2017-07-20 / Opinions

ACROSS THE SAVANNAH

Back from that sunny Georgia beach
By TOM POLAND
a southern writer

As I reported last week, my Lincoln County family and I vacationed at Tybee Island for a week in perfect beach weather. When we packed up to leave Saturday morning, great memories left with us. We all agree Tybee Island is a place we’ll return to. It has a lot going for it, including the massive cargo ships that steam across the horizon. These seagoing warehouses make for interesting conversations. To where are they going. What do they carry. From where do they come.

Restaurants are plentiful. My only complaint is that parking is nonexistent.

Tybee Island’s not crowded. Unlike Myrtle Beach, Tybee let’s you lay claim to a sizable piece of real estate for setting up your tent, chairs, and coolers. The beach itself is spacious and sea oats fringe it creating a picturesque setting. Best of all you don’t see wall-to-wall high-rise hotels ad infinitum. For whatever reason, someone had the foresight not to erect a wall of cement that blocks views of the sea. We could sit on our balcony and enjoy a splendid view of the beach.

I found the beach free of riffraff, something I can’t say about a certain legendary beach. The joke over here, across the Savannah, is that you can easily find shells at that legendary beach, .38 casings. At Tybee we encountered no drunkenness, no disorderly types, no unwelcome loud music. Just sand, sea, sea oats, sky, and surf. We watched dolphins and porpoises cruise offshore and in one case watched them attack a school of shad. Pelicans flying in vees and pelicans plummeting from the sky for menhaden proved entertaining.

The island itself has a network of bike trails and we rode bikes checking out the island’s lighthouse, Tybee Island National Light Station, and an old fort, Fort Screven. We rode by the sometime beach home of Sandra Bullock, too. Easy to spot, as the sophisticated security system screams, “someone really wants privacy here.”

As driving goes, a short ride up Highway 80 is another fort, Fort Pulaski. Near Fort Pulaski, you’ll see the smallest lighthouse in Georgia, the Cockspur Island Lighthouse. It’s just 46 feet tall. Tybee Island National Light Station on the other hand is 144 feet high.

If any of you decide to spend some time at Tybee Island, take Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventure. We did and were not disappointed. You get to see dolphins in the wild and you can get fairly close. (Dolphins and porpoises are different but both are small whales.) They will put on quite a show for you.

Without doubt, the best thing about our week at the beach was being together and doing whatever we felt like. We lived as if in a commune, and at times we looked a bit like a refugee camp with things strewn here and there, but that’s what vacations are all about, unwinding. Letting things be.

The week sped by and Saturday morning we all said goodbye. For me, it meant a sudden return to reality and a chance to work on my back roads book. A back road, to me, is a cultural paradise, an interstate a wasteland. An interstate saves time but the downside is long stretches of nothingness. Taking back roads from Tybee Island to a book-related event in Aiken Saturday was an easy decision even though I needed to be in Aiken by 1:30. Through the heart of lovely historic Savannah I drove to Highway 17 North to the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, which spirited me into Carolina. I had plotted a route down 17 to 321, then peeling off onto 278, and ultimately to Highway 19, which took me by the University of Georgia Ecology Lab Conference Center and through New Ellenton into Aiken.

Highway 321 proved to be a bit disappointing as back roads go. For the most part, it was a corridor amid green walls of trees. Once, however, I passed what I am sure is a Carolina bay, a legendary elliptical landform that science has you to prove what created it.

Along the way I came across yet another abandoned store. I parked and got out to photograph it when a wiry, tan fellow left the pickup truck engine he was working on to saunter over to me. He looked at me with curiosity, cocking his head as a dog does.

“Mind if I photograph your store,” I asked.

“Might as well. The beautification committee wants me to tear it down,” he said.

“I think it’s beautiful.”

“Well tell that to the committee,” he said. “I told ’em, ‘You want it torn down? Get some crowbars and hammers and have at it.’ ”

As you can see it’s a junky place but something about a place like this store evokes beauty, a glimpse into the past.

As I drove through Estill, my days of teaching at Columbia College came back to me. I had taught a girl from Estill who became a friend, for a while. Can’t even remember her name now but I recall she would send a bouquet of roses to herself each Friday when her boyfriend drove up to see her. There in the lobby of her dorm she left the roses at the front desk for him to see. A ruse, it was to make him think another fellow was interested in her. The goal? Marriage. It worked but I have no idea what became of her or him. The realist in me says divorced. Maybe not though.

As I approached Allendale, to which I had never been, I recalled a friend from a lifetime long ago. He had worked there as a pharmacist. Then a series of changes set in. The upshot was that he vanished into a hermit-like life.

It was in Allendale, just off 278, that I saw a strange tower. Later I discovered it’s a standpipe, one of three in South Carolina. Built circa 1915, it’s a predecessor to today’s water tanks.

After a hasty detour for barbecue in Barnwell at Hog Heaven, I hit the road for Aiken. No stopping anymore. I arrived at the event, just 10 minutes late. After it ended, I broke my rule and drove home on I-20. I had been up since 5:45 to photograph sunrise at Tybee Island, and I just wanted to get home. I arrived home just as a storm broke. I had been gone nine days on a trip that took me to Beaufort’s back roads and ended up back in Irmo with eight days in Georgia sandwiched in between. Unpacking my bags, there they were, folded neatly. Family fun and back road adventures. Great memories that will last a lifetime.

(Visit the author at www.tompoland.net or email him at tompol@earthlink.net.)

Return to top