I’m looking out the window again, intensely studying the passing streetscape of what Augusta, Georgia calls downtown. This is the first bus ride of my second season with Mamma Mia.
At first, I am not charitable. I am struck by how shabby and downtrodden Augusta looks.
My insta-thumbs down surprises me. I recalibrate and look again.
I see the colorful homemade signs and creatively named establishments. (Ever heard of Tipsy McStumbles Bar? Or Spend A While Coffee Shop…?) I see a music store selling actual musical instruments. Why was my initial reaction negative, I ask myself. Then I realize. This place is not sleek and shiny and clean (or corporate). What it is, is original. It is then that I begin to see the humble origins, the work, struggle and striving in its facades.
Augusta has a bona fide department store named Ruben’s Department Store that looks just like the ones that existed when I was a child. And Ruben’s is fully stocked with shoes, hats, fashions for ladies “of a certain age”, and oversized, over-shiny costume jewelry. I peer through the windows and feel eight again.
And that, I suppose, is the appeal. There is something inherently nostalgic about the small towns, even for those of us who never came from a small town. Because so much about these towns stood still while we moved on. As if time really is slower here.
This can be bad. My taxi driver regaled me with stories of how rampant racism still is in these parts. Reluctant to change. A reminder of the way things used to be, both good and bad. On the good side, it reminds me of the downtown Miami streets of my childhood, with its glaringly bright department stores chock-full of lace and buttons and plastic costume jewelry and tiaras, and how I marveled at the way the shop ladies wrapped unsewn fabric around a mannequin and made it look so beautiful I quietly despaired at my inability to sew, all while my grandmother shopped for supplies or some thing, (which likely would’ve been called a “notion” if she or any of the Cuban shop ladies had known the cutesy English word for it.)
This is the wondrous part of the touring life, which can also be viewed as good and/or bad. You get to taste life in its endless variations. You find out Augusta was home to Woodrow Wilson AND James Brown (a variation of the Odd Couple) You get to remember the past and then you get to leave it behind again, because on tour, you are always barreling forward.
You go places where you’d never willingly go, and you leave places you’d never willingly leave. It’s a world where 2 days can feel like an eternity and a week goes by in a blink.
“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Kerouac
It’s a world that, thus far, has allowed me to experience the invigorating glory of Vancouver, the drawling charm of Savannah, the come-hither ruggedness of Boise and the cheesy-meaty earthiness of Milwaukee, as well as the unsettling je ne sais quoi of Salt Lake City, the dangerous-by-day ambiance of Jackson, and the strange sense of emptiness of Schenectady.
Tour is being everywhere and being nowhere. Tour is free travel but on someone else’s itinerary. Tour is always new or a tiring routine (you choose). Tour lets you walk the world, but doesn’t let you plant seeds in it. Tour doesn’t let you sit idle, but it doesn’t let you sit still.
My name is Eileen Faxas, and I am on tour, eyes wide open. Heart, too.