respect?”
    Tooommmm, quit being so British!

    Hurry up and get to the stories I haven’t heard yet! Or at least the ones I’m in! Be sure to talk about all the toilets you moved for humanity.

    Hope you haven’t lost the census hat in a bad hand of cards yet.

  3. Big Momma permalink
    June 7, 2010 16:34

    Tom…Just loving the blog and hoping there will be many more stories soon.

    I understand that Jim Bean are looking to sign you and Zak up for their next advertising campaign – dream job if ever there was one!!

    Keep on ‘houndin and writin’.

  4. Kristi permalink
    June 17, 2010 20:45

    You amaze me. . . a Paula Deen reference after your short time down south?!
    I love your blogs and I found the “scratch my watch or wind my butt” HILARIOUS.
    You are getting a real education!

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