Palm Trees and Pink Stucco Flamingos
I took up residence with my Mom and step-dad, by then in the Ft. Lauderdale area, on a beautiful golf course called The Inverrary. It was the home of Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Open. As we drove through the beautiful entrance to the Inverrary plantation, waterfalls, palm trees and pink stucco flamingos, I thought, what a change. But my mom was terrified at my situation, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown (literally), and my step-dad on a slow boil.
Gene was a pretty big pro in his day, having made a name for himself at the National in its glory years. He was close to Palmer when he made the runs in the 1960s, which I had watched as a kid. Besides being Ike’s golf teacher, he seemed to know everyone. He used to tell a funny story about Dick Nixon when Nixon wanted to join Ike for a round, but the National crowd hated Tricky Dick. Gene had even more fans due to the fact that he had had a falling out with Cliff Roberts, and had been forced out of the National. Roberts, by the way, mimicking his own father, shot himself in the head on the 15th hole (taking a drop on the other side of the lake, as one sports reporter put it). I went to work on the golf course at Inverrary, a fall-back for every time I needed a job.
The Course was like an oasis. Gleason used to ride around the course in a bar cart, usually with a beautiful blonde babe (not his wife) to chauffeur him and mix his drinks. I met Gleason a couple of timeshe walked up to us at lunch one day at the clubhouse, and when introduced, said “Hooowww do you do?”, like he was on. He was always on, evidently. My folks were friends, went on a cruise with him in Mexico one year, where he convinced my mom to puff on a marijuana cigarette. Gave her a headache, she said. My mom also rode in the lead car with Gleason when he was King of the Mardi Gras one year. When Gleason got divorced, him and his wife both stayed in the large compound on the course. It was so large they never saw each other.
I would have to train it to Augusta for court appearances. I would sneak in at night, stay with my Dad or Bill Bryan, go to the preliminary or whatever, and split the next day. It was hairy. Buck and Durland and the pigs had driven all the way to Chattsworth to testify at the hearing where I would have had the door slammed on me for good, probably. The judge had released me the day before they got there. They were steamed, had driven all the way up, and had to drive all the way back for nothing, in 101 degree heat.
In Florida, I got in endless arguments with Gene. When I had left the Bahamas, at 17, things were getting strained. When I had to retreat back to my folks, after all of the screw ups at Georgia Tech, and the crisis I was in in Augusta, in order to hide out, working for the summer on the course, things got a lot worseespecially since I had blown a fairly large contribution by flunking out. When I went back this time, it was like, see I told you so. By this time, I am dead set against most of what Gene stands for. The money, the golf game, the political contacts, including pals like Bebe Rebozo, one of Nixon’s infamous backers, who lived in Miami, Vietnam, and the coming political crisis, provided for an ongoing colorful “dialogue”. As dirt was beginning to come out on Rebozo and the rest of the crew, I would argue with Gene as to how the hell could he stand by thesewell, bozos? The six o’clock news became darkly interesting, as any news on Vietnam or McGovern led to huge arguments.
The few times I had time to myself that summer in Ft. Lauderdale were a huge diversion from the general fear and loathing. A couple of buds from Augusta moved down to work construction for the late summer and fall, so I was able to hang with them. Char came down and crashed with them for a few weeks, so we had some time together again. She helped move some of my belongings down from Augusta.
Ft Lauderdale and south Florida were a great respite for me. The times with Charlotte were especially relaxing; we could get into south Florida kitch and music, the beach and plastic pink flamingos, started wearing 40’s clothes, and would almost forget Augusta.
Flamingos, part II
The Republican Convention was in Miami Beach that summer. The left was planning their big camp in Flamingo Park, and the confrontation with the Republican roller-derby. My instinct was to get right into it. But I had a suspicion it might get ugly. After hitching to Miami Beach, and walking for a few blocks, I saw a group of American neo-nazis marching somewhere like little hitlers.
The first day at the convention, the park was afest with 1000s of radicals and freaks, tents, displays and big ugly pictures of Nixon with bloody bombs as eyes, against a backdrop of palm trees, run-down pastel deco hotels, faded white stucco flamingos and the beach. There were political contingents from all over–the yippies and the zippies, the SDS, the rad women, all the alphabet outfits (such as the MTLDTTI’s-the Maoist Taoists Latter Day Trot To-Its, etc.). The VVAW provided camp security, all dressed in army camouflage garb. As usual, the Vets were awesome, disciplined.
There was a march to the Fountainbleu Hotel to start the festivities. I remember the well-orchestrated beginning, the marshals organized all the details, and it was all so exciting! The march stretched for a mile. I was so proud to be there, to be counted. As we marched, fighting the war and repression, the senior citizens in the old apartment buildings along the boulevard were on their balconies waving us on. It all became so clear! AMERICA now supported us! We were going to cream Nixon in the election, he could start packing! McGovern could practice his inauguration!
The march arrived at the hotel, and things got hot. A troupe of street theater people dressed as Vietnamese peasants laid down in front of the hotel entrance, conducting a die-in, and with bloody hands, reached out and stained suit pant legs and panty hose, to the horror of the delegates.
Next the march went to the convention center, where a van was parked in front. Standing behind the fence around the center were hundreds of riot cops in full gear with baseball bat long batons, adopted from Japanese riot squads. These guys were scary, and, after 1968, the R’s weren’t taking any chances. These guys were Gestapo.
As the march gathered around the stage created by three freaks on top of the van, we were treated to the first annual Zippie piss-in. The Zippies were an offshoot of the Yippies, who were conjured up by A. Hoffman, and they were funny, using satire better than anyone. As the crowd and the cameras watched, they poured bottles of yellow liquid on items representing American imperialism. Like Pat Nixon’s hi-heels, copies of Look Magazine and moon rocks. When the local TV news cameras got too close, they got it, too, to the crowd’s delight. “Piss on ABC!”
By the time we got back to the camp, a surprise waited. The nazi group had taken over the main stage, beating up a couple of guards from the women’s contingent. The vets had to cordon off the stage to prevent a massacre. The nazis, 16 or 17 of them, were screaming obscenities to the crowd, and were eager to create a huge disturbance. The New York contingents were especially incensed, having a large Jewish set, a target of considerable vindictiveness by the skinheads. The women’s group wanted revenge. The blacks also wanted their pound of flesh.
A vote was taken. The decision was to bodily remove the stiffs from the stage instead of calling in the police, a possible excuse for all sorts of mischief and mayhem. A gauntlet line was formed by the VVAW from the stage through the crowd, by now a near riot, to the street. The head nazi threatened the vets not to come on the stage, all of them with dukes in the air. Well, it took about four vets, who were as big as gorillas, to clear out the Hitler wannabes from the stage, who were picked up by arms and legs, led through the gauntlet, accompanied by considerable cursing and spitting, and tossed out into the street on their heads. Case closed. Welcome to Flamingo Park! Democracy in action!
I hitched home and returned on the second day. We marched backed to the hotel. I started standing back from the crowd, worried that one arrest would be all it would take. Sure enough, after the group started back the other way, the cops blocked the street in back of the march. There was a stand-off. Fortunately, I was far enough in front of the march this time to have not been cordoned off from an escape route. It was pretty tense. I thought all hell was going to break loose. The marchers had some fairly hefty damned guys in front–the vets were bigger and meaner looking than the cops. After taunts and threats, the cops moved, and the march proceeded back to the park. It was getting dark. I split for the mainland, thinking I had just about run my string out. On the way back, I crossed the street to avoid the nazis marching in goosestep double time. Creepy stuff, and a harbinger of the skin-heads and militia movements to come.
The next day, I didn’t go. The convention broke into chaos, with riot police and helicopters chasing yippies and zippies and hippies and vets and everyone else through the streets and around the hotels with tear gas. The seniors in their old apartments and hotels got gassed, many suffering, but were also extremely pissed. Thank god I stayed away.
Cops and a Close Call
Buck and the boys were so mad they were spitting blood. They knew I had friends in higher places than they expected. Kate had shut ’em down in Chattsworth, preventing a decision to revoke my probation prior to the actual legal proceeding to determine guilt on the conspiracy charge. They knew my family had obtained a good lawyer. They were waiting for me to make one more mistake.
I almost did. After one of my trips to Augusta to go to court, I was able to finally get away with Char one dark night. We met over in North Augusta, at a basement bar hangout right on the river called the Rathskeller. It was an old favorite, had the greatest jukebox in the world, and outside on the bluff, you could walk down these long stairs to the river. Well, Char and I ran into Markwalter. He says, hey dudes, want to cop some smoke? I said, no, Markwalter, you know I can’t carry. Wanta smoke a doobie? Sure, I said, to Charlotte’s consternation, since she didn’t trust Markwalter, and we followed him outside and about three-forths the way down the stairs, stopped and sat to take a puff, gazing at the slow and almost 100 yards wide, and dark, meandering Savannah, so black that night it sucked light.
We were joking that the cops probably had someone following me from the morning’s legal proceedings, but then thought, nah, it’s Carolina. About that time, some guy with a flashlight comes walking from underneath the bridge that crossed the river to Augusta. Hmmm. Odd. We looked at him with amusement, stoned. All of a sudden, he turns and started running toward us up the stairs with the flashlight pointed to us. Ruunnn! We all turned around and hauled it up the stairs. There were a MILLION stairs, it seemed, and we were running in slow motion. Fuuccckkkkkk! He’s catching up to us!
Char and I ran through the Rathskeller, out the back and into the woods as far as we could, before we knew no one was following. We doubled back and eventually, snuck around the Rath to the road. Markwalter was in the back of the cop car, which was pulling away.
According to Markwalter, the cop caught up with him (he had other substances in his body that made it difficult to move his legs, and was caught). The cop caught him with one joint in his pocket. The one we had smoked had been tossed.
So, Markwalter was sitting in the back seat, handcuffed. The doobie was on the dashboard in the front. The cop was standing by the car, door open, foot straddling the floorboard, beaming, talking over the radio. Yep, I caught the son of bitch Markwaters, by god. Think I had that political prick in Augusta, but him and his girlie friend got away. But we got Markowitz with the goods. Yessir! While the cop was standing there, bragging and chattering away, Markwalter leaned over the car seat and tried to grab the joint in his teeth. He had to turn his head sideways, and slowly maneuver his lips to pin the joint with his tongue and slowly suck it in. Yessir, this little assholes gonna spend some quality time in the big house, by god! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Yep, I caught him!, he kept bragging.
Then, the cop sees Allen and says, Whaaaawww!??! And dives in the front seat at Markwalter, who by now has started eating the roach, and with a backward lunge back into the back seat, evades him at first. The cop has to get out, jump around and open the back door, and jump in, where he grabs Markwalter by the neck and starts strangling him, trying to pull the joint out of his mouth. Spit it out you son of a bitch! Markwalter’s yelling, grrrrmmmmm..get your ggrrucking hand out of mmhhmy FUCKING MOUTH, you fuckin’ oinker!, and, given that he has had practice with this kind of thing, swallows seed, leaf and wrap in seconds flat. The cop winds up empty-handed and has to let him go. Needless to say, I hightail it back to Florida the next AM.
Let’s Make a Deal
I don’t remember too much about how it was set up. My lawyer’s brother was the judge. Between him and his brother somehow, $5,000 gets exchanged, along with a set of golf clubs with a name embroidered on the side, and ten dozen Top-Flight golf balls. Honest. I went to Augusta, stood in front of the judge, pleaded nolo-contendre (after saying my piece), and was a free man. I thought Buck was surely gonna have a hemorrhage. I said goodbye to all my friends, who put together a knapsack of my favorite books to take with me. I was hoping that Raymond, who had inherited the articles for the newspaper, would eventually get it out. Charlotte had gone to stay with her brother and sister-in-law in Milwaukee. I spent my last night at the Bryans; who I would truly miss. I hit the road for the West Coast the next day. My Dad dropped me on the highway. He was relieved to see me leave, both for my safety and his sanity. He said something like, I love you son, but don’t come back anytime soon.
The trip west was both ecstasy and hell. It was late November 1972. McGovern was crushed. The country was going backwards. It was cold on the road. Cold and lonely. I was ripped off in Texas by a guy who had given me a ride, and lost my glasses in a snow bank on the interstate. Hitching through Apple Valley, outside the LA Basin, an older gentleman picked me up in a van. He saw I was in bad shape, having been ripped. He asked me where I was going. West, I said. He said, you are west. North?
As we got to his house in Whittier, the former home of Nixon (shit, I thought, Nixon again), I found out that he was a former activist in the antiwar teach-ins in Southern Cal. He put me up for the night, bought me a new pair of glasses the next day, and allowed me to hole up in his cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains over the winter, and then helped me get a couple of construction jobs. The guy saved me.
I eventually found my own cabin in Crestline, and was in heaven. I made some great friends, hip girls who loved to hang around their house with no clothes on, and hang at the creek the same way (the thing to do). Ah, California! Maybe I wouldn’t go to South America, after all. An old girlfriend from Atlanta, Diane Holyon, a folk-blues singer/guitar player, showed up with her kid, a boy of 7, and started living with me, and playing the folk cafes in the mountains. After the thing with her goes sour, and, as I’m sitting on my friend’s couch one day, her in the buff with her legs on my lap, Holyon walks in, says, hey Tom, guess who’s here? With a wide grin, Holyon leads Charlotte in the door. That day took a lot of explaining. But, my girl was back.
It was late summer of 1973, a full year after the bust. We got back together. She had hitched from Milwaukee, I guess. We hooked up with some friends, went camping in the San Gorgonia Mountains for three weeks with a hellish mule named Magnolia that ate our tent every night. While there, we heard a radio announcement that the U.S. was pulling out of Vietnam. The war was ending. Wow, we thought. It’s over.
Charlotte and I took off to Portland, me working in a freakish ship dismantling yard on the river, working next to a lifer drunk who used to steal mercury from the on-board thermometers, her as a waitress in a ’50s diner, which had the best apple pie in Portland. Her old high school friends, still heads, welcomed us. Eventually, we moved to Humboldt County, the point farthest north on the coast in California with a state college, so I could return to school.
Good Times, Old Friends
We stayed in touch with our friends in Augusta. Before we moved north from the Bernadinos, Char and I visited Sue once in the Mojave desert. She still had big dogs and drugs, crazy and paranoid as ever, and lived in a ramshackle house with old furniture and rusting appliances in the yard, in the middle of fucking no-where.
On that trip, Char and I skulked back to Augusta one last time together, hitching on semis (the greatest ride in the world, the cruise ships of the road, as the truckers would usually let one of us shack up in the small bed behind the front seat…states flew by when you slept). Got to see all our old friends one last time together.
Raymond took off to Florida, hanging in Key West, finally finding his personal truths and sexual preferences, and fishing on gulf coast shrimpers. Frank moved back in with his folks, forswore all of the above, and decided to jump in on the expected real estate development boom between Atlanta and Columbia along I-20 (adopting the seven cardinal rules for getting rich on real estate). Andy became a low-key jazz-rock star.
I saw Phyllis often after Char and I broke up, and she became a life long friend. We hung out off and on for years, before we were both married, hanging with Bill and Pat, going to the mountains and coast when I was back south. One year we went to see Kate in Chattsworth, and Kate, who didn’t approve of pre-marital anything, in her stern way, gives me my former room on the second floor but stuck Phyll on the spooky third floor (supposedly haunted). Phyllis snuck into my bed at 3 in the morning, terrified. Kate couldn’t quite admit it but she liked me. Anyway, Phyllis later married, and her and her husband later helped lead the anti-nuke campaign in South Carolina and Augusta against the Savannah River Plant.
Bill and Pat bought a conch house in Key West, where they would host me and friends when I came east, living the best life there was, late breakfast; beach and boating and snorkeling in the reef for lobster; trips to Hemingway’s old bar down the street; late afternoon siestas after pina coladas; and long political discussions with Pat in her rocking chair under the ceiling fan; listening to palms trees and bougainvillea in the wind. Raymond would pop in occasionally, welcomed. Herbie showed up once, trying to score or sell something, looking like the plague, and he was uninvited to come back. Later, Bill and Pat separated, and both raised young Wright, who lived with Bill in high school.
Larry Jon went on to some fame in the south and is still on the circuit throughout the south today, performing often with Shawn Mullins of Atlanta, who claims he is a protégé of LJ. When I talk to him on the phone, he’ll chuckle in that baritone voice, saying, come on down, and we’ll sit around and tell some lies together.
I saw Margie in the Joaquin Valley once at a War Resisters League conference, and marched out to the farms on behalf of the UFW, where Joan Baez joined the group later for some music and swimming under a grove of trees on the river.
Pat McNamara went off the deep end for a good while but later moved to the country near the Savannah, where he lived in a double wide (care of his mom), on property with a lake to fish in, raising hound dogs, riding cycles, selling worms for bait, occasionally finding God, and marrying a big sweet red-haired Georgia Irish woman with as many freckles as him, who managed pharmacies and took care of him. He would show up un-announced in Northern Cal at my house, we would go have an adventure, and he’d leave, saying the West Coast was now back under my watch (by inference, meaning the East Coast was now under his).
Mac’s back into music today, and he called me one day to invite me 700 miles south to a funk-o-la lake bar he was playing where the patrons could throw leftovers to the ‘gators, and where one ‘gator would stand on its hind legs and growl when bikers revved their engines. I did see him recently, met him in a diner. His wife’s doing great, making enough money for the both of them. They bought a brand-new double-wide out on his property toward the river (which has developed around him into expensive subdivisions), and purchased a prime lot on waterfront property at Clark Hill Lake. He explained that, as the Good Lord put water on three-forths the earth, He always meant for us to fish at least four days out of the week, thank you.
Pat also volunteered, the last time I saw him, that it was he, Patrick McNamara, who actually invented the double-whopper, yep, when was working for the original Burger King after high school in Augusta, and was special hungry, having a bad case of the DTs, and his boss let him make his own burger. The rest, as Pat says, is history.
Char and I had a couple of great years together in Portland and in a small fishing town south of Eureka. Free of police paranoia, for the time (although, I have to admit, until about the mid-80s, I would get a small jump if a bubbletop showed up behind me). She left me for a geeky guy across the street, who had made her pregnant. Charlotte later got married once or twice, raised her kid, hunkered down in Humboldt County, and occasionally saw her mom, who had joined a wacko commune in Oregon. Despite the hurt I went through, I bailed her out of man-trouble later, a couple of times, when I was in legal services. We’ve stayed friends for a long time.
Once while we were hitching through Denver on our way to Oregon, Char and I worked in a funky soul diner owned by a fat black man, Lindy. Louisiana Lindy’s soul food cookin’ was a regular in Denver. I cooked and Charlotte waited, avoiding Lindy’s roaming hands, not too hard considering he had to motivate himself by using his arms to boost himself along the counters. I sent Vern the biggest, ugliest, smelliest pig’s ear sandwich ever concocted for Christmas 1974, piling tomatoes and onions and sour pickles, mayonnaise and mustard, etc., etc., etc., on buns, as an open faced sandwich, with the ears resting on top, and two toothpicks with ribbons neatly spiked at the top. It was wrapped in a box with Christmas wrapping, and shipped third class during the Christmas rush, with a small gift card saying that this was but a small memento of my appreciation for everything you did for me, Vern. Mmmmmmm!
Dad later got a taste of southern one-upsmanship in the affairs department when Carol had an affair with Burt Reynolds. Honest (would I make this up?). Burt was in the Northern Ga. Mountains making Deliverance, and she was at a summer dance camp in Helen, Ga. She announced the affair to Dad when she got back to Augusta, convinced Burt was gonna marry her. When I heard the story from my sister, we yucked it up. I was glad that was over. Dad went on to number three, the one that stuck.
The funniest story I heard about Markwalter was that, while running from the North Augusta cop who he had escaped earlier, he was driving over the North Augusta bridge in his old beater, thinking he was free, crossing state lines. The cop called ahead to the Augusta police, who also wanted him. There was a car waiting on the Augusta side of the bridge. Markwalter turned around, and hauled back toward North Augusta, and, seeing his old friend, turned around again, settling for getting popped in Augusta, where the cops would have fewer charges to wage against him. As he got to the top of the bridge, he ran out of gas. The car had break problems when the engine was off, and it rolled backward into North Augusta, Markwalter dreading it all the way down. Busted.
A few months later, Allen Markwalter was killed, run down by a cop car on the Gordon Highway south of Augusta. The cops claimed Allen was stoned on acid, walking along the highway, and all of a sudden, lunged in front of the cop car, which was traveling at a high rate of speed.
The Final Showdown
And, oh yeah, Buck Kent. I had written a long letter to Governor Jimmy Carter in 1973, detailing the whole nine yards. A while later, I received a handwritten letter from Gov. Carter, dated 3-25-74, on official stationary, which said, “I’ll relay your information to appropriate officials. Thanks, Jimmy.”
Bill Bryan broke the story. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) busted wide-open a far-reaching heroin, drug, prostitution and numbers syndicate that stretched from Augusta to Kansas City to New York.
Three-four cops in the narc squad were busted and released from the squad. Several in the DA’s office were busted. The DA, a friend of the family, was indicted and died of a brain hemorrhage, supposedly. It was a huge embarrassing scandal, and Anderson went on to oust the top cop, Beck through a political move.
One of the top businessmen was indicted, but every time he was brought to trial, he would have a coronary, and go back into the hospital. It was Bob Best, the uncle of the guy my mom dated. If he had married my mom, I would have, indirectly, busted my step uncle. It turns out, as my mom told me years later, that Best, Sr. had been the one to pass the bucks to the judge. When I heard all this, I thought, whew, small fucking world.
When I walked into the Richmond County Courthouse on that Spring day in 1975, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect what I got. Buck and Durland walked over to me. For the first time, I knew they couldn’t hurt me. But, instead of another stand-off, as Bill and I stood there not knowing what to do, Kent says to me, in a Christian way, Preacher, you know, I owe you a big apology. Now I know what I put you through. I have lost my job. I lost my family. My house. I am going to prison. I will never work in law enforcement again. I’m sorry I harassed you and your friends. It was the wrong thing to do. I’ve found the Lord.
Bill and I were stunned. All I could say was, uhh,..thank you Buck
Then he turns to Durland, and they smile. Hey Durland, he says. Remember that time we were planning that raid on Monte Sano Avenue, and we had the whole place surrounded? Durland laughs, as Kent looks straight at me. Preacher, we had you dead to rights. You had so much drugs in that pad we could see a mushroom cloud from all the way over to Walton Way. Hyaww, Hyaww. And we would’ve busted you, too, except Durland and I saw you and your girlfriend, what’s her name? Charlotte, I said. Yeah, Charlotte, in your bedroom. We could see you through the window, on that mattress on the floor, those wild psychedelic murals and pictures and shit on the wallsYOU AND CHARLOTTE WERE DOING THE DIRTY, and I mean, the reeaallll dirty. You was fuckin’ like blue tic hounds in heat. They both let out a loud h’yaww, h’yaww, h’yaww, which attracted attention in the rest of the hallway. He looks back at me, and, almost affectionately, I didn’t have the heart to stop you, Preacher.
I turned the color of Georgia clay, and looked at Bill, and then looked back at Kent. Then back at Bill, who, like me, was kind of google-eyed. Then back to Buck. Thank you, Buck. That was mighty kind of you. And best of, uh, best of luck, to you Buck. They shook my hand and walked away. He was sentenced that day to one year in prison. The GBI had traced $50,000 of untaxed dollars to a secret bank account.
Durland, though, wasn’t implicated. He would go on to have an illustrious career of about two years as head of the narcs (he got to drive the convertible), until he shot himself in the foot while brandishing his weapon at a bar hangout on Gordon, threatening the denizens (Barney, Andy of Mayberry would demand, give me the bullet, Barney. Givve mee the bullletttt). Anderson was later popped for selling pot. Much later, Schoolboy and Bubba Holtzclaw both bit it. Karma, Sue Weed would say.
During the final court hearing, as I learned years later from Larry Jon, he had sent a lawyer friend down to keep an eye on me. I was set on saying my piece in court. He called Larry Jon on the phone, and said, Larry the fix is in. Doesn’t he know how to hush? He needs to just hush.
The Long and Winding Red Dirt Road
In one way, the thrill of this victory wasn’t quite as sweet. I didn’t hate Buck Kent any more. As Bill and I walked out of the courtroom, getting ready to walk down the wide granite stairs, I could see Augusta in a different light. I gave it to ’em, brought down the whole goddamned town. They were goin’ down like a smokin’ cosmonaut (as a line in a better recent pop song went). Little had I known it was a fucking syndicate. I was lucky they hadn’t killed me. Real lucky.
All of our friends shared in the justice that day, and for weeks and months and years to come. In many ways, we fought the meanness of this town, the hostility, the repression and violence, and on that day, we came out on top. We beat the mother-fuckers. We didn’t do it with some pre-conceived notion of how to do it, and certainly didn’t know what we were up against.
But, we got off our asses and fought for change, joining millions it seemed around the world, at the same time. The town was cleaned up, if only for a few years (for all I know). The war had ended. The country was opening up to equal rights, women’s rights, protecting the land. The south would actually take some good turns over the years, and made me feel good to be southern again, which I do to this very day. We had changed a part of the south that day. It was, in some ways, the hardest place to break. But, in a way, the easiest. You see, it was always black and white in the south. Good and bad. You knew who your enemies were. I wished it were that way many times later.
And, somehow, a group of people voted least likely to succeed, changed the town for the better, made it a more livable place for everyone. And, later, I grew up and appreciated my family, who, after all, protected me from a major prison term and worse. I had to grovel for years. Thank the Lord they were there.
And when I think back, the main thing that sticks out is how young and stupid I was, and how young and beautiful and goofy we all were.
As for Augusta, Monte Sano and Central Avenue became a nice little Mecca for the alternative crowd for years after, with cafes and antique shops and places to hang out, adjacent to the old barber shops and drug stores. There was a major renovation of the Savannah River area downtown around Broad Street, a beautiful river amphitheater was built to get people down on the river, and live music in public became, gosh, ho-hum. College and public radio and local alternative papers filled cultural gaps. The fights around the Savannah River Plant nuclear facility led to decommissioning. Cynthia McKinney, an activist African-American, became the Congressional rep from Augusta today. And so on. The Sunrise Inn eventually burned to the ground, and was replaced with condos. Most of the hair-brained ideas and demands in our little manifesto came true (except for that proletarian revolution thing).
Oh, there’s still plenty of scaly, cold-blooded amphibians living under rocks in Georgia, and the current holier-than-thou Southern Baptist revival, with its’ meglamaniacal, right-wing born again (and again) pronouncements, is disgusting. The South also suffered a resurgence of hypocritical populists like Newt Gingrich, but some of these super-religious vigilantes have now moved on, and they have sometimes alienated their own flock. And the in-migration from the north to mega-cities like Atlanta has had a double bladed effect–the new south has softened politically, but the sprawl and over-building has been incredibly destructive.
As for me? Lived in the redwoods for ten years, and in ’76 got back into politics, working for the Carter victory, and local progressive candidates. I married, moved to Seattle for five years, before returning to the East Coast. Became the father of two great kids. Following in the footsteps of my father and far-flung family, which had more divorces than marriages, I also divorced. I have been drawn to working with labor, helping communities in economic crisis, working on economic democracy policies and institutions, living a life not quite as gonzo as Augusta, but enjoying the occasional scrap and making a few waves. I’ve settled for living in quiet country or suburban existences, and that’s fine for me.
Anyway…you might ask, Why? Why bother? After all, some people died, and others were severely hurt. Why bother with these thugs? Two answers. One, they pissed me off. Hurt my friends. And, they were wrong. Maybe I did it for all of those kids who didn’t survive those years, and there were many of them. Two, it was the times.
Then again, maybe it was genetic; Kate was the only liberal in my whole family. Maybe a southern streak of independence, combined with ancestral DNA (some of Mad Anthony’s madness? But also, some of that Holbrook Cherokee “retreat like hell” second sense? )
But as Bill and I stood on top of the stairs of the Augusta courthouse, looking out at the glare caused by the heat rising among the buildings on Broad, the old town didn’t seem so bad, now. Bill was proud of me. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. And, you know, we realized we bloody accomplished something. A group of gonzo, kudzu rebels, who spread our gospel like the infamous creeping Godzilla weed that was swallowing the whole south. We believed, we fought, we were right, and by damned, we won. At the same time, we both yelled out, laughing our lungs out, Fuckin’ A! this is as good as it gets! Fuckin’ A!!!
So, kids, when you feel like the whole world’s messing with you, remember what your old man went through. And remember what the kids did a generation before you, in a different time, and a different place. And, maybe, if you feel like it, put on some retro bell-bottoms and a tie-dyed
t-shirt, go to the park and listen to a good ‘ole rock-and-roll concert (or some horrible rap band if you must). And, have fun. Somebody paid a few dues so you could do just that.
© TW Croft, 2002. From the Unauthorized Autobiography of T.W.Croft