Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Batesburg-Leeville, South Carolina

Friends: Despite being car-free for much of my life, I have had a considerable number of long-distance car road trips over the years. I am a traveler and a car is a means of travel, not my preferred means, but it still takes me places I'd like to go. I'm not hesitant at all to take up the offer of driving a car a long ways, whether solo or with another.

Thus when Lyndon first asked me a year ago if I'd be interested in driving a car he'd bought from Albuquerque to South Carolina, I didn't think twice about doing it, not even concerned that it was a forty-year old car. I was eager to do it when he first brought it up and just as eager when he was finally ready to take delivery of the car.

Kerouac romanticized the road trip in "On the Road." I've taken advantage of drive-away cars as he and Cassady did--to Seattle to take the ferry up to Alaska, to Phoenix to bike up to Flagstaff for a Grand Canyon rafting trip, to LA for the World Series, to San Francisco to launch a bike ride to Guatemala and a few others. I have also driven quite a few cars for friends, particularly snowbird retirees. I once drove three cars to Florida in a ten day span. I have driven U-Hauls for friends to Connecticut and Phoenix and Tucson.

I have also joined friends on long distance road trips all over the country and beyond. Crissy and I drove deep into Mexico to Puerto Escondido several times. I also made the trip with Siegi in his van a couple of times. Lino and I drove to Colorado Springs for the cycling World Championships the only time they've been held in the US. Umpire Dave and I made a habit of driving to the World Series in the late '70s--Boston one year, New York another, and LA a couple of times, along with Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. We drove to Sundance one winter. A year later I did it with Joan, which led to several Joan trips to the Toronto Film Festival and a drive to Manhattan to visit friends and to do New York's Five Boroughs Ride.

Dave and I had a number of other baseball trips--to the Cubs Opening Day in Montreal one year that was snowed out, to the All-Star game in Philadelphia, and a few trips to St. Louis and Cincinnati. One of our most epic trips was an eastern swing that concluded with attending a twi-night double header at Shea Stadium and then driving through the night to get back in time for a noon double header at Wrigley.

Dwight too has been a multiple road trip companion. He and I drove to the Olympics in Atlanta, a wedding in northern California, back from an Earth First Rendezvous in Virginia that I had biked to and Toronto for a flight to Cuba. Bike Shop Tim and I drove to New Orleans with a van load of bike parts for a bike co-op a year after Katrina. We also drove to Pittsburgh on another bike shop mission, this time to buy parts.

This past January I made my longest non-stop drive ever from Orlando to Seattle with a friend and his two dogs in a van. But my latest trip from Albuquerque to Charleston in a doddering 1971 VW station wagon may be my most noteworthy drive ever, certainly the most nerve-wracking, even more so than a drive to Manhattan in a rental truck with Ken641 with a faulty gas gauge. Twice we ran out of gas, but fortunately we had bikes in the back of the truck. I ought to quit drudging up these memories, as I may find I have had more long-distance trips by car, than by bike.

Ordinarily I have to keep a wary eye on the speedometer to make sure I'm not exceeding the speed limit. With this VW relic my eyes hovered on the speedometer more than ever making sure I maintained a minimum speed. It took all the VW engine's might to get up to fifty. When the road turned upwards the speedometer took a plunge, sometimes all the way to thirty. I kept a vigilant eye on the rear view mirror making sure the hard-charging trucks and SUVs didn't gobble me up. When I saw a police car my foot didn't let up on the accelerator, as it has been conditioned to, but rather pushed on it a little harder.

I provoked a few perturbed horn toots, but not a single siren. I figured most drivers took pleasure in seeing such a relic on the roads. I certainly attracted quite a few admiring comments and offers to buy the car whenever I stopped for gas. The car was spotted with rust. There were those who didn't think I deserved such a car since I wasn't maintaining it. I had to explain it wasn't mine and that I was simply delivering it. Still people offered me their phone numbers in case Lyndon cared to part with it.

With the car straining I was relieved that I had my bike with me in case it gave up. Lyndon, too, had a nervous couple of days fearing a call from me at any moment reporting that the car had broken down. Fortunately the car was equipped with a decent radio, even though I had to hear quite a bit about the Tea Party from Limbaugh and Dr. Laura and Beck and Levin and Hannity, who were nearly inescapable up and down the radio dial.

There was also a lot of football--a Texas high school game played in a brand new 60 million dollar stadium that seated 18,000, a talk show with the reigning national champion Alabama coach Nick Saban and the betting line on all the NFL games from a multitude of stations. One morning show had a feature "Fight Song Friday" of pep songs from various colleges. Lots of country music too, giving the flavor of rural America. One song paid tribute to the three Johns of country--Cash, Wayne and Deere.

It was a mighty relief when I pulled into the driveway of Lyndon and Stephanie and 16-month Sullivan and their frisky dog Jaspar in Summerville, 25 miles north of Charleston. Even though it was in the mid-90s I was eager to go for a bike ride. It was four miles to the local library. It felt much cooler biking under a canopy of moss-laden trees than sitting in that un-air conditioned car.

I was off early Sunday morning for the 25-mile ride down Heritage Corridor, the Discovery Route, into Charleston past assorted plantations, including Drayton Place where Stephanie conducts tours. It paralleled the Ashley River. The Ashley along with the Cooper River frame the two sides of Charleston, almost as Manhattan is bordered by the Hudson and the East Rivers. Along the way was an estate with gardens designed by Andre Le Notre, architect of Versailles. The manor on the property included a silk copy of the Declaration of Independence and a note from Lincoln. Sheep and other animals roamed the grounds. There was also a crop of Carolina Gold--rice.

The Charleston area is rich with history from the Revolution through the Civil War and loads of tourists being transported in horse-drawn carriages and pedicabs along the Museum Mile. Lyndon and Stephanie and Sullivan met me at Marion Square, a ten-acre field in the heart of Charleston. John C. Calhoun, the great orator and former vice-president, stands atop a high pedestal in the park. Young women from the nearby college were sunning in bikinis.

We took a stroll to a restaurant along the three block long covered-market for lunch. I had shecrab soup and they a fish sandwich. On the sidewalks and in the market women sold baskets woven from sea grass that grows in the marshes. Anita, friend from Chicago and the art director at Telluride, told me they were the one thing I ought to see when I was in Charleston. She had paid a visit several years ago, not to see the city's many mansions that most come for, but to see these magnificent works of art that the slaves from Africa first began making there three hundred years ago. Teen-aged boys were weaving small hearts from the long reeds for sale as well.

In my search for Marion Square I stopped at a fire station with a ceramic dalmatian curled up out front to ask the way. Stephanie knew the fire station well. It is one of Charleston's several hundred historic sites. She said its doors are too small to accommodate modern fire engines, but in the spirit of historical preservation, it is supplied with specially designed trucks.

Charleston is exceptional in maintaining its past, with only a handful of buildings approaching ten stories--hotels facing Marion Square. One modern edifice, though, that had become a signature of Charleston is the towering five-year old, two-mile long Ravenal Bridge over the Cooper River. It is a stately edifice. Stephanie recommended a ride over it for a view of the city and the bay. There were quite a few cyclists and joggers and walkers on its wide sidewalk despite the mid-day heat.

I had a fabulous 70 mile ride on my unloaded bike about the area, as always the best way to see a place. In the morning the locals were flocking to church. There seemed to be one on practically every corner, often with message boards advertising the day's sermon. Many came close to luring me in--If You Can't Stand the Heat Believe in Jesus, Wal-Mart is Not the Eternal Saving Place, He Who Throws Dirt Loses Ground, Worry Is Interest Paid on Trouble Before It Is Due. I look forward to the many awaiting me down the road. I was perpetually entertained by them three years ago when I biked to Lyndon and Stephanie when they were living in Winston Salem. They are just one of the many allures of bicycling in the South.

I might have returned to Lyndon and Stephanie's place a little earlier than I did to load up my bike and begin my ride back to Chicago in the relative cool of the early evening if I didn't need to stock up on maps at the local AAA first thing the next morning. That done, I'm now one hundred miles down the road, about half way to Greenville, home of George Hincapie and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Stephanie, baseball fan and historian, says I will find a statue and a museum devoted to the man banned from baseball for being implicated in the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

Later, George

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