There were two teams covering the Masters Tournament for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED last spring. One was reporting and photographing events at the Augusta National Golf Club. The other, looking ahead a year to this week's issue (page 50), was wandering the streets in search of the real Augusta. Writer Roy Blount, who grew up in Decatur, Ga., and Cartoonist Arnold Roth, a product of north Philadelphia, were an unlikely-looking but professionally compatible combination. Blount says admiringly of Roth, "There are some people who have a sense of strangeness and some people who don't and I can't stand people who don't." Roth says of Blount, "He's a very good interviewer because, unlike myself, he lets other people talk."
Their opening gambit with the citizens of Augusta was usually a forthright "How does Masters week affect your life?" The question produced some memorable reactions. Roth recalls one conversation in its entirety:
Q: Is this week different from the rest?
A: Oh, definitely.
Q: In what way?
A: None that I've noticed.
Blount says, "I asked a man in a bar how the Masters affected him and he fell down. I doubt the reaction had anything to do with the Masters. He probably would have fallen down any week of the year. That's what you have to keep in mind. Life goes on."
It is Roth's theory that when their question produced a "dumb" answer it was because people were being nice. "They wanted to be accommodating," he says. "They didn't know what we were talking about but they wanted to be polite."
Blount, too, is sympathetic. "I hate to go around asking people fool questions," he says. "I kept imagining what it would be like to be walking along minding my own business and have somebody ask me, 'How does the Masters affect your life?' "
On his second day in town Blount had a minor auto accident. The incident led to an appearance the next day at a police station, which in turn led to asking a friendly cop how the Masters affected him. In the course of their chat Blount learned there was a warrant out for his arrest (he had been a little late arriving at the police station). Roth, meanwhile, was next door in a place called Miss Ruby's Lunch discovering, to his delight, turnip greens and creamed potatoes. In the end Blount was officially forgiven and Roth reluctantly left Miss Ruby's to become chauffeur for both.
Blount, now a New Yorker, says he is most comfortable living where he feels he is from out of town and visiting where he feels at home. For him Augusta was a reminder of his own part of Georgia. "I had a better sense of what to say in stores and places than I do in New York," he says. "It's nice to get to a place like that."
For Roth, Augusta was "like when you meet somebody who isn't making jokes or being vivacious but who knows who he is. It's nice to be around him."
The result? A cheerful look at a nice town.