The Ghost of FDR
Last summer my friend Dan Forrest invited me to come down to a motorcycle rally he hosts in Warm Springs, Georgia known as the “Xtreme Rider Rally”. The Rally was on a warm weekend in April, generally the same time each year. Dan’s in the business and his biker apparel shop of the same name is the epicenter of the event. I had not been down to Warm Springs in a few years and looked forward to it. I packed up the American Biker Lawyer truck and trailered an old panhead down to bop around town with my marketing gal Kerry and my girlfriend Mandy. We made no real overnight accommodations, leaving that up to luck, whim and availability. Leaving out before sunrise on a warm spring Saturday morning, we arrived 9 ish looking for that 2nd cup of coffee. We were warmly greeted by Dan and his lovely wife, Dr. Sue.
We proceeded to set up our marketing booth early Saturday morning. I then kick started my bike and took an early tour of the little town, population, 410 people (2014 Census). There was a clean little main drag WAY off the interstate, which insulated the town from much progress, for the good or for the bad depending on your outlook. I found the village charming. I was directed by several people to the same singular Hotel on Main Street, when inquiring about a night’s accommodations. The little village of Warm Springs, with its one traffic light, has curio shops, restaurants, clothing stores, a post office, a gas station, a motorcycle apparel business (Dan’s) and the “Hotel Warm Springs”. The hotel had one room left. A whitewashed three-story brick walkup with 100-year-old architecture and ice cream and gift shop off the old school lobby. The room really was an apartment with claw foot tub and corner pedestal sinks in bedroom, living room and sitting room. It included breakfast served in the common dining room and cost a whopping $89.00 for three of us. I paid cash and took my key (yes, a real metal key) leaving the exploration of the property for later. I got back on my bike in the morning sun and twisted the throttle up Main Street which was clogged with bikers shopping in the gift shops and milling about the covered sidewalls reminiscent of a western cow town. Everywhere I rode I was reminded of the foremost historical event ever to have occurred in Warm Springs. While George Washington did not sleep there, Franklin Delano Roosevelt did die there. Yes, our 32nd President, affectionately known to the world as FDR, expired at his summer retreat known as the “Little White House” on April 12, 1945 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Now a museum on the National Register of Historic places, the ‘Little White House’ is a charmingly preserved museum of sorts. A lovely tour of the grounds can be had on the bike under the shade of centuries old oaks on the quiet roads in an around the property just off the village. You can actually walk through the room in which FDR died. Incidentally, he was sitting for his presidential portrait at the time, being painted by artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff when he slipped away to the ages. The “Unfinished Portrait” still hangs on the easel in that little house along with all FDR’s belongings as they did the day he died. A little eerie but great American history, just an hour South of metro Atlanta.
By the time I rode my little pan bobber back into the village it was lunchtime and the Xtreme Rider rally was in full swing. Dan Forrest, the organizer of the rally was busy as one armed pimp at a bitch slapping contest. The band, Roadhouse, rocked on and the beer flowed. Bikes came and went out of the parking lot in steady streams all alternatively enjoying the camaraderie of the rally as well as the beauty of the local curves all around Meriwether County. I made my way into Dan’s biker apparel store (Xtreme Rider) and made several purchases. One, I bought a nice chrome studded leather “T” style bag for the rear of my Fat Boy for overnight duty. Just over a hundred bucks! Some helmet stickers, a new bandana, and even a summer duty half shell helmet at a good price. My girl made her way upstairs to the “consignment shop”, not much different than a thrift store, but just for bikers. She scored a nice Michael Kors handbag for 10 bucks and for another 10 bought me a ‘dew cover’ for my dresser that could second as a roadside blanket in a pinch.
In the meets and greets of the weekend I met a good friend of Dan’s, Jeff Bunn, full time commercial metal fabricator, part time drift trike builder and weekend stand up comedian. A funnier son of a bitch I’ve never met. Kept my girl and me in stitches all weekend. Incidentally, we attended the unveiling of the “Fallen Biker Memorial” on the grounds of Xtreme Rider on Saturday. Conceived by Dan and built by he and his friends (especially Jeff Bunn, the comedian metal fabricator) it was dedicated that weekend and is only one of a few memorials built to remember fallen riders across the US. A real Harley Davidson sits perched atop a sturdy iron upright and bears a plaque that you really should read yourself when you visit the area.
Saturday night I had the pleasure of having dinner out at Dan and Sue’s where we dined with them and another friend, famed biker novelist Wayne Littrell, in Dan and Sue’s beautiful home they’ve built together. It was a great evening filled with Sue’s fabulous cooking, Wayne’s stories and the occasional MOOOOOO of the Angus cows surrounding Dan and Sue’s homestead. After dark, we made our way back to town and pulled up to the darkened hotel to have a look-see. The front lobby was locked but the key to the ‘side door’ worked just as Gerry the proprietor said it would. It creaked eerily as did the old wide plank floors and each and every step up the big staircase to our room. Despite being full of bikers the Hotel was quiet as a church. We settled in and I decided to enjoy a cigar in my boxer shorts and slippers on the front patio. I sauntered down to the darkened Main Street alone and lit my cigar, which was about the only light on the main drag besides the single stop light on the corner that cycled green to red despite a lack of traffic. I walked along the short avenue before the hotel and admired the many bikes, mostly dressers, leaning left at the curb. Before you knew it I had wandered to the end of the town, stogie in my mouth, in my boxer shorts! I peered off down the street into the darkness where I thought I had heard a car approaching but none ever appeared. A thick fog crept across the road in the cooling night air over the street and I got that ‘not-alone’ feeling that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. I thought I could see figures walking the shoulder of the road and perhaps some voices but never could focus on them. I convinced myself that it was teenagers or revelers at a biker party somewhere off in the distance, maybe cows, anything but ghosts. The mind works funny trick on you in the still of midnight especially when thoughts of a dead FDR and the generations of locals buried in the town cemetery nearby invade your brain. I made haste to the Hotel realizing the ridiculousness of my folly yet double stepped my retreat to the Hotel side door. My hand no sooner hit the locked knob before I realized my lack of a key. That split second of panic set in before I took a deep breath and turned to see nothing but a row of parked bikes gleaming in the full moon. No phone, no key, HELL — NO PANTS! I considered my options, realized my girl probably fell asleep and knew I was stranded. After some time and a bit of a chill I devised a plot that worked like a charm. Only a savvy biker could concoct such a scheme to save themselves from the inevitable death by the ghosts in Warm Springs Georgia. It was then that I committed the unthinkable and walked along the rows of bikes on main street and shook each one until ultimately, I set off a blaring alarm on a big Road Glide. It was then I retreated to the park bench next to the side door waiting for the poor slob who thought treachery was being committed against him and his machine. Before I was able to puff my now very short stogie once the side door unlocked and swung open. Not 1 but 4 burly men rushed past me, 2 carrying pistols! Oh ‘shit’ was my thought. They didn’t even notice me slip into the lobby in the dark before the door slammed behind them. I propped a little block of wood in case they too were keyless and coolly breezed upstairs. The men were not far behind and I heard them laughing about “that damn HD alarm system”. I laughed too. To myself.
If you get down to Warm Springs, don’t miss Dan and Sue’s shop for some unique biker wear at good prices. Don’t miss the Little White House where FDR died. Don’t miss the old Hotel Warm Springs and maybe, just maybe, if you get locked out of the hotel in the middle of the night in your underwear, don’t miss the ghost of FDR. I did.
Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home. –Irish
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