For four years, Charles Salter had the greatest job in the state of Georgia. As "Georgia Rambler" columnist for the old Atlanta Journal, he toured the Peach State in a customized station wagon in search of stories.
Sometimes he'd draw on the contacts he'd made writing the paper's fishing column.
"Other times I would leave home cold turkey," he recalled during a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the modern amalgamation of the afternoon newspaper Salter wrote for and the morning paper it merged with.
During Salter's stint as the Georgia Rambler from 1976 to 1980, social networking meant showing up in small-town diners or barbershops and shaking loose tales he saw fit for the newspaper, the wireless device in widespread use at the time. There were yarns about North Georgia moonshiners and gold miners. A tribute to the pair of Butts County sisters who saw no need for electricity or running water in their 1893 farmhouse, built by their father. A stemwinder on the retired blues singer from Griffin who'd known Al Capone and thought him one of the sweetest people she'd ever known, his unfortunate "mistakes" notwithstanding.
"It was fun talking to the former moonshiner who was never caught," Salter said. "The next day, I interviewed the retired revenuer."
For decades, his old clips and photographs remained in the basement. Then in 2010, the "Georgia Rambler" was resurrected thanks to a segment on "This American Life," a weekly show produced by Chicago Public Radio and distributed by Public Radio International. Salter's daughter-in-law, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lisa Pollak, is a producer on "This American Life," and she and several others traveled south to reprise Salter's former gig. After the "Georgia Rambler" episode aired on July 30, 2010, Salter heard from the History Press in Charleston, S.C. A collection of his old columns was published last year.
"It was really heartwarming to know that after all these years, people would still be interested in the old human interest stories," Salter said. "So many people are transferred to Atlanta and they live inside 285. They might go down to Jekyll Island, they might go down to Savannah, but they don't see what I call the real Georgia."
"The Georgia Rambler: A Potter's Snake, the 'Real Thing' Recipe, a Satilla Adventure and More" is available at historypress.net or amazon.com.
With summer winding down, here are a few more titles to take you on a literary roadtrip through Georgia:
"Between, Georgia" by Joshilyn Jackson (Grand Central Publishing, 2006, 304 pages). Small town meets family drama with lots of wacky characters and a few spooky elements tossed in for good measure. Is there a better combination?
"The Orchard" by Jeffrey Stepakoff (Thomas Dunne Books, 2011, 336 pages). Overworked Atlantan steps out of her stilettos to seek refuge in the North Georgia mountains and crosses paths with a handsome apple farmer. Mmm. Delicious.
"My Reading Life" by Pat Conroy (Nan A. Talese, 2010, 352 pages). The chapter of this nonfiction book set in Atlanta chronicles the novelist's time here. It's a fascinating look back at the early days of Atlanta's now flourishing literary community. (Michael Jackson once stopped by a now-shuttered Juniper Street used book store in search of a rare volume? Who knew?)
"Searching for Eternity" by Elizabeth Musser (Bethany House, 2007, 428 pages). A French teenager is shipped off to live with relatives in Atlanta in the 1960s. As the city navigates the civil rights era, he must learn strange new customs, such as eating Varsity hot dogs instead of the baguettes and jam he loved at home.
"Silver Sparrow" by Tayari Jones (Algonquin Books, 2011, 352 pages). Two girls share one father, who tries to keep their paths from ever crossing. That works about as well as you'd expect, and the girls' relationship propels the narrative.
"In My Father's Garden" by Lee May (University of Alabama Press, 2002, 224 pages). In this elegantly written and often funny memoir, a shared love of the earth helps a Georgia gardener and his estranged father reunite.