(Barbecue, boredom and bird therapy. Another day in South Carolina.)
This past weekend, I took a trip to the South Carolina coast (an area known to South Carolina locals as The Lowcountry) in order to sign some books. They weren’t my books or anything – I just like to sign books. And when you’re wired for a weird habit like that, it’s best to slip out of town before you feed your monkey.
So, on a bright Friday morning, I left my hometown of Creyer (pronounced “Cur”), a lovely small town near the Blue Ridge Mountains in northwest South Carolina (an area known to South Carolina locals as The Upstate), angling for The Lowcountry. I’ve written to you before about Creyer. It’s an increasingly eager little town with a serious annexation addiction, a growth-mad little burg whose motto seems to be “If you lay sewer pipe, they will come.”
I aimed my car downhill, towards the middle of the state (an area known to South Carolina locals as The Middle Of The State), driving southbound along a recently-refurbished connector freeway that exists to assist in connecting the South Carolina Upstate with the rest of the state, and it is a freeway that quite obviously exists for no other reason, including aesthetics. This is not a road designed for ooh-ing and aah-ing and photo ops and excited finger-pointing. This is a road designed for drone-like concentration, for ennui, for bathos, for catatonia. It was apparently built (and lately rebuilt) with a very long ruler, very much money, and absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever. This connector has been resurfaced in a bright white concrete motif and it has the distinction of being the only manmade object visible from outer space that is also insanely boring.
Here’s how desolate it is: the entire project is some forty-odd miles of pipe-straight pavement, and along that endless, lined layer of laser, there are only eighteen McDonald’s. That may be a McDonald’s-free-zone world record. I’m talking deep-space desolate. At mile marker thirty-two, I saw an armadillo clutching a tiny envelope with the single, sad, scribbled word, “Goodbye.” The thunderingly mind-numbed animal had committed suicide.
Approximately two hours and sixteen hundred McDonald’s later, I drove into the city of Columbia, the capitol of our state, a place where the primary civic activity is trying to not die on one of their fine freeways. There are other activities, of course, and there’s no immediately obvious reason why the locals couldn’t enjoy life like anyone else, anywhere else: after all, Columbia contains a major university, a military base and a state government, so residents clearly have easy access to drugs, beer, weapons and clowns.
Columbia is also famous for being the only metropolitan area in America that has more barbecue restaurants than it has McDonald’s franchises. And by this point, you may be starting to gain an understanding of the suicidal nature associated with driving through Columbia. This kind of thing gets to you, pulls you under, tends to draw you down into a funk. It’s no coincidence that, actuarially speaking, armadillos have virtually no life expectancy at all here.
Some uneventful hours later, I made it to The Lowcountry, where, in short order, I met a ghost named Bessie, a pit bull named Slash, and an unnamed trans-lesbian rooster that was intensely hated by its owner.
During my visit, I learned the fowl’s sad story. Some time before, it seems, the rooster’s owner had bought a bunch of “biddies.” Or so she thought. Then one morning one of the “hens” started drinking beer, hogging the remote control, leaving the toilet seat up, and spending all Sunday afternoon watching football. Mrs. Owner realized she had a problem: a confused hen, a bi-biddy, a latent crower, a chick trapped in a dude’s body.
So now, each morning after the noise lets up, Mrs. Owner shoos the rooster out into the street and then waits impatiently for an “unfortunate” accident, perhaps hoping that some visiting driver from Columbia, some hurried road warrior, distracted and spackled with an odd, pungent, mustard-based sauce, will rip through the neighborhood at Mach II or III and send the gender-jangled bird to join Bessie.
Bessie, I discovered, is the ghost that haunts a famous old Southern home in a famous old Southern historic district, on a plat situated just across the lane from Mrs. Owner (and within half a block of eleven McDonald’s drive-thrus). According to the tales, Bessie was one of those capricious young people, those free spirits that used to be tolerantly referred to as a “handful” and are now judicially referred to as a “Paris Hilton.” Bessie, apparently, never married and, apparently, never much missed the matrimonial experience, either.
The story of Slash, the pit bull, is too good a tale to co-star in some rogue rooster’s story, so we’ll have to meet again one day for that one. For now, suffice it to say that I met Slash when I was stuck in a small, disabled boat in the middle of the Calibogue Sound, a large body of McDonald’s-franchise-free water that lies between Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands, and my introduction to the pit bull, verbatim, went like this: “This is Slash. He bites.”
By the way, I’m kidding, of course, about Mrs. Owner’s rooster starting to drink beer one morning. Despite his/her/its barnyard orientation issues, the rooster was, as we say in South Carolina, “decent people.” The rooster did not start drinking beer one morning; like anyone else, the rooster waited till after lunch to start drinking beer.
Well, anyone else except commuters in Columbia.
And I’m guessing Mrs. Owner would shell out big money to borrow Slash.