Thursday, August 16, 2007

08/14 - A love-hate relationship

Date August 14, 2007
Section(s) Commentary

Walter Geiger

Guest Columnist

When I was a kid, my family took frequent trips to Jekyll Island.

Our destination was just an hour's drive south on Highway 17 from our Savannah home.

I can remember my excitement at seeing the signs for Jekyll just on the other side of the 'big bridge' in Brunswick.

I always tried to hold my breath going over the 'big bridge'. I was a teenager before I could make it across.

Of course, that bridge has now been replaced by an even bigger bridge that nearly requires supplemental oxygen to traverse.

Growing up, we went to Tybee Island all the time but Jekyll held a special appeal.

It had hotels named Wanderer and Buccaneer, conjuring up visions of Pirates, their ships and hidden booty in my fertile young mind.

Speaking of booty, I was traipsing through a wooded area just inland from the Jekyll dunes on one trip when I came across a couple on a beach towel in the throes of passion. I was too young to understand precisely what it was they were doing and they were too entranced with each other to notice my presence.

After a long moment, I left them to their embrace, wondering what it was I had just witnessed.

When I returned to school in the fall, a kid named Charles explained it all to me.

He was, after all, in the sixth grade and an expert on matters of the heart.

Jekyll also had the Aquarama with its huge indoor pool and a high dive to die for.

A belly flop off that baby would leave red whelps on your stomach for a week and a perfectly executed can opener would send a splash what seemed to be a mile in the air.

For whatever reason, my family quit going to Jekyll.

My trips there resumed when we began attending the annual Georgia Press Association convention.

We always looked forward to the GPA convention and still do.

GPA took thousands of journalists to Jekyll each year until someone down there botched our reservations for meeting facilities and we moved it to Hilton Head at the last minute.Suddenly, our horizons were expanded.

This triggered a fight within GPA that lingers to this day. Some publishers want resort standard accommodations which Jekyll, sadly, does not have.

Others insist we stay in Georgia or they won't participate.

I was vice-president of GPA during the convention when we used the Aquarama facility for meetings for the last time.

I had to preside over the evening's festivities and was nervously pacing outside the building while going over in my head what I was going to say.

We had checked into our room earlier in the day to find an elongated toilet with a normal toilet seat attached.

This enraged my bride and made toileting a tad difficult for me.

Others had endured similar experiences.

Sentiment to move the convention from Jekyll permanently was running red hot.

The Aquarama air conditioning was on the fritz and its huge windows were steamed over.

I watched as our colleagues arrived.

The men were in black tie. The women were dressed to the nines.

They gathered in groups of eight to 10 in the parking lot before entering the building.

Then, the automatic sprinkler system came on and drenched them all under its spray.

That pretty much knocked Jekyll off my list for good.

That was 15 years ago and Jekyll has deteriorated drastically since. Now its biggest annual convention is that of the Barnesville-based Georgia Rural Water Association. It's executive director, former Barnesville mayor Jimmy Matthews, says his convention takes in excess of 3000 people to the island."

There is only one decent hotel now.

All the rest don't have the cash flow to maintain their facilities," Matthews laments.

There is hope on the horizon, however.

The Jekyll Island Authority has finally seen the light and is partnering with private developers who want to tear down the old lodging and erect new, modern hotels with meeting facilities of their own.

The authority has drawn heavy fire from many quarters for an alleged 'sweetheart' deal cut with one development firm.

I say let the developers take their best shot at Jekyll.

The place is a dump!

Private developers can do it no more harm than Georgia's ongoing negligence has.

No comments: