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Signs of progress
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Holiday helper

One night last week, I was recruited to help out on a holiday ride-along, serving as the sidekick for a big, bearded guy with a twinkle in his eye. I’ve crossed paths with quasi-celebrities before, but nothing prepared me for the awestruck, speechless reactions of adults and kids alike when Santa Claus showed up unannounced on several Savannah doorsteps.

The first stop for Santa and me was a drop in with Van and Ty Dohrman, brothers ages 5 and almost 3. It was a good thing Santa came by, since the boys are spending Christmas at their grandparents’ in Kentucky, and older brother Van made sure that the big guy knew their itinerary. Van’s hugs and chattiness, assuring Santa that both had been good boys this year, covered for his younger brother’s immobilized staring silence.

Next came Santa’s planned visit for the night, to St. Mary’s Home on Victory Drive, just in time for cookies and punch at the gift-giving celebration for the children living there. Santa Claus and Sister Alvin, director of St. Mary’s, go way back, but nonetheless Santa double checked with the kids that the staff has been good this year, as Sister Alvin perched warily on his knee.

Following St. Mary’s was a visit to Selden Frissell and her parents in Baldwin Park, where Santa and Selden settled down on the couch to review a last-minute addition to her Christmas wish list.

After the final stop, at the home of two teenage sisters and their parents, we piled back into the Santa mobile (a red pickup truck—the reindeer were resting up for Christmas Eve) to drop me off at my house. As I waved to Santa as he drove out of sight, it occurred to me just how much Santa looked like a fellow I know around town named Tommy Holland. I’m sure the resemblance is just a coincidence.

Signs of progress

A large chunk of my past professional life has been spent working for local government, here and elsewhere, so I know first-hand that civic projects often don’t work out as planned, and that many good ideas seem slow to happen or don’t get off the ground at all. But I’ve also seen, from the staff side and the citizen side, a lot of things that go right, and this fall it seems as if quite a few of those “going right” projects have popped up in front of me.

Less than a week after I kvetched in this column about the lack of sidewalks and decent bus amenities in the vicinity of the new eastside Target, lo and behold, sidewalks sprouted like dandelions along the north side of Victory Drive from Bee Road east to the city limits. Obviously the city was way ahead of me. In the weeks since the sidewalks were finished, it appears that pedestrian traffic is quite active along Victory Drive, although I confess I’ve yet to take advantage of them myself.

Shortly after the sidewalks appeared, I heard a loud buzzing outside my front window one afternoon and stepped outside to find a Park and Tree Department crew cutting down the almost-dead tree in front of my house. This efficient group was followed a few days later by an equally friendly and hard-working stump-grinding team.

In mid-December, I arrived home to find a twenty-foot high crane lowering a new patriot maple tree into a deep hole next to the curb where the dead tree once sprouted. It was the last of six new maples being planted in vacant tree canopy spots along the block.

The new street trees were barely in the ground when, last Saturday, the boom-boom-boom of Stubbs Towers tumbling down rocked and rolled across midtown neighborhoods. This two-for-one holiday gift offered the excitement of the demolition itself plus the result of that looming eyesore being gone for good.

Then last Thursday, Alderman Van Johnson donned a lime green construction hat to complement his tasteful brown suit, and served as emcee for the removal of a five-by-ten foot “junior” billboard at Waldburg and Montgomery Streets. The symbolic event represented a compromise reached earlier this year between the city and Lamar Advertising Company.

Lamar is removing 58 billboards located in residential and neighborhood-oriented business sites in exchange for the right to install electronic billboards in six commercial areas with high auto traffic. Most of those coming down are the junior size, plus a few slightly larger ten-by-twenty-two foot signs.

“These signs created some blight issues in some of our neighborhoods,” said Johnson as he stood next to a stack of eight signs already removed by Lamar crews. The other 50 will be gone before New Year’s Eve. This doesn’t mean Savannah will be billboard-free. Many will remain, including several in highly visible and incompatible residential locations south of downtown. But this assortment of physical improvements around town, along with City Council’s adoption of the curbside recycling program to start in 2009, reminds me that sometimes they do get it right.

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Santa with Selden

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