Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Choice is Yours

Forget Highways or Dieways. The choice here is Livers or Gizzards. We're in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood of North Charleston, SC, where choices are few and far between. This is the epicenter of the city's criminal culture and the habitat of its prey. It is a solid barrier to the regentrification which the city seeks.

The only source of cooked food in the immediate area comes from this place the name of which is uncertain. Such places tend to take on a decidedly generic image. Perhaps ownership shifts too frequently for any one name to long remain on the door. We just call it the Liver or Gizzards place.

It is unlikely that any four star restaurants are going to take the first step into this new market. Setting up shop here on Spruill Avenue is an adventure more of the quick and the dead rather than of profit and loss. The convenience store across the street has bars at every window and door. A half block south of here the soft drink vending machine lives in its own cage. Even the American Legion post is encamped behind a ten foot high chain link fence dressed in barbed wire. We are amazed that the traffic light has not been carried off in the night.

Note that the choice between liver or gizzards is made at separate windows where the goods are passed through protective bars behind which plywood baffles close between orders. We don't expect any of the downtown food service entrepreneurs to try to move in on this operation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott

We see many things from the sundry roads we travel, but few are as recurrent as places of worship. Churches come on all sizes, shapes and levels of grandeur. Some are grander than others as the splendor index varies considerably. For some churches the snap, crackle and pop comes from the curb appeal of its building, some magnetic stroke of architecture which draws one right off the road and into the spirit. Then there are congregations which generate joyful noises of living faith within plainest of humble structures.

The faithful are often defined by the hymns the offer up on Sundays. Some church buildings remind us of specific hymns. There is the little chapel on the former Navy Base at Charleston which bears the first line of the Navy Hymn. Then there is the small locked down church in our photo which we spotted on Hwy. 601 which reminds us of one hymn in particular: "A Mighty Fortress is Our God", a hymn written by Martin Luther sometime in the late 1520s has been translated many time into many languages. It has been called the Battle Hymn of the Reformation.

The first line of the original hymn in German goes this way, " Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott, Ein' gute Wehr und Waffen ." In English it says, " A Mighty Fortress is our God, A trusty Shield and Weapon ." The wording has been toned down by Fredrick Hedge in the 1850s to be a bit less strident, but the message is quite clear. "For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe ."

Of course, the bars on this church are for practical purposes in that it's a small fortress in a bad neighborhood. It suggests a bulwark protecting the faithful from Lucifer's personal representatives in the hood as much as blocking his burglary of the soul.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sacrificial Art and Sins in the Cathedral of Pork

We are in the "Olde Business District" of East Montague Avenue, North Charleston, SC. This is the center of creation for what became the City of North Charleston. The artwork is painted on sheets of plywood in an accordion pattern. It seems to have been done as an artistic exercise and assuredly with permission. We wondered if it had been offered as something of a sacraficial anode in hopes of forstalling grafitti vandals from spoiling the renovated storefronts along this avenue. Someone has already scralled some chicken scratch on the painting so maybe it's working toward that end. It's the very first thing which greets one on entering the district.

Unseen, but very much alive are several new business ventures which have taken over abandoned commercial spaces joining old favorites in the section of East Montague from Spruill to Virginia Avenues. There is a very enjoyable Irish pub just above Johnny's hamburger joint which is a long time favorite of long term locals. The Idle Hour is a great place for a grilled cheese and gossip. Evo's pizza restaurant has lots of interesting dishes and is the favorite of the thirtyish professional crowd. Across the street is an ice cream parlor occupying a portion of what once was Port City Drugs. These are all enjoyable places among which we can only report one dud: the BBQ restaurant which we will neither name nor revisit. We didn't think it merited a photo, but we couldn't let it pass unchallenged. It is seriously lacking in proper BBQ ambiance, the service was indifferent, but worst of all the food was dull. The pork was without flavor and the side dishes seemed a bit below a Swanson's frozen meal.

BBQ spots along our back road travels are prized finds. We've been to more than we can immediately recall. To be certain BBQ is many things to many people. Each place seems to have a slightly different tilt on the meat and sauce. All have been enjoyable each in their own way, but this one on East Montague was our first experience in flavor free BBQ and side dishes. A BBQ enterprise is often a family business or at least it's undertaken with pride, determination and hospitality. Some are humble and some are grand presentations of this classic Southern specialty, but indifference is something we are not used to seeing. We feel that whoever runs the place should remove all references to Barbecue from the building. They could easily rename everything they sell using any description they wished and still make a go of it. After all, the dining public has come to expect to pay more for less wherever they eat, but in the South, Cathedral of Pork, barbecue is something of a religion in which passing off tasteless food is considered a sin.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Dog and Pony Show, II - That Dog Will BITE YOU !

We have drawn up worshipfully at the feet or ratherpaws of the Citadel's brand new statue of their beloved mascot: the Bulldog. This artist's model for this statue was a living Bulldog named "Boo" which happens to be the nickname of one of the Citadel's most beloved humans, Lt. Col.. Thomas Nugent Courvoisie, Citadel Alumnus and author Pat Conroy blended fact and fiction in his books about The Citadel and especially Courvoisie. So, casting a statute from a dog model named after " The Boo " was certainly no slight against the icon which Courvoisie had become to his "lambs" well before the books and movies.

This work of art is rendered in bronze by a former football player, Michael Hamby, who played pro ball for the Buffalo Bills until sidelined by surgery for an injury in 1989. Hamby, no relation to the local sandwich maven, is quoted by the POST-COURIER as having taken his aggression out of football and infused it into his art. We'd agree. In fact, a walk around the statue reveals that it is more than vaguely anatomically correct.

That reminded us of story about the University of Georgia's mascot, Uga, also a Bulldog. Some years back a football game in which Georgia was playing was being telecast live. There were two commentators providing the usual fill chatter between plays. The roaming camera found its way around to Uga who was equally bored with the game and was licking himself in a way, in a place which dogs are given to doing when not otherwise occupied. One commentator said without thinking, " Man, I wish I could do that..." to which the other fellow replied, " That dog would BITE YOU ! ".