Somewhere after I cross into North Carolina I reach that unmarked border where Carl’s Jr.s morph into Hardee’s and there are suddenly more KFC’s than McDonald’s. I’ve entered into The South. It starts to sink in when I drive for hours and hours through hundreds of miles of marshy wetlands off the coast. Then I start to see stores called Piggly Wiggly and can only guess that they are supermarkets. But I finally accept it when I pass by swamps and Spanish moss covered tree-lined streets looking more like a movie set to me than real life.
Mostly though, I’ve stuck to the coast, which is regrettably devoid of any real Southern character. At first the weather is incredibly nice: I used the air conditioner in my car for the first time since… Wyoming. But the next day a rain storm has moved in. Driving through Myrtle Beach in the rain feels all wrong. The shoreline highway is packed with businesses that fight for space to display their signs and ads as close to the road as possible so that you can‘t avoid reading every one. I notice a trend that leads me to the conclusion that all a vacationing family needs to be happy are pancake houses, fireworks, mini-golf, ice cream and stores selling beach attire for under $5.99. Who knew it was so easy? The beaches further north had been less tacky at least. And even in the winter you can’t deny that these Southern Beaches are pristine with pale sand, tropical shells and dunes with those cute little fences.
I make it into Charleston with a nice sense of excitement. Finally I’ll have something entertaining to do! After checking into the local hostel I decide to treat myself to dinner at a place within walking distance: The Hominy Grill. It is gorgeous inside with dim lighting reflecting off the shiny wood floors and white stamped tin ceiling. In lieu of a bread basket they bring out boiled peanuts. I had a real bad experience with some boiled peanuts I got from a gas station driving through Florida with my family about a decade ago. Now thank goodness I know what I had before is not what they are supposed to taste like. I think those gas station peanuts were burnt. Anyway it serves me right for getting food at a gas station. Everything I ate was really good. I should have gotten the grits though. I’ve never had them and gosh darn it I should, but I did have okra for the first time. But the best thing was the chocolate stout cake. I’m so sick of all the restaurants serving the same desserts and a dense and dry chocolate layer cake seems to be a requirement on every menu these days. But this cake was so light and moist - thanks to Guinness. And the icing was that lovely fondant type chocolate that creates a chewy shell of lusciousness. And they served it warm so that the icing melted around the edges. So… I’m glad I didn’t fill up on a dinner of grits.
It’s amazing how much of a difference a lovely meal can make. I’m excited now for more experiences here in Charleston and I might stay for a couple days.