This legend is a key to the formatting used throughout to indicate topics that will be expanded in future columns, and that those terms mean something more than how they appear:
Underlined = vestigial racial tensions of the Deep South
Italics = culture that arose out of geography
Bold = political wards
CAPS = corporate arrogation of traditional Southern culture
A few nights ago, I headed to THE NEW KROGER to buy a six-pack of Dale’s Pale Ale. I eased my parents’ Subaru to a stop at a red light, and noticed the lights on the movie theater by THE MALL seemed dim. I turned for a better look, wondering if the theater had joined the ranks of Milledgeville’s abandoned. These ranks are thick, and their names might surprise some fellow Tropologists. Along the highway north of historic downtown, you’ve got the Old Kroger, the Rheem plant, the Chevron, the El Tequila Grill, the old Pickle Barrel, the old CVS, the tattoo parlor under the kudzu, and the Winn Dixie. Downtown, where the university is, there’s the impressive two-story vacancy of Grapevine Antiques, and Three Guys Pies, Harrold’s Fashion, the town’s third pool hall, the old college book store, the Magic the Gathering parlor, Scoops Ice Cream, the million-dollar Midasweet Ice Cream, and several other storefronts abandoned long before I came to grad school here two years ago—gap-toothed grins left by the bare-knuckled blows of the depression. But the theater by the mall wasn’t defunct, just dim. Then I rear-ended the car in front of me, and sent it into the car in front of it.
This depression can be pretty distracting.
That’s what it is now, right—a depression? That’s what Paul Krugman said. And Central Georgia sure is hurting.
No one was hurt in the accident, tho one guy later went to a chiropractor, which insurance actually covers—no different than covering a phrenologist or palm reader. (“Sister Nina, I woke up with a sore neck: will I be okay?” Milledgeville’s resident palm reader has, according to reports, a spotty record, but a lineup in her waiting room.)
My parents’ Subaru was still drivable, the hood lifted a little on one side like an eyebrow, telegraphing an ironic arrogance as I pressed on: north toward Lake Sinclair, over the drawn-out hills of four-lane US441, oriented by the flashing white beacons of the coal-fired Georgia Power complex that cools on the lake, its 1,001-foot tall brick chimney nearly twice the height of the Washington Monument. The power plant too is scheduled for contraction; some of the coal furnaces will be shut down for environmental concerns in 2014.
Past the mall, past the WALMART, past Flannery O’Connor’s historic home and four not-so-historic peacocks at Andalusia, I drove until I saw the white halation over The New Kroger (TNK).
And here, five miles from the downtown economic implosion, a place of plenty. At ninety-three thousand square feet, it’s the third-largest Kroger in Georgia; exactly double the size of the abandoned Old Kroger. Drive-thru pharmacy. In-store dining. A fuel center large enough to accommodate the boat trailers of the vacationers on Sinclair. This October, TNK was heralded by a week-long celebration that included a marching band and cheerleaders, a NASCAR car display, cooking demonstrations, and an appearance by University of Georgia coaching legend Vince Dooley.
And as I pulled into the parking lot I sensed a pulse from the middle of the mega-store: a ten-dollar six-pack of Dale’s that I wrecked three cars for the privilege of buying, a small aluminum heart beating in iambs: okay, okay, okay.
So this column, dear reader, will be a column of plenty, the bounty of a desolate place. The cold six-pack after a fender-bender. The beacon from the smokestack.
At the time of this Dale’s purchase, TNK was already one month old. Red, white, and blue pennants still streamed from the light poles, tho the big blue balloons—called skybusters, a term revealed to me in a previous skirmish with THE LITIGIOUS MILLEDGEVILLE HISTORICAL SOCIETY—have since come down. But how long will these pennants be up? How long can they celebrate? How long can The New Kroger be The New Kroger?
The holidays come soon. Time for new decorations—tinsel and garlands the perfect pretext to ravel those pennants without surrendering excitement. And then, in the gray of early January—the month hangs like a dead tooth in the Georgia calendar—the tinsel and garlands and electric snowflakes at The New Kroger will all come down, along with everyone else’s. A new year. A smooth hood for my car. Fresh. Vacant. No cause for celebration.
Roger is a composition teacher at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. He's working on his first novel, and would like to tell you all about it.