PLAINS, GA., IS a small, Southern town straining to remain a small Southern town as it basks in the glory of being the "Home of the President." The fact that it had succeeded in keeping its small-town character explains why visitors are both pleased to see Plains "as it really is" and disappointed to find so little to do when they get there.
However, Billy Carter, the President's brother, is planning to move 19 miles north of Plains because he and his wife, Sybil, are tired of tourists knocking on their door and are concerned about the safety of their children. And there is a possibility that hundreds of acres of farmland will be developed for commercial use in the near future.
So maybe you'd better come soon.
Tiny Plains is dominated by the railroad tracks, which neatly bisect the town. On one side of the tracks is the main residential area and on the other is the commercial section, which consists of one short block of stores and shops, a pharmacy and the post office.
Once you get to Plains, and if you find a parking place, you can use one half-hour posing for pictures in the rocking chair at the depot (Carter campaign headquarters) and buying postcards to mail from the local post office. ANd if you want to see the country-side, a minibus tour is available that will take you out to see the homes and businesses of local celebrities.
And that is about it.
So, here you are in Plains and you have done and seen everything in one morning. You traveled all this way, probably detouring from your trip notrth or south, and now you want something to take home to prove friends - and to yourself - that you actually made the trip.
Well, Plains is ready for you. Souvenirs they've got!
At the Hugh Carter Antique Shop, you can buy pencils for 25 cents each that say "Jimmy Carter, Elected Nov. 2, 1976." Or how about a Jimmy Carter button the size of a dinner plate for $5? There are peanuts, of course, in two sizes and salted or unsalted. There are glass ashtrays in brown and green, pennants in two sizes and plastic mugs in several colors . . . all saying Jimmy Carter or Plains, Ga. For the literary-minded there are history books on Plains and cookbooks.
And then there is a "Happy Mouth Bottle Opener," which features the face of President Carter with his teeth forming the actual opener.
A prize-winning member of the White House News Photographers Association, Wheeler was on assignment for The Washington Post when she captured some glimpses of tourism in President Carter's hometown. CAPTION: Picture 1, A guard watches over President Carter's Plains home. Photo above by the Christian Science Monitor.; Picture 2, the plate-sized button of President Carter that sells for $5 in Hugh Carter's Antique Shop. Photo by Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post; Picture 3, A tourist, foreground, snaps a picture at Billy Carter's gas station, while behind him a banner honors President Carter., Christian Science Monitor photo; Picture 4, A crop of Carter T-shirts, photo by the Christian Science Monitor.; Picture 5, the 25-cent Carter pencils and the "Happy Mouth" bottle opener., photos above by Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post; Picture 6, Twin billboards welcome the motorist to rural Georgia., By Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post