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Archive for the ‘Life Down South’ Category

Audacity

Home entertainment-wise, I am seriously behind the times. In this age of streaming via the internet, I still have DirecTV.

I signed up with DirecTV when I moved to Jefferson in 2006. The cost was always too high, but I get the programming I want, and I’m used to it. However, I’m thinking it’s time for a change.

Things started going south a few years ago, when DirecTV was acquired by AT&T.

At the time, I had no opinion about AT&T one way or the other. I can’t recall ever doing business with them.

And, for a year or so after the takeover, nothing changed. My DirecTV service was the same, as was the website, as was the billing system.

Then the tentacles of AT&T began reaching out. My opinion of AT&T quickly formed, and it wasn’t positive.

First, the DirecTV billing system was scrapped, and AT&T took over.

I realize there were business reasons for doing it. The trouble is, the DirecTV billing process was simple and easy, and the AT&T system is complicated and crappy.

To access my monthly statement, I now go to the clunky AT&T website and drill down to DirecTV. My statement is six steps away instead of two. Annoying.

Further, AT&T now has my records, so they pester me constantly with letters and emails, trying to lure me away from Verizon. Annoying.

Last month, however, AT&T crossed the line in a frankly shocking way. I’m still amazed at the audacity.

It started with a phone call that I answered reluctantly. (I was expecting a call from a prospective new lawn guy, and I didn’t know his number, so I picked up.)

The call was from a fellow with an Indian accent who identified himself as from AT&T. He wanted me to add HBO and Showtime to my DirecTV service. He was pushing a special deal where you get $13 off the $30 monthly cost for the first three months.

If I wanted HBO or Showtime, I would have ordered it years ago. I told him no thanks, and I hung up.

The next day, I got an email from AT&T that read, “Thanks for choosing AT&T. Please scroll down to review your DirecTV order details.”

Order details?

What followed was a breakdown of my new DirecTV monthly charges, which included $30 for HBO and Showtime, minus $13 off for three months.

What the — ??

The email also included this friendly paragraph:

You have accepted a 24 MONTH PROGRAMMING AGREEMENT. If you decide to cancel your service early or do not maintain 24 consecutive months of base level programming (priced at $29.99/mo. or above) or qualifying international services bundle, you will be charged an Early Termination Fee (ETF) of $10.00 per month for each month remaining on your 24-month contract (up to $240.00).

It closed with the usual 20 paragraphs of policy and legal stuff.

Boy, was I steamed. AT&T signed me up for service I specifically declined. Did that bonehead on the phone think I wouldn’t notice I was receiving new services? And being charged for it?

Brimming with righteous indignation, I called AT&T Customer Service. After a wait that wasn’t too bad, another guy with an Indian accent came on the line. He was relatively friendly and pleasant, which helped.

I read him parts of the email about the added service. I complained that I had declined the additions, not accepted them. I said I resented the brazenness and chicanery, and I wanted my previous service package restored.

The guy said the phone call indeed is shown in my files, and it indicates that I accepted the new service. BUT, he added quickly when he could tell I was about to explode, it was an easy matter to reverse it and make things right.

He also said someone would look into the “mix-up” because, you know, AT&T is committed to the finest in customer service and all that.

Later that day, I got a follow-up email from AT&T. It was identical to the first, except the HBO and Showtime service had been removed, the new charges were deleted, and the friendly paragraph cited above was gone.

I was, of course, still miffed about being played. Maybe not by AT&T itself, but certainly by that villain who called me.

Then a third email arrived from AT&T, and I was steamed anew. It asked me to rate my recent experience with AT&T Customer Service.

Because the second guy had been a decent sort, I deleted the email instead of unloading on them. But, oh, the audacity.

Word is, AT&T now wants to sell DirecTV because the satellite business has become a dinosaur, and DirecTV is hemorrhaging customers. AT&T has tried to get into streaming with “AT&T TV Now, but without much success.

One possible buyer of DirecTV: Dish Network.

I guess nobody else these days would want to invest in a satellite company.

Cord-cutting

 

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Holding Up

Friends, I have made peace with the fact that I am now an old dude. The evidence is clear, even though it’s weird to think of myself as being, like, an old geezer.

In many respects, I don’t feel that old. In my head, I’m the same Rocky Smith I’ve been since about age 10. The inner me has changed very little.

On the other hand, I’m not as mentally sharp as when I was younger. Sometimes, my brain plays tricks on me, like instructing me to go to the kitchen, then making me forget why I went there. Fortunately, I’m retired and pose no real danger to anyone.

I also show plenty of signs of physical wear. Creeping arthritis, a touch of glaucoma, a balding pate. I’ve clearly lost a step, even though I’m — knock on wood — still active and in relatively good health.

But I digress. The fact is, I’m about to turn 77, and that’s old.

Which is why, when an attendant at Kroger paid me a compliment regarding my age recently, it was quite satisfying.

When I make a run to Kroger, I always use the self-checkout because it’s faster. Last week, my shopping included a bottle of Pinot Noir, which requires an ID check.

Checking my ID is ludicrous, of course. For the last half-century, my appearance has confirmed that I am over 18, but Kroger has its stupid rules.

I scanned the bottle, and the machine beeped and announced that help was on the way. I took out my wallet and waited.

A 40-ish female employee appeared. “Can I see your ID, sir?” she asked cheerily.

I held up the wallet so she could see my license.

“January 26th, 1943,” she intoned and turned to enter the date on the screen of the scanner.

“I’d rather you didn’t say that out loud,” I told her. “I’m sensitive about my age.”

She turned and looked at me, pursed her lips, and tapped her chin in thought.

“Let me tell you something,” she said with great seriousness. “I check IDs for a living. I’ve seen the IDs of half the adults in Jefferson. I know when they were born.

“I see people every day who look older than you, and act older than you, and they’re a decade younger than you. Sometimes two.”

I was appropriately speechless.

“Take it from an expert, sir,” she said, “you’re holding up nicely. Count your blessings.”

I managed to thank her in a bumbling, awkward fashion and went on my way.

I’m still aglow.

Pinot Noir

… From the compliment, not the Pinot Noir.

 

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Wash and Wax

Friends, you may ask yourselves, what do old retired guys do every day? Well, in my case, I stay as busy as if I were gainfully employed.

Every day, tons of stuff needs doing. And sometimes, the things that need doing catch you off guard.

That’s because life hurls all kinds of unpredictable pitches at you. Fastballs, curveballs, sliders. All you can do is step up to the plate and address the ball. (No, wait. That’s a golf metaphor.)

Swinging away at the random pitches life serves up — that’s my job now. Well, I also have the blog.

———

– Slippery When Wet

Last winter was especially wet, and it was unkind to the Rocky Smith residence. By spring, unwanted stuff had begun to grow on various outdoor surfaces.

The concrete — driveway, sidewalks, and patio — was coated to varying degrees with a yucky layer of blackish-brown something that turned slippery when it rained.

Several walls of the house were afflicted with an unpleasant green mold or mildew or whatever.

And, instead of being a cheerful white with natty blue pinstripes, my RV was a depressing gray with blue pinstripes.

When Paul the yardman showed up to cut my grass for the first time, I asked, “Do you do pressure-washing?”

“You bet.”

I told him the concrete desperately needed cleaning. He gave me a price, came back the following week with a behemoth of a pressure-washer, and did the job in half a day.

When he finished, I asked, “Do you do houses?”

“You bet.”

He walked around the house to assess things, gave me a price, came back the following week, and did the job in half a day.

When he finished, I asked, “What about RVs?”

“You bet.”

He gave me a price, came back the following week, and spent an hour or so pressure-washing the van with unexpected thoroughness. It looked almost as good as the day I bought it.

– Prohibited by Law

My next task was to give the RV a protective coat of wax. Being retired from washing and waxing vehicles myself, I took it to a full-service car wash. I wasn’t after any fancy detailing. I just wanted a basic wash and wax.

Last year, I found a place that does good work at reasonable prices. It’s a big operation, part of a chain. While you wait inside watching TV, a dozen or so young guys are outside swarming like ants over the vehicles. A thorough, buttoned-up operation. I stopped to ask them about the RV.

The response was a knuckleball.

“Sir, we can wax the RV for you, no problem,” said the earnest young man at the counter. “But you’ll have to wash the vehicle before you bring it in.”

Say what?

“But… you’re a car wash. You wash cars. Why do I have to wash it before bringing it to you?”

“State regulations, sir. We recycle our water. The drains under the building collect the wash water so it can be treated and used again. Your vehicle won’t fit inside the building, so we would have to wash it outside. And that’s prohibited by law.”

“Prohibited by law.”

“Yes, sir. But I have an option you might want to consider. I do jobs on the side all the time. I could do the wash and wax at your place.”

Aha. A sensible solution. I gave him my phone number, and he said he would call to work out the details.

The week wore on, and the little so-and-so never called. Time to explore other options.

– Mr. Clean

I’m a relatively intelligent guy, and this was a relatively simple problem. I needed to find a car wash designed for larger vehicles.

Trucks, for example. Trucks need washing, right? People out there are in the business of washing trucks, right?

Indeed they are. In fact, truck washes are everywhere. I didn’t know that because truck washes were never on my radar screen.

One place that had good online reviews was Mr. Clean Truck and Car Wash in Athens. I stopped one day to check them out.

Mr. Clean was a little more bare-bones than I expected — basically, just a small shed that served as an office, two more sheds stocked with supplies, lots of ladders and hoses, and a paved parking lot full of trucks and busy workers.

In the office was a middle-aged black guy sitting on a stool, staring at his cell phone. “Can I hep you?” he asked without looking up.

“You wash trucks, so I’m betting you can wash my RV,” I said.

“No problem,” he said, still focused on the phone. “Just bring it in. No appointment necessary. We’ll fix you up.”

I described the RV and asked the price of a wash and wax.

“Won’t know till I see it,” he said, still staring at the phone.

I said okay, but I need at least a rough idea of the cost.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I tell everybody,” he said, looking up finally. “Bring $100 cash, and that should more than cover it.”

– 32 Minutes

A few days later, I drove the RV to Athens and pulled into Mr. Clean’s parking lot. Four employees were busily cleaning a semi. Two others big trucks were waiting their turn. I went inside the office where the black guy was sitting on the stool with his phone, still supervising.

“I brought my RV for a wash and wax,” I said. He went outside, took a look, and returned.

“We use liquid wax,” he said. “Sprayed on, not hand-rubbed.” I took that as implying that spray wax is inferior. But I’m not picky. I nodded in agreement.

“75 dollars,” I understood him to say. I got out my wallet, took out four $20 bills, and handed them to him.

“What the hell is this?” he barked. “I said 35 dollars.” He handed back two of the bills.

“Sorry, I misunderstood,” I said. “This is my first time.”

Stone-faced, he gave me $5 change and said his boys would be ready for me directly.

The four guys doing the actual work were an interesting bunch.

One was a large, muscular black guy who was suffering mightily in the 90-degree heat. He kept gesturing to the others to hose him down.

Another was a young white guy who was so heavily tattooed — arms, legs, back, torso, face, neck, even the top of his shaved head — that he looked like a Maori tribesman.

W&W-1

The other two were tall, lean white guys, typical Southern dudes. Somehow, their cigarettes stayed lit even though their clothes were drenched.

All four worked at high speed, but were surprisingly thorough and meticulous. The trucks ahead of me took half an hour each to clean. By that measure, I figured the RV would be done in 10 minutes.

Wrong. By the clock, they spent 32 minutes climbing over, under, and around the thing, scrubbing, spraying, and rinsing at a frenetic pace.

W&W-2

When they finished, it looked better than the day I bought it.

W&W-3

The boys moved on to the next vehicle. I stuck a $20 bill in the tip box and headed home.

– Reality Bites

Back in Jefferson, I learned why sprayed-on liquid wax is inferior to the hand-applied variety.

For one thing, the RV was wet when I left Mr. Clean, and it air-dried on the way home. Thus, the glass and chrome ended up covered with water spots.

For another thing, the lower half of the chassis was covered with streaks where the wax dripped down and dried. From a distance, the vehicle looked great; up close, it had issues.

Mr. Clean’s wash and wax job accomplished what I wanted, but alas, fell a bit short. Live and learn.

With a sigh, I got out some rags and glass cleaner and cleaned off the water spots.

Next, I put some wax on another rag and began buffing out the streaks on the body. The buffing wasn’t hard, but it took a while.

Finally, I put a coat of Back to Black on the bumpers, door handles, and trim. The treatment worked well, but will need redoing in about a month.

It also occurs to me that, if next winter is as unkind as the last, I’m destined to do this all over again.

W&W-4

 

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Trees at Stake

Well, I find myself at loggerheads with persons unknown, either with the City of Jefferson or the city school system, over a landscaping matter. Based on the facts, I’m right and they’re wrong, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Let me explain.

Jefferson is a small town with a school system to match. This year, student enrollment in all grades is only about 4,000 students.

On the other hand, a cafeteria is a cafeteria, and a gym is a gym, which means that even small schools occupy a fair amount of physical space.

It’s also a fact that the grounds require attention. There are lawns to cut, hedges to trim, plants to water. Grounds maintenance is a universal task at schools everywhere.

The Jefferson Public Works Department handles the maintenance of all city-owned property, including the schools. Every day, you see city guys out there getting the job done.

And so, a couple of years ago, when 20-odd new trees were planted beside the tennis courts at Jefferson Middle School, I figured — no doubt correctly — that it was a routine beautification project by the city.

To my untrained eye, it seemed nicely done, with the added touch of several new benches. The trees themselves were young, so each was supported by stakes and canvas straps. It seemed to be evidence that the people responsible knew what they were doing.

As time passed, however, I became less sure of that.

On Saturdays and Sundays, Jake and I typically go walking at one of the Jefferson schools. No one is there, and the grounds are ideal for a stroll — large, green, manicured, quiet, and pleasant. Hence, we passed the new trees at the tennis courts regularly.

And finally, sometime last winter, the thought coalesced in my brain that, although the trees had been growing for a couple of years, they still were supported by the stakes and straps. That didn’t seem right.

Curious and a bit concerned, I took a closer look.

In practically every case, the canvas straps were super-taut because of the growth of the trees. Further, where the straps wrapped around the trunks, many had become embedded in the wood. A bad situation.

I knew full well what was going on. After the project was completed, the trees were out of sight and out of mind. The city moved on to other projects. Other than periodic watering, the trees probably get no care.

If they live, fine. If they die, they get replaced.

The fate of the trees wasn’t my problem, but it was unlikely anyone else was going to step up. I decided to take action.

First, I took this photo.

Stake-1

Then I went to see a friend who manages a plant nursery, a certified landscaping guy. I showed him the photo and described the embedded straps.

“I think those trees are big enough to stand on their own,” I said. “And I think those straps need to go.”

He agreed. “But where the straps are ingrown, don’t pull them out of the trunks,” he said. “That will do more damage. Just cut the straps flush with the wood.”

I learned that freeing 20 staked-out trees isn’t easy. The canvas straps were tough, much harder to cut than I expected. But eventually, after two lengthy sessions, the deed was done. The trees were free at last.

In retrospect, I could have done a neater job. Here, for example, is one of the liberated trees, where I simply cut the straps and walked away.

Stake-2

I should have tidied up instead of leaving a mess, but I was focused on helping the poor trees. And honestly, I didn’t think anyone would notice or care.

It seems I was wrong.

One recent Sunday morning, six months after the Great Liberation, Jake and I went walking at Jefferson Middle School.

When we reached the tennis courts, I did a double-take. The trees in question had been re-staked and re-strapped.

Someone at the school or the city took notice. Maybe they were indignant that some impudent vandal had the audacity to mess with their trees. Maybe they honestly think the trees still need the support. Maybe both.

I didn’t doubt the word of my friend the landscape expert, but I went online to learn more about the staking out of young trees. I found this pertinent bit of advice:

Generally, remove the stake the next growing season. If you add a stake in spring, remove in fall. If you stake in fall, remove in spring. Otherwise, the tree will depend on the stake and won’t stand on its own.

Ha! I was right, and those unknown city people, whoever they are, whatever the rationale for their actions, are knuckleheads.

Did I cut the new straps and liberate the trees a second time? No.

I’m no fool. Those trees could be under special surveillance by security cameras. Or the Jefferson cops might be in the woods on a stakeout (bada-boom), waiting for the perpetrator to strike again.

But no matter. The trees are okay for now. The straps won’t become embedded in the trunks again for a year or so.

Time is on my side.

Stake-3

Actions have consequences. So do inactions.

 

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Last week, I stopped at a local antique store to look at some very cool brass number plates with — well, this requires some background.

In the 1960s, the University of Georgia renovated Sanford Stadium, and most of the seating was replaced. Apparently, a fellow who worked on the project was enterprising enough to unscrew the number plates from the old seats and save them. God knows how many brass plates the guy snatched up. Hundreds, maybe thousands.

I have no idea how the seats were numbered back then (although I probably should, since I was a student at UGA in the 1960s), but the plate numbers seem to go no higher than 30. Maybe that was the maximum length of a single row.

Decades later, as a retiree, the man decided to start selling the plates. Every month or so, he would deburr and polish up a bunch and take them to the antique store, where he had them for sale on a revolving rack. His price: a modest $3.50 per plate.

The number plates were a hit, and sales were steady enough to keep the guy busy polishing and restocking.

He died last year, and his widow is handling the project now.

The plates are oval and two inches long. They are handsome, downright elegant little things. I carry one on the keychain to my RV.

Keys

I chose the number 26 because my birthday is January 26, and 26 is how many times I’ve been to Grand Canyon.

So, why did I go to the antique store last week to look at number plates? Because I just made reservations for a trip to Grand Canyon in September. When I return, I’ll need a 27 plate to replace the 26.

Okay, all that may be interesting, but it isn’t the reason I sat down to write this post. I sat down to write about Sadie, the antique store’s resident cat.

Sadie has been the store cat for eight years. To my eye, she is a rather homely, scruffy little thing with a drab gray coat — but then, I’m a dog person.

For a long time, a hand-lettered sign reading “DON’T LET THE CAT OUT” greeted you at the entrance. We regulars learned to enter the store quickly and shut the door before Sadie could zip past us. At times, it was a challenge. She always seemed to be looming near the entrance.

The sign notwithstanding, Sadie managed to get out regularly. To everyone’s relief, she never wandered far. And, when the spirit moved her, she simply followed a customer back inside the shop. Ultimately, the staff relaxed and took down the sign.

Last week, when I arrived at the store and got out of the car, I saw Sadie in the distance, approaching at a trot.

When I opened the front door, she was only a few yards behind me, closing fast. I stuck my head inside and said, “Hey, is it okay to let the cat in?”

The woman behind the counter looked out the window, whooped, and yelled, “Sadie’s back! Sadie’s back! Thank you, Jesus! Yes, please let her in!”

I stepped aside. Sadie sashayed into the store and went behind the counter to check her food bowl.

The woman scooped up the cat, hugged her to her bosom, and administered joyous kisses.

“She’s been missing for five days!” she said. “We thought she was gone for good — run over — killed by dogs — stolen! This is wonderful! Oh, thank you, Jesus!”

I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything.

“I’ve got to call Donna,” she suddenly announced, dropping the cat and picking up her cell phone. “Donna owns the shop. She’ll be so happy.”

Moments later, Donna answered, and her face appeared on the phone. “Donna!” the lady yelled, “Sadie’s back! She’s home!”

“WHAT!” Donna screamed. “Oh, thank God! Thank God!”

“This man saw her outside and let her back in!” said the other lady.

“What man?”

The lady aimed the phone at me.

“Hey, that’s Rocky!” said Donna. “I know Rocky! He’s my Grand Canyon guy! Rocky, bless you for bringing Sadie back!”

I tried to explain that I had nothing to do with it, but they were too excited to hear me.

For several minutes, the two of them reveled in this wonderful turn of events, their elation bringing them close to tears. Meanwhile, Sadie had curled up on a pet pad behind the counter for a snooze.

Soon, the adrenaline subsided, and the phone call ended. The woman composed herself and collapsed with a sigh into her chair. She sat there, looking at Sadie with a contented smile.

With normalcy restored, I turned my attention to the brass number plates dangling from the rack on the counter. The stock was low. They were out of 27s. Bummer.

I told the counter lady why I wanted a 27.

She said not to worry, the widow lady does “special requests” all the time. The store will ask her to polish up a 27 for me and drop it off the next time she restocks.

Two days later, the store called and said my number plate was ready.

Thank you, Jesus.

Sadie

Sadie the store cat. Note that she has been ear-tipped, which usually identifies a feral cat that has been caught, sterilized, and released.

 

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Last week in the Jefferson Kroger, I was met by a curious sight: approaching me in the aisle was a woman pushing a grocery cart in which was seated a toddler, a boy, who had both arms in the air and was bobbing his head rhythmically.

The sight became curiouser when the child burst into song.

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

His head bobbed to the beat. He pumped his upraised fists in time to the music playing in his head.

Frankly, he looked barely old enough to talk, much less sing rock songs. But there he was, belting out a tune nicely on key.

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

By then, our carts had passed in the aisle, and they were behind me. Even after I turned down the next aisle, I could still hear the boy singing heartily.

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

Eventually, the refrain ceased. Either he was too far away to be heard or his mom shut him up.

Oddly, the mom seemed focused on her shopping and oblivious to the boy’s performance. I wondered briefly if she might be hearing-impaired, but decided that was improbable.

Anyway, the child was truly in the zone, and I was happy for him. It’s good to, you know, let it all hang out.

Keep on rockin’ while you can, kid. The inhibitions, insecurity, and self-consciousness will bubble up soon enough.

We Will Wock You

Wocking the Jefferson Kroger.

The Queen classic We Will Rock You is an interesting song for various reasons, which I will address in my next post, a Tune o’ the Day.

 

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Since I moved back to Georgia in 1979, I’ve lived in five different places around Atlanta and Athens. And the one constant since my return has been regular trips north into the mountains to go hiking.

There was a time when I took multi-day backpacking trips, but that practice evolved into the more civilized pursuit of dayhiking. Over the years, I’ve been on many hundreds of hikes in the mountains and foothills of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.

For any given hike, my route to the mountains depended on where I lived at the time and where I was headed. By now, I’ve probably driven 90 percent of the roads, county, state, and federal, in the northern third of Georgia.

Sometime in the early 1990s, on my way north, I came upon an intriguing road sign that compelled me to stop and take a photo.

Bates Motel Road

It appeared to be a legitimate, official road sign, not a joke. The story behind it was a mystery, of course. All I could do was accept it as a humorous oddity and take the photo.

When I got home, I made a print and put it on the refrigerator. I also saved it as a .jpg and filed it away on my desktop.

But the novelty eventually wore off, and for the next couple of decades, I gave Bates Motel Road little thought.

But then, not long ago, a curious thought popped into my head. That photo of the Bates Motel road sign — where, exactly, did I take it?

I remembered the setting clearly, but I couldn’t recall the location. It could be anywhere in half a dozen counties in the North Georgia foothills.

For a while, when I drove north to go hiking, I made it a point to take different routes, hoping to find the elusive sign. No luck.

Then it dawned on me to look online. I Googled the words, Googled the image. I checked Google Maps and Google Earth. I searched various counties for “Bates Motel Road.”

I did all that and found nothing. Zip.

Why, for Heaven’s sake, could I find no record of any kind? Has the road been renamed? Was it bulldozed to make way for a subdivision? The subject bugs me greatly whenever I think about it. Which, lately, is often.

When you consider how many roads must exist in North Georgia, the odds are pretty slim of locating Bates Motel Road by searching randomly. It’s a needle-in-a-haystack situation.

Inevitably, the elusive road reminds me of the story of Brigadoon, the fictional Scottish village that is nowhere to be found except when it reappears for one day every century.

Then there is the 1957 movie “Raintree County,” a Civil War-era melodrama that takes place in the fictional Raintree County, Indiana. Essentially, it’s “Gone With the Wind” with Montgomery Clift in the Clark Gable role.

In the story, Raintree County is named for a romantic local legend that, hidden deep in the forest, is a magnificent Golden Raintree planted long ago by Johnny Appleseed. Find the Raintree, the legend says, and you will learn the secret of life itself. The locals consider it a nice fairy tale.

I remember the movie mostly for its ending. As the main characters emerge from a swamp after a dramatic climax, the camera pulls back to show the Raintree looming behind them, shining in golden splendor, still undetected. The End.

My road sign doesn’t qualify as magnificent or splendid. Just elusive.

And undoubtedly looming just out of sight.

North-GA

A needle-in-a-haystack situation.

 

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