Transcript

413:

Georgia Rambler
Transcript

Originally aired 07.30.2010

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/413

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Back in the 1970s, the Atlanta Journal Newspaper several times a week for years published this column called the Georgia Rambler. Charles Salter wrote the column. Basically he would get up in the morning, say goodbye to his wife, Sally, get in his car, and head out on the road to some small town, sometimes without much of a plan at all, not even sure where he's going to end up.

Charles Salter

I would look at a Georgia highway map. And Sally would say, honey, where are you going this morning? And I said, I think I'll go east. And I'd would go over to a town 50, 80, 100 miles from Atlanta, and I would see the county agent, or the cafe where the guys and gals would gather to drink coffee and talk. And I'd say you all have probably read Rita's Digest. For a long term they had an article called The Most Unforgettable Person I Ever Met. Well who in your town, who's the most unforgettable person you ever met? Who would you talk about if he were at a convention 1,000 miles away. I wish you fellas could known so and so back home.

I was seeking good stories from ordinary folks.

Ira Glass

There was the 55-year-old man who never wore shoes, and the pharmacist who discovered in an old ledger there seemed to be a recipe for Coca-Cola. And the country father of five who told the Georgia Rambler that when he goes to the sales barn to buy a small calf, "I call it buying me a lawn mower. When the grass dies down thanks to the calf, I kill my lawnmower and eat it".

There's Pete Ware, Justice of the Peace in Troup County, who said that he did 40% of his weddings after midnight, including shotgun weddings. Though he complained to the Georgia Rambler that people these days are too lazy to bring shotguns to their shotgun weddings.

Charles Salter

And also was lucky enough to hear about haunted houses.

Ira Glass

Yeah, I've been reading your columns and it seems like a there's a lot of haunted houses in Georgia.

Charles Salter

Yes, and I had a lot a funny interviewing a woman who was in the Marine Corps with Lee Harvey Oswald. And down in [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Ira Glass

I sort of forgot he was trained as a Marine.

Charles Salter

Yes. And his nickname was the creep. And they were on the rifle range one day, and the devil winds were blowing out of the desert. I forget the word for it, the Spanish word, and he was still shooting while the others were smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. Because they couldn't shoot accurately with the wind blowing from the side. And he kept hitting the bull's eye.

Ira Glass

OK, full disclosure, Charles' son Chuck is married one of the producers of our radio show, Lisa Pollak, which is how we heard about the Georgia Rambler. And when all of us here at our radio show-- you're listening to This American Life by the way from WBEZ Chicago disturbed by Public Radio international-- when all of us heard about the Georgia Rambler, and this idea that you would get out of the city and just drive into some small town at random, walk around, and talk to people until you find a story, and get all these people from these towns with just a couple hundred a couple thousand people all over Georgia talking about life where they live, it just seemed like a really fun thing to try.

So these last few weeks, nine of us flew down in Georgia. It was producers of our radio show plus comedian and author Eugene Mirman, and we brought the son of the Georgia Rambler, Chuck. There are a 159 counties in Georgia. We picked nine counties from a hat. We used an Atlanta Braves baseball cap for that. Each of us went to a different county, spend just a day of two, and we ended up with so many stories that we can't come close to fitting them all into one show. Though we can fit seven, which we bring you today.

Meriwether County.

Ira Glass

And we'll just kick things off here. We'll start things off with Dave Kestenbaum, who's usually a correspondent for NPR's Planet Money, who we took off the economics beat and sent to Georgia to look for some story or person that is unforgettable.

Ira Glass

And Dave, you went to Meriwether County, right near the western border of the state.

Dave Kestenbaum

Yes, and the people of Meriwether County were extremely friendly. They were happy to give directions or recommend a place for lunch. But they were completely at a loss when I asked the one question that mattered. Who is the most unforgettable person in town? "Unforgettable", people would say, "In this town"? Someone showed me a phone book. It was thinner than your finger. The Rs, Ss, and Ts were all on the same page.

There was one person who came up over and over again, lots of people mentioned his name. The gentleman in question is dead. Though I suppose if people talk about you after you die, that's pretty much the definition of unforgettable. People said he helped the poor, he was a good, good man, and everyone knew him by his initials,

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

My friends and neighbors--

Dave Kestenbaum

FDR.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

--11 years ago, I came to live at Warm Springs for the first time.

Dave Kestenbaum

Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to Warm Springs, Georgia 41 times. Yes, people count. He set up a polio treatment center here. The locals say proudly, this was a place he could relax. He would get a fiddle player to come and play at night. But Sylvia Bishop Wright, she lives in an area called the Cove, she told me FDR liked to do something else, something you don't read in the history books.

Sylvia Bishop Wright

When Roosevelt was coming down here, he especially liked the moonshine in the Cove.

Dave Kestenbaum

Roosevelt liked Moonshine?

Sylvia Bishop Wright

They called it stump juice because they'd hide it in the old stumps.

Dave Kestenbaum

In a tree stump?

Sylvia Bishop Wright

In a tree stump. They'd just hide it down there. Am I telling things I shouldn't be telling?

Dave Kestenbaum

I was pretty sure this didn't count. You can't go to some small town in search of someone unforgettable and come back with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the former President of the United States, someone everyone already knows. But then I thought wait, Roosevelt would have been drinking during prohibition when it was illegal to sell alcohol, illegal the manufacturer it, to transport it, we wrote it into our constitution which FDR swore in his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend. I got more interested when Sylvia left me a voicemail later that day.

Sylvia Bishop Wright

They David, hey. This is Sylvia at the newspaper. And you know how you get to thinking about things. You know when we were talking about the booze, you know the stump juice and all, and about how Roosevelt liked it. But I'm telling you, I don't want anything said about Roosevelt that would be wrong. These folks down here will fight you about Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Dave Kestenbaum

Then silence like she'd covered up the mouth piece. There was a second voicemail from her.

Sylvia Bishop Wright

David, this is Sylvia again. I was interrupted right in the middle of my message. But like I said, these people down here love Franklin D. Roosevelt. You know his little white house is about three miles down the road. And I guess that's why people knew him on such a personal basis because he was such a good man and so friendly. And they loved him as president, absolutely. He came down here before he was president also and made friends with everybody. But I just wanted to make sure nothing bad was said about FDR.

Dave Kestenbaum

I went to that place that Sylvia mentioned, the little white house where FDR used to stay. He actually died here. The place is a museum now. And I asked about FDR and moonshine. Two guys told me, "Yeah, that's the local legend". But they didn't know if it was true. Clearly this is not a question historians have devoted much effort to answering. It's the 1930s version of did you inhale. Did you, sir, drink moonshine. Well, did you?

So now I found myself driving on the back roads into the Georgia woods to see if some president drank moonshine. I stopped at a small house this looked like it had definitely been there since FDR died. A tiny Porsche with three people just sitting on it. I waved as I walked up. They waved back. There was an old man, an older woman, and a younger guy, Roland Brown

Roland Brown

This is the cove. This area is where they call the cove.

Dave Kestenbaum

I took a breath and asked did FDR come here to get moonshine?

Georgia Cove Resident

Well I wasn't here. I couldn't tell you about that.

Dave Kestenbaum

Is that something you've heard?

Georgia Cove Resident

Well, I ain't going to tell you that. I don't know. [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE]. You could go over the mountain and talked to Mr. Bunn-Wright's daughter and she might tell you. Mr. Bunn-Wright played the fiddle for him. He lived out here. One of Mr. Bunn-Wright's daughters is the only one left living I think.

Dave Kestenbaum

And the woman's name I'm looking for?

Georgia Cove Resident

Aunt Nee is what we call her, Aunt Nee Newman. I don't even really know what her first name is.

Dave Kestenbaum

I drove over the mountains and found Aunt Nee's house. The doors were locked, no cars. I stood there for a minute knocking, trying all of the doors, but the house with silent. I gave up and drove away.

On the right side of the road, I saw a woman working in a field. What the hell, I thought, I rolled down the window. "Do know someone named Aunt Nee"? "Aunt Nee? Yes", she said. She's my Aunt Nee". The woman pointed back to the house on the hill where I just knocked on the door. "Aunt Nee", she explained "is hard of hearing".

Linda Carpenter

I might not get her to the door. That white house right up on top of the hill. And she's 90 going on 91. I might have to go up and get her to the door.

Dave Kestenbaum

Do you think you could come with me? That would be wonderful.

Linda Carpenter

I'll walk you there.

Dave Kestenbaum

Thank you.

The woman whose name is Linda Carpenter, took me back to the house that seemed empty. Inside in near darkness in an armchair was Aunt Nee doing some sort of puzzle from a magazine. Aunt Nee's full name is Cornelia Wright Newman. Aunt Nee told me yes, she met President Roosevelt when she was a girl. FDR loved her father's fiddle player. Because her hearing isn't so good, the way the interview would work is I would ask a question in what I thought was a loud voice, and Linda would shout it out even louder.

Dave Kestenbaum

So Sylvia told me that FDR used to come here to the Cove to buy moonshine.

Linda Carpenter

Did FDR come to the Cove to buy moonshine?

Cornelia Wright Newman

To buy moonshine? Yeah he'd come down to Uncle Charlie's old store, Gilbert's store down there. And that's where he met Daddy.

Dave Kestenbaum

Did he buy moonshine? Did FDR buy moonshine there? Did he buy moonshine in Uncle Charlie's old store? FDR?

Cornelia Wright Newman

Yeah, yeah. He was over there one time when he'd come by, he was over there to get his groceries from Uncle Charlie's. And he stopped and he found out where Daddy lived and he'd only played the fiddle. And he'd come on over there.

Dave Kestenbaum

But he bought moonshine also, moonshine? FDR bought moonshine there?

Cornelia Wright Newman

I don't know if he did or not. I don't know.

Linda Carpenter

I don't know either. Because I was a little, bitty girl. I don't know if FDR bought moonshine or not.

Cornelia Wright Newman

I don't know either.

Dave Kestenbaum

By this point I gave up on the idea of getting an answer. It was only listening back to the recording later that I realized Aunt Nee was only saying she never saw him buy moonshine at that particular store. And later she said this.

Cornelia Wright Newman

Now he'd come down and got moonshine, I know.

Linda Carpenter

Franklin Roosevelt?

Cornelia Wright Newman

Roosevelt did. But where he got it, I don't know. But he didn't get it at [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. Daddy didn't fool with it. Mama wouldn't allow that.

Dave Kestenbaum

I don't know what Aunt Nee saw or heard that makes her believe FDR drank moonshine. As proof, it's not so satisfying. I did talk with one other person, a local actor who has played the role of FDR and is a bit of an FDR buff.

He told me he had heard from people who knew firsthand that yes, FDR drank moonshine. He said a man named Bum Phillips had told him a story about bringing FDR quarts of moonshine then having to hide them when the Baptist preacher stopped by unannounced.

But if you're looking for proof, well there don't seem to be any photographs. If you want to firsthand account, Aunt Nee is one of the last people living who might have seen Roosevelt take a swing.

The truth is that FDR had a complicated life. Warm Springs was one of the few places where everyone knew he had polio. When he died here, it was not with his wife, but with another woman, Lucy Mercer Rutherford. When we say someone is unforgettable, it doesn't mean we remember everything. It can be nice to forget. If you like the picture FDR drinking moonshine with the locals, go ahead. If you don't, it never happened. nah

Hall County.

Artist Matt

We are the most interesting people in Gainesville. Have you ever seen the show friends? No, you know that show Friends and you know Phoebe off Friends? And she just like world peace, love everybody. That's the way I am.

Eugene Mirman

This is Matt Norris. He's 27, but doesn't look a day over 23. He's there with two friends. All three work at Wild Wings. They're hanging out drinking as it's closing up for the night. Matt's just discovered Friends on DVD with the kind of enthusiasm potential rock stars discover The Velvet Underground. My producer thinks he might be gay. But I think he just likes R.E.M. and wants to be an artist. I'm going to refer to him as Artist Matt, because--

Eugene Mirman

Wait a second, are all three of you named Matt?

Artist Matt

We're three Matts.

Big Matt

If y'all followed us around at work for like a day, I swear to god you'd laugh your ass off for like three days. Like you have abs.

Eugene Mirman

The other two Matts are Big Matt and Quiet Matt. Big Matt is fun and gregarious. Quiet Matt doesn't say much. Quiet Matt and Big Matt say we just missed the perfect day to hang out with them.

Quiet Matt

It was the 4th of July. I was the 4th of frickin' July. We were trashed. We closed the restaurant down.

Big Matt

closed Wild Wings down and we rented a house boat out on Lake Lanier. When you go to the lake, you go to Cocktail Cove. Cocktail Cove is where all the boats like daisy chain each other together and just have a massive party. And you just walk across with your coolers of beer, and your food and [BLEEP]. And everybody just drinks, and flashes, and has fun. I swam to the boat full of hot chicks like 20 yard, maybe 30 yards away. And everybody was hollering at him and saying this, that, and the other. But they wouldn't acknowledge anything. So what did I do? What did Matt Fry do? Matt Fry jumped off the top of the house and swam over there and got him, and brought them all back.

Eugene Mirman

Big Matt Fry is all about solutions, taking action. Quiet Matt was more like a smoking crocodile, floating from place to place to observing.

Big Matt

Be honest, I'm in the water. And I'm just treading and I'm swimming away smoking a cigarette in the water, trying to keep it from getting wet. And I turn around. And there's this chick on a floaty. And I look, and like right in my face she's got them jokers just strung out there. So I'm just sitting there and I'm puffing my cigarette, and I wasn't moving. I was like, I'm going to stay right here.

Eugene Mirman

The Matt I keep thinking about the most is Artist Matt, because Artist Matt, partially inspired by Friends, wants to move to New York City and follow his dream of becoming a video editor, a totally attainable dream. But he can't for two reasons. One he's afraid he'll become homeless, and doesn't know he could just move back the day he becomes homeless. And two, he's on probation. Actually they all are. Big Matt for several DUIs, Quiet Matt for something to do with weed, and Artist Matt for speeding.

Artist Matt

I'm on probation because I got a freaking speeding ticket. It's just a speeding ticket, who gives a crap?

Eugene Mirman

Wait, why would you be on probation for a speeding ticket? Is it you're ninth one?

Artist Matt

No. It was my first one. But I was kind of going 40 over.

Eugene Mirman

Oh, was it a school zone?

Artist Matt

No, but it was a deaf child area. But the kid was at school. What the hell did it matter? It was like 2 o'clock. He should have been at school anyway.

Eugene Mirman

Assuming that the speed limit was somewhere around 25 miles an hour, it means he was doing 65 or 70 in a residential neighborhood.

Artist Matt

You know what the funny thing is?

Eugene Mirman

Tell me the funny thing.

Artist Matt

I had just bought a brand new car. And I had seriously just left the dealership. And I lived in Commerce, and I know you don't know where that's at, but it's like 45 minutes away from here. And I was going down back roads. And I had just pulled out of the dealership in this new car. And it was awesome. I'm looking good. I'm jammin'. I got a new car. I'm going to get some chicks tonight.

So when the cop pulls me over, I'm not scared or anything. He pulls me over. He gets my license, and registration, and insurance stuff, and I'm still jammin'. I got a new car. Who gives a crap I'm getting pulled over right now. I get out of my car and I'm like looking in the trunk just to see what's going on back there, because I've never looked back there. I just bought this car. This is the first car I had ever bought by myself. I'm checking out the bass sounds. And the officer puts me in handcuffs because he thinks I'm about to like shoot him, or run, or something. . I'm like, what are you talking about? I just bought a car. I'm just freaking excited.

Eugene Mirman

When you explain that to the policeman, was he like, oh yeah, you're just the classic guy who bought a car and is checking it out?

Artist Matt

Hell no, hell no, not at all. Good lord, no. He was pissed. It was bad.

Eugene Mirman

What kind of a person, in the middle of being pulled over by a cop, decides to just check out the trunk of their new car? That's a terrible idea. But Artist Matt is an artist. He's Phoebe from Friends. He doesn't realize that success is right at hand. He could move an hour and a half south to Atlanta where there are TV stations, and CNN, and TBS, and video editing classes, and accomplish his dream. As long as he first discovers the show cops, he should be fine.

Ira Glass

Eugene Mirman.

[MUSIC - "CRUISIN' IN THE ATL" BY OUTKAST]

Pickens County.

Ira Glass

Not far from Hall County is Pickens County. On April 9, 2006, a soldier from Pickens County serving in Iraq was killed by an IED. Specialist David Collins was 24. His body was flown to Atlanta in a convoy of patrol cars drove from Pickens County down to the Atlanta Airport about an hour and half way to meet the body and escort it back home to be buried.

At the time, Allen Wiggington was the Chief Deputy at the Pickens County Sheriff's Department. He was one of the escorts that day. And he was surprised when they got to the airport and they were told not to drive to some cargo area to retrieve the coffin, but to a commercial jet. It was parked right at the passenger gate.

Chief Deputy Allen Wiggington

When we pulled up to the plane, obviously I look up and there's people at the window in all the gates because they're five patrol cars with their blue lights on and a hearse. And the plane is sitting there The baggage compartment hasn't opened yet. All of use are just kind of standing there. And the cargo door to the plane opens.

It literally was chilling. Because the casket starts down the roller coming out of the airplane and coming down the conveyor belt, not lonely is everything on the ground around us stopped, literally the buses carrying the staff, everything has stopped. You look up in the windows and everybody has stopped. And there's kids watching. And the military escorts came over to where the casket was. And I'm still standing there watching. And it wasn't until they closed the door on the hearse that people start resuming kind of. You hear some activity. You hear some things. You look around and you realize that literally for just a minute, the world stood still at that airport while they took that boy's body off that airplane.

I was on a plane about six months after that. And I was flying in from Washington. I had been to Washington, D.C. for some event. And on the plane there was a soldier sitting there. And he sat there, red-headed pale kid, probably 18, 19 years old. He was coming home. And the flight attendant came in on their airline and said, ladies and gentlemen, I just wanted to offer you, we're fixing to pull up the gate. I know we're running a little bit late. We're trying to get you out of here. Some of you have connecting flights. But in the back of the plane there's a young man, Specialist so and so. And he is coming home for the first time. He's been in Iraq for eight and a half months. And he has a new baby daughter that'll be meeting him at the gate that he has never seen before. And I think I would probably beat somebody to death if they had got out of their seat and didn't let him get off that plane first.

Ira Glass

Allen Wiggington, he's now a Magistrate Judge in Pickens County. According to the Department of Defense, as of this week, 140 Georgians have died in Iraq, 38 in Afghanistan.

Coming up, there's old timers taking up space at the Hardy's in Whitfield County, lingering over their coffee. What do they have to say for themselves? That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our show, of course, we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, the Georgia Rambler in which we imitate an old newspaper column from the Atlanta Journal in the 1970s. Nine of us went to Georgia, each to a different county. We drove into small towns that we'd never been to before, walked up to people like the Georgia Rambler reporter used to do, and asked who was the most interesting, unforgettable, person in town, which led us to more stories than we could possibly fit into one hour.

Chattooga County

Lisa Pollak

For years, the newspaper in Dalton, Georgia ran a question on its front page every day, something like do you agree with the governor's budget cuts? Or what's your favorite Christmas meal? Readers called in and the paper printed their answers. The editor back then was a guy named Jimmy Espy. And one night Jimmy was so busy on deadline that he didn't have time to think of a new question. So instead, he just asked readers something like tell us what you think. That's right, tell the paper what you think anonymously about anything.

The next day the paper got so many more calls than usual that Jimmy never went back to the old question format again. People had a lot to say, and they weren't shy about saying it. Within weeks, Jimmy told me, half the town was in a frenzy after one man called to complain that the old timers drinking coffee were taking up too much space at the [? Hardees on Saturday mornings.

Jimmy Dalton

The next thing you know the old timers are fired up, the wives and kids of the old timers are fired up. More people started calling in saying yeah, I'm tired of sitting in line all day waiting on my sausage biscuit. And it went on. It went on for a while.

Lisa Pollak

The old people called in too? And what did they say?

Jimmy Dalton

A lot of them kept bringing up World War II.

Lisa Pollak

Wait, how so?

Jimmy Dalton

You know, the kind of mentality of we beat Hitler. So you just sit down and wait on your sausage biscuit, kid. That really was the talk of town. And it seemed like about every two to three weeks something else would hit that would really fire up the imagination and you would get a lot of calls.

Lisa Pollak

About a year and a half later, Jimmy left the Dalton Paper and went to the Summerville News in Chattooga County. That's where I met him. Jimmy's family runs the Summerville News. His brother is one of the owners. His uncle is the editor and publisher. And even before Jimmy was hired, his relatives decided to borrow his idea from Dalton, and invited their readers to speak their minds in a column called Sound Off.

Now I think it's fair to say that in a lot of small, Southern towns, telling people what you really think out in public, in front of strangers, is not usually recommended. During my visit to Summerville, the people I interviewed were polite, they were gracious, full of pleasant observations. And then I open the Summerville News.

Jimmy Dalton

The music at the fireworks was pathetic.

Lisa Pollak

That's Jimmy reading a recent Sound Off.

Jimmy Dalton

Only one song had something to do with patriotism. No wonder there so many drunks around the county. They should have played them Lee Greenwood, Independence, or the National Anthem.

I just read where if we get caught on our cell phone while driving, we get a ticket. Well what about our precious cops who are seen driving around town talking on cell phones and texting? Fair is fair.

Lisa Pollak

And one more.

Jimmy Dalton

I think those students voicing their opinions about the school board's cuts need to shut up. Let the adults handle the grownup decisions. And you teenagers stick with your computer games. That's a good one.

Lisa Pollak

The fast typist there in Jason Espy, Jimmy's cousin. He's wearing headphones and transcribing the latest batch of Sound Off calls.

Jason Espy

That was a long one there. That lady was talking really fast.

Lisa Pollak

If Sound Off were a bar, Jason would be a bouncer. Every call, e-mail, and hand-written note, up to 100 submissions a week goes to him first. If a comment is libelous, unfair, or too racy, it's cut.

Jason Espy

I don't think I've announced it or anything. But these people out in the community know that it's me. And they'll say, "Hey Jason, you better print this one. Or I'm going to raise some sand if you don't print this one now".

Lisa Pollak

He get's Sound Offs scribbled on napkins or slipped under the door. A few times people have even stopped him in public to dictate a Sound Off on the spot.

Jason Espy

Well, it's weird. I hate the Sound Off. But then again, I enjoy the Sound Off.

Lisa Pollak

Wait, you hate the Sound Off?

Jason Espy

I really do. I hate the Sound Off. On one hand--

Lisa Pollak

Jason told me the first problem he has with Sound Off is the anonymity. It bothers him that people can name names and throw stones, but never own up to it. And there's a second problem.

Jason Espy

Here is this a great opportunity for people to address social issues and correct all these injustices, yet most of the time we use it to talk about Krystal hamburgers.

Lisa Pollak

Yes, Krystal hamburgers. That's Krystal with a K, the Southern fast food chain known for those square little burgers sold by the sack full. Think White Castle if you're a Yankee. There are 77 Krystal's in Georgia. And the fact that not one of them is located in Chattooga County has inspired many a Sound Off, counter Sound Off, and counter counter Sound Off, such as to Steve the owner of the local Mcdonald's franchise, have you considered starting at Krystal franchise? Why must I drive 20 minutes to get a Krystal with cheese? It's economic insanity to use $5 in gas for a $1 burger. In response to the person driving 20 minutes to get Krystal hamburger, why drive it if you're going to complain?

Jason Espy

I didn't know that Krystal hamburgers were so important. In psychology it was that the Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Krystal hamburgers in the South is at the top of Maslow's hierarchy. And all else is below Krystal hamburgers. Well, I'll tell you what's below Krystal hamburgers, is fried catfish and potholes. And what happens when people are driving over these potholes.

Lisa Pollak

I stuck around the office a bit while Jason transcribed calls.

Jason Espy

Here's one.

Lisa Pollak

This is today, right?

Jason Espy

There's no telling here.

Sound Off Caller

Yes, I believe that Chattooga County should be behind our local [UNINTELLIGIBLE] that is on an environmental mission--

Lisa Pollak

The gist of this woman's message was that county residents should fight pollution. They should protect local waterways.

Lisa Pollak

What do you think of that?

Jason Espy

I think I put her up to that?

Lisa Pollak

What are you saying? What do you mean?

Jason Espy

I put her up to that because I knew you were coming today. I said please call at 1:00 and talk about maybe some kind of environmental issue. And we won't seem so crazy.

Lisa Pollak

Are you serious?

Jason Espy

Yeah, I'm serious.

Lisa Pollak

Well, I admire that you're admitting that.

Jason worries that outsiders were get a bad impression of where he lives reading Sound Off. But the impression I got, and I read quite a few of them, is simply that there's a lot of people who just really needed to say something, who got to say it, no interruption, no argument. What I liked about Sound Off, is that it feels like real life. Most days there's plenty to complain about. And every once in a while, people surprise you. This Sound Off ran July 8. I asked Jimmy to read it.

Jimmy Dalton

"A local company closed its doors this past week. Unfortunately I was an employee that lost my job. I just want to thank Mike, Cathy, and Charlie for the chance to work for you since the year 2000. Thank you Jarrett family for not treating me only as an employee, but treating me as part of the family. I wish you all the luck in the future and wish all their former employees well." And that's somebody who just lost their jobs saying thanks to the people who had to let them go. I came to Summerville to find someone unforgettable. I don't know this man's name. But I won't forgot him.

Coffee County and Bacon County.

Ira Glass

The next up is Jane Feltes. Jane is also the producer of today's show.

Ira Glass

And Jane, you went to two different counties, counties that sit right next to each other.

Jane Feltes

Yeah, Coffee and Bacon.

Ira Glass

And they're named after the foods?

Jane Feltes

No, actually they're named after people, John E. Coffee and Augustus Octavius Bacon.

Ira Glass

Augustus Octavius Bacon is quite a name.

Jane Feltes

And they're both in the military. And they were both senators.

Ira Glass

OK, well I'm learning a lot.

Jane Feltes

And they were both delicious.

Ira Glass

Obviously so. So where do we start? What town?

Jane Feltes

I'm in Douglas, which is in Coffee County, at the busiest place I can find in town. And there's roughly around 11,000 people in Douglas. So I go to this place Flash Foods, which is a gas station slash convenience store. It's pretty busy on a Wednesday morning. And the clerk there, I noticed she's like talking to everybody. Her name is Tamika. So I ask her who the most interesting person in town is. She says her friend Karen Darby who works down at the other Flash Foods at the south side of town.

Tamika

She always keeps me laughing. She just left [UNINTELLIGIBLE] as a matter of fact.

Jane Feltes

All right, I'll go look for her. Thanks Tamika. I drive south, I'd say about a mile or two to the other Flash Foods and I find Karen. She tells me no, she's not the one. Who I need to talk to is Adam.

Karen Darby

Right over here is Adam. Let me show you.

Jane Feltes

She directs me across the street to this white building that has a red sign and some guitars hanging in the window. Vickers Music. I ask for Adam.

Vickers Music Employee

Adam-- we got some animals in here-- who is the most interesting person in this store? Adam, she wants to interview you.

Jane Feltes

Adam comes out of a room at the back of the store and makes his way through the stacks of amplifiers, keyboards, guitars hanging overhead. He's tall, bald, kind of looks like a softer Stone Cold Steve Austin. He quickly explains to me that this is his family's business. His folks and little brother can take over helping customers while we talk.

Adam

We've been here 31 years.

Jane Feltes

Is is going well?

Adam

Oh yeah, always, always. The music business is different from other businesses. When you have a down economy, we thrive.

Jane Feltes

Really

Adam

Sure. People stay home. You sit on the front porch and you remember that you had a guitar. When you sit down and you strum a guitar, you forget I just got laid off from the job. I just had this happen or had that happen. My guitar sales pick up. My overall instrument sales pick up.

Jane Feltes

How did you learn to play?

Adam

I learned to play with a Willie Nelson song book and a guitar. And I would site in my room at night and learn chords and strum right on my own.

Jane Feltes

Did your dad teach you how to read sheet music?

Adam

No, he gave me a book. I told you it was hard. He gave you a book and said you want to play? There is is. Go learn.

Jane Feltes

Strange seeing as how his dad owns a music store and used to tour the country in a band Adam says his dad just wasn't around that much.

Adam

We were getting off the ground when I was young. We were just getting the business off the ground. So he was very, very consumed with the business. He was gone. He was working all the time from daylight to late at night. So I didn't see him a lot. But I mean, he made it work. I can come in now and have a business.

Jane Feltes

Are you married?

Adam

Yes.

Jane Feltes

And do you have any kids?

Adam

I have one child. He is two.

Jane Feltes

Are you going to try to push him into the family business?

Adam

No I'm not going to push him into nothing. I want him to do what he wants to do.

Jane Feltes

You want to be a different kind of dad then your dad?

Adam

I already am.

Jane Feltes

In what way?

Adam

I enjoy spending time with him. And not to say-- you understand that-- not to say that he didn't. But I am really hands on. We go fishing every evening.

Jane Feltes

Every evening?

Adam

Almost every evening if I can get home before dark. If I have a lot of work going on we go fishing. and then I have to put him to bed and get up and come back, that's what we do.

Jane Feltes

Mind you, he's saying all of this within ear shot of his entire family, dad included.

Jane Feltes

Will you play a song for me?

Adam picks up his guitar and gives it a quick tuning.

Adam

Remember John Denver? This is a take off of his Country Roads.

[GUITAR MUSIC AND SINGING]

Jane Feltes

He's sitting a foot in front of me and staring directly in my eyes. I wasn't sure should I look away or is this what happens when you ask someone to sing you a song.

[GUITAR MUSIC AND SINGING]

Adam

We have a good time with that one.

Twiggs County.

Ira Glass

Well next up, a county right in the middle of the state. And Sarah Koenig, you are the one who went there.

Sarah Koenig

Right. I was assigned Twiggs County. The county city is Jeffersonville, a city of about 1,500 people, majority African American, majority poor. There used to be a lot of mining jobs here. But now they're all gone. At just before 5 PM, I wandered into city hall. There's this very nice guy sitting behind the desk who said the most interesting person in town was his boss.

City Hall Employee

She's just full of life. She's been a lot of places.

Sarah Koenig

Why, what is the story of her life, I mean broadly?

City Hall Employee

I'll let her tell it. I'm not going to spoil it for the people I'm serious.

Sarah Koenig

And you're not just telling me this because she's your boss and you have to suggest you boss. (SUBJECT) CITY HALL EMPLOYEE: Well yeah, she is my boss, but that's not the reason I'm telling you this. I can tell you other things about her being my boss, but you wouldn't want to hear those.

I tracked her down. Her name is Sonya Mallory in a different county, actually, where she was working her other job at a cosmetology school, a pretty sad looking cosmetology school in a corner of a strip mall.

Sonya Mallory

And I'm actually the director of the school.

Sarah Koenig

And how long have you been doing that?

Sonya Mallory

Well, I've been doing it for about six years. Actually and I applied for this job because I had a leak in my ceiling, and I was going to like do some extra work. But once I got here, I haven't fixed my roof yet.

Sarah Koenig

The reason she hasn't fixed her roof, is because once she realized what was going on with her students, a lot of single mothers, no money, she started pitching in. She and a couple of other teachers pulled their money to buy a year's worth of bus fares for a few students, plus gas money, lunch money. They even swapped clothes.

Sonya Mallory

Because you can't afford it at the Salvation Army if you're really poor.

Sarah Koenig

It's not so much that Sonya Mallory is a bleeding Heart It's that stuff like this drives her crazy, seeing black people struggling, no one helping her out. Plus she's been there, which leads us to her other job, the one back in Jeffersonville.

But before I get to that, some background. Sonya Mallory is 56. She was born in Jeffersonville, grew up in a tiny rented house, three rooms, seven kids in bunk beds. Her dad worked on the railroad, which was a good job, but he was a terrible alcoholic. And when he'd come home at the end of the week he terrorized the house beating up their mom, chasing the kids with a shotgun. The cops never did anything about it. Sonya hated him.

Her mother worked for a white family, taking care of their kids and cooking. One day when Sonya and her little brother were walking home from school, a car came along, swerved, and hit her brother, broke his arm and his leg. And it turned out the driver was one of the white kids her mother took care of. And the white family, they never even came to check in on her brother to see how he was doing.

Sonya Mallory

And I thought that was the most terrible thing. Here it is my momma seeing about their kids. And one of their kids run over my brother and you don't see them anywhere. So I mean, that was a bunch of hokey.

Sarah Koenig

Was everybody noticing these things? Or would you sort of madder about these things than people around you? Do you what I mean? Somehow you just feel like wait, why is nobody else mad about this? Or was everybody mad about it?

Sonya Mallory

No, everybody wasn't. That's why I found it totally amazing. Like nobody else was. Because my mama still went to work for them. As a matter of fact, I think I was mad at her for a while.

Sarah Koenig

After Sonya graduated high school, her first order of business was to get away from Jeffersonville. She moved to Macon, joined the military, worked as an army nurse, then at a VA hospital, and finally moved back to Jeffersonville in the late 1980s and looked around.

Sonya Mallory

When I came home I realized Jesus Christ, Jeffersonville is the same as it was when I left. There was nothing there. There was no job for the ones that were staying. And there was nothing for the kids. They would just sit around on the streets. There was nothing.

Sarah Koenig

It made her mad. It made her think about all the unfairness she'd seen growing up. And one day she got an idea.

Sonya Mallory

I had gone to the post office, and the guy there was on counsel, he was saying something about a lot of people having their water cut off. And of course he didn't know I was in there. And he said they cut a lot of black folks water off.

Sarah Koenig

Sonya said she knew some white folks who hadn't pay their bills either. Their water wasn't getting cut off.

Sonya Mallory

And I said to myself, the post office is still in the same place. Everything's doing the same. Roads are bad. I mean you know, people aren't getting any help. So I said, you know what, I'm going to find out when the next election. And I found out when it was and I just ran for mayor.

Sarah Koenig

So Sonya Mallory decides to run for mayor in town that's never had a black mayor, never mind a black woman mayor. Everyone she talked to about it, her friends, her family, they'd all say the same thing.

Sonya Mallory

It's not going to happen. They'd say, girl you know the people ain't going to let you do that. Because they've been in Georgia all these years. They ain't going to let you do that.

Sarah Koenig

In that first election in 1991, they didn't let her do it. She lost by 13 votes to a white guy. Sonya told me black people on the voter rolls were turned away from the polls when white people who didn't even reside in the city were given ballots. And before you think yeah, but the loser always claims voter fraud, in the end a Georgia Superior Court Judge agreed with her and threw out the election results. And the Department of Justice sent four federal observers to monitor the do-over election eight months later.

But by that time, one of Sonya's sisters was dying of cancer. She was distracted and out of steam. She lost. Then tried again. And finally in 1999 she won. She was Mayor Sonya Mallory. Now she just had to figure out what that actually meant.

Sonya Mallory

I had no clue, no clue to what the whole big picture entailed. And I had never been there. There was nobody there to pass anything on to let me know what was actually going on.

Sarah Koenig

There's no process where the previous mayor says here's where we are.

Sonya Mallory

Well there should be but naturally--

Sarah Koenig

With essentially no information about how to be mayor, she turned to the only available source, the record.

Sonya Mallory

So I had to read the minutes from 1801 up until the time. So my brain is kind of--

Sarah Koenig

Wait, you had to read 200 years of minutes.

Sonya Mallory

Uh-huh.

Sarah Koenig

It took her most of a year to get through the minutes. Meanwhile she got threatening letters, her gossip about how people were saying she wouldn't last. To top it off, her husband got arrested for DUI and some other stuff, spent a year in jail. So her only source of income was her mayor's salary, $250 a month. So there she was, the mayor, sitting at home at night, no water, no lights. And the actual mayor job was turning out to be harder than she anticipated, especially the city council meetings. That part of the job, even ten years later, hasn't been highly productive. There's constant drama.

Sonya Mallory

Naturally, their thing was to fight against anything I say. Right now it's totally amazing. Because I can tell you when I first got in was all of my council people were Caucasians. No they're all black. But I can tell you this, there's no difference. Be careful what you ask for.

Sarah Koenig

What? Like what's an example? What do they do?

Sonya Mallory

They think their general job is to make sure employees ain't trying to cheat for five minutes and the police department, they're locking up their cousins. And they worry more about employees taking five minutes more of break than they do sitting there trying to get grant money to get something for the kids.

I told them that one tie. Quit fighting against what we need to be doing that's important for the community. If you didn't have enough balls to run for mayor, I've got a couple left and I'll let you have them.

Sarah Koenig

Council members I spoke to admitted the meetings can get kind of twisted up. But they say Mayor Mallory isn't exactly perfect either. They said she doesn't keep them informed, takes things into her own hands when she should be consulting them, doesn't follow protocol, or unfairly blames them for things.

The dysfunction is well known in town and beyond. It was especially bad in the beginning. Here's the lead of a 2001 Macon Telegraph story, "The Tuesday night meeting of the Jeffersonville City Council lasted either 15 minutes or one and a half hours depending on whom you ask.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended the city's grant application for a $7 million water and sewer expansions-- the city has had terrible sewage problems-- citing articles in the local paper that described malfeasance, sexism, and racism within the government. The report for the local paper and Twiggs told me the city council meetings were so ridiculous, she stopped covering them.

In her ten years as mayor, Sonya hasn't brought an airport, or a convention center, or a mall to the county, all early ambitions. But she's at least put computers in city , gotten grants to beautify the streets, dealt with recurring sewage problems. And then there are successes that are harder to quantify.

Sonya Mallory

Just little bitty minor things like black people would come to city hall and they were scared to come any further than the window.

Sarah Koenig

Which window?

Sonya Mallory

The window where you pay the bill. Trust me. And I would say come on back. They'd be like, "nuh uh." You understand what I'm saying?

Sarah Koenig

Sonya says as the country has changed, things have gotten better in Jeffersonville. You can overhear blacks and whites chatting about the weather in the post office where there used to be silence between them. And you can see blacks working in the courthouse and the supermarket. Sonya says these steps might be small, but they add up.

Elbert County.

Ira Glass

Well we started our program today with Charles Salter, the newspaper reporter who was the original Georgia Rambler back in the 1970s. And we end our show with Charles Salter, his son, who everybody calls Chuck. For today's show, he went to Elbert County on the coast. But he also looked back at a huge stack of his dad's old stories.

Chuck Salter

I was 11 years old when my dad became the Georgia Rambler. I don't remember him telling us about his new job. What I remember is that he now had a company car, not an anonymous sedan, but a big white whale of a station wagon with his name plastered on both sides, Charles Salter, the Georgia Rambler. The paper's name appears on the station wagon too, along with its motto, "Covers Dixie Like the Dew". That's dew as in morning dew. My dad was fond of reciting this line out loud like a favorite verse of poetry.

Because my name is also Charles Salter, the genius of this whole marketing ploy, a four-wheeled billboard crisscrossing the state was completely lost on me. Instead, the car was a kick me sign. I was in junior high school. On the days my dad picked me up from school or baseball practice, I begged him to take my mom's car, or at least park around the corner.

I rarely read my dad's column. At dinner he'd say, "I met a real character today". And mention some town I'd never heard of. I was indifferent. Everyone's father had a job, big deal.

Somewhere around 1976 or '77 during summer vacation, my dad got the idea that I should ramble along with him. So I climbed in that station wagon and we headed to some dot of a town on the map. To me, the countryside looked like one never-any crop. I couldn't tell where one farm ended and the next again.

One day, we met a farmer name J. B. Lloyd. We sat on the back porch and my dad asked J. B. about farming without a tractor, just a horse and plow. I didn't ask any questions. I was shy. And about the only thing I wanted to know is do you have a TV out here? How do you watch Braves games or Charlie's Angels?

Reporting in small towns brought out another side of my dad. His southern accent got noticeably stronger. And he sounded like he'd flea Atlanta any minute. "Now I live in the city, but I'm not from there", he'd say to people. "I was born in Ocilla and grew up in Waycroft". He'd go on and on about his love of fishing on small ponds, and red eyed gravy and fried okra. He was shameless about this country cred. I, on the other hand, was a suburban kid. I thought fishing was boring. I preferred hanging out at the mall. In a way, going with my father on all those Georgia Rambler trips, it made me realize how different he and I were.

For the show, I had my dad send me a box of old columns. As I read them after all these years, I found myself wondering what happened to the people who he wrote about. So I called a few. The college senior who moved into the woods to live without electricity and plumbing now lives in Alaska. The small town narcotics officer who worried she wouldn't find a husband who would put up with her job stayed on the force for 31 years and is happily married. And the two farmers who tried to stop the government from putting their farm underwater when it dammed to Savannah River, I found them too.

Chuck Salter

All right, so I wanted to show you. Do you recognize this? Fight [UNINTELLIGIBLE], This is the story that my dad did? Do you remember my dad?

Windell Cleveland

want to place him. I'm sorry I don't remember him. But it's been 33 years ago, you know. But we had you had so many people locked him channel four channels dirt train oh and turn over dogs

Chuck Salter

Windell Cleveland with 36 when my dad interviewed him. He's 69 now. The story was about him and his father [? Cade ?] Cleveland. The Army Corps of Engineers came into Elbert County wanting to dam the Savannah River and create a 26,000-acre lake by flooding all the land in a river valley. The Cleveland's farm was right on the river, right in the path of the lake.

They watched their neighbors sell one by one, and told they were the only ones left. They held out so long that Windell took to wearing a gun afraid federal marshals would show up and drag them off their property. They held out so long that finally the Army Corps did something kind of remarkable. After years of insisting they needed all of the Cleveland's land, the Corps buckled and offered Windell a deal to keep 36 acres.

Windell Cleveland

I think I went down there and signed them, and then they moved in there that afternoon about 1 o'clock. We went down there and watched them cross. They come from [? Van's Creek ?] through yonder through the park. And they had 35 bulldozers

Chuck Salter

Windell's father [? Cade ?] died two years before this. So from the front of his house, Windell stood alone watching the bulldozers come over the horizon knocking down forests, leveling a the field of wheat, and toppling the old chimney. It was all that was left of the farmhouse built in 1741, the one his father was born in.

Windell Cleveland

They come in just like a gang of ants. Now it wasn't easy to watch none of it. You were like more or less giving your whole life away. It was just destroyed.

Chuck Salter

When you build a dam that makes a lake, the water doesn't rush in all at once. Windell watched for a year as the water came closer drowning the farm acre by acre. When the lake was full, the water was almost all the way to windows house. On a map, his land looks like a leaf in a big puddle. He and his wife Charlene are surrounded by water on three sides.

When I went to see him, Windell took me down to the lake. You can see it from his front porch. We walked through a field down a little wooden hill. It took two minutes tops.

Chuck Salter

How deep is this water that we're looking out? [INTERPOSING VOICES]

Windell Cleveland

This is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 75, 80 feet. You get on down and it's 85 somewhere. And you get on down 100 feet in a different location.

Chuck Salter

The strange thing about the lake is that the government put a 300 foot buffer between any developments in the water. So the shoreline looks pristine. There are no gaudy mansions, no big docks. It looks completely untouched like this is the way it always was.

Chuck Salter

I feel guilty saying this, but it's a beautiful lake.

Windell Cleveland

Oh yes. It's pretty.

Chuck Salter

The biggest irony in all of this is Windell fought this. He'll tell you it destroyed his way of life. But it's also made him a wealthy man. As the land became less valuable to Windell, it's become incredibly valuable to everybody else. His little patch of property is now prime lakefront real estate. Windell's land is worth more than $600,000 according to the county taxes assessor.

All around Windell, developers are putting in big, expensive homes and planning gated communities. Recently a guy in California called Windell and said I want your land. Just name your price. But the Windell, it doesn't make any sense that anyone thinks this land is worth so much. All he knows is that he's on land he can't farm. There's no room for crops. At best, he says, he can keeps four cows.

Windell Cleveland

This land has got no value. I have nothing but red river, hills left. There's really no value. It used to wouldn't been worth nothing. The bottom land and the fields all down below where the covered is what was worth to me.

Chuck Salter

I ask him why he doesn't just sell this land and buy a real farm somewhere else for him and his son. $600,000, he could have his pick. Nobody understands, he says. Leaving this place would be like deserting his past, his parents and grandparents, the farm he took over when he was just 14 because his father was sick with cancer.

Windell still has all the old farm equipment, even though we has no use for most of it. Everything is in its place as if the fields might come back tomorrow and Windell would be ready. About 100 yards from the house that Windell lived in is his parents old house. Walking through it, you'd have no idea that they'd both been dead for more than 30 years. There's his dad's cigarettes tin, a drawer full of knives that his grandfather used to slaughter hogs, furniture dating back to the 1800s, two antique organs, his parents bed.

Windell Cleveland

This is my mom's favorite chair. And that's her clothes she had in there. It's been in there ever since we lost her. December 18, 1968, that's when we lost her. They've been hanging there ever since. And they're still in good shape.

Chuck Salter

And why do you hang onto it?

Windell Cleveland

I just love it. I just love knowing her clothes are in it, her dresses and everything.

Chuck Salter

These days even though the farm is gone, Windell can still stand on the hill in front of his house with me, and he can point to everything that used to be, where his grandparents lived, where his father was born, and where his father used to take his Model A car across the Savannah River on this ferry to court his mother. Every time he points though, he's pointing at the lake.

Windell Cleveland

You see where I tell you my uncle lived, that ridge run way on down there probably--

Chuck Salter

So today, Windell's living on his daddy's farm, and in the way, I'm doing the same. All those times my dad took me out on his Georgia Rambler trips, I remember being 13 or 14 and meeting some stranger with my dad, being invited into the living room and listening as they opened up and told him some story. I remember how amazing it was that one minute we didn't know this person, and then the next we were hearing all these things about their life that they probably didn't tell many people at all.

I know my dad took me on those trips to show me small town life, where he grew up, where my family was from. But what I took from them was a lesson he never intended, I decided to become a reporter. I write for magazines. I've written for newspapers, just like my dad. That's where I live now.

[MUSIC - "GEORGIA" BY CEE LO GREEN]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produce today by Jane Feltes and me with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Johnathon Menjivar, Lisa Pollak, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, Nancy Updike, senior producer Julie Snyder, Seth Lind is our production manager Emily Condon is our office manager, production help from Sean Wenn.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Dave Kestenbaum, who you heard tracking down FDR's Georgia history can be heard with his Planet Money colleagues on their twice-weekly podcast in co-production with our show, www.npr.org/money. Our website is thisamericanlife.org. You can sign up for our free weekly podcast. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ management oversight for a program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia who remembers the time, it was a while back, when his wife took him to this private swimming pool with Frank Gorshen and Jack Nicholson.

Big Matt

And I look, and like right in my face she's got them jokers just strung out there.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories on This American Life.

[MUSIC - "GEORGIA" BY CEE LO GREEN]

Announcer

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