(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column of those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Augusta Press.)
Each spring the swallows come back to Capistrano; the buzzards come back to Hinckley, Ohio; and snow birds and Tiger watchers from all over the world come back to Augusta for the Masters Tournament.
When whippoorwills and owls start calling for mates in mid-March and pollen blankets the world in yellow, the Masters can’t be far behind.
Oh, that reminds me of my favorite owl story I’ll tell again later.
No News is Not Good News for News Writers
Local politics get shoved to the back burner when the Masters comes to town. Even hot topics like the job swap and cashing-in in the tax commissioner’s office cool temporarily. But Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick resigning to run for mayor and Deputy Tax Commissioner Chris Johnson stepping into Kendrick’s job and quietly hiring Kendrick as his deputy won’t be forgotten. Nor will the big raise and six months severance that followed Johnson into the commissioner’s office.
Kendrick might have given up the paycheck because of public criticism after the underhanded politics-as-usual maneuvers came to light, but the damage to his credibility will not fade like the Masters azaleas in just a few short weeks.
Other than the Mayor’s Masters Reception being such a flop this year, maybe because nobody wanted to be seen with a mayor who might soon be wearing stripes, and the flooding that swamped vehicles near the Marina and tornadoes all around Augusta, that’s about it for news this week except for former City Administrator Janice Jackson’s interviews of three District 6 Augusta Commission candidates on her pod cast “Local Matters,” which I will touch on briefly.
District 6 candidates Jackson interviewed April 6 were Mario D. Taylor Sr., Jeremy Johnson and Tony Lewis. She asked each to state their reason for running, their greatest accomplishment in public life and their first priority as a commissioner.
Taylor (The Common Man)
Taylor said he was running because the people had decided he should run because he’d worked in the Augusta government and knew it was time for a change and a new way of thinking. He said his campaign takes no endorsements or donations from entities doing business with Augusta.
(Well, that’s refreshing.)
“We’re there for the people,” Taylor said. “The people decided for me to be in the race.”
Taylor said his biggest accomplishment in public life is writing paychecks for his employees.
“It makes me proud to be able to create jobs,” he said. “Taylor Made.”
His first priority would be to make sure the people have a voice in government. He said he’d create a committee with members from every commission district and from all walks of life and listen to what they had to say.
South Augusta is the gateway to Augusta’s growth, Taylor said.
“Every exit ramp needs to be beautified,” he said. “You want people to stop. We have to build back. I’m a hands-on commissioner – trees and landscape, you name it. I’ve done it. I am the people. I am the common man. I want to get my hands dirty.”
(Well, sir, if you follow the tradition of some Augusta elected officials, past and present, you could very well get your hands dirty, but not in the way you’re thinking.)
Jeremy Johnson (The Real-estate Expert)
He’s said he’s running because he’s a product of District 6 who’s traveled the world in the military and has returned to District 6 to continue his career as a real-estate fund raiser.
(I must have missed something Johnson said there.)
He said his biggest accomplishment in public life is his housing development to build houses for veterans. He said he is a real-estate fund manager with experience in real estate and development.
Johnson’s first priority as District 6 commissioner would be to address the city’s policies to find out what’s not working and amend them to bring them up to date.
Not yet 40 years old, Johnson said he’s young enough to still be in the questioning stage of life. Having been out of the country for so much of his life teaching real-estate investment has kept him from having an “Augusta mind-set,” he said.
Tony Lewis (The Consensus Builder)
Lewis retired from Savannah River Site after 32 years. He said he ran for the District 6 seat in 2007, hoping to use his knowledge about infrastructure to help revitalize the district.
“I’m running for District 6, but representing Augusta as a totality,” he said.
Lewis said his greatest accomplishment in public life was accepting Jesus as his Lord and Savior and his involvement in a tutorial program at Mount Vernon Baptist Church 26 years ago. He said he is now an entrepreneur and business owner.
His first priority as commissioner would be to foster collaboration among the members.
The commission needs someone who can build consensus, and do what’s good for the community at large, he said.
“We can sit at the table and listen to each other,” he said. “We can get the job done.”
Next week we’ll report on Commission District 2 candidates interviewed on “Local Matters.”
Tales from the Masters
With so little local political news last week, I thought seriously about not writing a column, but then it occurred to me I could do it because I’ve been making silk purses out of sow’s ears for so long, I can do it blindfolded. Of course, some purses turn out better than others. That I do not deny. Some of the worst ones pertained to the Augusta National Golf Course parking, traffic, weather, flora and things like that. I never got to write about the golfers or the gambling among the patrons I saw while the tournament was going on. Never anything so interesting as that.
The Grass is Not Always Greener, Especially If You Can’t See it
When I first started working for the newspaper in Augusta, the editor sent me out to do a story on tournament parking, much of which took place in the yards of people owning houses adjacent to the golf course. The homeowners charged $10 or $15 dollars for all-day parking in their yards, and my job was to go knock on their doors and talk to them about it. They said they looked forward all year to making some extra money during the tournament. The folks were nice, and it was an OK assignment if it wasn’t raining. They’ve since all been bought out by the Augusta National, and the houses are gone.
Sometimes, the editor sent me out to do stories on the weather and the azaleas, which meant following people around and asking them what they thought about the azaleas. And then there were stories about golf fashions – what the well-dressed golf patron was wearing. It was lots of green. I think I remember seeing a woman whose skirt was covered in Masters’ tickets. Is that possible, or have I started confabulating already? Probably so, because the National folks are very particular about their image.
Once, I had to write a story about the huge wisteria vine, said to be the oldest in Augusta or the world or something like that. The hardest one I had to do, though, was a story on the grass at the golf course, which was especially challenging because the National’s spokesman, like the Cabots, spoke only to God.
So, when Jane Howington invited me to go to the tournament with her 10 years ago, I had mixed emotions. I was honored she’d asked but afraid somebody from the newspaper would see me and ask me to write about the grass again.
Teeing Off at 10
Jane told me to be at her house at 9:30 a.m., so we could drive to the Augusta Country Club and catch a 10 a.m. shuttle to the course. As we pulled out of her driveway, she called my attention to an old man on the sidewalk. She said he goes to the grocery store once a week and that she’d offered him a ride, which he refused. Since he was just standing there not moving, I said, “It must take him forever to get there,” to which Jane said, “He’s waiting for the bus. Didn’t you see the bus stop? To be a Phi Beta Kappa, you sure aren’t very smart.”
I said, “I never said I was smart. I just try harder.”
Well, she didn’t look so smart herself later at the tournament. She was peering through her binoculars trying to read the scoreboard until a man behind us told her she was looking through the wrong end.
“I wondered why everything looked so tiny,” she said.
We’d set our chairs up by the 16th green, two or three rows back, but we couldn’t see much because of a big pine tree, so we commandeered some empty chairs closer to the action. I was disappointed the azaleas weren’t blooming, but Jane said only the locals noticed that.
“The Yankees don’t know the difference,” she said.
Jane struck up conversations with everybody. We left our almost-ringside seats to walk around through muck and get something to eat. When we came back, our good seats had been taken, so we were back behind the big pine.
Around 3 p.m., the crowd started growing. They’d come to see Tiger Woods play. After he’d played, we left to catch the shuttle bus. And this is the last story I’ll ever write about the tournament.
I called Jane last week to reminisce and ask if she was going to the tournament.
“Last year was my last year to go to the tournament,” she said. “I’m in my eightieth year. We were young girls when we went.”
“Not young,” I replied. “Younger.”
“’Old,’ is the word,” she said.
“Old is good,” I said. “Old friends. Old times. Old memories. Old wine. And old money.”
Jane retired a year ago after 42 years of teaching Bible study five days a week at Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church on Walton Way and was honored with a lovely retirement party at the church.
I congratulated her for her remarkable career and said, “I’ll bet you know the Bible backward and forward.”
“Pretty much,” she said.
Now That Was a Hoot
When the tournament was over one year, Ernie and I went down to the garden to watch the jets fly out of the Thomson airport. We must have gotten there too early because all was quiet except for the hooting of a lonely owl.
We sat there awhile not saying much because there wasn’t much to say except to comment on the sad condition of the tomato plants we’d planted just in time for the latest cold snap. We always plant the tomatoes too soon and have to replant them. Sometimes more than once.
Still, it was nice and quiet except for the lonely owl. Then silently and suddenly out of nowhere three jets in succession rose over the treeline before turning south and roaring off.
Then all was quiet again. After a while, Ernie noticed the owl had quit hooting.
“I guess he didn’t want a bird that big,” he said. “He probably said, “Damn, I’d better shut up. I’m going back to my tree.”
We went back to the house shortly after that. Ernie said her just couldn’t take all the excitement.