Day 19 took us from Lynchburg, Virginia, to Charleston, South Carolina.

On the open Southern roads, bright in the day, we listened to Lily Allen. We listened to VAST. We listened to Robbie Williams, Peter Fox, Siouxsie Sioux, Coolio.

Yes.

We listened to Bon Jovi.

We listened to Kansas.

In North Carolina, we pulled over by the mouth of a freeway to stretch and walk and ease our driving muscles. It wasn’t a designated rest area, just a long triangular patch of trees and grass and tangled webs of shade that moved with the breeze. Two minutes went past before someone pulled over and asked if we’d broken down and need a hand.

Southern hospitality had begun.

It got hotter the further south we drove, until, by the time we pulled over into an actual rest stop, the sun could have demanded my wallet and I would have handed it over, with no complaints. There’s just something so eerie about that kind of heat in June, when you open the car door and suddenly your face is in an oven of hot still air.

In this little asphalt island at the side of the highway, we stocked up on tourist guides to Charleston from the vertical rows of dispensaries. Here, in the middle of nowhere, the Southern states’s tourist industry had found a niche. Thin square magazines on cheap newspaper were stacked in thick piles inside these little metal and plastic boxes, all of them advertising exciting things to do and economically-sensible places to stay in Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta, Augusta.

When we finally drove into Charleston, we found out that a cruise or three was in town, and so the hotels were overflowing. But cruel fate, aggrieved at the way we’d stiffed it on the cheque in Gary, Indiana, was to go home frustrated once more, because it hadn’t counted on our one true saviour, the Holiday Inn.

Ludacris or no Ludacris, I love that place.

The wide porch stretched the length of the hotel. Rocking chairs sat out on the wooden deck under lazily circling fans. I eyed them off as we drove past, and idly dreamed of mint juleps.

Inside, the staff were courteous and perfectly-voiced. They smiled at our accents and Kevin the concierge, as he booked dinner for us, called a pedicab to take us downtown, and told us where the best places to walk were, quizzed us about Australia and New Zealand, and spoke about how he wanted to get to both places.

I hope he does. He was a nice guy.

For the sake of future reference, I love the sight of a fresh hotel room. Air con, clean sheets, everything exactly as it should be and laid out to perfection. There’s something about laying weary bones down on those cool hotel bed pillows that is just so restful to me.

God bless you, Holiday Inn.

We dropped our bags and showered before going down to meet Wes, the bicycle taxi driver. Wearing a battered baseball cap and with an easy way about him, Wes cycled us through the streets and asked us about our trip. He whistled to hear we’d come from Los Angeles.

‘Yeah, I did that trip once,’ he said. ‘Took me about four days. Course, I didn’t sleep much.’

Wes told us how he’d been out on a date with a woman named Jess a few nights ago, and hoped to see her again.

I sure hope you did, Wes.

Zara told me that they called Charleston the cradle of the South. It’s easy to see why. The houses are all old Colonial, wood and stone mansions that reach up to look out over the water. The narrow streets are green and cool with the wind off the sea and the sheltering arms of branches above. We walked by the bay, by the battery, through the cemetery. Squirrels ran across graves to get from one tree to another, unconcerned with the mouldering bones six feet beneath them. We weaved our way in and out of the resting places, stopping to look at the names of men and women long dead, giving a wide berth to the tiny crosses that marked the graves of children.

We walked past houses and shops that looked haunted, and warded off ghosts with ice cream and root beer floats.

We wandered back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. When I asked the desk clerk to call us a pedicab to take us into town, she put her hand on her hip.

‘Why, you all are in town already, silly!’ she said, her accent thick with South Cawolina.

Dinner.

Biscuits.

Chicken.

Collard greens.

Fried green tomatoes.

Beets.

Gravy.

Grits.

I hadn’t eat proper food for a while, after the racing through New York and the long hours on the road. Seeing greens and fresh produce and proper meat, instead of green tic-tacs and Hershey’s bars and microwaved hamburgers, my body tugged at my mind’s sleeve and whimpered.

‘Please,’ it said, plaintively. ‘Please. Don’t take any time to appreciate this. Just shovel it in.’

Granted! my mind replied.

An hour later, I lurched down the streets of Charleston, stuffed.

Dear Charleston.

You know how to feed a guy.

Your friend,

Simon.

I was exhausted for most of the day, and by the time I’d eaten, my body was ready to close the business for the night. Somehow I managed to walk back to the hotel, drag myself into the lift, and collapse, to sleep and repair and get into shape for New Orleans the following day.





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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

15 responses to “TPAC 2010 – Day 21: I do Believe I have the Vapors!”

  1. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Goodness, no Lynyrd Skynyrd on the iPods?

    It’s no surprise that someone stopped to see if you needed help. Whoever s/he was: way to represent, fellow Southerner!

    I’d like to visit Charleston again one day. I had lunch there at a restaurant that used to be a naval office of some sort. The still water was so beautiful. The salt smell intensified with every breeze. I LOVED the cemetery downtown. Those spooky little skulls on the tombstones! I visited an old neighborhood that charmed me to bits, one near the water, but I can’t remember the name of the area. You guys probably saw it, too.

    • Alison Aucoin says:

      I’m with Ronlyn. Lynard Skynard is the official soundtrack of the South. I almost can’t stand the irony when my little brown child belts out Sweet Home Alabama from the back seat of the car!

      • Ronlyn Domingue says:

        Now that’s a sight to behold. Video proof requested. I know she’s being introduced to other music, so I don’t feel compelled to organize an intervention. No diss on Lynyrd Skynard, by the way. I love me some “Simple Man.”

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Next time we’re in the States we should organise a get-together in Charleston. It would be nice to spend more time there and relax and get lunch with everyone at the little cafes and sit in the sun.

          And wander by the cemetery again, with an eye out for squirrels.

          Damn.

          I really want to do that now.

          Who’s up for a Charleston picnic?

        • Zara Potts says:

          Me!

        • Ronlyn Domingue says:

          Me, too!!!

        • Simon Smithson says:

          More praline cookies, please!

        • Uche Ogbuji says:

          Hey, good on Ella! Big brown kid here belts out Sweet Home Alabama on occasion, too. Don’t think there’s an irony, really. Yes, I know Lynyrd Skynyrd like waving dixie flags, and maybe it’s my furrin perspective, but I don’t mind the symbol, but what the bearer intends. From everything I know of Lynyrd Skynyrd, they’re way over on the “heritage, not hate” side, and the song was a light-hearted response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man”. They wanted to make the point that there is more to southern heritage than racism.

          And yes, full disclosure: I’ve had a few arguments with American born fellows of similar skin-color over that one 😉

          Note: I was furious when during the Beijing Olympics, protests flooded in to broadcasters about Hindi-derived swastikas one could see in many pictures of Buddhist shrines. Knee-jerk abhorrence of symbols is really just another bigotry.

  2. Richard Cox says:

    Charleston is great! And the food, man. If you ever get back you have to try the shrimp. I think we talked about this already. Best shrimp I’ve ever had, at all the restaurants where I tried it.

    I also love VAST. I’m glad to hear you mention them. I used to read the blog of this chick that dated Jon Crosby. A lot of her posts were of the woman scored variety. She’s a good writer, but that relationship seemed to fuck with her mind a bit.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Oh, man, I was so into the Southern food.

      I didn’t try the shrimp, but I will.

      I’m such a VAST fan. I got Zara into them on the trip, so Jon Crosby owes me one.

      Huh.

      I wonder what dating him would be like.

      I would guess intense. He would wake up, put the coffee on, and the sound of a thousand monks chanting would sound from the grinder.

      She’d be lying in bed, trying to sleep, she’d hear the sound leaking through the bedroom door: om shanti om… om shanti om… hama gi hama… hama gi shanti om…. and yell ‘Shut the fuck up Jon Crosby! I don’t have time for your sculpted world soundscapes right now!’

      Yeah…

      That’s exactly how it would be.

      • Zara Potts says:

        I love them – Thanks Brew. I owe you one.
        I think he’d be a dick to date. But still, he’d write a nice song about you while you were dating. That would be nice.

  3. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    “…the sun could have demanded my wallet and I would have handed it over, with no complaints.”
    Humor has been doled out to you unequivocally, Simon. Some way, some how, I am going to exploit you.

    I love the South. It’s so haunted and beautiful.

  4. Simone says:

    “…my body tugged at my mind’s sleeve and whimpered.

    ‘Please,’ it said, plaintively. ‘Please. Don’t take any time to appreciate this. Just shovel it in.’

    Granted! my mind replied.”

    Simon, you sure do know how to make a girl laugh!

    “when you open the car door and suddenly your face is in an oven of hot still air.”

    We experience heat like that in the Kruger National park, and occasionally in Jozi (Johannesburg), but because we’re so high up from sea level its the dry heat that gets you everytime! Heat so hot it makes breathing unbearable, so hot that it feels like your lungs are on fire.

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