-by Emily Benson
There’s something about road trips that make you want to get to your destination as fast and furiously as possible, ensure you don’t spend any longer than necessary in a cramped, claustrophobic car, shoved in between luggage, old coffee cups, and a bag of stale 3-day-old muffins. After all, who wants to stay another sleepless night in a roadside motel –a crooked vacancy sign with half the letters missing, flashing its sinister Hitchcockian welcome that screams “you’ll never get out of here alive!”
But like anything else in life, the joy is not only in the destination, but in the journey. And road trips are perhaps most illustrative of this old truism.
While my husband, mother-in-law, and myself were all especially tempted to get our three-day-plus-drive from the Florida Keys to New York over with as soon as possible, we arrived somehow at a consensus to spend an entire morning in Savannah, Georgia.
Photo by Mary Scott
And what better place to slow it down than in an old southern gentile town where everything is slow and sweet–from the drawl of the Georgian accent–to the hot caramel poured in candy shops.
We had allotted all of three or four hours, not enough to really know a place, but just enough to osmotically absorb its essence.
Our first stop was Wormsloe plantation, a historic park that was once the colonial estate of Noble Jones (1702-1775), a doctor and land surveyor, and one of the first English settlers in Georgia.
We stopped at the entrance since we didn’t have the day to devote, but that provided the opportunity to peer down the mile-long drive of live oaks and stand under the stunning canopy of Spanish moss. I think it was worth coming to Savannah for the Spanish moss alone. The moss on the trees was delicate and fanciful, yet somehow, strangely artful and intentional, and made it seem, as my husband pointed out, as though each tree had been decorated by hand.
Then it was onto River Street, paved with charming old cobblestones and lined with gift boutiques and a disproportionately high number of candy shops, the most impressive of which is River Street Sweets. When you walk in, a man in a red shirt, (I refer to him as Satan), hands out warm, fresh praline samples, and doesn’t keep track when you ask for seconds.
The pralines are melt-in-your-mouth, out-of-this-world delicious.
My mother-in-law, Mary, enjoyed the fresh pralines she purchased at a table out front in the crisp but fair February air, while I went in search of more free samples. I found a gold mine at The Peanut Shop of Savannah a little further down River Street. Every kind of peanut you could possibly dream up was available as a sample– jalapeño-flavored, chocolate dipped, honey roasted or smoked cheddar peanuts, to name just a few.
As we were leaving, I had one last stop in mind, to see The Waving Girl, a famous statue of a woman known for running out to greet every ship entering and leaving the Port of Savannah. She did this for forty-four years, and allegedly did not miss a single ship–fifty thousand in total.
I thought dishearteningly of New York City where I was headed for three months to teach poetry. In the city, people barely have time to say hello, and often, they don’t even know their neighbors, let alone wave to strangers on ships.
As I left, driving through the maze of moss-laden branches, I wondered, what if we had sped past this treasure? I would be left without having savored the sweetness of pralines, or the gossamer lightness of Spanish moss, without knowing there once lived a woman who devoted her life to waving to strangers.