Going the distance

by dixie

“The Savannah airport is best described as ‘intimate.’ It has two major shops: a flip-flop shop and a sunglasses emporium, facing each other across the concourse. Also, not a shred of data access. I do not want to be stuck here.”
— My journal, 14 April 2014

The Savannah regional airport is a skylight-topped place that feels more like a train station than an airport. The shops seem to be there mostly to remind everyone that if they’re not on their way to Hilton Head or one of the area’s ruggedly beautiful island beaches, they’re doing it wrong.

I've learned to love small airports.

Small but perfectly formed.

I spent almost no time in the Savannah airport. Sometimes I’ll browse shops when I arrive in an airport, especially if I’ve nowhere to be that night, but usually I keep walking. Before SAV-ORD-ATL however, I made it to the gate in SAV in just enough time to start the slightly nervous waiting for a seat on the plane, no time to spare for shopping or daydreaming. It became clear that I wouldn’t make it onto the flight I’d booked, so during boarding I started arranging to rent a car and drive to Atlanta instead. The gate agent eventually came to me and apologized for my being the first person in the standby queue to not get a seat, and within half an hour I was outside, clutching a cup of coffee and a banana and gently but firmly convincing a very well-meaning rental car company employee that I was going to take my chances driving without their ludicrously expensive insurance, thank you very much.

Americans are born behind the wheel, my Russian ex-boyfriend used to say, and Georgia is where I learned to drive. I was in my first car accident at the tail end of a drive very like this one, from the barrier islands to Atlanta, and my first road trips were on these Georgia “expressways.” Experiencing it now made me wonder how much of myself was created from all that time on Atlanta roads.

Driving in the South is, I realize now, a massively multiplayer game. The object is to get where you’re going as fast as you can without attracting the attention of the many ill-tempered cops that lurk along the sides of the roads. You don’t get to talk to your fellow players but you do interact — you can signal to players on the other side of the road to let them know there’s a speed trap ahead, and you can work with players on your side of the road to speed your journey. The cops can’t pull over everyone, so people who want to drive more than ten miles over the speed limit often travel in packs of 3-4 cars.

I thought I’d dreamt this, a figment of adolescent memory embellished by the passage of time, but about an hour outside of Savannah one of these packs whooshed past me. Almost by instinct I pulled out into the left lane and joined them, positioning myself neither first nor last, my attention instantly sharper than before when I’d set my cruise control to the maximum non-ticketable speed. The pack broke up after about half an hour, and I participated in two more before I reached the city limits.

All semblance of cooperation vanished on the approach to Atlanta. There we were caught in the quicksand of rush hour traffic, something I had learned how to avoid as a kid but had learned to cope with in LA (where it’s always rush hour somewhere in the city). My GPS flaked out and I felt my way through the streets I drove as a teenager, the driving equivalent of wandering blind with my hands outstretched, making my way towards my destination.

Dublin shoud not be this warm.

And then, suddenly, I found myself in Dublin.

During the recklessly fast drive across the state I found myself in Dublin (Georgia), stopped for petrol and took pictures, then continued the odd spiral of returning to the place where I’m from. There’s a tension every time I go back to Atlanta, even if it’s just to change planes. A part of me wonders “Haven’t I spent enough time here?”

I took the long way through the leafy green suburbs I used to be so familiar with. Many of the landmarks I knew had changed; trees had been cleared or put in, strip malls had been added or replaced, but the streets were all the same. The bones of the city hadn’t changed, even when everything else had, and after a little bit of confusion I was able to feel my way to the neighbourhood I was aiming for.

SAV-ORD-ATL wasn’t the first journey I completely failed to make due to standby denial, but it was the only one I ended up making by car instead. Those four hours on the Georgia expressway ended up being as much a homecoming as arriving in Atlanta itself was.