Lexington, GA is a small town just outside of Athens, GA. Like other small towns, it has suffered at the creation of the interstate and lack of money coming into the town. The love and community this small town has is unparalleled to anywhere else we found.
After packing my GIANT ASS suitcase in the car yesterday morning, along with Brandan's suitcase, our cooler, our bag of Paleo snacks, a tub of random necessities, a santa suit, rain boots, jumper cables, 2 backpacks, 3 laptops, 2 kettlebells, and 1 dog, we were off!
We hopped on 26 just to get out of town, then stayed true to our Deep South road trip rules, and hit the back roads. Our route took us through a number of small towns, all of which looked the same. Small, run down, and mostly forgotten about. St. George, Denmark, Bamberg. We've never been to Augusta, which was a surprisingly pretty town with lots of really large, old Victorian homes. We had to get on I-20 for a few miles to catch 78 up to Lexington, GA but all in all we did a pretty good job of seeing the South. Here's our route:
Just outside of Lexington, we started passing a number of farms. Cows & goats grazing in pastures, horses lazily meandering around open fields. All of a sudden Brandan yells, "What is THAT? Is that an OSTRICH? No, no - its an EMU!"
And an emu it was. We turned around and pulled over to the side of the road, and he (she?) came right up to the edge of the fence. I snapped a couple of pictures with my iPhone, because I was certain when I tried to tell people that we saw an emu on a Georgia farm, they wouldn't believe me. Our emu friend patrolled the fence right along side of us, all the way back to the car. Better than any guard dog; I'm sure that thing would have taken my hand off if I had tried to reach over the fence. But it sure was pretty!
Once we arrived in Lexington, GA we couldn't find our Airbnb. The place the Maps app identified as the correct address looked a bit...well, sparsely decorated. And by sparsely decorated, I mean there was a shell of a building with 3 brick walls and no roof. I started to get worried that we had been "had" on Airbnb.
So I popped into the only store I could find open. It was called Oglethorpe Fresh, and it seemed to be some sort of local grocer that also sold a number of other random goods - soap, pottery, jewelry, music.
There was no one in the place that I could see, but as I headed towards the back, I saw a larger gentleman in overalls sitting in a barber's chair, getting his hair cut by a middle-aged woman. I greeted them, and told them I was looking for directions. I'm not going to do this part of the story justice, because you can't hear my southern accent impression when you're reading, but these were just the people we were looking for, and that's all I'll say.
The gentleman getting his hair cut went by the name of Walter, and Walter hollered (literally, hollered) for Linda, and Linda suddenly appeared out of nowhere from the back. She said the only possible place we could be staying was the building across the street, and walked me outside to point me to it.
Linda was a talker. I wonder if when you live in a small town, you crave interaction with people other than the ones you see every day. I learned Linda had spent most of her career in Charleston, which was random but gave us common ground and kept the conversation going. We talked all about the evolution of the city, and how the Francis Marion Hotel used to be in a questionable area of town. She shared a bit of history about Lexington, and why she was there - it was her hometown, and she had come home and started this store to try to help revitalize and give the people of Lexington a voice and a place to sell their goods.
Before we headed off to our apartment, Linda mentioned that on Friday nights, they have a little potluck dinner in the back of the store and a jam session with a band, and we were welcome to stop by. Locals come by with some homemade dishes, soup, cornbread. People graze all night. Bands play. People talk. This. This is everything. This is the culture we are on the hunt for, and we found it on our first stop.
We couldn't show up to a potluck empty handed. Luckily we had brought some of Brandan's smoked brisket in the cooler, so we stopped and got some toothpicks, and made a little platter for people to snack on. Folly had been invited too, so the three of us headed over with brisket in hand around 8:00pm.
Picture this: a back warehouse of a store.Walter, in his overalls, with his fresh haircut, at the door greeting people. Two large tables, with a spread of homemade food: a pot of soup full of potatoes, collards, rice and beans; deviled eggs, cornbread, salad. Lots of folding chairs, some tables, a couple of couches and armchairs scattered around. A guy named Johnny who offers you whisky out of a paper bag. Forty or so people, scattered around, some of who drove 10 or 15 miles just to be there.
And of course, Linda singing. Because Linda is apparently the heart of everything in the Lexington community. Turns out when she's not championing the Lexington community or running her local market, Linda's singing at her potluck on Friday nights. (PS - Brandan did the research on Zoma the Killer for you - apparently it's an old circus side show, and we believe this to be an authentic (antique?) side show banner from back in the day.)
And ya'll, she is GOOD. I did a quick Facebook Live last night from the event, check it out:
After Linda's band wrapped up, the Redstone Ramblers came on. Last night was full of surprises, and these guys were no exception. And if you ever need a reminder not to judge a book by its cover, the lead singer is it. I highly recommend you check them out.
I spent some time chatting with Linda about her work in the community before we left last night. She was getting ready to move back to Charleston, and then she was nominated to be head of their local preservation/restoration society, and decided to stay. The local Chamber of Commerce and Business Bureau are butting heads with her, fighting back on the things she's doing to bring the town together.
Why? Why get in anyone's way that's trying to bring life back to a community like this one? It's sad when people feel threatened by other people's successes. Towns like this need someone like her - someone who will stand up for them, be their voice, bring people together and create a community again. We were there less than 24 hours, and it was clear just in that time that without Linda, there wouldn't be much of anything in Lexington. Everyone knew her, and she knew everyone.
We chatted with a few other people at the show last night, and they all said the same thing: Lexington is a small town, a poor town, and Linda often doesn't get the credit she deserves.
So I leave you with today's life lessons, which are two-fold:
Lesson 1: If you open yourself up to the world, the world will respond.
Call it the universe, call it serendipity, call it whatever you want. We went into this trip with only the plan to visit each town, talk to locals, and learn. Learn about their history, their lives, and how things have changed for them. And learn we did. We had no expectations going in, and we were provided with the best possible experience we could have had. Lexington, GA has set the bar high for this trip, but I'm confident with open minds and open hearts, we can find a Linda in each town. The world is speaking to you. You just have to stand still and be quiet long enough to hear it.
Lesson 2: If you are passionate about your work, and believe in what you're doing, no one can stop you.
Linda said to me last night, "my work isn't done here." And she's right. It's evident how important she is to that community. There's always going to be naysayers. You're always going to create waves if you're swimming upstream. But it's not the fish that ride the current that get remembered. It's the ones who create the waves, who fight for what they believe in.
We had lunch at a bar in Athens called The World Famous, which is owned by a guy I went to high school with. There was a sign in the bar that resonated with me, and the conversations I had with Linda. "No good without bad. No bad without good." There's always going to be another side to things. Follow your heart, though, and the rest will follow.