Getting the Willies in Savannah: Week 4

Greetings once again from Tybee Island, midway through our second week here. I’m pleased to report we’ve had little trouble adapting to the beachfront lifestyle.

We were lucky enough to begin our time here with some extra, unexpected time to explore together, after Morgan’s plans to visit a friend in Texas fell through. The original plan had been for me to drop her off at the airport on the way from Charleston, and Linus and I would spend the first weekend here on our own.

In retrospect, I’m very glad she didn’t – both because I very much enjoyed our mini-vacation the first few days we arrived here, and also because Tybee Island and the Savannah area generally is the kind of place you can really indulge yourself if there’s no one around to regulate your behavior. I’m not just talking about the alcohol – though I’m primarily talking about the alcohol.

If I die in the Savannah area and contribute to the already very large ghost population of the city, there’s a decent chance Wet Willies will have had something to do with it. For anyone unfamiliar, the best way to replicate them would be to pour the most sugary 7-11 Slurpee you can imagine, in the most radioactive colors perceivable to the human eye, and then absolutely pack it with grain alcohol – most likely something that came from a jug with X’s on it. These concoctions sit in frozen drink machines, endlessly and hypnotically swirling at you in about two dozen different flavors. If you wanted to design a way to deliver the maximum amount of sugar and alcohol simultaneously in a format that would please both Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka and Bluto from Animal House, this is how I would do it.

Sugar and alcohol are a thing together down here, I have come to realize. I would estimate 80% of bars sell jello shots, usually for a buck or two at most. It contributes to interesting moments like sitting in a nearly empty bar enjoying a beer on a quiet afternoon, perhaps working on a certain blog, when a tornado of half-drunk middle-aged women enter, order a dozen jello shots and disappear back out onto the streets immediately after consuming them.

Our first trip to Savannah came last Monday. It’s about a 30 minute drive through some really beautiful areas to get there, including through enormous marshy areas that, when the water isn’t too high, you could swear were just fields of grass. Between Savannah and Tybee are “the islands”, as they’re called here – Whitemarsh (pronounced whit-marsh, which I thankfully learned before saying it aloud), Wilmington, and Talahi Islands. I kind of love this area – 15 minutes to Savannah, 15 minutes to the beach, and affordably priced houses. And they have a Publix (and its chicken tender subs), which makes Morgan very happy.

The only problem is that they’ve been built almost entirely on former marshlands, and when the hurricanes come…well, I wouldn’t want to be there. My time on Redfin at each of our stops has been supplemented here by learning about flood insurance and building codes for coastal areas. It’s all theoretical until you see the storm surge estimate marker near the pier.

Savannah itself is, of course, gorgeous. Even as far as old southern cities go, it has an incredible charm, with gorgeous tree-lined streets, squares, and historic buildings. A friend of Morgan’s, in the process of giving us suggestions for what to see and do around the Hostess City, advised us that most things involve eating or drinking your way through the city. This is undoubtedly true, and my stomach and taste buds couldn’t be more excited, even if my wallet and bank account are not.

And then, there’s the riverfront. There are few things like strolling down the cobblestones of River Street (carefully, as both of us nearly found out), checking out the warehouses-turned-restaurants and tourist shops, sipping a drink, and watching a massive container ship drift by down the Savannah River. There are just simply too many candy stores for my own good, especially around Halloween. But you try saying no to a chocolate and peanut butter cup covered rice krispie treat on a stick.

I mentioned Savannah’s haunted reputation briefly; this is one reason I was particularly happy to be able to book a place in this area for Halloween. Savannah is reputedly the most haunted city in America, if for no reason other than the fact that people have been dying literally all over the place here for almost 300 years. There are your garden variety grisly murders and spooky apparitions of Victorian-era children, but then there’s also the (still-active) hotel where amputated body parts from the Civil War were discovered in the 1990s under the floorboards or the historic haunted inn with a tunnel to the Savannah waterfront for shanghaiing drunken guests. Then, of course, there are the innumerable ghosts along the riverfront resulting from Savannah’s role in the slave trade. On top of all of this, they’ve relocated enough cemeteries and buried people in enough random places around this city that you have a pretty decent shot of walking on a dead person at any given moment in the historic district. We learned about all this during a few hours with Savannah Underground, a combination ghost tour and haunted house-type show that ended up being an excellent Halloween weekend choice.

Then, of course, there are the times when you are walking on and near dead people deliberately, like at Bonaventure Cemetery. You may have heard of this sprawling graveyard from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which seems to be the Savannah book. It’s the location of the famous Bird Girl statue from the book’s cover, which, in a typical “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” moment, had to be moved to a museum after the fame of the book (and movie, which, as anyone remotely familiar with the plot will understand, stars an aptly-cast Kevin Spacey) led to people touching and damaging the monument.

Nevertheless, there are still dozens of incredible graves here, some unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. And with the live oaks and Spanish moss, it’s a generally pretty spooky place.

After a little Halloween bar hopping in Savannah, including a haunted brewery, we headed back to Tybee where Morgan went ahead and won 3rd place in the Wet Willies Halloween Costume contest, defeating a far less appealing cheerleader in a cheer-off.

I, unfortunately, did not place due to the generally low effort of my costume, which was a crab. No photographic evidence exists of this debacle, which is probably for the best.

To go back to “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, I understand that’s been 30+ years since the book was set. But I have a hard time reconciling THAT Savannah with this Savannah. Some of the pieces of advice in the book – for example, never going below Gaston Street – seem particularly ludicrous considering the multi-million dollar price tags for homes there these days. It’s certainly a nice area to walk around, but not a representative example of the city as Savannah residents actually experience it. We’ve got a shortlist of less tourist-heavy Savannah neighborhoods (the Starland District, Ardsley Park, and a few others) to explore more deeply over the next few weeks.

Back here on Tybee, it’s a decidedly slower pace. I have always loved “beach town in off-season” vibes, even after watching this season’s American Horror Story. Being here for as long as we are has decidedly taken some of the pressure off to be constantly on the go. There’s still so much to do before we go, but we both feel more comfortable with nights in, days chilling on the beach, and living our lives in what resembles a normal routine.

We’ve taken walks on the beach most days, and the entire island is fairly walkable, only about five miles from bottom to top. If you’re at all familiar with my beach walking history, I naturally looked forward to tackling that. Tybee’s beaches are wide but not too wide, with soft sand but not that dirt-like sand you see a lot of other places in the south, and no steep embankments like some New Jersey beaches. I can imagine they get “crowded,” but not truly crowded like some New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware beaches I’ve been to in the past 12 months.

A final weird Tybee note – there’s an Arby’s here about two blocks from our condo. It is the only fast food on the island, and the only chain restaurant other than one or two local franchises. It’s only open 11am to 5pm. I can’t remember the last time I saw an Arby’s, much less a situation where it commands such a dominating position in the fast-food landscape. The whole setup is strange in a way I can’t quite explain, but at least we have 6 hours a day of access to curly fries.

As for our jello shot study, it remains ongoing. My co-author and I appear to have fundamental differences in our preferred consistency, but we remain dedicated to the work above all else.

-Nick and Morgan

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