Tuesday, May 29, 2007


We like to follow the evolution of older buildings we encounter along our way. We often try to figure out what they had been based upon what remains of them today. In a cruise through Orangeburg, SC, we spotted this little place on Maple Street.

An excavation suggests the removal of underground fuel tanks and the remnants of pump fittings confirm that it had been a gas station with a small service bay area. The extended drive-through window is clearly a retrofit which hints that the building may have done brief service as some sort of convenience store. Artificial flowers now rest in a vase in that window.

The steel rebar cage which is fashioned about the window AC unit hints at a reasonable fear of unauthorized removal. It is clear that the immediate neighborhood is not yet on the short list for regentrification.

We see hundreds of nice little concrete block structures which, but for a failed roof would be candidates for reclamation. A bad or collapsed roof can made the difference for buyers of limited means. Once the roof goes the building follows quickly. While there is some deferred maintenance, the roof has not been neglected. The economics of using preowned materials on such places is obvious. The great variety of colors and surfaces on the replacement shingles tells us that they didn't collect them at one location alone.

The crazy quilt effect of the roof shingles really caught our eye. It reminds us of maritime signal flags. If there's a message in the assortment it may be telling prospective buyers that someone cared enough to keep patching the roof wherever and whenever necessary. There's a little SOS here asking for help before this, too, slips into the abyss of lost buildings.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Medicis of Orangeburg

Few symbols of commerce are as readily recognized as that of the pawn broker. We tend to think of pawn shops on a slightly lower level of elegance than, say, major modern banks. In classic films, the pawn broker is usually the vehicle used to express desperation. Whether the family farm is broke, the gambler washed up or anxious expatriates seek funds to flee Casablanca, it always the pawn broker's tender mercies to which they must appeal.

Everyone knows the familiar logo of 3 balls suspended together as the pawn broker's trademark. Few have any idea where that came from. Back in the 1400s, the Medici family were highly successful lenders in Italy and had this very symbol on their family crest. As usual, success and respectability are coveted so lenders in other countries took that part of the Medici crest to be their trademark. Thus was born the classic logo of three gold balls for pawn shops.

We ran up on Woody's Pawn and Jewelry store in Orangeburg. The three gold balls look more like cherries on Woody's sign. This reminds us that the three pomegranates hung by common stems were taken from the Silver Shekel which was struck to commemorate the Jewish revolt against Rome in 68 A.D. In the mural, Woody seems to be baiting ducks and customers with a steady stream of cash released from one hand. This in turn reminds us that lenders often promote the ease with which a loan might be granted more than the interest rate upon that loan. Why would we expect pawn shops to be any different.

A little further down the road of history, the Roman Church imposed laws against usury. Hard times and financial necessities prompted a repeal of the usury laws and then it was back to business as usual. Usury is generally defined as unreasonably high rates of interest on loans. Laws against usury were widely adopted in almost every state in the Union to prevent exploitation of persons in need.

During the mid mid 1960s lenders became eager to offer the public what is now known as the revolving credit card. Such a card would be honored by almost all types of businesses rather than a store specific card. Banks pushed this very hard and finally the South Carolina Legislature was persuaded to revoke the usury laws which would not allow the exorbitant rate of 18% APR which lenders wanted to begin charging. Of course, that type of card has grown in popularity in recent times almost as much as the massive consumer debt which it made possible. To the question asked by a popular commercial for yet another credit card company: " What's in YOUR wallet", the clear answer is, "Not much."

Monday, May 21, 2007


Christmas comes, but once a year, however, in South Carolina, every day can be the Fourth of July. Every night can be New Year's Eve. Any day is a good day for fireworks and there is no day on which you may not purchase fireworks. Some S.C. counties forbid the sale of firewater on Sundays, but not fireworks.

The laws governing the sale and discharge of fireworks vary greatly between the Several States and within some states. Some states just don't allow fireworks of any type while other states allow only the use of the lamest forms such as sparklers, but nothing which explodes or spews fiery discharge. So, after gallons of champagne, booze and other intoxicants, let's all go outside and bring in the New Year with a sparkler for each guest. Right. In South Carolina, the law on discharging fireworks is far more liberal, but even if it wasn't, few citizens would obey. Fireworks to many of us seems as natural as eating, an entitlement akin to that of a Constitutional right.

We love the loud report which comes from blowing up things with fireworks. We adore launching rockets with blazing comet trails up into the night sky. We really like to slide the extra large pack of firecrackers into places where unsuspecting folks think that machine guns are turned upon them. This it to say that we, as a state, are just mad for this stuff. Many municipalities restrict the discharge of fireworks, but it's perfectly legal to sell fireworks even when or where it may be prohibited to use them.

Where there is a demand for a product, there will be vendors to supply it and we've got a' plenty of them in South Carolina. You find many of them at or near our state lines to serve folks from states which are less understanding. Since it's legal, vendors are not shy about promoting their wares. Pictured above are some shots from a popular fireworks dealer in Ravenel, SC. Do you think that excited kids are not going to notice Herbie's and force the family car off the road at his stand? It certainly caught our eye.

We were taken not only with the colorful display, Black Bart's and all, but with Herbie's disarming candor. He clearly states that his goods go from twenty-five cents and up. MOSTLY UP ! He advises. There is truth in advertising after all.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


When a photo opportunity presents itself we rejoice for the good luck and light which puts that picture on your screen. In certain urban areas where the car may be welcome, but the camera is not, we do not tarry. We keep the motor running. In our more pastoral scenes we shut it down to preserve the hush of those spaces which abide in peace.

The tract pictured above would seem to be a pastoral place, but we kept the motor running just the same. We are just past the "Receiving Tomb" at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, S.C. While we were happy to be there, we were not interested in being "received" in that particular manner. While not superstitious, we and not interested in tempting fate in this way.

Like Satchel Paige we don't much like looking back for the rearview mirror reminds us of what might be gaining on us. Seldom good news. It shows where we've just been: no news at all. What we really love is a clean windshield, an open window, the road ahead. Good news.

It seems that the "Receiving Tomb" was a holding pattern for those who had finished breathing, but were not yet ready for planting. It must have been a bit then like getting stuck in the Atlanta Airport now. Many of us would rather be IN the ground than to languish ON the ground in that Purgatory.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


We photographed the car in front of a roadhouse on Hwy. 176 near St. Matthews, S.C. , which goes by the name of Chaps. We're pretty certain that this is not a franchisee of Ralph Lauren and willing to bet that these folks aren't British since that ain't the Union Jack flying up there.

Neither does this seem like the headquarters of Welcome Wagon. We've eyed the place in passing a few times before and thought that it might be wise to wait until the parking lot was clear of motorcycles, pickups and draft animals before calling at their door. There seemed to be no one guarding the place except for that moose which is hiding behind the tree.

For Chaps, the jewel in their crown is clearly the "C" flag. We have learned that it is politically correct to bring up any odious word using its first letter, in caps if you can, in quotes if you will. That way we can admit that we know the bad word, use it openly and often, but prove that we fear and loath it. The red in the "C" flag is for the red herring, that handy device which provides the necessary absolution from logic, facts and history. It means that one need not set their own house in order, need neither care for nor support their own issue, but have the blank check of blame to write anytime, anywhere for any amount. This currency would dry up should anything happen to the old "C" flag.

The present irony is that the Bubbas who keep that old flag flying are not protesters against the politically correct they are enablers of it.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Here in rural Dorchester County, South Carolina, with few attractions within walking distance, we would expect some interest in home entertainment opportunities. Owing to the lack of population density there is often no cable carrier willing to run lines to these remote locations. The satellite dish seems just the thing to meet this need.

We left the motor running when the picture above was taken. We weren't sure what to expect from a single family (modular, prefabricated) home which had almost as many satellite dishes on the roof as Santa assigned reindeer. There are Five dishes on the roof and one on a pole in the yard just in case a stray signal made it past the roof array. This was a new one on us. We nominate this home for placement in the National Register of Bizarre sites.

On our side of the home there is an attached or retrofitted addition which might house a water heater, is more likely a generator to power the bank of home entertainment units, but is most certainly not a bookcase.

We wondered whether those living under the five dishes were part of an intelligence gathering network or just very, very bored. In the prophetic movie, NETWORK, anchorman Howard Beale goes insane and begins telling Americans the truth about television. He tells viewers that what comes out of their TV sets is not the truth and that the networks will tell them any kind of **** that they want to hear. "We're in the boredom killing business," he says. That being the case, we have come upon boredom fighters of Olympic quality.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


In response or, more accurately, in reaction to the recent tragic and brutal loss of life on another American campus, The administration of The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, has decided to lock itself down. Mark up another touchdown for fear.

Are the Cadets cowering in their bunks, begging for protection, fearing the worst? No. These students are, after all, learning how to effectively wage war and protect their country in addition to their academic education. We haven't seen one white flag from any Cadet's window. Who, then, is so fearful?

Certainly the administrators of many colleges are fearful not so much of an actual attack upon the school, but of the fallout, the flak, the heat they would take if something, anything went wrong now whether real or imaginary. Let's not do anything which might be a bad career move and let's not make anyone uneasy especially our insurance carriers or our lawyers.

Long ago we tossed out free speech and other inconvenient elements of the Constitution on American college campuses as we gave the forces of radical chic a free hand in funding, curriculum and campus conduct. Now, we're dealing the fear card from the bottom of the deck.

If you trade in your liberty for comfort and the illusion of safety, you make a fool's bargain. If we allow every event of terror whether great or small to drive us into hiding then we deserve neither comfort nor safety. We will have surrendered to enemies of our own making.

We can only hope that our current crop of college students will have the good sense to reject the intimidation by stylish radicals of the left or right wings and the stout heart to reject the physical fear which TV broadcasters of every bias are feeding us to fan their ratings. The State Motto of Vermont is, " LIVE FREE OR DIE." The State Motto of South Carolina is, "WHILE I BREATHE, I HOPE." We could use equal measures of both.