Remerton, plague Georgia. Chances are y’never heard of it. That’s because, pharmacy while there is the often cited cliche “the middle of nowhere,” there are some places so small or incidental, so remote and stubbornly existent just out of spite that they don’t even qualify for that notorious descriptive. I mean, after all- everyone’s heard of the Middle of Nowhere. It has clout. It has intrigue. It has a relative location to a grander concept of “nowhere.” Remerton? Let’s just say this might be the outskirts of nowhere. And it’s where I begin my 10-mile run through the deep, deep south in an intolerable, suffocating swampy summer heat.
Before we go any further, I reckon I should apologize for writing this in a temporarily adopted fake southern accent. Come to think of it, I guess you wouldn’a known if I hadn’t told you. So… I apologize for that, too. Cuz now that’s the only way your inner voice will allow you to read it. Well, then.
Remerton (pronounced Reemer-ton, even though Rehmerton might sound just a touch more classy or intellectual. Forgive me, again. I’m being snippy. It’s hot as the dickens and I have two cemeteries to run past before I complete my loop. I’d rather stay this side of the topsoil, but these temperatures do put up a formidable challenge.) Where was I? Remerton. Right.
Well, technically, I’m in Valdosta. It’s the larger college town that swallows and surrounds the former. It’s home to Valdosta State University and the Valdosta Wildcats, the “winningest” high school football team in the U.S. It’s also home to… Well, no. That’s about it. So let’s start by running down Baytree and turning right onto Oak Street. We’ll have passed Ashley Street Station (which is not on Ashley Street at all), a gritty bar with a little edge: some pool tables and soft-tip (aka fake) dart boards and a place for locals who aren’t necessarily the college-bar crowd but still want to get out for a decent selection of draught brews and the occasional band or burlesque show.
Running down Oak street, we pass the Sunset Hill Cemetery where lie the parents of famed gunslinger “Doc” Holliday, and circus elephant trainer James O’Rourke. It was an untimely demise for O’Rourke who was trampled to death by Gypsy, the elephant that escaped her train car just a few miles outside of the town in 1902. I can’t help but wonder if he’s buried in a proper casket or stuffed in the elephant trunk. Right. Moving on.
Passing through the south and living here for a few months are two very different situations. Like any place on the planet, one has to experience the day-to-day to truly appreciate the uniqueness that makes a quirky foreign land home-sweet-home to someone else. The neighborhoods of Valdosta are no different in this regard. Just past Sunset Hill, I run through an area that bluntly reminds me that segregation by class and race (too often one-and-the-same) still runs strong in small-town USA. Literally crossing to the other side of the railroad tracks reveals a stark and depressing desert of boarded up and dilapidated houses–not abandoned, just not currently feasibly improved by their residents. It’s evening, and the faces of these inhabitants stare and nod greetings incredulously as the crazy white man runs past, perhaps wondering where I’m running to or what I’m running from. Both valid questions that I’ll employ the next seven miles to try to reason through.
The other side of town, a couple of miles later after I’ve turned west and run past the industrial lumber mill and factory region, the air is cooler and clean. The lawns are perfect and the houses are tidy and decorated with the sterility of suburban upper middle class. Pro-Trump signs litter the recently cut grass and flower gardens as kind of the modern tacky pink flamingos or garden gnomes: monuments to zealously proclaim their questionable pride and and taste in defiance of their own sensibilities.
Escaping from the cul-de-sacs of the southern Stepford, I zig and zag onto Hill Ave. then to Norman Drive where I pass every type of chain restaurant and big box store: IHOP, Sam’s Club, Lowe’s, Red Lobster, Best Buy, Target, and of course Walmart–the flagship for American consumerism. Turning again on to Baytree, I’m almost home free with another two miles to go. Though the worst of the visual landscape is behind me, I still face a literal uphill climb to cross another set of railroad tracks. I’ll pass another couple of stores in which I first experienced one of the most peculiar colloquialisms I’ve learned all summer: “I appreciate’cha.” It is as it sounds, a form of thanks. It’s the phrase one stranger utters to another for such basic courtesies as holding the door or stepping aside to let someone pass. It’s simple, genuine, and polite, but takes a few times hearing it before it sounds normal. And even then…
I’m back in the tiny borough of Remerton, climbing the medium grade past Gordon, the road on which the Remerton combo Police station/Fire station sits in its industrial metal-walled garage building. It humbly exists next to the most unassuming City Hall probably in all the US, and isn’t even large enough for its own jail cells; they apparently rent such space as needed from a neighboring town. Most likely, Valdosta.
I’ve past Gordon, back on level ground, and now am lightly stepping past the series of college bars that entertain and seduce the local students: an unglamorous rendition of the Vegas strip or Bourbon street, with the public drunkenness but without the glitz or gambling.
Just a few paces past the tour de booze is the smartest little food establishment in the south. Zacadoo’s. This locally owned and operated wonder is the ingenious model for drive-through-hangover-cure. Every morning one can (has to) drive through and order from a limited menu of delicious cholesterol-laden items, the most popular of which is Breakfast-in-a-Cup. This culinary masterpiece is a soupy helping of proper grits mixed with crumbled sausage, scrambled egg, and melted cheese. The closest analogy that comes to mind is that it’s the Philly cheesesteak of Valdosta. So good. So bad. Soooo good. Add to it an order of potato cheddars–the Zacadoo’s hash brown nuggets–and you have the perfectly southern comfort food for any day of the week.
Just the thought of the caloric intake makes me happy to have endured another ten mile run as I walk the last few hundred yards to the house to cool down. The crickets and cicadas are chirping, the summer humidity is transforming to autumn evening dew, and the sun is finally setting on Valdosta and my brief but thorough time in the south.