Savannah isn’t a young American town. Established in 1733, Savannah is what we refer to as “historical” in the U.S.A. The city’s pillared homes and ivy-covered walls make a nice backdrop for visitors on any of the various guided tours of the town, but the reputed friendliness of Savannah is part of the reason people visit and then return.
I first traveled to Savannah on tour. My band played at a place in town, The Jinx, and I was impressed with the owner of the venue. She was kind, energetic and uniquely accommodating. She believed in paying touring bands and she even had a space available for the bands that came through if they didn’t have a place to stay. She promoted touring bands to local music writers and publications. She requested a stack of posters in advance and made a point to actually hang them. And so my first experience in Savannah was a good one. People were at the show and enjoying themselves. One man even bought two of everything we had for sale at the merch table and then opened up a tab for me and my bandmates to use the rest of the night. The one-off kindnesses I experienced in Savannah might have seemed just like good luck when isolated, but the collective hospitality of the town began to seem more intentional than not, more a fact of Savannah life than a fluke.
When I was back home in New York, I talked about moving to the South. Before visiting Savannah, I never knew charm and cool could be so inseparably paired in a place. When a roommate of mine eventually departed NYC with aim for Savannah, I bid her farewell with envy. I couldn’t undo my first impression of this Georgia destination; the luster didn’t fade with time.
My husband and I were haplessly traveling down the east coast in June. The trip had been a series of badly timed and poorly planned excursions that had led to more frustration than fun. We decided to stop in Savannah because he had never been there, but we only had one afternoon to explore. Yelp pointed us in the direction of a good cafe, so we parked and tied our dogs to the patio table when we arrived. We sat next to a Russian couple that had been living in Savannah for a while. Conversation sparked in that serendipitous way it does sometimes, wherein each involved party is actually in the mood to talk. When the couple said goodbye, two older gentlemen discussed our afternoon plans with us, giving us both advice and direction. We walked toward the river with the canopying Spanish moss overhead. Many more people than usual, it seemed, stopped to pet our dogs. Each person had anecdotal Savannah stories to share and we had listening ears. In between our conversations, we began discussing the town.
“Everyone is so friendly here. It’s unbelievable,” my husband remarked.
“I told you so,” I quipped.
When the heat of the afternoon had toasted our shoulders, we walked back to our car. My husband pulled out of our space and drove down the road and made a left turn. Unfortunately, he turned directly into another car, mistakenly thinking that we were on a two-way street when we were instead on a one-way street. I uttered a succession of curse words and we pulled over into a nearby parking lot to assess the damage. The two cars were damaged, alright. I was trembling as the woman who owned the car we’d hit approached us, feeling uneasy in anticipation of her wrath.
“Just tell me, what were you thinking?” she asked my husband in a voice sweet with maternal instinct.
“I thought we were on a two-way street. We don’t live here. I’m so sorry,” he responded.
“Well, that’s OK. Is everyone alright?” she asked, spotting our dogs through the open door.
“We’re fine, are you?” I asked.
“I sure am, and that’s all that matters,” she said before warming us with a smile I’ll never forget.