By Hannah Neff
On the cue of “Peel!” being shouted, a man in a bright-green shirt and corduroy pants bounded over to a pile of letters, picked one up at random and returned to his corner of the lawn.
After a few moments, James Holmes yelled “BANANAS!” to let all of the players in Ellis Square know that he completed his crossword, and the game was over. With faces flushed from running and smiles wide, everyone agreed to go for one more round of Savannagram and separated into new teams.
“I’m the only one who has this life-size Bananagram game. I called the company [to ask for their permission] and told them, ya know, I don’t want any money,” Holmes said. “I just want people to play because they can run around and interact with other people and it’s very sociable.”
The game Savannagram, which has a Facebook page, takes place at various locations around town including Forsyth Park, Daffin Park, Ellis Square and Tybee Island. It involves teams of two or more people quickly arranging 26 1-foot by 1-foot squares of particle board, each painted with a white letter, into large crossword puzzles on the ground. The teams are spread out around a pile of the remaining letters, which players have to repeatedly return to until the pile is gone. With all the shouting and running back and forth, the game tends to draw in curious passersby. “We usually start with about five people and end up with 20 or 30 adults just running around,” Holmes said.
“You gotta’ play with this guy. He’s like, magical,” said Jackson Price, 13, as he climbed playfully onto Holmes’ back. Price is a regular participant in Savannagram, which was created by Holmes as a large-scale, interactive version of the word game Bananagrams.
Holmes was first introduced to the game Bananagrams a few years ago by two visitors from New Jersey who he met through the online travel community, Couchsurfing.
“I host different people from around the world,” Holmes said. “They come here to Savannah and I offer them a couch.”
Holmes, who is 44, has lived in Savannah for 16 years with his son, 19, and daughter, 20. Recently, he began working for U-Haul though he himself does not plan on moving anytime soon.
“I open new stores, close stores, go and make sure that the stores that are open are doing okay,” Holmes said. “I love it.”
Holmes believes that Savannah has much to offer — he especially looks forward to St. Patrick’s Day every year, a day when the entire town seems to be moving and running about. He acknowledged that every year the night life is OK but it’s the parade that brings people together.
“Just stand and watch the parade,” Holmes said. “It’s hilarious. It’s cool. Everybody’s just got a good vibe, good energy.”
Holmes typically makes 350 Jell-O shots to hand out during the parade. Last year a cop pulled him aside and told him he couldn’t sell them before realizing that Holmes was not just passing them out for free, he was also checking IDs first. He makes them in two colors: green for the adults, orange (non-alcoholic) for the kids. In addition to passing out the shots, Holmes thinks of himself as “a kissing bandit” because he selects random individuals to plant green kisses on.
“If you live in Savannah for like a year or two years, you know everybody,” Holmes said. Whether or not this holds true for all Savannians, many people know Holmes — he’s made sure of it. “I am a hoot. I’m pretty loud. I do stuff just to have fun and make people laugh.”
Perhaps Holmes’ extra enthusiasm for St. Patrick’s Day can be seen as a special kind of Savannah pride.
“I love this city a lot,” Holmes said. “ [I] Would not move for the minute. I would go visit other places but would not leave Savannah.”Contact Hannah Neff.