Cover Story: Oh, George, Where Art Thou?

Hunting for the Hollywood hunk in his hometown

 
Donna Covrett


Augusta, Ky. rolls out the red carpet (and red caboose)



I've never been enchanted by celebrity. Perhaps it was the summers spent with my showbusiness stepfather witnessing diva meltdowns in the nudist-camp-from-hell backstage.

Or maybe it was the time Woody Harrelson farted next to me in a New York City yoga class that cemented the odoriferous reality that celebrities smell just like you and me — or worse.

So it was hard to admit that I had developed a "thing" for one. Gawd, I'm in my forties, I'm mature, I do very important things, dammit.

OK, it's true what they say about women in their forties — we're all sexed up crazy with hormones. That can be the only explanation for having a George Clooney screensaver and the impulsive purchase of a George Clooney 11-oz. photo mug for the bend-over price of $11.99.

And it can be the only rational explanation for gathering two gal pals for a day trip to Augusta, Ky. — George's hometown — to satisfy a rumor on one of the 212,000 Web sites devoted to All Things George that he'd be there to visit his parents, Nick and Nina. That this just happened to coincide with my CityBeat assignment was kismet.

Let the other fans enjoy the pixilated George. With a car fueled by an estrogen storm and lust in our, umm, hearts, my willing accomplices Anne Mitchell, Vicki Fleischer and I started our cruise down State Route 8 to find Gorgeous George.

Our plan was to drive east along the Kentucky side of the river, stop in Augusta long enough to wrestle us up a George, cross the river by ferry to the Ohio side and return to Cincinnati along Route 52.

Route 8 is definitely a cruising road — lumpy and curvy enough to slow down our turbo engine and admire the lovely historic homes in Covington, Newport and Bellevue, homes filled with pitiable women who were at that very moment wishing they could spend the day with George Clooney. We left them in our dust.

Past the Bottled Liquor and Live Bait shop, we rounded the big curve by Thomas' F&N Steakhouse. Memories of their legendary fried eggplant began to chip away at our fortitude, weakening it further by the time we came upon Silver Grove Dari Bar. This is a classic hang-out, staffed by the cutest girls in town who were still discussing last night's dates when we interrupted to order a bottle of water, a dipped cone and a medium pineapple shake.

In our haste to meet George, we didn't want to spend too much time on local landmarks, but we couldn't resist a trip up the driveway of St. Anne's Convent. Instantly recognizable to anyone who's seen Rain Man, we couldn't help but feel that we now had divinity on our side as we wound our way up the tree-lined hill. A darling little nun driving a Ford Fairlane and beaming beatifically stared us down for a moment as if she were encouraging us on our mission from God.

The suspense was building as we pulled into Augusta. Would we find George? Would Nick and Nina consider us "professional crazed fans" and set Spags — the Clooney family dog — on us? Would Augusta forgive us? Would the $100 allotted for the assignment be enough to post bail?

$ $ $

Augusta is one of the oldest settlements on the Ohio River. The town of approximately 1,500 was founded in 1797 by an army captain who received the land for serving in the Revolutionary War. Perhaps George can portray him in a Lifetime made-for-TV movie that would stand up next to some of his other cinematic gems like Return to Horror High and Grizzly II: The Predator or, my favorite, The Harvest, where George's cameo as a lip-syncing transvestite can only be described as celluloid poetry.

We drove by the Clooneys' home. Hmmm, it looked like no one was there. Around the corner to Augusta High — perhaps George was shooting some hoops. Nope, not there either.

Adopting the motto that "when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping," we parked next to the Small Town Gift Shop. After all, it was possible Practical George could be picking up a few embroidered Augusta kitchen towels. Another strike out.

We wandered through a lovely French country boutique and a delighfully mad little log cabin filled with unique treasures called The Folk Art Shop. The shopkeeper, Bertha Hough, lived in the middle of all of it and was fixing a bite of lunch when we arrived. Charmed by Bertha and her funky store, we all made purchases.

Under a bright blue sky and with the sound of the river lapping at the shore, we strolled down über-quaint Riverside Drive with its beautiful gardens and stunning homes, stopping in several of them that also house art galleries, antique shops and B&Bs. In Eklektikos, a gallery that represents many local artists, I was thrilled to talk with talented artist Jenny Montgomery, who was minding the store.

I've been a fan of her nudes since I first saw her work at an art show last year. There were even more interesting spaces to explore, but we were hungry and still hadn't found George.

We knew from Nick's Cincinnati Post columns that the Clooneys frequently dine at The Beehive Tavern, the popular spot in town for regional specialties. Its outdoor balcony overlooking the Ohio would be perfect for lunch on this glorious day. Up the stairs we headed and — by george — there was the "Sexiest Man Alive" inhaling a plate of prime rib.

He looked much heavier than any photo I've ever seen (beefing up for a role, no doubt) and the neon yellow T-shirt was out of character for the Armani-loving star, but there was no mistaking the lush lashes, Dudley Do-Right chin and Lothario grin. Already enjoying an afternoon buzz, it was quite easy to talk him into driving the 40 miles back to Cincinnati with us.

We missed the ferry, so instead we piled into the car with George in the back and headed west on Route 8. Not two miles into the trip, George began to regale us with my-job-sucks-bigger-than-yours anecdotes, dished on the real size of Mark Wahlberg's Marky Jr. and amused himself by composing bad Country songs such as "She's Lookin' Better With Every Beer." Not exactly the charmer we had read about. What a fabulous publicist he has.

"What's that smell?" we wondered with wrinkled noses. Great gawd almighty, another gassy celebrity. We couldn't open the doors fast enough as we squealed to a halt.

"Loads of fun George, really," I said. "Can't wait for the next movie. Luv ya, mean it. Bye bye now."

An all-expense-paid trip to Augusta is better than a star-quality trip to Hollywood after all. Enjoy the scenery, but if you run into George just give him a little wave. ©

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