Finding Solace in the Simple

Finding Solace in the Simple
A shaded path through Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia

At some point during my youth, I remember being asked if I preferred books set in the historic past, or in a sci-fi future.  Naturally, I chose the latter.  Why would you want to spend a bunch of time looking backwards when there was this exciting, hopeful, speculative future to dream about?  It was this attitude that gave rise to my appreciation for science fiction like Star Trek, and for new technologies like computers, video games, and digital art.

As an adult, I find myself reversing course on that earlier opinion.  While I still enjoy sci-fi, it's mostly just the classics that I grew up with (I detest the glut of recent examples set in a post-apocalyptic future--as if we all needed any more reason to be depressed).  While I still enjoy technology, I find that enjoyment largely tainted by its association with my stressful career in IT.  In recent years particularly, I increasingly find solace in simplicity, having grown weary of ever-more-complex systems that seem to offer diminishing returns for our daily lives.

In short, I've become full Grumpy Old Man.

This is perhaps another reason that I've come to enjoy family vacations that are not only simple, but which also are steeped in history.  After spending a week in Traverse City, Michigan this past spring, which included a stop at a historic state hospital of the Kirkbride design, this fall we went on another outing to a historic city--in fact, the oldest city in Georgia--Savannah.  Until we started researching places to go for my son's annual birthday vacation, I can't say Savannah was anywhere near the top of my bucket list (or even on it at all).  But having spent a few days there, I can say that it was one of the most interesting and refreshing vacations I've been on.

Savannah itself is an incredibly old town, whose streets and buildings--unusually--still largely resemble their original appearances from over a hundred years ago.  This is largely thanks to the very strict historic preservation laws, which started in the mid 1950s as a bid to stop the city's original buildings from being razed and replaced with parking garages or some other example of modernity.  The city layout is broken up by a number of squares, or lush miniature parks, many of which contain monuments to (or even tombs of) historic figures.  Many of the streets and squares are enveloped by huge, old-growth oak trees, the branches of which are draped with gossamer strands of Spanish moss.  It's picturesque and calming in a way most cities...well, aren't.

While Savannah itself is steeped in U.S. colonial history--the literal bones of which are still buried right beneath its streets, some of which were the sites of Revolutionary War battles--we chose a different setting for our stay.  Despite spending the majority of each day in Savannah proper, in the evenings we retired to a Vrbo rental on neighboring Tybee Island, an oceanfront resort town that reminded me of Key West, Florida.  Our condo was about two minutes' walk from Tybee Island Pier and Pavilion, where you can dip a fishing line in the Atlantic, walk on the beach and collect shells, or ride a wave or two.  Tybee Island is hauntingly quiet after dark, and while we could hear the crash of the ocean waves from our balcony, almost nothing else was audible, day or night.

Tybee Island beach, as seen from the pier.

Walking around downtown Savannah, you realize how compact of a city it is, compared to a place like Austin, Texas, where we vacationed in 2021.  This is largely owing to Savannah's age; back when it was designed (in England!), people largely got around on foot or by horse if they were lucky, so the idea of fast-traveling across a huge swath of land by car or by bus was unheard of.  As a result, you can pretty much walk from one end of Savannah to the other with relative ease and about 40 minutes' time.  Along the way there are plenty of shaded squares with benches where you can catch a rest, storefronts to pause and browse through, or restaurants to sit and grab a coffee or some of the world's tastiest ice cream (which you'll unequivocally find at Leopold's).  Unlike Austin, which was pretty automobile-centric and required a lot of hoofing, Savannah was a calm and gentle pleasure to explore.

I did my usual amount of pre-travel research and planning, and I'm happy to say that everything worked out perfectly.  Our first day in Savannah was given over to a hop-on/hop-off trolley tour, which ended up being a great way to see the city and learn a bunch of its history.  We got to the departure point (which was in a former Bank of America branch) early enough to park in the tour company's complimentary parking lot, where we conveniently left our rented Chevy Malibu for the whole day.  The tour trolleys take a circuitous route through Savannah, and at any of the stops, you can disembark and check out the sights and sounds of the city, then hop back on the next trolley (a new one arrives every 20 minutes).

We definitely made full use of the hop-on/hop-off nature of the tour.  The first place we deboarded was at Chippewa Square, which served as the backdrop for the infamous "bench scenes" from the 1994 film Forrest Gump (which we made a point of watching the day before beginning our trip).  While Forrest's bench is no longer there (it's now in the Savannah History Museum), we of course spent some time taking photos and ascertaining the exact angles from which the movie scenes were captured.

A panoramic view of Chippewa Square. At center, a monument to General James Ogelthorpe, founder of Savannah.

Back on the trolley, our next stop was Forsyth Park, with its beautiful tiered fountain that actually predates the Civil War.  We spent a fair bit of time here wandering around the entire park, which is centrally located in the city's historic district and includes playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, a café, and plenty of open green space.  Surrounding the park is a bevy of venerable old buildings, including The Mansion on Forsyth Park, an expensive hotel that was once a funeral home, as well as the historic Telfair Women's Hospital, which is now apartment homes for seniors (but which still bears the original hospital signage).

Historic Telfair Women's Hospital, now apartments for seniors

Later in the day, we stepped off the trolley once again in the Riverfront district, whose ancient cobblestone streets are home to numerous storefronts, gift shops, and restaurants.  We had lunch at The Pirate's House, one of the oldest buildings in the city, where author Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have heard tales that inspired him to write Treasure Island.

On our second day, after spending the afternoon exploring Savannah's downtown shops and restaurants, we returned to Chippewa Square under cover of night for a tour with a decidedly more supernatural bent, courtesy of Savannah History and Haunts.  Due to its age and the number of bloody battles, duels, and deadly fires that have occurred there, Savannah is said to be one of the most haunted towns in the United States.  I can't say I personally witnessed anything weird during our travels, though I might change my tune if we ever go back and stay in one of the historic hotels downtown, some of which are renowned for their spirit activity.  Whether you believe in this kind of stuff or not, the tales told by our tour guide were definitely chilling, and the tour appropriately ended just outside the gates of the old Colonial Park Cemetery.

Listening to a spooky tale from our Savannah History and Haunts tour guide

On our third and final full day of travel, we actually drove up to Hilton Head, South Carolina.  Hilton Head is one of the golf capitals of the country, and has a distinctly nautical culture to it (owing to its surplus of beautiful oceanfront property).  It was a bit like Naples, Florida, where I spent 10 years of my life in what now feels like the very distant past.  We climbed to the top of the Harbour Town Lighthouse and watched the yachts depart from the pier below, enjoyed a round of miniature golf on Legendary Golf's beautifully landscaped course (I even got a free slushie for getting a hole-in-one!), and had an excellent dinner at Ruan Thai Cuisine, which was not in any way diminished by the fact that it appeared to be operating out of a former Taco Bell.

Directly before leaving on this vacation, I spent 18 straight days (weekends included) crunching for 12-14 hours a day at work.  If you read my last blog post, you may remember that I celebrated my new job as a repudiation of that kind of insane overwork, which had been the hallmark of my last two jobs and the last eight years of my career.  Unfortunately, things have changed a bit since then.  Once my new bosses became aware of my skill, reliability, and communicative nature, they assigned me to their most troubled team in the hopes of helping set it back on the right track.  Great--yet another career example of how hard work is rewarded with the crappiest imaginable assignments.  It's a wonder I haven't learned by now to just do mediocre work and be done with it.

In my previous jobs, when my employer started pouring a firehose of shit down my throat, I just kept opening my mouth wider and didn't complain--or if I did, it was to cautiously raise concern about the pace of work in a roundabout way (which was usually ignored or dismissed).  From a personality standpoint, there are few things in the world that I fear more than looking incompetent or inadequate for the job, so I mostly just sucked it up.  I did this until I couldn't take any more, at which point I found a new job and left.  My first employer wasn't surprised to see me leave, because they knew how bad it had gotten but couldn’t do anything about it.  My second was caught off guard, because they had no idea how badly the situation was affecting me.

It was that experience with my second employer that inspired me to take a different tack this time.  After seeing how utterly nonfunctional my new team was, how far communication had broken down, and how many processes were either absent or just didn't work, I decided to bring it up very clearly and very forcefully with management during my next one-on-one.  I laid it all on the line, going to far as to openly state that if this assignment was the company's idea of rewarding one of its highest new achievers (which was how they said they thought of me during my previous review), then I found myself not understanding why I would want to continue working here.  This quip found its mark, I think, particularly in light of the fact that another of their most promising new engineers--who had been hired onto this dysfunctional team over the summer--abruptly quit with barely a week's notice in the middle of all that crunch we were doing.

Management kinda freaked out at the idea that I might be next to walk out the door, so they assured me some changes were going to be put in place.  They'd heard rumors of the level of dysfunction on the team, but my report from the trenches made it clear that more drastic steps needed to be taken to get the team back on track.  I was given the details of the personnel reorganization that would follow, and while I would have preferred to be reassigned back to my original team where I found myself working excellently with the other members, I'm going to give the new structure a chance.  I feel strongly that management supports me and has my back here--the total opposite of how I felt at my last job--so I think they deserve a chance to make things better.

In the meantime, after all that crunch, it was nice to get away for another week of escape from the stress and cacophony that a career in IT seems inexorably destined to become.  While Savannah was about the furthest thing from a modern, futuristic city that I would have enjoyed in my youth, my middle-aged self found plenty to enjoy in its quiet, historic simplicity.  Like Traverse City before it, this trip was another window into a type of life that I could be living: one devoid of absurd amounts of complexity, mad rushes for no practical reason, and the crushing weight of technology for technology's sake.  The further I progress through life, the more sure I become that I want nothing to do with technology whatsoever in my retirement years.  A PC with a word processor and some decades-old games sounds like it should just about hit the spot.

As we head toward the near year, I hope to find some more stable footing at work and move my career back onto a more sustainable track, like the one I found myself in when I first arrived here in May.

In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers.  May you find solace in something this holiday--whether it be family, fo0d, the nostalgia of traditional holiday activities, or something else entirely.

Harbour Town, Hilton Head, SC.