Georgia on my mind

Melissa Stagnaro

Everyone has that list of places they want to visit some day. For me, that list has always had a special section reserved for our 50 states, where each is ranked based on their level of appeal in terms of travel or relocation potential.

Arkansas, for example, has always occupied the bottom rung. Oklahoma, only marginally higher. (It’s low-level ranking was, I’m afraid, sealed with that unfortunate musical.)

There are some states that I would assume would rank high on most peoples’ lists – like Hawaii and Alaska. Provided a trip to the latter was in the summer, of course.

There has always been more movement at the top of my list, with the top 5 or 10 shuffling depending on my mood. You’ll be happy to know that New York is topping the charts right now (although if Paterson stays in office much longer, that could definitely change). Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Connecticut and New Hampshire are all home to some of my favorite people, and therefor highly rated at present. Love going to see my peeps.

Florida typically is in that top pack as well, but its dropped back slightly of late since I already paid a visit to my southern-most relatives earlier this year. (It’s your turn to come here again next, Jess.)

The middle of the list is populated by those states that I don’t really have strong feelings about either way. That’s where, until recently, Georgia has always fallen.

Sure, it’s where the CDC and CNN are headquartered. Their peaches are good, and their gas cheap (a fact that I certainly appreciated driving to and from the Florida Keys). The airport in Atlanta isn’t on the list of those that I try to avoid, although I don’t go out of my way to pass through there like I do Cincinnati (great shopping!).

In general, I’ve always thought of Georgia as fair to midling. It would do in a pinch if I was out of other travel options, but I’ve never had any burning desire to visit.

Now, however, it has dropped into the danger zone I usually reserve for third world countries with a history of civil unrest. Like Sri-Lanka, or Eritrea.

I’m starting to wonder how long it will be before the state department issues a travel advisory.

In the last few months it seems like the news has been filled with stories about death and calamity befalling the residents of the so-called Empire State of the South. (Ummm, do you think New York could sue for some kind of copyright infringement for that rather presumptuous claim?)

These tales have been so off the wall, that I’ve found myself wondering if I’m reading actual news reports or if I have stumbled onto the plot of some cult horror flick by mistake.

But truth apparently is stranger than fiction, particularly in Georgia these days. Where else has an elderly couple been killed by wild dogs and a naked man hijacked a bus load of school kids. (The creepiest part of this last story was that he was originally at least partially clothed, but by the time they took him into custody he was wearing nothing but a condom. Ick.)

Oh, and there’s more. Plenty more. Like the pastor killed by police in a drug sting, the university professor who killed his wife and three others while his kids waited in the car and then took a detour on the way to the airport to dig his own grave and off himself, the guy who was stupid enough to return to the scene of the crime after murdering his entire family. Oh, and don’t forget that other guy who was also stupid enough to return to the scene of the crime after murdering HIS whole family.

And was I the only one creeped out when I learned that a hunter had stumbled upon the campsite used by convicted killer Gary Michael Hilton? Eek.

Apparently even checking your tire pressure is a dangerous activity in Georgia. That’s what a former boxing champ was doing when he was killed for his watch and championship ring. (See, Dad, that’s why I need you to check mine. I don’t want to risk it.)

And now I hear not even Cracker Barrel is safe. A woman was beaten half to death outside of one in Georgia by a man shouting racial epithets, while her 7-year old child looked on. But, don’t worry. He’s been banned from Cracker Barrels for life as a result.

Wow, way to make sure the punishment fits the crime. Not. But it does make me wonder: Do you think that guy who slapped a stranger’s toddler in a Georgia Walmart has suffered a similar ban? That could be a real hardship in some areas, where Wally World is the only game in town. But for this guy, being forced to work at a Chuck E. Cheese might be a harsher punishment.

I’ve started to pray daily for the continued safety and well-being of a high school friend of mine who lives there with her husband and young son. Even McDonough, where she grew up, is a lot more civilized. At least they don’t have people getting killed willy-nilly by wild dogs or random slapping incidents. (That I’m aware of, anyway.)

All in all, I think I’ll be avoiding any trips to the Peach State. In fact, I believe it’s safe to say that the state has managed something I didn’t think was possible. Yep, Georgia has actually displaced Arkansas as the U.S. State to which I am least likely to visit for any reason, let alone move to.

Upstate New York is looking pretty darn good by comparison, I think.