Scene & Herd - Living My Life

Like it's golden

Long before it became that quaint little fudge-n-muscadine-soaked gateway to the beautiful mountains of North Georgia, Dahlonega was the site of the country's second gold rush, in 1828. The biggest of its old mining operations, the Consolidated Gold Mine, is still around as a tourist attraction. Consolidated's facility rests atop a vein that was so famously gold-rich in its day that it became known, I kid you not, as the "glory hole." These days it offers a chance to pan for gold and tour old mine shafts. It's also the venue for the world's premier competitive gold panning event, the Annual World Open & Georgia State Open Gold Panning Championships.

I walked into Consolidated just in time for the Sunday afternoon Gold Panners Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Mildred Norrell. Inducted for, among other things, her "skill, records, feats, loyalty and integrity to the art of gold panning," Norrell was admitted to the hall of fame by her son, Hall of Fame-panner Edward Norrell. His tender speech brought several audience members, his mother included, to tears.

After that came one of the weekend's top events, the men's world championships. There were 10 competitors, and the competition works like this: A contestant is handed a pan filled to the top with sand and containing eight pea-sized pieces of gold. When the clock starts, the competitor dunks his pan in the water-filled panning box and begins agitating the pan underwater so that sand falls out but the gold remains. When a competitor is finished, he or she yells, "Done!" The person who does it fastest, without losing gold or leaving too much sand in the pans, wins.

The early leader was Craig Koretoff. A brash figure in his camouflage shorts and leather outback hat, his 8.47-second time had him sitting in the lead for the bulk of the match. The first competitor to come close was David Smith. Quieter and smoother than Koretoff, Smith beat Koretoff's time, only to be penalized 10 seconds for losing a nugget. Koretoff finally lost his lead to Ronnie Gaddis, who quietly swaggered up to the panning box and emptied his pan in a cool 7.22 seconds. Next up was Michael Koen. Koen scored a 7.21 in 2004, but only managed a 9.12 this time.

The only man standing between Gaddis and the title was the final contestant, the legendary Johnny E. Parker. With his gold watch, gold earrings, and two hefty gold chains ("I wonder if he made those chains from the gold he finds," asked the man seated next to me), Parker dresses the part of the champion gold panner. Last year, his 7.15-second panning time set a new world record.

When the clock started, Parker dunked his pan and began agitating it with lightning speed. Faster than anyone before him, he threw his arms to his side and, leaving his pan floating on the panning box water, yelled, "Done!"

His time was a stunning 6.69 seconds, easily a new world record. One problem, though - the judges counted seven nuggets in his pan. Parker's nugget-loss penalty meant no record and no title. Gaddis remained in first, making him the 2005 men's world gold panning champion. He didn't get to keep the gold he panned, but he did get a nice, big trophy.

YOU DON'T KNOW JACK: Last Friday morning, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch stopped by Georgia Tech's College of Management for a Q&A session with students. Welch is one of the most admired corporate leaders in American history. His visit coincided with the publication of his management book, Winning, currently the top-selling advice book in the country that isn't about Jesus or losing weight.In the packed LeCraw Auditorium, Welch entertained questions about management style (employees should always know where they stand), global warming (he doesn't know if it's real), China (thinks of it as an opportunity rather than a threat) and labor unions ("The faster unions are destroyed, the better management will be."). Several times he made disparaging remarks about journalists, at one point suggesting that journalism schools create Communists. He doesn't hate all journalists, though. In 2001, he had an affair with then-Harvard Business Review editor Suzy Wetlaufer. He left his second wife for her. She's now Suzy Welch, co-author of Winning.

Sheepdog Rock: Last Tuesday, I went to see Blue Merle at Variety Playhouse. The best way I can describe the band's sound is Coldplay meets Dave Matthews Band. On paper, that's a combo as appealing to me as spaghetti and shit sauce. In my opinion, Dave Matthews Band has spent a decade putting in people's ears what its tour bus driver dumped on the heads of Chicago tourists last summer.Thanks to singer Luke Reynolds' gorgeous voice and the band's tasteful arrangements, the band bypassed my DMB gag reflex and gave me a happy, soft-rock experience with a rootsier side that bands like Coldplay and Travis don't offer. The highlights were the mournful ballads, "Every Ship Must Sail Away," "Stay," and the title track from Blue Merle's debut album, Burning in the Sun. The band is actually touring with DMB this summer. Let's hope it doesn't ruin them.

Try Pineapple Juice: What is the Taste of Cumming? Salty and bitter, of course. The Taste of Forsyth, held at the Cumming Fairgounds last Sunday, however, was a food tasting event that raised money for Forsyth County's Family Haven shelter for battered women and children. Event-goers bought tickets and sampled some of Cumming's better restaurants in the fairground's rodeo arena. The available fare included chains (Jersey Mike's, Honeybaked Ham and Kroger) as well as actual local restaurants like the Cuban Press (nice potato balls!), Norman's Landing (great fried tilapia!), and Super Supper (delicious trifle!). Three of Cumming's pizzerias also had booths. While chowing down on a slice from Sal's, the woman in the booth told me that they deliver within six miles of Cumming, something I'll keep in mind if I ever find myself hungry enough to drive the other 40.andisheh@creativeloafing.com

For more of Andisheh's adventures, see Scene & Herd at www.andy2000.org.??

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