February was not the month when productive members of society willingly chose to take a road trip; school was in session, vacation days hadn’t accumulated, and Mardi Gras wasn’t until March that year. In the northern states that meant we were sharing our lodgings with prostitutes, libertarians, and people on the lam. The warmer south represented a whole new demographic. The Yemassee, South Carolina KOA was filled with, what appeared to be, a traveling gang of canasta players. The retirees were on the move.
From the first half of the trip, I learned to keep my head down and avoid all eye contact with my fellow travelers. Communication was limited to “yes”, “no”, and “I think your arm’s bleeding.” With that mindset, I entered the campground clubhouse in search of coffee. It wasn’t until I heard Margie’s voice that I looked up and surveyed the atmosphere. There she was, in the middle of a large crowd, wearing the Airstream-themed cardigan that I thought she had brought on the trip as a joke. The group was finishing a very animated debate about the weather and moving on to a discussion about traffic. In twenty-two days, I had never seen Margie so relaxed and comfortable. She finally had an audience for every topic that I refused to talk about with her.
It wasn’t that she just fit in with the senior campers; in them, she could see her future. It was like someone had told her that, at some point down the line, she was going to win the lottery. It didn’t matter that she still had thirty years of life to struggle through until it happened. The thought that she could look forward to days that started at dawn and were filled with trailer maintenance was enough to make her happy. I, on the other hand, didn’t appreciate the Bizzaro effect the campground was having on our relationship. There was Margie with her new friends, drinking Sanka and quoting needlepoint pillows, while I stood over her and clapped my hands, “Chop, Chop we have a lot to do today. Broken trailers don’t fix themselves”
We were looking for someone to reattach the underbelly of the trailer that had fallen off. It was a simple straightforward job – that nobody wanted. After five unsuccessful phone calls, I realized the problem. Margie was way too descriptive with her details about Sylvia. The less anyone knew about the trailer, the better. “Classic.” “Charming.” “Good bones.” Every mechanic knew those were just code words for “rust”, “hand-patched” and “something that is never going to leave your shop.” I let Margie in on a trick I learned when I was shopping for a sitter for my pet. I never used adjectives. Bonesy wasn’t a one-eyed three-legged animal with irritable bowl; she was just a dog. In that vain, we simply needed help with a trailer. The details could be discussed in person. When needed, she would have the trump card “you said you could help me when we talked on the phone.”
As expected, my plan worked. And, as expected, when the manager looked out the lobby window and saw Sylvia in the parking lot, he declined our business. But Margie stuck to her guns…and to her wallet. For double the normal rate and triple the estimated timeframe, the man who proudly displayed his membership to the better business bureau agreed to fix the trailer. I had doubts that he was the right person to entrust with our camper that contained all our worldly possessions. But, we all knew, he was our only option.
Our beds and food were going to be locked in a shop over night. That meant we were going to have to scramble in Savannah for meals and lodging. Margie relaxed her “motels only” rule and we found an Inn right in town. The rooms had thirty-foot high ceilings, windows that stretched from the crown molding to the baseboard, an exposed brick wall and wide plank hardwood floors. When check-in was complete, they showed us a diagram of the fire exits and told us about the resident ghost. Creaky floorboards, clothes thrown on the floor and stolen wine had all been attributed to the spirit of Charlie. I guessed that he was also responsible for a feint odor of must around the curtains, half-used bars of soap left in the bathroom, and a shower that ran hot and cold. A demon spirit that alternately froze and burned my naked body didn’t bother me in the least. We had an adult sized-bed, windows that adhered to fire-code, a sewage line that I don’t have to maintain, and complimentary wine in the lobby. No one, from this world or beyond, could ruin that for me.
We had settled in to a pattern of drinking, eating, sleeping in the same 5ft. radius. For one night, each activity was going to take place in a separate room. I was so excited, I ran around like a teenager getting ready for prom. Fresh and pretty, that was what I wanted for myself. A grubby fleece and pitted t-shirt was what I had to make it happen. I decided to raid Margie’s bags and took the “Brooklyn” sweatshirt she had been wearing for five days. It was dirty, two sizes too small, and fell way short of the goal I had originally set. But, it advertised a liberal northern city and I thought the southerners would appreciate that.
Cocktails started at 5:00. At 5:05 we entered a packed lobby. We weren’t the only ones who valued free alcohol. As it was at the trailer park, our closest peer was twenty years older than us. The lack of young blood we were encountering was a bit concerning. But as the morning crowd helped enlighten us about tropical storm patterns, the group at the inn was quick to teach Margie and I that it took a lot of blonds to screw in a light bulb and that there were nominal differences between lawyers and catfish. Besides agreeing that strange groups of people sometimes walk into bars together, Margie and I sat quietly and focused on the wine. As soon as that ran out, we quickly excused ourselves before anyone had a chance to ask us what lesbians did on their first date.
It was a warm night and in the dark charming streets put me in the mood to call Lisa. I was hoping to share the moment with a familiar voice. Unfortunately, I didn’t get one. Lisa was angrier than I have ever heard her. Because of non-payment, our gas had been shut-off and we had no money to turn it back on. In two days, Lisa was scheduled to leave on a business trip and, in that time, she wouldn’t be able to take a hot shower, turn on the heat, or wash her clothes. I felt a slight satisfaction knowing that, currently, her life was not very different from the way we lived in the trailer. Lisa did not find my observation comforting. Once again, she hung up on me.
Margie was in the restaurant waiting for me to finish my phone call and had no idea what we were talking about. The odds that I was going to be able to reimburse her for the trip expenses were looking more and more slim everyday. If I walked inside and relayed my conversation with Lisa to Margie, I had no doubt that the trip would be over. I would be accused of being a fraud and I had no way to refute the charge. At that point, I couldn’t even scrounge up a character witness. Even the fact that Lisa was starting a two-week job that would bring in money wouldn’t help. It was looking more than likely that she would break up with me when I got home. I was fucked. I had no option but to go inside, eat a hamburger, and pretend that everything was great.
After dinner, Margie and I walked back to the hotel, slowly meandering though historic residential streets. Away from tourists, traffic and commercial buildings the neighborhoods were quiet and deserted. When a man fell out of a basement door and unexpectedly released a bomb of dance music onto the street, it was a shocking contrast to the peaceful street. We looked behind him and saw a bar with five men hunched on top of red vinyl stools. The windows were black and the façade was completely empty except for one lone rainbow flag. We found a gay bar.
So far that day we’d been welcomed by groups of seniors at a campground and the Inn. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the reception we would receive from our own community. Even before the door closed we had received our first greeting, “Yankees go home.” It was followed by a slow grumble, “how dare you wear that shirt in here.” I had seriously misjudged the reception my sweatshirt would receive.
Despite the hostility, we decided to stay for a drink. Our first one was free. Not because they liked us, but because they “otta kill us.” The man next to Margie with twelve teeth and a plaid wool hat, seemed out of place in a gay bar . One minute he was bragging about his cabin in the woods and the next about throwing his ex-wife through three walls off his trailer. It wasn’t until he toasted the technicality that he cleared the manslaughter charges and raised another drink to his twenty-year old boyfriend and their three lady Chihuahuas that I finally understood why he was there.
The man to my left seemed more at home his surroundings. His opaque sunglasses were a miraculous achievement considering we were in the darkest bar I had ever entered. With great affectation he spoke about his love for his mother and his hatred of Northerners. If it weren’t for his desire to detail his relationship to every character in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil he probably would have ignored us and his innate hatred of northerners. The book won out and he bought us a round of drinks as he reconstructed the novel and his connection to every scene.
After a couple of drinks, Margie and I decided to call it a night. We thanked the gentlemen for the drinks and were left with a pearl of wisdom, “today your sweatshirt got you a beer, tomorrow it’ll get you a bullet.”