Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thinking Outside of the Pipeline

Along the way through Orangeburg County on Hwy. 301 the oversized coffee pot caught our eye as it might have some fifty years ago. Before the franchisees, the Inns of Hampton, the outlet stores, the El Cheapos at every ramp and the very interstate highways which feed them, there were places like this. These were the mom and pop businesses neither supported nor controlled by some distant corporate center.

At the time when Interstate 95 opened many of these little operations were on their way toward closing. A lot of them didn't see the end coming, but those who did had few alternatives but to perish in place. There were neither funds for nor the will to relocate because most proprietors lived at or near their places of business.

Back in the 1950s a couple bought this land and built a little diner on the site and living quarters further from the road. The Mr. fashioned that eye catching coffee pot from sheet metal in his shop behind the building. The Mrs. fashioned a very popular pecan pie from those which dropped from the trees about the place. His big coffee pot drew people in and her pecan pies made them popular. There had the gimmick, but they delivered the goods. When you wanted a large coffee to go, they did not require you to ask for a "grande".

The interstate highways are long pipelines across the land through which the country rushes and from which sights like the coffee pot pecan pie shop are never seen. We enjoy picking through the unburied corpses of these long gone independent enterprises. We don't suggest that these were exciting undertakings, but we think they may have been fulfilling in ways which most of us no longer understand.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

By-Catch of the Energy Crisis

Travelers along US Highway 17 north of Charleston frequently wonder about an abandoned hull which sits on land close to the marsh at a small creek between Awendaw and McClellanville. There seems to be a need to come up with an explanation for everything we see which is not immediately obvious at first sight. Objects found out of place seem to disturb the order and balance we require as we move through the day.

We often delight in the misplaced objects we find, but tend fill in the blanks were facts are not present. Along this stretch of the coast the memory of Hurricane Hugo looms large and is the most likely filler of blanks. Anything twisted, bent, smashed, unfastened, rusted, busted or dead became such at the hand of Hugo. Most folks passing this way just figure that Hugo washed this trawler ashore, but that's not the way it went.

Around 1980 fuel costs were already well above the pre embargo days of the early 70s. It was a jolt which had begun to raise the cost of living and brought about a run on the small car market. Suddenly you couldn't give away a full sized American sedan. The demand for fuel economy brought a plague upon the American muscle car from which only the Chevrolet Camaro and the Ford Mustang survived and just barely. Of course, now that gasoline is far more expensive we've just tossed out any idea of fuel economy, a misplacement of priorities for which no one seems to have a good explanation. We haven't yet filled in that blank.

People passing the trawler often make up interesting stories to explain its presence. The trawler was actually a response to the energy crisis.

Our research indicates that a man came up with an idea for a lighter shrimp trawler around 1979. His plan was to use fiberglass for the hull to reduce weight and thus save Diesel fuel which become more expensive than gasoline. Fuel cost was the first major attack upon the heart of the shrimping industry in the lowcountry. He obtained some sort of loan perhaps a Small Business Loan and began construction of the trawler. This appears to have been a one man operation so it must have taken quite a while. Why it was not completed by September 21, 1989, the date when Hugo stuck, we do not know and won't speculate. The hurricane only moved the hull a few yards from its original position and time has taken care of the decaying process. It's nothing more than by-catch of the energy crisis now.

So, this project was one man's attempt to respond to a crisis and help save an industry. Our national response to the runaway cost of fuel is in pretty much the same shape as this abandoned trawler. When the next embargo comes as come it will, we'll be looking a lot worse than the trawler. "Happy Motoring," as they used to say at Esso before it became Exxon.