IF YOU'RE someone who believes in life’s little signs and serendipities, this past Saturday night in Savannah was a revealing one.
The rapid changes going on in downtown Savannah were on full display in a darkly surreal way that was almost like a Fellini or Herzog film.
To begin with, on my way to see St. Paul and the Broken Bones at the Lucas, I try to turn onto Broughton from East Broad only to discover — am I the last one to find out about this? — that you can’t.
There is a concrete median now, where you used to be able to turn west onto Broughton at its east end. If this is in the interest of safety, they might want to rethink it. Everybody now has to either do a U-turn half a block up East Broad — never the safest maneuver — or go all the way up to an already congested Bay Street, all just in order to get to the general vicinity of Broughton Street.
How long had that intersection been open? Maybe since horses were the only traffic on Savannah streets?
To paraphrase a friend’s joke: I should just be grateful there’s not a new Hampton Inn going up at that corner.
Anyway, I end up parking at one of my “secret” parking places. (Don’t scoff — everyone in Savannah has a few of those.)
As I walk from my highly classified yet still-legal space (but of course!), it occurs to me that this might be one of the last times I’m able to park for free going to a show at the Lucas, or anywhere else downtown for that matter.
At this week’s City Council meeting, one of the agenda items is set to be a discussion of the controversial Parking Matters study, a long, consultant-driven process that looked into all sorts of ways to “improve” City parking and transportation.
Long story short, they want to charge more for parking downtown and make us pay on evenings and weekends too.
A couple of issues ago, Jessica Leigh Lebos wrote about the study, and revealed that it probably isn’t quite as nefarious as originally assumed by many.
Our News Cycle columnist John Bennett is also one of the first to remind us of the “high cost of free parking” in incentivizing auto use over other transportation.
That said, the reviews are in. And it probably comes as no surprise that I have yet to find a single comment from a reader indicating even tepid support for the idea of expanding paid parking hours downtown and raising parking rates.
I’ve already written my two cents on this — or two dollars as the case may be — and won’t go into it too much except to say that however well-intended the ideas, they will likely have a disproportionately heavy impact on those least likely to afford it, i.e. food and beverage workers, hospitality workers, and locals.
The old chestnut about “it’s mostly tourists that have to pay” the cost is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Savannah is already pricing out locals from downtown anyway.
All that said, there is little doubt in my mind that this Council will approve the measures. We shall soon find out.
As I step inside the Lucas Theatre for the show, I see that the rumors are true: Metal detectors are now in this lobby the way they’ve been set up in the Trustees Theatre for quite some time. I was told this was likely to happen soon after the recent staffing change at the Lucas.
I think most people don’t have a problem with these kinds of security measures in this day and age. They are certainly commonplace already at most large venues. My only thought is that it doesn’t do the historic lobby any favors. But it is what it is.
Inside the show, opening for St. Paul and the Broken Bones is a gentleman named Lonnie Holley, a friend of the band, also from Birmingham, Alabama.
The 67-year-old Holley is a folk/visual artist of some repute, and also a musician, singer, and poet. His performance is impassioned and almost shamanesque, in which he vocalizes passionately over a freeform two-piece accompaniment, about the challenges of life in America.
Holley also happens to be African-American — which may or may not explain the extreme rudeness of so many members of the audience towards him.
Dozens of people in the crowd talk very loudly during Holley’s performance, as if he isn’t there. It is so noticeable that it almost drowns out the performers.
I overhear someone say, “Is this some homeless guy they dragged in off the street?”
I don’t know if this kind of thinly veiled racism is in vogue now due to the Trump effect, or it was always there, or this was just a bad night. But it is disturbing to say the least.
If you pay money to go see St. Paul and the Broken Bones, presumably because you respect them, and their opening act is in turn someone the band respects — if you’re a true fan, don’t you follow the band’s lead and show some respect yourself?
(To be clear, this in no way reflects on the Lucas Theatre, which has been in the news enough lately. The show itself was magnificent, from both Holley and from St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and the Theatre is surely not to blame for the general rudeness of so many Savannah audiences to performers.)
The shenanigans aren’t done. Leaving the sold-out show, we see several blocks of Broughton Street and State Street cordoned off because of a possible explosive device in the State Street garage.
It is quite the spectacle, coming as it does just as a Saturday night picks up steam, with people bustling all over.
It is the talk of social media, and we later find out the device might be a leftover movie prop. If that’s not a symbol of the new Savannah, I don’t know what is.
Also the talk of social media are the many “Rolling Thunder” police checkpoints Saturday night, including one at Drayton and Henry, which caught many a fish in their widely-cast nets.
This isn’t the first time Rolling Thunder checkpoints have hit Savannah, but this time seems to be, at least anecdotally, the most impactful in terms of dampening nightlife in downtown Savannah.
Considering that they netted 41 DUI arrests over the weekend, I suppose most people would conclude the streets were safer as a result.
But between the traffic, the parking, the racists, the possible bomb, and the police checkpoints, I didn’t feel that safe until I got back home safe and sound.