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Bugs Bunny, UN Peace Envoy

Thursday, 28th June, 2001

We left Tennessee in the early afternoon heat to aim for Georgia and the first real meetup of the summer, following on from what had become an entire season of the things in 1999. This one wasn't really advertised but was surprisingly well attended regardless. Months of preparation for the Florida meet would see a mere six of us turn up, but Georgia saw an attendance of nine almost manifest itself.

Our host of sorts was Bill, who has gone by the handle of WCFieldsJr, as it just happens to be his real name. Our location was the select Mill House Restaurant in a gorgeous little community that Bill calls home and the rest of us call Hamilton Mill. Bill was quiet and reserved, almost but not quite shy. He seemed to me like a fine detail on a painting: very easy to slip into the background but always right there ready to leap back to attention with panache.

Unfortunately he had to leave early because of family business, but he still covered the cheque for all of us; such an incredibly generous move on his part and yet another demonstration of humanity that would simply befuddle many detractors of the life and community that can be found online. It seems that whenever the media concentrates on human interaction anywhere on the internet it becomes a manifesto on child porn or a manual on safety measures. The positive side of community and friendship is usually glossed over, but we were here living it.

Some of the attendees were local. Elaine and Jana are both from Gainesville, very close nearby; and Robin and Dale (a Cosmo marriage) lived at the time in Decatur, a little closer in to Atlanta. We of course covered far flung England and Michigan, leaving our other couple, colourfully known as RedSonja and MoTrouble to add Alabama to the roster.

They brought along their ten year old daughter who seemed a little put out at being brought so far just for dinner and to meet people that she didn't know. Soon, however, she came delightfully to life as the conversation moved away from wedding photos and colourful players of our acquaintance to the world of cartoons and Animal Planet's Croc Hunter. Who said quiz addicts have to talk on unfathomable intellectual levels? Sometimes there are things that equalise everything, regardless of age or nationality: maybe we should elect Bugs Bunny as UN peace envoy. Later, she introduced me to the Pokemon games on the colour GameBoy and on my return to England, I'd find my eldest nephew hooked on exactly the same thing.

After the meal and extended chat we adjourned to Elaine's house, which lies on a little peninsular stretching out into Lake Lanier, which is the source for the water that works its meandering way south along the Chattahoochee to form most of the border between Georgia and Alabama. People disappeared at intervals - after all Stephanie had to be up for work at 5 am and had a three or four hour drive back home first - but the evening was a memorable one.

We stayed with Elaine for the night, underlining the courtesy and kindness of these people that we had previously only known online. We'd been on the road for a few days now, but had only used a hotel once, and even then it had been scouted out for us beforehand. In my experience, those people who take that extra step to link their two diverse worlds together usually understand implicitly why they are doing it. Those around them who don't share their online community spirit are often confused or flummoxed by the whole concept. Elaine's husband reacted in a similar way to Tina's husband a few days before, but took it a step further by removing himself entirely. It wasn't that he objected, just that he felt that he wasn't a part of this and acted accordingly.

In the morning, after a sumptuous Georgia breakfast, we put a lot of miles behind us before calling it a day, finally pulling in at a Scottish Inn hotel who charged a mere $26 inclusive of all applicable tax. Tracy of course expected the worst, being an incorrigible pessimist, but we had cable and a powerful shower and good air conditioning. During the next day, on our continued trek south, we saw advertised hotels reaching as low as an almost unthinkable $12.77 a night. I remain stunned.

The highlight of our Scottish Inn night was definitely not watching the totally massacred version of 'Road House' that we caught on the aptly named 'Movies for Guys Who Like Movies'. Not only were there frequent and long stretches of commercials, but also segments of a couple of idiots replaying snippets from the past segment of film along with monster truck action. Gimme the damn film, already. The experience whispered subversively that maybe our English requirement to own a paid television licence is a fair swap for two channels at least to be entirely free of advertising.

Both days of our drive into Florida were fun - hot but consistently air conditioned, as such blazing heat requires. Much of the time we spent playfully arguing about the radio choices and watching road signs.

It was here that I finally got to listen to something except classic rock, though admittedly not for long. Most of the tapes I brought were of unfortunately terrible sound quality and Tracy forgot to bring the decent ones I'd left last year. She seems unable to stick to a single radio station for more than two songs. As one finishes she's already hopping across the myriad country stations that she hates so much. I can only assume there are federal laws to prohibit staying on one radio station past a commercial or a news bulletin, but no law to prohibit the surgical attachment of a finger to the Scan button during driving time.

Tracy said that she liked the bluegrass at the Museum of Appalachia but I don't believe a word of it. I certainly wasn't allowed to throw my freebie old time gospel tape on in transit. Anyway at least I got to hear some Motown for a while, though of course it would have been far more appropriate heading through Detroit. Later, at the hotel in Siesta Key, we even got to hear some classically sounding gospel late one night and to follow Ry Cooder's trip across the Florida Straits in search of the Buena Vista Social Club and its old time Cuban sound. Maybe the beach got to her. I should have checked her temperature.

Many of the signs we saw were political. Most of the small towns we drove through were busy championing their own choice of sheriff, a trend that progressed with us into Florida, where clumps of signs advertised not just candidates for sheriff, but congressional representatives and school board members too. All the while, the blanket campaigning for the presidential race was gathering huge momentum, yet I didn't see a single placard for either Bush or Gore.

Amidst so many highway billboards, it took a surprisingly long while to find anywhere advertising the Georgia peaches that contribute much to the prosperity of the state, just as it would also take a long while to find Florida oranges, but they did come. Far more often were the pecan adverts, but I'm sure nuts wouldn't look quite so friendly on license plates.

What really did have character was the sign as we crossed Stephen Foster's Suwannee River. In a possibly unique move, it contains part of the music to the song right there on the sign. Popular culture is such a fast moving creature that I wonder if in another fifty years this will take us from Stephen Foster to Alan Jackson. Maybe then the bridges over the river fed by Lake Lanier, that we had left so recently, will proudly boast the music to Alan Jackson's country hit.

After all, now we can believe that 'way down yonder on the Chattahoochee it gets hotter than a hoochie coochie'. Oops, country music. 'Sorry, Tracy,' he says with a stunningly innocent grin.

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