Okay by me in America

Or My 2010 US Deep South trip (part 2 of 4)

I like to be in America, Okay by me in America.
Everything free in America, For a small fee in America.

West Side Story

Part 1 is here.

MONDAY 24/5/10

The astounding Georgia Aquarium was on the menu today. I’ve already written about it here.

In the evening Alan drove me to visit his ex-wife, Sue, whom I last saw in 1986 in Nashville. She is still producing pottery, and earning a living by cataloguing German and Russian literature in a library. Bob, her husband, is a woodworker and furniture restorer. Their friendly dog, called in the US an ‘Australian Alsatian’, is actually a border collie.

Random facts: petrol (‘gas’) was US$2.69 per gallon (3.785 litres) (or thereabouts), which is US$0.711 per litre – at that time AUS$0.786 per litre. Presently petrol in Lismore is AUS$1.32 per litre [update: in May 2012 petrol in Australia is about $1.55 a litre and the Australian dollars is buying 1.04 US, compared with 0.73 in May 2008; in early June 2012 the Aussie dollar is buying 0.97 US.]. Alan was getting about 54 miles to the US gallon in his hybrid car – he has a right to be smug.

TUESDAY 25/5/10

Alan drove me to a couple of hardware stores to chase down a Leatherman Charge TTi, a multifunction tool which Andrew was keen to get a hold of (at about half the price of those in Australia). We finally tracked one down at REI, a large camping store (think the size of Sydney’s Kathmandu, Paddy Palin and Patagonia rolled into one and multiplied by 10). I joined REI to get a discount, and left the membership with Alan – we don’t have REI at home.

We also went to the Decatur Farmers’ Market, which was a large barn with many local and exotic fruits, vegetables, cheeses, beer and alcohol (including a lot of Aussie wine and beer). I was amazed at the range of imported food and booze. At home it is only in the Australian Capital Territory that it is legal to sell alcohol in supermarkets. There was a sign saying ‘no photographs’ – Alan speculated that this might have been because of illegal immigrants possibly working there.

The evening meal was at Manuel’s Tavern, where we met up with the three people we were going to be sharing a student dormitory with at Charleston. Afterwards we went to band practice. All my “dorm mates” were members of the Seed and Feed Marching Abominables, who had been invited to play at the Spoleto festival in Charleston (the ‘Seed and Feed’ refers to US rural supply stores; see Alan’s photos).

Me and my “roomies” at the Charleston festival

The band is a street marching band and also does flash-mobbing – turning up somewhere unexpectedly, doing a tune or two, then disappearing. Jane plays cymbals and Alan is official photographer. The members are called:

  • Abominables, who play instruments, whether they are horns, drums, or accordions
  • Abominettes, who wear majorette costumes and march in front of the band
  • Despicables, who act somewhat like rodeo clowns, surrounding the band and providing crowd control or warning the other members of road hazards on the route, and
  • Incorrigibles, who are children of band members.

It was fun to walk at the side or behind the band and see the reactions of the folks on the footpath as we walked to the venues. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A few of the band waiting to be called to start their performance

Marching Abominables T-shirt


The three of us packed up Alan’s Prius and drove about 6 hours east to Charleston on the coast of South Carolina, with a brief stop at the South Carolina Welcome Center. Welcome Centres are like our country town Information Centers (US spelling, of course) and have knowledgeable staff, and brochures for travellers and tourists coming into a state on the major freeways – and at a Subway franchise just off the freeway for lunch. The Subway was exactly the same as the Subways at home (no surprise there) – except for the accents of the staff. I was intrigued by the huge camping vehicles travelling on the highway, often with large trailers carrying other vehicles or motorbikes. Driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road was easier to cope with on the long straight stretches of the freeway. Top speeds were between 55 and 65 miles/hour (90 to 105 km/hour) compared with our state limits of 100 km/hour or 110 km/hour (and unlimited in many parts of the less-inhabited regions of the Northern Territory and Western Australia).

After arriving in Charleston and checking in at the administration desk, we moved into a spacious apartment at the College of Charleston. This is student accommodation during term time, and four bedrooms (each with a double bed), kitchen and lounge room, with washing machine and clothes dryer. This place was right in the middle of everything – perfect for casual strolls taking in the shops, scenery and festival events. The franchise pharmacy on the ground floor (CSV) sold a lot of things our pharmacies at home do not, for instance washing powder and computer supplies.

After settling in, Jane suggested a walk to the waterfront park through the French quarter. The architecture of Charleston is utterly charming, and it was such a pleasure just walking down the street, especially down Battery Row and behind that section of the town, admiring the architecture – you can see some here. The city was in festival mode and showing its best side. We had arrived a couple of days before the Spoleto festival started, and were able to compare it pre- and during the tourist invasion.

The city was established in 1670 and has much ‘olde worlde’ fascination. Below are some shots of residences.

“Rainbow Row”

We walked through the old slave market, which is now an art and craft market. Unlike Atlanta, Charleston has preserved many of its historic features. There was a distinct smell of what I thought was sewage, but it turned out to be mudflats – the tide goes out a long way and leaves the anaerobic mud exposed, hence the sulfurous smell. The magnificent native magnolia trees were in bloom. There were lots of balconies and lovely gardens visible through side gates. The palmetto palm is indigenous to the area, and is on the South Carolina flag with a crescent moon. American flags and South Carolina flags were much in evidence on private and public buildings.

South Carolina flag – palmetto palm and crescent moon

The decorative rods through the building walls are to hurricane-proof them, strengthen them against extreme winds.

The streets used to be much lower. Before the retaining wall on the harbour was built, the sea came right in and inundated the area. Goods had to be delivered by boat, and you can see the remains of boat entrances like the one in the building below. Once the retaining wall went up, the roads were filled in and the lower entrances became useless.

Boat entrances

You can catch a tourist buggy (donkey or horse) for a town tour …

Donkey-drawn buggy for town tours

… or a shuttle bus …

Charleston shuttle bus

As ever, I was on the lookout for native birds. We saw a boat-tailed grackle, yellow-crowned night heron, turkey and black vultures over the freeway, mocking bird, rusty blackbird and  black-headed gull.

Yellow-crowned night heron, Charleston

Rusty blackbird

From Jane’s notes, combined with some of mine, here are some of the highlights:

* Sitting on a windy rooftop restaurant on a beautiful day in Charleston enjoying the meal, a beer and the company

View from rooftop restaurant to Charleston harbour

* Spying on night herons in the marsh near the wharf near the fountain

* Strolling down the old streets at the end of the peninsula in the evening with the secret gardens and cobblestone streets and stone blocks to help you step up into a carriage, and fountains and gazebos and birds

* After yet another walk through town, enjoying a good meal at Fleet Landing (fabulous seafood pasta!)

* Winding our way through the artist market and chatting to the guy who made didgeridoos, the guy who photographed China and of course the jewellery makers (I went nuts)

* Listening to the Madrigal singers and the medieval instruments in the old church; chatting with our neighbours before it started; watching our neighbour so elegantly sketch the musicians

* Nanette and I singing two-part harmony at the top of our lungs while fast-walking down the street trying to find the theatre with the illusionist – people on the sidewalk smiling – perhaps they thought it was another festival performance

* Seeing an ‘illusionist’ who was so bad that the show provided hours of entertainment afterwards – we thought about rewriting his script and sending it to him

* All the hubbub before, during and after our band performances

* Peeking through the glass at Nick Cave’s (closed) exhibition of splendid costumes (not the musician, but the American fabric sculptor, dancer and performance artist) – see the ‘Soundsuit’ here at  for an example of his wearable art.

One of Nick Cave’s wearable art pieces

The Nick Cave exhibition was closed, so I could only look through the window

* Dropping into a charming boutique hotel to ask directions when I couldn’t find out where I was on my map

* Meandering the streets alone in ‘off’ times and absorbing the atmosphere

* The three of us sharing a pedicab driven by Buffy the Vampire Slayer (in the guise of a petite, blonde college student called Meredith) through the night, gazing at the softly lit, pretty backyard gardens with the warm winds flowing through our hair – who needs Paris?

THURSDAY 27/5/10

Coffee for breakfast (after finishing off the yummy crab-cakes from last night) at the Kudu coffee shop. Then we walked to the South Carolina Aquarium – this aquarium is not as big as the Atlanta one, but is impressive nevertheless. It naturally concentrates on Atlantic coast marine animals, like the loggerhead sponge (Spheciospongia vesparium) …

Loggerhead sponge, South Carolina Aquarium

There are lunch restaurants aplenty of the same sort as Subway and Maccas (as McDonald’s is known in Australia), but much better quality – there are not so many of these higher quality ones in Australia. You go in and order a selection of food and drink the way you prefer. In Australia it is more ‘what you see is what you get, and no deviation’.

In the afternoon we drove from Charleston city to one of the barrier islands, Sullivan’s Island. This island has been ‘developed’, and real estate there is very expensive. The foreshore mansions will be the first to go under with sea level rises. The expensive foreshore houses in Byron Bay are having the same problem right now.

Jane says there is a certain colour that houses are painted on the outside, to keep away the ‘haints’ – restless or evil spirits. It is called ‘haint blue’ and is a blue/green. The Gullah people who have this tradition are descendants of African slaves who worked on rice plantations in South Carolina. They have distinctive words and a lilt in the way they talk. Some ‘low country’ whites also speak it (the ‘low country’ is the geographic and cultural region located along South Carolina’s coast; the region includes the South Carolina Sea Islands).

Continued in Part 3.

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4 Responses to Okay by me in America

  1. Cath Clark says:

    Really fun to revisit this virtually with you again, Joy. ‘Seed ‘n Feed’ must be an east coast term. On the west coast, they’re just ‘Feed stores.’ On the other hand, someone who is a hillbilly is also sometimes called a ‘hayseed.’ Achooo!

  2. Pingback: Everything free in America | A-roving I will go

  3. Pingback: For a small fee in America | A-roving I will go

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