August 11, 2010
Day 19 took us from Lynchburg, Virginia, to Charleston, South Carolina.
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.
Fried green tomatoes.
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.
You know how to feed a guy.
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.