Monday commences the greatest week in sports. Actually the fun starts Sunday though the revelers are rolling in now.
If you’re in town feel free to roam Washington Road and adjacent areas – nice and clean and ready to entertain this one week out of the year. It’s not always like that.
If you return to Washington Road any other week of the year, the stores will all be as you remember them, and the traffic almost as bad as you remember. What’s gone, however, is the frisson: Gone are the smiling white men in Easter egg-hued pants streaming onto the grounds clutching their golden badges. Gone are the entrepreneurs selling those men Macanudos and Cohibas and Ashton Churchills as fat as a pipefitter’s fingers. Gone is the tent for the Christian Motorcyclists Association Resurrection Riders with tattooed men in “Riding for the Son” jackets hawking pop the color of antifreeze, and the black guy on the sidewalk with a hand-lettered sign advertising “cold juicy apples” from an old Styrofoam cooler that appears to have recently held bait. Hooters — yeah, it’s still here, still packed, but now the crowd comes for Monday Night Football, not the Green Jacket Bikini Contest.
What’s gone, in short, is the party, and the feverish city-wide embrace of golf and belief in its saving powers, or at least belief in the redemptive power of golf’s money, and the feeling — for a single week in April — as real and heady as the azalea-drenched air that, just maybe, all things are possible here.
Summer doesn’t abandon Georgia by late October. Step outside and a soft washcloth-slap of humidity reminds you that you’re in the South. The sky has the kind of look that wouldn’t be welcome if on a boat a far piece from land — bright but reconsidering, edged with cauliflower cumulus. In the yards not far from the National, the azalea blossoms have been replaced by red Georgia football pennants. This is Dawg country. The only challenge to their popularity is the political yard sign. It’s election season in Augusta. And many Augustans say the autumn’s mayoral race is crucial — the indicator whether this city will finally grope its way forward.
This is a city still shaking off the blows of its past, some of them subtle, some as sharp as grenade blasts: a violent race riot in 1970 that drew national attention, suburban malls that sprang up in the late ’70s, further decimating the once-vibrant downtown. Between 1950 and 1986, the city’s population dropped more than 40 percent, from a high of 72,000 to 42,000. Augusta was dying. So in 1996 voters agreed to merge governments with the surrounding county.
Suddenly — immediately — shrunken Augusta became swollen Augusta-Richmond County, the second-largest municipality in Georgia behind Atlanta — 200,000 people today. A chunk of Georgia that spraddles from high-rises to piney-woods, all under the name Augusta. During last year’s Masters, the local newspaper, The Augusta Chronicle, reported the arrest of a local man for making moonshine.
The consolidation was supposed to be salvation, but it hasn’t worked out that way.
Chris Solomon wrote those words ten years ago, yesterday. And salvation still alludes Georgia’s second city. Some things have changed for the better: the interstates have been rebuilt and widened, making escapes faster. Others changed for the worse: Darius Rucker continues to plague the area each Spring. A few more government contracts and monies, a little more traffic, more sex trafficking. Most Augustans are willfully oblivious to most of reality. The sacred pile of magic bricks collapsed late last year, casting a pall of misery over the already struggling Detroit of the South.
There is the Masters though. And the big tent at Hooters!
Not all is bad in the Dead City…