Savannah, Ga. I am walking upon 300-year-old cobblestone streets with my coonhound.
It’s perfect October weather. This antiquated downtown is a trip inside page 124 of your grade-school American history textbook.
Yes, this town is touristy. It’s a little gaudy in some places, sure. It’s pretentious, certainly.
Yes. There are hordes of eccentric art-school students walking around, wearing clothing that looks like it was made expressly from repurposed Wonder Bread sacks.
But this town is also heartstoppingly gorgeous. And it’s one of my favorite American cities. Hands down.
My dog’s name is Marigold. Marigold is blind. She walks beside me on the cobblestones, taking it all in.
People stop and stare at her because she bumps into things a lot.
We stop at an outdoor cafe for supper. I figure this joint must accept dogs because it’s Savannah.
The hostess is a woman who is wound tightly and probably needs regular fiber supplementation. She asks how many are in my party.
“Two,” I say.
She tells me — not politely — that she needs to ask her manager about my canine date. I tell her Marigold is a blind dog who needs assistance. I’m Marigold’s “Seeing Eye” human.
The woman just looks at me.
The hostess returns bearing the grim news. “You can’t bring a dog in here.”
I thank the woman, sincerely, and tell her that I’ve been kicked out of much nicer joints than this.
My dog and I keep walking the old streets. But I’m not fazed by rejection. I’m an author. My whole life is fraught with rejection. I get rejected four or five times each day whether I need it or not.
We finally arrive at another outdoor cafe. This hostess is much friendlier. She says Marigold is welcome to sit in the outdoor dining area as long as she doesn’t chew or pee on anything.
I order a turkey and Swiss on sourdough. I order a burger for Marigold.
“What do y’all want to drink?” the server asks.
“Budweiser for me,” I say. “Bud Light for the dog.”
She returns with a dog bowl for Marigold, filled with water. My Bud Heavy is immobilizingly cold. And life is OK.
They’re nice here in Savannah. At least a dozen people see Marigold’s “Blind Dog” vest and want to pet her.
They approach in droves. One 7-year-old girl tells me, straightforwardly, that she is going to steal Marigold when I’m not looking.
An elderly woman, wearing a sequined T-shirt that says “Wine is the only fruit I eat,” explains that she is mostly blind. She has been legally blind since birth. She says she can relate to Marigold’s plight in life.
The woman’s accent is from the old world. She was born and raised in Chatham County.
And I’m falling in love with Savannah all over again.
Savannah is the city where I got one of my first real writing gigs, a long time ago. A magazine hired me to write a series of short pieces on the history of baseball in Savannah.
Me. Of all people.
It was the dream job. The job paid squat, but this didn’t matter. You’ll never meet a bigger baseball idiot than me.
Besides, being underpaid to write about baseball is a lot like dying from a drowning accident in a brewery.
I got to interview elderly persons in Savannah. I toured Grayson Stadium, which was then home to the Savannah Sand Gnats.
I listened to wizened men in ratty ball caps tell meandering stories about seeing Babe Ruth play in the Hostess City of the South.
I wrote about Sportsman Park, located on Savannah’s west end. I interviewed elderly black men with dandelion-white hair about the Negro leagues. Men who talked about Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Willie Mays like they were household names.
It was one heck of an experience. I’ll never forget it. I spent my mornings driving around the county seat of Chatham County. I spent evenings in a tent at the KOA in Richmond Hill, pecking out stories on a typewriter, nursing a PBR.
Savannah held promise for me. I don’t know why. Back home in Florida, I was a big nothing. I was a grunt worker who installed gutter on commercial buildings.
But up in East Georgia, I was a journalist. A real writer. And so Savannah will always hold a piece of me in its clutches.
A few more people stop by our cafe table to introduce themselves to Marigold.
A group of college boys from an Oklahoma Baptist university.
A middle-aged woman and her husband, who tell me they are empty-nesters, out for their first date in 20-odd years.
A young woman wearing a neuroprosthetic hearing implant.
“This dog is my spirit animal,” remarks the young woman with the implant.
Marigold and I are soon finished eating. We pay our tab, and tip generously.
I thank the waitress for dealing so kindly with her canine customer. The woman says it’s nothing.
“Are you kidding?” the waitress remarks. “This is Savannah, sweetie.” And she says this as though this explains everything.
And, well, I guess it does.
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