Wednesday, March 15, 2006

St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah - 1978

St. Patrick’s Day was for many years a very special day for me. It was a parade, a party and a chance to watch others make complete fools of themselves. It was like Mardi Gras… with all the required trappings, compressed into a single 24-hour time span.

Savannah has (or had) the second largest St. Paddy’s Day celebration in the country, one step behind New York. It was the one time during the course of the year when all the rules where dumped into the Savannah River… along with the green dye, and you could let the rest of it hang out wherever you pleased.

Now, I don’t want to appear to be making excuses for a full-blown drunk. Heaven knows, there is always the day of reckoning that follows when you wake up. But somewhere on the ledge… that narrow space between prudish extremism and extreme indiscretion is a land of thorough satisfaction that comes with the added virtue of being able to remember it all in exacting detail.

Over the years and the various St. Patrick’s Day blowouts, I saw some pretty good live shows down on River Street. One that was particularly good starred a band called the Dixie Dregs. They were (and may still be) a jazz/rockabilly ensemble that produced an album called “What If” about the same time.

Anyway, on this same St Paddy’s Day, March 17, 1978, and as the Dregs were playing, my friends and I met these two GIs who had come to town from Ft. Stewart for the celebration. Along with them they brought a half a gallon of Southern Comfort. (Oh… and for those who may be too young to know this, Southern Comfort, each and every bottle, used to weigh in at 100 proof.)

Yessiree Bubba! 100 proof and these two soldiers, from Ohio and Michigan respectively, began working their way to the bottom of that bottle. All we did was watch… and wait for the inevitable whilst sipping on our green beers.

About halfway down, one of them decided to take a dip into the Savannah River. The day was chilly… maybe 55-60 degrees and the river? Well, you’d have to know the Savannah River to also know that was one body of water you did not want to swim in. Not only is it laced with deadly rip currents and undertows, the thing is polluted enough to breed 9-eyed catfish! We tried to tell them. The bottle was speaking louder than we were though. Splash.

Yup, splash went the guy into the water. Then splash went his tag team partner… but not in the swimming sense. We thought this might be coming when the dry one laid himself out on the pavement and started making gurgling sounds. His buddy in the water, meanwhile, had thought better of the swim and wanted to get out but for some reason, he’d get about halfway up the pier before falling back in again. Imagine.

By the time the cops fished drunk #1 out of the river, drunk #2 was swimming in a pool of his own making. Both smell equally bad so we moved a respectable distance to observe as they were, literally, poured into the (aptly named) paddy wagon and carted away.

The remainder of the jug of Comfort was still sitting where they left it and to be honest, we were tempted to take it and make merry. But you know, we had already seen the damage this grand old drink of the south had done to those two poor and unsuspecting Yankees boys. We wanted to survive and, like I said, to remember the day. And to that end, we succeeded.

Well, at least I did.

Written by Redoubt