Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This Train is Bound For Glory

"This train is bound for glory,
Don't carry nothing but the righteous and the holy.
This train don't carry no gamblers,
Liars, thieves, nor big shot ramblers,
This train don't carry no con men,
No wheeler dealers, here and gone men..."

We're at track side on the CSX right of way in the Neck Area of the Charleston peninsula. CSX Railroad owns the track, but leases use of it to Norfolk-Southern. The trains just amble along this section of the system moving ever so slowly. They tend to block traffic for an inordinate amount of time in the view of most motorists. The train in the photo is just about to break to its left and cross the road right were we are perched. It will continue to wend its way south on the peninsula until it reaches the S.C. Port Authority's Union Pier.

When it reaches Union Pier it will both discharge and take aboard Porsche automobiles. We manufacture certain Porsche models in South Carolina and export them abroad. Porsche also ships some of their European made models into the U.S. via Charleston.
This train is bound for glory and the show room.

Old Woody Guthrie might well have been right about the train itself, but he'd be more than a little surprised to see that Tom Joad hobo types have been replaced by brand new Porsches for cargo. The American freight train was a central metaphor for Guthrie's Populist, arguably Socialist, pitch. Woody had written on his guitar a warning: "This Machine Kills Fascists ". The last Porsche model Woody could ever have seen was in 1967 when Huntington's Disease killed him.

The Grapes of Wrath have gone to vinegar as bitter as this irony would be for Old Woody to swallow. We'd have to agree that a few of the new Porsches might soon be carrying some of what the train to glory would not. Woody probably had to take a different train as well.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bridging the Gap in Your Armani Blazer

Having circulated within the South Carolina lowcountry for more than a few model years, we've become familiar with and enchanted by bridges of all sizes and types. The dramatic ones such as the new Arthur Ravenel, Jr., bridge which connects peninsula Charleston with Mt. Pleasant, SC and the two remarkable ones which it replaced get all the notice. We like to find small interesting bridges which are either old enough to be quaint and dangerous or new ones of intriguing design.

We found two in Beaufort County near Bluffton, SC, recently. The first one has a coated steel decking with openings wide enough to swallow an average sized foot. Certainly this aids in the immediate draining of the deck, but it may also be helpful in preventing deer and perhaps other creatures from wandering into the town center of an exclusive and very expensive gated community. It acts in the same way the old cattle guards would prevent the wandering off of livestock This is the bridge into Palmetto Bluff, a community so well planned that it may have bred its very own animals and thus wish to prevent their escape.

Our second find was a wooden decked bridge with rather elaborate steel superstructure. It is certainly functional, but it is decidedly form as well. What we noticed were the two separate decks outboard of the vehicle thoroughfare of the bridge. One deck appears to be for bikes and pedestrians while the other seems more like a gazing platform from which people might observe the natural beauty of the site. It may also be for fishing of all things. We notice now that almost every nice short bridge which had raised paved sidewalks no longer allows fishing from those area for which it was designed. Perhaps it's fear of litigation. After a few fisherfolk get launched from these bridges by careless drivers, the TV lawyers cannot be far behind.

We don't exactly see Tom Sawyer types fishing from this bridge with old cane poles. Considering the high tone of this gated community it's possible that there's a dress code required for fishing. There well may be an Armani Fishing Blazer fitted with the club brassard which is specified for this area, who knows? There does, however, seem to be some concession to the humble pastime of fishing from a bridge. Even if that's not openly admitted or may require membership, it is at least a step in the right direction

Sunday, June 14, 2009


We've always been fascinated by automobile license tags which were formerly called license plates. That transition, like so many, was made without our advice or consent. It just happened one day in much the same way that meaningful words become hijacked, altered in pronunciation or meaning or are simply banned. One may no longer be fat, crazy or stupid. The person is unchanged, but they are now tagged by more...sensitive terms.

Such a change may be made by someone on some network on perhaps a Monday. If by Wednesday you have not complied with the new tag, people in the street will look at you as if your face was one big running sore.

We have been very pleased by the manner in which the South Carolina DMV, once called the "Highway Department" in the less advanced days, had tagged us. Until May 31, 2009, we were graced by a beautiful plate with a baby blue field and a white cloud center to offset the alpha-numerics by which we are known to the motoring world. The slogan, "Smiling Faces - Beautiful Places," was nice, but fortunately lost in the blue peaks atop the plate which symbolize the mountains we almost have in S.C. . Well, the Palmetto tree did look a bit too much like a feather duster, but the overall beauty of the plate made us proud to have state's name also in blue below.

When the DMV or KGB to our way of thinking, sent the new license plate to our door we thought it was a cheap joke done up on an ink jet printer by a deranged friend. It has the dreadful color scheme of a New Mexico tag and by no mean enchanting in these parts. Now the letters precede the numbers, but you can't read them anyway. When we tore through some hamlet scaring chickens and children, a good citizen would tell the police that it was Blue Mustang with 322 on the tag. Now, they'll probably report the first three characters as " F 7 J ". We looked closely at the packing in which it arrived to see if it was also an air sick bag. How can you have any respect for something which looks like a place mat from a taco joint?

First of all it came not from Columbia, our State Capital, but from ...Blythewood, SC. How can anything official which you must by state law pay for and post upon your car not come from Columbia? Next, it's not really metal or any other known material and totally flat, NOT embossed, no raised lettering. The guy who stole our last car should be in prison, in Columbia hand stamping the tag for our next car. Now, that would be not only justice, but sustainability.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

No Talking Our Way Out of This !

Our Number One Priority, well, after highway safety, combating litter, cultural preservation, raising awareness of very minor, but exceedingly embarrassing personal medical problems, sustainable speeding and, of course, World keeping a sharp eye out for the Police. We like to see them before they see us. We wish to conduct no official business with the sworn persons who enforce the traffic laws of the lower 48 States. We strive to be their one unwritten ticket or at least the one that got away.

We don't follow the coward's path of using a radar detector nor do we listen out for truckers on CB. We follow our instincts. On the interstates we tend to raft up with the herd so that our predators will sack a weak elder or stray calf trailing behind. We like having the road behind us clogged with easy pickings and thus keep the carnage in our rearview. On the back roads we are careful to select those stretches with easy escape routes for our zoom-zooming. If we stay a curve ahead and find a confusing intersection then we'll likely toss in some extra coal and take no less than a 50/50 chance in bolting.

When, however, we are had, nailed, caught dead to rights with no way out, then we put on our Gandhi face and turn pacifist. When they've got you cold the best thing to do is to pull off quickly, safely and run up the white flag post haste. It's eyes forward (no nervous gawking in the rearview), hands high on the wheel, window down, motor off and pulled over far enough off the roadway to give the Trooper a wide and safe place to plant his feet. This was our immediate plan when zipping down Hwy. 78 just a few clicks out of Branchville, SC. We're stepping right along when, BAM, there's the St. George Police on the side of the road and about to eat us for supper. Trapped like a rat we pulled off before the officer could start his cruiser. You must wait for the officer to come to YOUR window not the reverse.

We waited so long that we began to think that the officer expected us to come to his vehicle. So, once at his window what did we find? There in the second photo, a little foggy, but you can see that our conversation was a bit one sided. Was this just a dummy set up to scare us into lawful driving or was it the hand of fate reminding us that both genders are out there now and that we must not presume that it is "he" who seeks our scalp. It well may be a "she" who is our tormentor, but that does not strike us as news. This, of course, may also be the way that municipality is meeting the guidelines for hiring women. No maternity leave for this gal.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Deporting the Port from Port Royal

Port Royal, SC, is a wonderful small town which is removed from the mainstream of tourist attractions. We have always enjoyed the true feeling of a village which Port Royal provides the visitor both visually and in terms of the cordial nature of its people. Port Royal is very close to Beaufort, SC and is the location of a small facility of the S.C. Ports Authority. Port Royal has not been a cash cow for the Ports Authority so the state is closing that facility and may offer the very choice waterfront land for sale. It has not, however, been a heavy loser for the state either.

It should be noted that the original charter of the South Carolina Ports Authority made very clear that its various terminals were not simply a revenue generator as should be the case in a private corporate structure. They exist to encourage economic growth, support local businesses and to provide jobs. In recent years the Ports Authority has come under the influence of bottom liners who embrace the Authority as corporate playing field on which the sole mission is profit. Their scoreboard has little room for the chartered mission of the Authority..

The SCPA Port Royal facility has coexisted nicely with the recreational opportunities enjoyed by its citizens. If that facility is sold, what is likely to land on that prime waterfront property? On a recent visit we encountered a sign of what might well be on the way. Only the current recession is holding the line against the tide of on rushing condos. We have posted two photographs of that immediate area of Port Royal. Which do you think is the better path?

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Riddle of the Hump

We are again on one of the sets for the television series Army Wives which is being shot in Charleston, SC. We provide a bit of background by quoting JUST PRESS PLAY (

** "Bordering dangerously close to soap opera..., Army Wives caters to the patriotic female crowd. Yes, it’s Lifetime, so the more discerning TV audiences need not apply.... The basic premise of the show sees Roxy (Sally Pressman) moving to a nearby army post after marrying an enlisted soldier. On the base she finds herself bound to a group of women affectionately known as Army Wives. The first season ends with a soldier on the post, suffering from psychosis, going into the Hump Bar and detonating a bomb strapped to his chest. After the dust settles... Roxy takes in Betty, the cancer-stricken owner of the Hump Bar, and finds herself charged with reopening it using the insurance money." **

Well, the good things in life such as Dewar's Scotch and commercial television never really change. We'd bet that this series has fallen completely into the suds of soap opera. There's precious little chance that the medium will ever climb high enough out of the bowl to look down on any viewers, discerning or otherwise.

While it sounds much like random TV offerings, we did wonder how the word "Hump" applied. We know that the Himalayan Mountains were called "The Hump", a formidable impediment over which US planes flew supplies to Burma during WWII. Perhaps it suggests that with the heavy confusion the crew has trouble getting past Wednesdays, the official "hump" day of the week. It might also suggest the challenges which the cast and crew face in navigating over the endless speed humps on Charleston streets. The set sits smack dab on a railroad siding and we know "humps" in that context are small artificial hills over which rail cars are pushed, one by one and uncoupled so that the car may be rerouted to other tracks. We much more suspect that the word refers to the troubles which come with so much cross pollination betwixt the characters in the series.

Apparently, the "DO NOT HUMP" directives apply only to railroad cars

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Welcome to East the Lost City of Chernobyl

SPECIAL NOTE: Since we first ran these photos East Berlin has, with Western aid and freedom, has experienced massive rebuilding, renovation and renewal. The comparison is outdated. The AMTRAK station at North Charleston, S.C., more closely resembles what has been left behind in the lost city of Chernobyl. The difference, of course, is that Chernobyl had to be abandoned and is going rapidly to seed. This AMTRAK station did not have to be abandoned, but was and has already gone to seed.

Unlike Chernobyl, it took no such drama to bring the AMTRAK station to its current state of disgrace. It required only total neglect. Countless billions were wasted by federal mismanagement of a deteriorated passenger rail system. What follows was our first impression of the site:

It is 4:00PM on a Saturday and we've come to snoop around the Charleston Amtrak Terminal. Through this palatial facility must pass all who depart from and arrive at Charleston, SC, by train. In the hard light of day it is a bit this side of eye candy. It reminds us of nothing so much as the photos of East Berlin when the Soviets held their tightest grip on their captive countries.

East Berlin became a metaphor for the failing corruption of the Soviet Union. The Amtrak Terminal could have been slipped right into East Berlin past Checkpoint Charlie and no one would have noticed. Every published photo from that dreadful sector was a reminder to Americans of how very fortunate we were by comparison. Just look at this place today.

The side facing oncoming visitors has several broken windows some of which are crudely patched, some left open. Several old and uninviting mattresses rest against one of the first floor windows. We'd feel safer sleeping on the tracks. A battered garage door stands slightly ajar. Notice the heavy rust on the interior of the rail siding roof. One must feel very special when gliding down this concourse. There is barbed wire strung everywhere further reminding us of the danger which is at hand. It looks like one of those war torn stations from which the movie hero narrowly makes his escape.

It is the classic movies from the 1930s and 1940s which remind us of how far the mighty have fallen. Travel by train was elegant, timely and safe in those days. It is an iron horse of a different color today. Comparing the Amtrak Terminal to the Charleston International Airport is shocking, but not entirely fair. The airport is operated by Charleston County Aviation Authority and Amtrak is run more or less by the US Government which bailed out Amtrak many years ago. Are we not then shareholders in Amtrak ? It appears that we or those we hired have not been good shepherds of our physical plant if that is the case.

We saw no one around the place at all. We wondered if the staff had left to help run General Motors.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Nothing Becomes Them So Much As Their Leaving

35 years ago this THING was the most shocking piece of new architecture in the City of Charleston. For those who sipped the traditional tea of grace and beauty in the Holy City, this was a Jolt Cola. Some dropped dead on the spot at first sight of the new bank. There was widespread wringing of hands and much hell to pay in the matter. Actually, we grew to like this odd looking building over the years, but we're not sad to see the current tenant leave before their lease is up. Nothing becomes them so much as their leaving.

Bank of America is shutting down its Charleston Medical Center Branch at 281 Calhoun on the corner of Gadsden Street for good on Aug. 21. That leaves, but one location in the Charleston, SC, peninsula: 200 Meeting Street. It would require special planning to find a more inconvenient location which suggests that B of A must want more privacy from its annoying smaller customers. We'd suggest an unlisted phone number to maintain a proper level of contempt. How about "SORRY, WE'RE OPEN" on the door?

In 2004 B of A showed award winning contempt for our area by luring the Johnson and Wales culinary institution out of Charleston and up to Charlotte, NC. That move was expected to generate nearly $60 million in annual economic activity for Charlotte. It was also quite a threat to Charleston's restaurant and hospitality industry upon which we heavily depend for the tourist dollar. But, the heck with them as it's the building which interests us.

Perhaps the building grew on us because it was first occupied in 1974 by the old Bankers Trust. It was a nice bank staffed and run by nice people. No deposit was too small and no customer unworthy of their full attention. Perhaps the courtesy and accommodation which they showed all customers created such good will as to gradually soften the community's view of the building. If Frankenstein's monster had been a nice cheerful Rotary Club sort of fellow, he, too, would have grown on his community. It's all in how you treat people.

Frankly it reminded us more of a Department of Corrections gun tower than a bank, but we began to admire the place. We secretly wondered what it might be like to live there. It's very secure and perfect for the flood prone area in which it sits. There's adequate parking for entertaining and we'd have a built in carport for the Mustang. Deliveries would be assured since no one could possibly fail to find the place. It never needs painting and the vault is roach proof.

The best feature of this dramatic structure is that you would never have to worry about the place losing its good looks.