April 19, 2019

The Savannah River

Dateline – Savannah, Georgia

OK, time to write the travelogue that I should have written last night, but the cocktail from earlier in the evening kept rearing itself in my brain and I kept falling asleep and I figured my regular readers (all five of you), didn’t need to decipher dharhjgfjaga as my keys slipped across the keyboard of my laptop.

So I am in Savannah. This whole trip came about as a legal case I was retained for several years ago suddenly woke up and was to go to trial in Pembroke, Georgia – about thirty miles west of Savannah. Panicked phone calls from the attorneys. My testimony urgently needed. You get the picture. So, I rearrange my schedule, take vacation days, book hotel which must be paid for in advance, and discommode myself in various other ways. Of course, the case settles on the courthouse steps. I am no longer needed. I decided what the heck, Savannah’s a nice town and went anyway, without having to pack my suit and play verbal jousting games on cross examination.

As I was on no set timetable, I took a leisurely drive over on Wednesday afternoon. Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels kept me company on the audio system and the weather was cooperative. Traffic through the greater Atlanta area reminded me of why I have no desire to ever live there, but other than that, things were uneventful. My hotel, my usual Hampton Inn (575,000 Hilton points and counting…), was booked to be convenient to Pembroke and is way out of downtown Savannah, making it quiet and I went to bed early.

Mercer/Williams House Savannah – the murder site from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

I got up on Thursday morning and took myself on a walk through historic Savannah. It’s not my first time there by a long shot. Steve and I, like everyone else in mid 90s America, had bought and read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and one of our first exploration trips after relocating to Birmingham had been a weekend here to see all the sights from the book. I also took my parents here for a weekend when they came down to check on me a few months after Steve’s death and Tommy and I made a trip here a few years after that. I had therefore been to most of tourist Savannah at least once so I had no agenda other than enjoying a fine spring day and people watching. Other than rolling my ankle on some 18th century cobblestones on my way down to the river, everything was lovely.

Lunch with Jeanmarie Collins

I met Jeanmarie Collins, actress and teacher par excellence and now a Savannah resident, for lunch at a cafe called Clary’s where we both ordered late brunch dishes and yakked for an hour or so about Birmingham theater, New York, the state of our lives, and all those other things friends of a certain age talk about when they see each other. I’ll see her again tomorrow in Birmingham as she’s teaching one of her Spolin technique improv classes which I highly recommend. After lunch, more walking, then stopping in at a restaurant known as The Grey and built in the old bus depot for a cocktail. It didn’t strike me as the kind of place I wanted to dine alone so I headed back to the hotel and some comfort food and another cocktail may have been involved.

Today’s story is Savannah tangential and involves Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. As a nonfiction novel, it includes an incredible cast of characters drawn from real life, none more memorable than the Lady Chablis, an African American transgender entertainer from the downtown clubs. She was such an original that, when it came time to make the film, she was cast as her self and manged to walk off with the movie (and was one of the few good things in it).

The Lady Chablis

About ten years ago, Tommy and I were spending a long weekend in a gay resort. We were sitting on the front stoop of our room when the next door opens and out steps a dimunitive African American transgender woman. Lithe and elegant, who smiles radiantly, says hello, and proceeds to spritz herself with something from a small bottle. Tommy says hi back and then starts to chat with her about something and it appears they’ve met before (I wasn’t paying a lot of attention). When he calls her Lady, I do a double take and realize, yes indeed, it is the Lady Chablis. She waves goodbye, floats off in the other direction. Tommy looks at me and says ‘I’ve had dealings with her before, make sure the door’s locked’ and we went off to dinner. He refused to elaborate further. I assume they ran across each other when he was doing his HIV prevention work in the late 80s and early 90s before we met. Just what went down remains a mystery Tommy took with him to the grave.

Back to Birmingham this afternoon, things theatrical tomorrow, and off to Seattle and Portland a week from Wednesday. More travelogue and stories to come.

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