July 30-August 5
Folly Beach, Charleston, and Columbia, SOUTH CAROLINA; Atlanta and Savannah, GEORGIA
In an effort to get caught up to speed, I’m combining several destinations into a single post and driving the stories by photos.
Photo Mash-up No. 2: The South
Folly Beach and Charleston (July 30-August 2)
I was feeling less than ecstatic about our trip ever since leaving New York, and worried that the remaining month-and-a-half—that wasn’t going to be spent in New Orleans or California—would be a drag. Ian felt the same. Throughout the East Coast, we traded (mostly) joking remarks about calling it quits and flying back. The Big Apple was just too sweet.
If we weren’t enthusiastic about the progressive big cities of the East, how would Ian and I–two minorities–feel about a region steeped in a history of prevalent racism? I felt a tinge of paranoia about my driving speed as we crossed into South Carolina. Didn’t want to see if stereotypes about racist Southern cops held up.
We stopped for gas at a dinky gas station somewhere in South Carolina after nightfall. I was a bit wary of running into a shotgun-toting redneck with a distaste for brown folks, but I paid those prejudice thoughts no heed. I had to go inside after filling up to get a receipt, and there I found an old, black gentleman congenially carrying a conversation with the counter boy, a meek-looking white high schooler. The older man, if I recall, was informing the counter boy of the importance of higher education, and the young kid ended each response with, “sir.” My wariness of prevalent racism relaxed. When it was my turn at the counter, the young kid kept calling me “sir,” too. Southern hospitality: not all stereotypes are negative. It was comforting to know which ones I found to be true.
I made it a point to refer to every person thereafter as “sir” or “ma’am.”
We made it to Charleston in the dark of night. . . and then kept going, following the robot voice of our GPS unit over a bridge and to the island of Folly Beach. I learned three things on that drive: 1) Charleston is on the coast of South Carolina, 2) there are many islands right off that coast, and 3) our island destination was a beach town with a drinking problem. No, not problem. That would suggest that drinking is detrimental to the town. Folly Beach thrives on it. It’s a beach town with a drinking infatuation. We met up with my friend and former Bubba Gump coworker Kylene at her work. Quite appropriately, she is a bartender at her dad’s restaurant Loggerhead’s Beach Grill.
When Kylene said she lived only two minutes away from her bar, she wasn’t exaggerating. We found her at her bar and, after a few free drinks and socializing with some friendly strangers, followed Kylene to her place. . . about half a block away. I found out the next morning that the beach—an actual beach!—was just behind the bar in the other direction. I never considered myself much of a beach person. Even though I live in Hawaii, I rarely felt inclined to take the ten-minute bike trek from my place to the ocean. However, after a month of long drives and city-hopping, I was surprised by how much I missed the beach. The waves were cloudy and brown, but nonetheless refreshing.
We couldn’t lounge around Folly Beach the whole time, however. Despite Kylene’s relaxing porch, her air-conditioned house, and the nearby beach, we owed it to ourselves to drive back over the bridge and explore Charleston. Visually, it was just as refreshing as the feel of the ocean.
The buildings were straight out of the French Quarter in Disneyland, gorgeous and grandiose. A cobblestone path led us from the Battery into the heart of Downtown Charleston. The huge, colorful houses with their balconies and porches were giving me a tease of what I knew I’d find in New Orleans.
South Carolina definitely looked like how I imagined the Old South. But even more so, I felt a vibe of care and pride emanating from the city. The smiles and friendly small talk we received from the locals was a welcome change from the tight lips and rolled eyes of the East.
We spent our last night in Downtown Charleston with Kylene and her coterie of friends. I remember mircobrewed beer, delicious fried green tomatoes, and ping-pong in the back. But more than that, I will not forget how welcoming Kylene’s friends were, how interested they were in our adventure and how willing they were to share their stories with us. Folly Beach, and Charleston to an extent, may be removed from the “true South,” but Southern hospitality spread out far beyond those borders.
Columbia (August 2)
On the drive from Charleston to Atlanta, we stopped by Columbia, SC, to peak around the University of South Carolina, the other USC. In the merchandise shop where I bought my obligatory keychain, the folks inside were quite engaging, expressing their interested remarks with the thickest Southern accents I’d yet heard. They spent a while excitedly telling us where to eat and giving us directions. My initial apprehension about the South had all but dissipated.
Atlanta (August 2-5)
I once heard of a girl who would tell people she was from the South. When other Southerners asked where exactly, they scoffed when she said Atlanta.
Georgia is definitely a Southern state. Atlanta, Georgia, on the other hand, is a widespread metropolitan city that has moved past its Southern roots to embrace modern city-planning and architecture. In the vein of LA, there is no true center of the city; neighborhoods are spread out and linked by freeways.
Even our hosts for the first two nights were far from Southern. Michael (from somewhere in Canada) and Halef (from somewhere in Asia) are a middle-aged gay couple that have hosted over two hundred Couch Surfers in an effort to expand their cultural understanding whenever they aren’t traveling themselves. Needless to say, they were amazingly caring and interesting hosts.
We spent most of our time in the ENTERTAINMENT? District, home of the Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center, and—most notably—the World of Coke. Ian and I seriously had a fantastic time in the World of Coke.
The building is divided into multiple rooms featuring interactive museum displays, theaters, and a tasting area where you can try 64 different sodas from around the world!
I might not be a soda-drinker, but the World of Coke is definitely worth the price of admission.
No one told us to go to the World of Coke, and we had a blast. On the other hand, everybody told us to go to The Varsity, a fast food restaurant and staple of Atlanta. Boy, were we disappointed.
I don’t know what I’m more confused about: how this disgusting excuse for a restaurant became so popular, or how their product passes for acceptable food in the minds of the locals. The burger I ate doesn’t even pass for acceptable fast food. White Castle tastes like gourmet deli cuisine compared to this pile of flavorless crap!
We were fortunate enough to be in Atlanta when my buddy Harry—another former Bubba Gump’s coworker—came back from his own adventure: a two-month trip around Europe. Although he hadn’t been home for more than a couple of days, he was willing to show us other parts of Atlanta, a younger, hipper, more diverse neighborhood. Basically, where all the college kids live.
We even got to stay with Harry in his childhood home on our third and final night.
It was a freakin’ huge house.
A trip to the Sweetwater Brewery and Mellow Mushroom pizzeria with Harry rounded out our trip to Atlanta. We had a great time, but I felt like we barely tapped the South. It was a good thing we stopped by Savannah, GA, on the way to Florida. . .
Savannah (August 5)
I will admit, the initial draw of Savannah was its place in cinematic history: the bus stop bench from Forrest Gump was set in Downtown Savannah. Although the bench has been removed from Chippewa Square, I was hoping the setting itself would bring me into one of my favorite movies.
The secondary draw of Savannah was its purported beauty. Whenever I’d mention how beautiful I found Charleston to be, the usual response was, “You should go to Savannah!” Now, I’ve never called a city beautiful and literally meant it. Rather, when I said San Francisco or New York were beautiful cities, I really meant that the idea of such exciting metropolitans was beautiful. Savannah was, simply, aesthetically beautiful. It were as though somebody stole the charm of Rainbow Row in Charleston and spread it out over an entire downtown area in Georgia.
Gallant statues stood proud in the centers of numerous squares that proliferated the town.
Colorful buildings lined streets older than the country itself.
People in the streets would excitedly exclaim, “Hi! How are y’all doing today?” as though they were waiting all day for us to pass by.
The Riverwalk, with its cobblestone paths and centuries-old storefronts, brought me to a place and time as foreign to be as the cities I saw on the British Isles.
Savannah was truly a sight to behold, but honestly not much more than that. A sight. We were not spending the night and had no inclination to do so, but I was glad to have caught a glimpse of the old South.
I’m accutely aware that our destinations in the South might not have been exactly representative of “the South.” Rather, Folly Beach and Atlanta live on the periphery of the culture that claims “will rise again.” Florida is not a Southern state, and we would be hightailing it through Alabama and Mississippi to get to New Orleans, which has a subculture of its own.
At first, this seemed like a lost opportunity, a missed chance to spend quality time in the United States’ most distinct subculture. And then I remember certain facts, like 46% of Mississippi Republicans believe interracial marriage should be banned, and feel content with the Southern spots we hit.