Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hump Warning Sign Corrected

We're never reluctant about calling the City's hand when they deal us a bad card. We recently found a Speed Hump warning sign facing sideways where no approaching vehicle could see it. Not until a car busted an oil pan and the motor burned up would one be the wiser.

Not two days after we posted that picture the sign vanished from the post to which it had been fastened. We figured that was probably hanging in a dorm room or frat house just up the street.

Then less than a week later, bingo, new post, new sign and all as it should be. We're certain that it's mostly citizens who steal or deface road signs, but it seems clear that the City of Charleston is the one who has to put them right again.

Now, if we could encourage someone from the College, the Project, the neighborhood to dig up the blasted speed hump then all things would again be in their places.

To protect us from reprisals we found a vandal who agreed to spray paint our license tag. By chance, he happened to have a can of Windveil Blue in his possession.

Monday, September 17, 2007


In our foraging for old fashioned country stores we seldom strike out when rounding the bases on South Carolina's rural roads. Certainly it's a prize when we discover an ongoing multigenerational country store still in operation. When we find one of those it is decidedly a home run. Today we got a base hit with Barwick's Variety Shop.

We made a run up U.S. Highway 17 North and took a left at Highway 45 which is an official "Evacuation Route." Depending upon the weather, Highway 45 either begins or ends at McClellanville, SC. Anyone hanging around McClellanville when the hurricane horn goes off knows which way to run so the "Evacuation Route" signs seem unnecessary. They do, however, help one avoid enjoying their day too much by keeping weather terror in our daily thoughts.

We're all familiar with animals named after people. Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle, Wilson's Snipe and Pel's Fishing Owl are three of our favorites. Today at Barwick's in charming, but unassuming Shulervlle we have discovered Ghann's Cricket, "Top Quality Fish Gettters!" (see the faint print on the sign). Notice how he's looking to see just where you're going to put that hook before he goes to get those fish for you.

Barwick's Variety Shop may have gone extinct, but Ghann's Cricket has just moved down the road a bit. We doubt that he's made it all the way to WalMart, but he's probably still out their getting fish for some lucky angler.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Business Section: Cottageville SC

We had a yarn concocted along the lines of having broken down in a remote area of the state only to be rescued by the featured wrecker. After having a good look at both vehicles it seemed more likely that we had found the wrecker disabled and gave it a push to its present berth.

This is Cottageville in Colleton County, South Carolina. We're having to watch our P's and Q's these days out on the open road. Not long ago the Mayor of Cottageville had got himself into hot water over some alleged violation of the posted speed limits. They, the newspaper, said that he had been rather fleet of foot, but had received several free passes on speeding tickets when stopped. We did not feel that such same luck would attach to us while breezing through this little town. We made a slow and deliberate debut.

No riddle of commerce has confounded us more than the rural sacrament of the yard sale. We were drawn to one being held in a semicircular driveway by a man who never made eye contact with us nor we with him as we idled past his array of puzzling goods. The man sat in a chair under a tent and concentrated on his cigarette seeming to hope that we'd steal some of his stuff which would allow him to vacate the unappealing site sooner than later. After this wasted moment we pulled away and then our eyes fell upon J.W.'s Tire Station.

J.W. has taken over a nice old concrete block structure in the heart of town. It seemed welcoming in a frighteningly friendly sort of way. He has a collection of hubcaps of which none match. These are probably just loosely fastened mementos from cars passing through. The tires look fresher. The truck is dreamboat.

The wrecker seems a composite of several different trucks' previous lives. There is a set of canine teeth painted into the grille. Some kind of metal hat is attached to the hood. The interior is a clutter of items which one might expect to build up in such a vehicle over time. When one fancies a set of wheels it becomes a personalized possession which often is given a name. J.W. has painted this truck's name on the door: " Red Hot Tow-mater " ! The tire market in Cottageville may ebb and flow, but this looks like a long term relationship.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Once and Future Bamberg

Here at the confluence of Highways 301, 601 and 78 is the Town of Bamberg, South Carolina, founded 1897. It is yet another small town which lost its downtown businesses to the national brands which clustered in shopping malls over thirty years ago. An entire generation never knew the proud and friendly local stores run by their neighbors on these few streets. No one under fifty knows the term "dry goods" or has a notion about Notions.

As local merchants began closing up downtown an increasingly lower trade was moving in. Frequently, the opening of a wig shop, that harbinger buzzard, signals the closing of viable business for that block. It was a slow and painful process with an obvious outcome. This unhappy commercial decline was as well marked and traceable as the downward tumble of a human's health. You might have found a Western Auto Associate store on Main Street, but J.C. Penny wasn't moving in next door.

Bamberg's commercial downtown descendeth into hell, but is rising again to sit on the right hand of urban renewal. We eased up to Bamberg recently to collect pictures of the decayed infrastructure. We were surprised to find not just piecemeal renovation, but a concerted effort at rebuilding an entire business district. This is what we had hoped for: the remnants of the last gasps of desperate, bawdy, funky enterprises with the rebuilders close behind. It is exactly what's happening in Bamberg.

In our photos the old Main Street has been dug up, regraded and repaved in part. Many old signs and decorated plate glass windows mark the last round up of failed efforts which seem to be giving way to promising new ones. We shot photos at both ends of the street to show the breadth of the undertaking. There is a strong sense of positive redirection in the air there.

This renewal is happening because Bamberg's the political center of gravity in the county and because of an infusion of funds from a mixture of sources. You just don't have a block full of boutiques moving into Skid Row for fun. It takes a lot of money, political power and a concessus within the business community to reanimate our small towns' downtowns. We are in great need of that combination in the other 45 counties.