Sam Burnham, Curator
You've probably seen the Deportation Bus by now. While you may not have seen it in person you've likely seen a Michael Williams ad or a news story about the school bus turned campaign slogan that is making the round in the Peach State. The gray and white bus is labeled "Follow Me To Mexico" and "Warning: Murderers, Rapists, Kidnappers, Child Molestors (sic), and Other Criminals on Board." It is the metaphor that the gubernatorial candidate has hatched to represent his take on illegal immigration.
And I get it. It is proven that there is some criminal activity among the illegal population in the state. There is some gang activity. There have been murders and rapes. There have been DUIs that led to serious injuries and deaths. And people are not being unreasonable to believe that a total disregard for immigration law hints at lawlessness. We should enforce our laws strictly and consistently. We should have zero tolerance for serious crimes and property damage from illegal aliens. I'll not dispute that for one minute.
But the Deportation Bus is not the only bus in this conversation. There are other buses involved. In the next month or so, in the fields of Crisp County, people will line up and begin cutting watermelons. They'll pass them from person to person until they arrive and a specially customized bus. The top is cropped off save what provides shade to the driver. the seats are removed to form a makeshift truck bed as high as the bottoms of the windows. They pile it slap full to the brim with watermelons and then it pulls off to the market while a newly returned and empty bus pulls up to take its place. And they relay the buses all day. It is not unusual to be following one, have one behind you and have several of them pass you in a row heading the other direction. That's a typical Cordele Rush Hour, except it lasts all day.
The trick is, the workers in the fields are most likely illegal aliens. Many of them have likely come to the area after the peach or onion harvests, or maybe even both. These aren't jobs that machines can do. But they are vital jobs to our state. Agriculture is our top industry. We are the Peach State. Georgia is, by law, the only place where Vidalia Onions can be grown. Crisp County is known as the Watermelon Capital of the World. It is more than a business, this is who we are as a state.
Let's be honest for a minute. These aren't "American jobs" being "stolen." You're not about to work all day picking watermelons in the South Georgia sunshine. I know I'm not. It's a labor intensive, sweaty, hot, low-paying job. No one is getting rich off the watermelons. Despite being the number one producer of watermelons, Crisp County is the poorest in the state. And if you see the grocery store prices on a water melon and then you see the labor and transport involved, you see what the problem is. If you want to pay $15 for a watermelon, then the farmers can pay the harvesters more. But you don't want to pay $15 for a watermelon any more than you want to spend all day picking watermelons in the hot Georgia sunshine. I know I don't.
Consider this. You're not going to find a bunch of murderous gangsters in the fields. They don't want to be out there either. They can make more money selling drugs, pimping prostitutes, robbing people, kidnapping for ransom, whatever gangsters do. A person who spends all day picking watermelons is going to go home, eat dinner, spend some time with their family, and go to bed. They don't have a lot of time for foolishness. They have to spend all day tomorrow filling old school buses with watermelons. These are typically honest, hardworking people who took a chance at a better life. And the may not even want to stay here forever. They understand the Economy of Place, they love their homes and want to go back. But by working in our fields they can earn a better life back there.
I'm a third generation American on one branch of the family. My great-grandparents fled the onset of communism in Eastern Europe in the latter days of World War I. They went through Ellis Island, completely legal and by the books. So I understand the desire to flee. But I also understand the need to have it done legally. What we don't have in place is a true and functional guest worker program where farmers can go through legal channels to hire crews to pick crops. Such a program would allow for background checks, medical screenings, or other safety measures that would ensure that the workers are the sort of people we want to come in. The who;e process could be above the table. Clean and legal labor for the farmers who need it. And workers could follow the seasonal work as the year progresses. That's really a win-win for everyone.
So let's save the deportation hyperbole for those who really do fit the descriptions on that bus. Let's find a way to allow some honest dads to take care of their families and probably help their hometown economy in the process. Let's be strict about our laws but let's pass wise laws to be strict about. Let's keep those watermelon buses rolling. It's getting to be summertime. And it is tough to beat a cool slice of watermelon on a hot summer day.
Coach Drew Burnham, ABG College Football Analyst
It’s that wonderful time of year again when the highways and High School hallways are filled with college football coaches on a wide-reaching quest for the next generation’s best football talent. The expedition is exciting, ever changing and completely unpredictable. Try as you may to plan your days as well as possible, the inevitable always finds you and your path is disrupted in ways you could never imagine. Every lead must be trusted and every stone must be overturned for fear that the unrealistic outlier is the next big name in college football. That wouldn’t be the case if there weren’t so many of those stories every year in the game. Then again – if there weren’t that many of those stories this great game would lose some of its luster.
The odyssey takes you to many small towns looking for their young Friday night hero. What’s the best thing about small towns OTHER THAN their tremendous knack for producing football players? That’s right – It’s the food! My recent recruiting trip lead me to cover 2,767 miles in 10 days without leaving my state. I saw the overwhelming majority of South Georgia which is the most notorious region of our great state when it comes to producing hard-working, gritty, talented young players. It is also home to countless aforementioned small towns overflowing with the best food you’ve never heard of. While you’re on the road and recruiting is your primary focus…a man’s gotta eat. Todd Blackledge thought he had it going on with “Taste of the Town” but he’s never worked for it quite like I did. I’m not saying these are the absolute best places in South Georgia (There were certainly more I was crushed that I couldn’t get to) but I found these and promise that if you are to one day also stumble into them, you could do so free of worry or disappointment. These are the best I found in their genre over the last 2 weeks.
DISCLAIMER: The NCAA prevents me from naming people or schools so if you want to get a few levels deep into this, or you just really like high school football, start your own google map scavenger hunt to see if you can find out where I was.
CHANDLER’S DRIVE IN – THOMASVILLE
The walls are covered with jerseys and autographs of past athletic greats of 2 storied programs that call the city home. I got a Double Cheeseburger with a side of fries and a Large drink for the road for less than $5. When the cashier told me my total I had her go back through my order with me just to make sure she heard me correctly. She seemed like it was odd that I would be surprised and asked if I was out of town. I just smiled and replied “something like that” as I handed her the cash. The burger was smaller (it was 2.79…get 2 if you’re really hungry) and the fries would remind you of Steak & Shake except they were good. I’m told that chili dogs and breakfast sandwiches are both extremely safe plays as well. Grab yourself your favorite flavor milkshake on your way out. There is no industrial mixer in the back…
JERSEY’S PIZZA – WATERS AVE, SAVANNAH
What do you do when you’re in a bit of a time crunch trying to make sure you get to every school you’ve got to get to? Grab a slice. While they are definitely able to make you whatever you want, the lunch special is the way I went. 2 slices and a drink OR 1 slice, a salad and a drink for 6.49. This isn’t some knock off pizzeria. The slices are legit in size and quality. It’s tough to do buffet style pizza without sacrificing quality but Jersey’s figured it out. It’s heated from underneath, not just with a lamp overhead. Best slice I’ve had in quite a while. I didn’t walk in with high expectations. Just trust it…
BBQ PIT – CORNER OF 1ST AVE & 3RD ST, MOULTRIE
As a big BBQ guy, this decision was the toughest because there were a LOT of contenders. What set the pit aside wasn’t the thick-sliced savory BBQ or the sweet sauce that was out of this world good….it was the sides. The pit was the total package: Cabin building, BBQ, Sauce, Vegetables, sweet tea, waitress named Ethel. What a time to be alive! The Pit ran away with the BBQ race in the same way that you have picked your favorite BBQ restaurant. Tell me why you like it the most. You don’t know! You can’t verbalize why it’s the best. It’s just good! Prices were reasonable by my memory although I can’t say for sure. Man, the people of Moultrie sure do love their football.
BUBBA JAX CRAB SHACK – VALDOSTA
While the waitress could not support the Shorter Hawk Logo on my shirt, she treated me like family just the same. Customer service at this place is at a premium. It was likely the friendliest place I was in all week. It was like a chic-fil-a. Eat-mor-fish. I had eaten a late lunch and wasn’t in search of something big. I ordered the Shrimp and grits app. Y’all…. For real. If you’re in Valdosta make it happen. Get it as the app and treat yourself to something else also, but make sure you get the shrimp and grits. If you’re even driving past Valdosta on your way to Florida for vacation…make it happen. This is not a recommendation. Get to Bubba Jax.
BERNIE’S OYSTER HOUSE RIVER ST, SAVANNAH
Shut up Bernie, shut up. You had me at hello. This place grabs you as soon as you step foot in the door. I stayed for an hour and a half after I was finished just hanging out. It was a Tuesday night so the tourist traffic was very low. This seemed to be the locals place on River Street. Waitresses were calling patrons by name. I felt like I was in an episode of cheers. I just didn’t want to leave. Save the tourist stuff for later. If you’re on River Street, get to Bernie’s. Joe’s Crab shack will still be there. Get in there, grab you a coke and a shrimp po’boy. Kick back, stay a while, tell stories, listen to better stories and enjoy yourself. I really enjoyed this spot and you will too.
There you have it. Those are my top recommendations from the previous trip. Leave comments or reach out with suggestions. This won’t be the last trip to this area. I can’t wait to get back down there and try out your favorite spots.
For all the scraped knees and runny noses.
For all the late nights working on the school project that is due tomorrow.
For all the weekend mornings a big breakfast was on the table.
For every prayer said over one of us.
Through every tear - joyous or sorrowful.
For being there especially when no one else was.
For all y’all have done, both seen and unseen.
A happiest of Mother’s Days from ABG.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire