You Always Want What You Don’t Have
Hilton Head & Charleston, S.C.
The Long Goodbye
Sunday was our day to leave. We checked out of our hotel and headed to nearby Savannah for the afternoon. It’s about 30 minutes past the Hilton Head exit off the I-95 South. Anne’s parents had raved about how great Savannah is, in addition to its much-acclaimed proximity to Hilton Head. We drove into the heart of town and found where all the tourists go to a strip of very tourist-oriented shops and restaurants abutting the Savannah River. After strolling along looking for a place to eat, we began to get numb to the relentless pushing at us of (supposedly) Southern crap. These places were so bland, so generic that they would be at home in the heart of Boise, Idaho as easily as their non-existent charm recommended them here in Savannah, Georgia.
We moved from the beaten, candy-coated path into the rest of downtown Savannah. It was very pretty, but pretty can only go so far before people start expecting substance. Substance is something that Georgia is not short on, as long as it has to do with the Civil War. Though Southern hospitality is alive and well in the Deep South, my wife and I determined that our next trip in the United States would be to a place that didn’t define itself by its prominence in the Civil War. It wears a bit thin after a few hundred inundations. We had seen many Historic Things, but we were getting a little tired of them. After a while, one Historic Thing begins to look very like another. (I resolved to watch Gone With the Wind all the way through, but not anytime soon.) Our mood was not made any better by our hunger, as we had not eaten all morning in the hope of obtaining something good in Savannah. But unless you are willing to settle for whatever institutional rations were being doled out at the Plain Bland Eatery, don’t look for anyplace open on Sunday in downtown Savannah.
We got back in the pimpmobile and headed toward Hilton Head, glad that we had not spent four days in Savannah. As we drove into Hilton Head, the full impact of their policy dictating microscopic signs and invisible storefronts hit us. By that time, around 3:30 in the afternoon, we were so hungry we could have eaten a scabby child. But because of some bizarre malfunction in our brains, for some reason we would not stop to eat anywhere unless it was an IHOP (International House of Pancakes). Don’t ask me where this craving came from, I don’t have the foggiest idea. It was probably some delirium brought on by our hunger. But of course, we were unable to find the IHOP that I remembered seeing four days before, because like all the businesses it was camouflaged to make the whole island look like a forest. Desperation took over and we resorted to a gross Fudrucker’s. Naturally, as we left the Fudrucker’s, we were staring straight at the much sought-for IHOP. Aggravated, I resolved to watch Diner again. We spent the rest of the time exploring a Target store until it was time to go to the airport.
After spending nearly all day in the car, we were beyond ready to get out. We made our way to the well-disguised airport. Ahead of us in the check-in counter line was a very Middle-Eastern looking guy. I determined not to let this bother me. After all, we were going to be flying on a dinky little puddle-jumper.
I was very successful in overcoming any anxieties until we got up to the front of the line. That was when they made the announcement about not leaving your bags unattended in the terminal. It seemed that the Arabic fellow had moved off, leaving his carry-on bag all by itself in the airport. Even after playing the message a couple of times specifically for his benefit, he didn’t return. Airline policies (and nerves) being what they are these days, one of the ticket agents went over to the bag and carried it out to the National Guard unit stationed outside. Unnerved by this occurrence, we proceeded to check in and then anxiously await our flight while a thousand thoughts crowded our minds. Why did he leave that bag here? Where did he go? What is in the bags he checked in? After a few minutes of nervous fidgeting, the guy returned and discovered his bag missing. After a stern lecture by the ticket agents and the National Guard, he was given back his bag, although he wasn’t allowed to board the plane before he was subjected to a couple of extensive searches.
But all went well. We made it to Charlotte and then to New Orleans in one piece, although I had grown very weary of sitting in metal conveyances all day long. On the way home we thought about some of the individuals we met in Charleston. They would usually ask us “if y’all live in New Orleans, why would you want to come here?” The question struck us as odd.
We wondered why anyone would leave such a pleasant place as Charleston. Then it occurred to me that everywhere we went in Charleston was civilized. The city is spotlessly clean, the people extraordinarily polite and well-mannered. I tried to picture myself living day after day amidst such conditions. I suppose that after a while, civility and ubiquitous pleasantness might get a tad monotonous. One fellow we met was from New York and had been living in Charleston for a few years. He described himself as the bohemian type, but felt like Charleston just isn’t the place for “free spirits.” He was looking forward to his plan to move to Louisiana in a few months. Incidentally, he explained to us that the Low Country refers to the flatlands east of the Appalachian foothills. It’s lower than the mountains, hence “low country.” I found myself hoping for an explanation somewhat less prosaic.
I suppose it’s just a case of always wanting what you don’t have. We New Orleanians appreciated the graciousness and manners of Charleston, having had our fill of the decadence of my hometown. Charlestonians had evidently had it with unending politeness and manners and were ready for a little debauchery, New-Orleans style. Either way, Charleston was a great place to visit. A little pricey, but that just seems to me to be an opportunity screaming for some entrepreneur to open up a hostel or backpacker hotel. If anyone decides to do so, let us know so we can come and give the place a shot in the arm of good ol’ hedonism!