PINE MOUNTAIN, GEORGIA by RJ Furth
Anthony emerged late from customs at Atlanta’s Jackson-Hartfield Airport because of his lack of fingerprints. The problem is that, as a lifelong guitar player, the callouses of his left hand (he uses a pick with his right hand) cover his fingerprints, apparently a security problem that has never plagued him in the past. The arrival hall was nearly empty when he finally emerged an hour after his flight landed. We drove to Pine Mountain, Georgia, 70 miles south of Atlanta, and checked into the White Column hotel More on that later. I picked Pine Mountain as first, and only planned stop, because of its proximity to Atlanta and its history. Pine Mountain is close to Warm Springs, where Franklin Delano Roosevelt soaked in the warm natural springs after being diagnosed with polio, a condition that left him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The waters did not cure the polio, but FDR fell in love with the area and built a small house that became known as the Little White House, which is in the center of what is now the FDR State Park. This is a lovely part of the country, blessed with thick forests, meandering rivers and some of the friendliest people you ever met.
Pine Mountain doesn’t feel Deep Southish. It is close to Atlanta and, as importantly, is home to Calloway Gardens. Cason Calloway was a wealthy industrialist in the 1930s who amassed a fortune and built a 14,000 park that includes gardens, lakes, walking and biking trails and golf courses. The Gardens attracts a high rolling crowd which explains the bistro in Pine Mountain that features local, natural foods, a very unSouth culinary experience. We’ve only come across a few southern accents and most people seem familiar with people from the UK, so Anthony is not viewed as exotic. Tomorrow we drive into Alabama in quest of the real Deep South. Our waitress last night, though, did tell us to, “Holler if you need anything,” and said, “Her is yawl’s beer,” so we did get to hear authentic Southern talk.
Anthony first suggested we visit Alabama and Mississippi two years ago. Shortly after I discovered Paul Theroux’s 2014 book Deep South. Theroux is the dean of travel writing, somebody whose books I’ve read for decades. In Deep South he mentions that most independent hotels in the South are owned and run by Patels from Gujarat in India. Gujarat is know for its businessmen and the Patels are particularly good businessmen, running establishments throughout Africa. Anthony and I kidded that we had to stay at least one Patel owned hotel. When I called to book the White Column I spoke to Jerry from Columbus, Georgia. Upon arrival Jerry greeted us and led us into the office. There on the counter was a nameplate that said Amita Patel. When I asked, Jerry said the White Column was, indeed, owned by Mr. Patel, who was away for a day or two. This morning we met Mr. Patel who was sweeping the walkway and picking up dead leaves. We got to talking and he raved about Pine Mountain and FDR State Park, then he began to tell me about FDR. As an American history teacher I was amused to be lectured to about FDR by Mr. Patel from Gujarat. Mr. Patel, an immigrant entrepreneur, clearly respected the great president and was proud of his knowledge. An American flag hangs in the hotel’s office. Along with the gun shops and barbecue joints, Mr. Patel represents the new South. Anthony and I are off to a good start.