What Makes Ronnie Roll: For The Love Of Cities, Part 4

If you look at the “City Nutrition Pyramid” that Peter Kageyama uses in his book, For The Love Of Cities to describe a town’s total healthiness, you will see an unfamiliar word, “conviviality” just below the word “fun,” and both of them are at the top of the triangle. Conviviality is defined as “the quality of being friendly and lively; friendliness.” This is not to imply that friendliness and/or fun are more important than public safety, but when a city is able to have fun safely, it is an emotionally nutritious city, one that is indeed lovable.

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of Poke Sallet Follies, one of the most fun events of the year, and it is fun with a noble purpose. Twenty-five years ago, PSF was born out of a desire to raise funds for the Council On Aging, and to nearly everyone’s surprise, it has grown into quite the formidable fête – one that comes with a delicious three course dinner. This year Mayor Ronnie will be reprising his role as Deputy Barney Fife, and he and Sheriff Mike Blakely will be doing a classic television skit from back when people thought Mayberry was a real town. It is the one where Barney tries to demonstrate to Andy that he knows the Preamble to the Constitution.

In addition, there are about 75 people who are actors, 25 of whom are children, all from diverse backgrounds as well as countless people behind the scenes. There are directors; lighting and sound folks; prop masters; costumers; stage managers; and the people who write the skits, film the “ads,” and cook the food. Forgive me if I have left anyone out! “Each year, we wonder how it is going to all come together,” said the mayor, “then it does. We have a great time, and we start thinking about how we are going to do it again next year.” He also told me that Poke Sallet raises thousands of dollars each year for the community, thus making it a “nutritious event” in the realm of financial support for an important service.

Here’s an example of what Athenians are willing to do in order to pull Poke Sallet off. City Councilman Joseph Cannon was filming one of the “ads,” and production had gotten a bit behind schedule. They were running out of time, and they needed to get it filmed. Joseph jumped into deep, cold water on a day when it was 30 degrees outside as part of the ad, and thankfully, they didn’t need more than one take.

Over the years, Mayor Ronnie has been a two-headed alien, a man covered with a contagious rash, a man who had somehow managed to “catch” pregnancy, a pirate, a biker, Barney Fife, and more, and says he “might not have talent, but tries to inject some joy.” He also told me that one of the more fascinating acts this year is a pantomime that is back lit behind a curtain, and performed only with feet. “It was amazing,” he said, having come in fresh from the dress rehearsal. “I don’t know how she does it.”

So, why is fun important to and for a city? According to Peter Kagemaya, “…we don’t love places because they are merely functional and safe. When we start including the higher aspirations of community into the mix; comfort, conviviality, beauty and fun, we begin to make places that are beyond merely livable and may ultimately be lovable.”

The Home & Garden Show is coming up, and it is largely about beauty. The Corporate Spelling Bee certainly comes under the category of “higher aspirations,” i.e., the preserving of the integrity of the English language. The recent fun and successful Chili Challenge fits the category of comfort, most specifically comforting those who are passing and their families. “We have many things going in Athens that make it lovable, and we need more,” he said. I agreed, and am confident he will get his wish.
Then we prayed, and it was time once again for Ronnie to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner