Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pedro sez, "Chili tonight, but uncertain Tamale"

Our arrival at Hamer, SC, in search of the bottling plant for legendary Blenheim Ginger Ale was disappointing and strange. We found an unremarkable concrete block structure behind which was a labyrinth of piping and a very large tank marked "CO2". So much for natural carbonation. The front of the place has two resin or plastic eagles pitched and perched on pipe legs at either side of the door. It is sequestered down a short dirt road from a gate beyond which visitors were not allowed. The gate had been left open. The unadorned grounds are used as random storage for rusted implements. The plant sits on land used for other things. If you removed some of the modern junk and scattered a few 1956 Chevys around, it could pass for Cuba.

This is neither the original plant nor ownership. We got a different story from each of the several people we asked about the place none of whom we will quote. It did not fit our expectations or the projected image of the product. Hamer, we found, was right in the middle of the famous tourist attraction, South of the Border. On that account it did not seem like a wasted trip.

We quickly fell under the spell of Pedro's sombrero. South of the Border or "SOB" (black letters painted on a large YELLOW elevated water tank) for short, was born of the inventive talents of the late Alan Schafer more than 50 years ago. Schafer legally sold beer at his store just inches within the South Carolina side of the state line. Inches north was dry Robeson County, North Carolina, the citizens of which were only too happy to step over the line for good cold beer. So, we drove four hours looking for a ginger ale plant and wound up at a beer joint turned tourist trap empire.

At the beginning Schafer began importing trinkets from Mexico to enrich his South of the Border motif. He must have learned early on that bad taste can be bankable and that ethnic funmaking is fully acceptable as long as it's at the expense of the right ethnicity. Perhaps he saw that comic images of certain folks eating watermelons and picking cotton was causing considerable ill will and sharply diminishing revenue for traditional roadside stands.

In a few years the Frito Bandito would be drawing belly laughs with TV viewers and selling corn chips by the carload. Unlike Frito-Lay, however, Schafer didn't roll over when joshing the Mexicans became a raised issue. In spite of brewing demands to sanitize that image including an undocumented protest from the Mexican Embassy, Schafer pulled only a few of the more exaggerated Mexicanisms from his billboards, but then put them all in a colorful booklets which he sold quite successfully to customers in his gift shops. He gave up nothing while making a bit more money in the process. He possessed the instincts of the pure promoter unfettered by distractions.

We prowled around the compound checking out the amusements, following a Zebra, looking at the people seeking relief from the monotony of Interstate 95. Upon closer inspection we found that several buildings were still "Closed for the Winter". An adjacent motel promoted their "Winter Rates" of $33.95. One could still pay for a ride in an elevator up to Pedro's sombrero, but we saw the majority of visitors lined up at the restrooms. Pedro's Concrete Gallery was also closed, but we peeked in to find nothing more than an assortment of dreadful cement statuary of the type seen in the yards from hell along our way. Two gargantuan concrete Pedros are posted at the gallery entrance. They seem more the creatures of Diablo than Disney. In any respectable horror movie they'd come alive and turn the tourists to stone in revenge for the many gags at Mexican expense or just eat them when the cement tacos ran out.

With an endless supply of bored motorists informed of Pedro's charms by a dense series of signs many miles up the road, things are slow. The gaudy nature of the place was the bulk of its charm, but things now look worn and tired. It presents as a small town in decline. Shafer may have stored tumbleweed somewhere for the final phase of SOB. He could turned the demise of SOB into a profit. What we saw looked like the figurative winter in the middle of July for Alan Schafer's once joyfully gaudy empire of fun. Mr. Schafer died in 1991 and Pedro, while not on life support, is just a little short of wind and a bit long in the tooth.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Budget VooDoo - African Village for Ten Bucks


At the entrance to this compound a sign reads, " You Are Leaving the United States and Entering the Yoruba Kingdom, Oyotunji Village ". Since the respective continents are not contiguous, this already sounds somewhat suspect. The fact that this border checkpoint is in Beaufort County, SC, does some violence to the illusion, but we go forward and enter "Africa" anyway.

Our greeter and guide is pictured at the side of the GT. The message board under the stop sign asks visitors to blow their horn. Our greeter-guide did a pretty good job of blowing his. He was cordial, inviting and granted permission to photograph the village as long as the photos were not for commercial purposes, that is, not for profit. He then rounded up a few visitors to form a tour and collected Ten Dollars (US) from each person.

As we were conducted through the village our guide's commentary took a convoluted path weaving first through interpretive perhaps extemporaneous accounting of African lore then swerving back into contemporary low country South Carolina anecdotal references. His rich cultural tapestry went uninterrupted by even one common thread. Perhaps he was demonstrating Vachel Lindsay's classic poem, " The Congo ":
Walk with care, walk with care,
Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo,
And all the other
Gods of the Congo,
Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you.
It was an enjoyable visit, but we felt just a tad hoo-done.

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OYOTUNJI - VooDoo Alive in SC


A reader asked whether we had encountered "AWOLOWO" during our visit to the Yoruba Kingdom, Oyotunji Village at Sheldon, SC. The short answer is YES as can be seen in the photo above. During our tour this was barely mentioned and we were not motivated to ask. We can report that the container is an actual burial vault. The round object in front is not a wheel cover, but a medallion of some sort which was also not explained. Just to the lower right of the medallion is a regulation metal name plate used immediately following burial, but prior to the arrival of a rendered granite headstone. We noticed that several sacred sites are garnished with spent half pint liquor bottles. Perhaps this an accommodation for the after life much as for Pharaohs in their pyramids. Whether the figure on top of the vault is, but a representative figure of one which may be within, we also failed to discover.

In our meeting with AWOLOWO we must say that the conversation was a bit one sided. It was reminiscent of our visit to the Military Mannequins at Bowman, SC, last October:

During the lull in our guide's presentation, we looked expectantly toward the next exhibit. Fortunately, he moved us along. Some things are more fun when you don't know too much about them.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Art of Pearl Fryer on his John Deere

If you have seen the recent John Deere Tractor commercials during major sports broadcasts, you will see the man who created a world of inspiring designs by his artful trimming of shrubs. This is an update of a previous blog entry.
The man is Pearl Fryar and he does the darndest things to shrubs. Mr. Fryar probably called these things bushes, shrubs or even by their given names as we, too, would prefer. Somebody from some agency, gallery or university came along and declared them to be "botanicals", the term which we are now obligated to use.

Back in January of 2006 we began to hear of Mr. Fryar and his work and decided to pop up to Bishopville. We posted some of these photos and copy back then in the blog.

It's a long way to Topiary, It's a long way I know....well, about 165 Miles to Bishopville, the Seat of Lee County, South Carolina. The mileage from Charleston just happens to coincide with the address of a most unusual botanical artist which he has rendered in topiary-numerics in his front yard. Just try working this out with your riding lawnmower. This is NOT Photoshop, but the real living topiary plants which form these numbers.

There being no Academy of Topiary Art around these parts, the artist, Mr. Pearl Fryar, is a self taught man. He began experimenting by cutting plants on his property into unusual forms in 1984. It seems to have been a lark which begat a hobby which begat a stylistic art form which is both eccentric and captivating. He branched out into larger and more daring shaping of his plants and hedges from an apparent desire to win the Yard-of-the-Month award.

Mr. Fryar wasn't working via cutouts from British garden magazines nor was he following any path known to him. He didn't call this art nor himself an artist. He just went out into his yard and nipped and tucked or whacked and hacked his way with only imagination as a guide. Now he has a yard full of topiary art which has spread throughout his neighborhood. .

Word of this extraordinary undertaking spread so far by early 2006 that paved parking and a turning circle for tour buses has been laid to accommodate the flow of visitors.

We didn't get to meet Mr. Fryar, but hope to learn more about him from the film which is called "A Man Named Pearl".

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Canine Enchanted

We were cruising up Highway 61 this afternoon and connected with Highway 165 just below Summerville, SC. We like to survey such open land and wooded tracts as remain for us to admire these days.

On 165 there's a road widening project for many miles with thin brush buffers left between that road and the subdivisions soon to come. It's all over except the shouting and the uptake of ticky tacky for that portion of 165. It will be expensive and the houses more artfully angled to scatter the effect of regimentation, but ticky tacky is ticky tacky and up it goes. Developers often stage what they call a dog and pony show before regulators or concerned neighbors to facilitate their plans. This show appears to have worked well.

There seemed no need to spend more time there than it took us to pass this ugly spot in the road. It was a very nice day, one of those promise-of-spring afternoons. 165 cuts through what it still relatively primitive territory and seeing more of that and less of civilized tracts gave the nice day back to us. We rolled down through miles of countryside so unspoiled that the few wretched dwellings along the way could not diminish the view. Crossing Highway 17 into Ravenel, taking Towles Road at Hollywood and Church Flats Road through Meggett brought us to Yonges Island.

Yonges Island has the good fortune to be interrupted frequently by marshes on which no one may yet build. What isn't wooded is open, sunny and salty. You get a sense of protected space down there so that development feels like a foreign war on a distant continent. Just before the end of 165 we noticed St. Mary's Catholic Church and pulled in to get a better look. Once out of the car we could barely make out the figure of a dog barking and charging toward us from far down a dirt road. When he got very close to us he suddenly turned and quietly faced the shrine for no apparent reason. We couldn't figure out whether he was protecting the church or was just as overwhelmed by the peace and quiet of that spot as we were.

Monday, January 11, 2010


The Norfolk and Western Railway began life as City Point Railroad which was chartered by Virginia State Legislature in 1836. Mississippi & Ohio Railroad sold under foreclosure in 1881 and renamed Norfolk & Western Railroad. In 1998 Norfolk & Western Railway ceased to exist and was consolidated with the Southern Railway to form Norfolk Southern Corporation.

During those many years the railroad hauled coal in amounts, at distances which would have been considered record levels by many of the lesser lines. N&W also carried passengers, but as with all other railroads, that was a break even return at best. Hauling people is the least profitable cargo for any railroad. Amtrak provides abundant evidence to that effect.

In 1984 the Norfolk and Western Society was formed to collect, catalog and display information, images and artifacts which commemorate this nobile line. They currently have 10,000 photographic images, 56,000 drawings of engines, cars, sidings and associated structures, but this is only what has been organized so far. There is considerably more material to be had.

Why are people love trains so very much? We're drawn to all things railroad related, but it's hard to say why. Certainly railroads are prominent in our American history, but exactly what is it which drives this passion. Not just grown, but quite senior men and women spend countless hours with model trains. We do not have an answer or even an educated guess.

Our pictures above were taken of murals painted on commercial walls in Columbia, South Carolina. These are excellent illustrations of the rolling stock from several famous railroads. Notice the tiny bird in the photo "BIRD PAINTS CAR". It looks like he painted the fender as he was passing over. "MAN PAINTS TRAINS" is the title of the balance of our photos.

We can't explain why we took a three hundred mile round trip up to the state capital just to snap a few photos of paintings of trains, but it was well worth the trip. We love trains and we want to see more of them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gentrification's Outer Ring.

We have paused at the Neighbor's Store at 1740 East Montague Avenue in North Charleston, S.C., to gauge the outermost concentric ring of regentrification, the epicenter of which isolated between Virginia and Spruill Avenues. That's quite a few blocks east of here. They call that section the "Olde Business District", but we'll use O.B.D.

We fear that the superfluous "e," a misdemeanor of affectation, may come back to bite the upwardly mobile in the rear in the near future. As they consolidate their place in the brave new world of North Charleston, they will certainly eschew middle brow suburban trappings as surely as the blue collar past will be swept under Oriental rugs. " Olde " is the misdemeanor which invariably leads to the felonious "Pointe" with which many a subdivision is tagged. It simply won't do. It won't do at all.

The O.B.D. has been careful to nurture old buildings into new and acceptable uses. They wisely wish to avoid the complete makeover which kills the local soul. Where then will Neighbor's Store fit into the plan? We note that groceries and candy replace beer and ice on typical convenience store front promotions. It's still a dicey neighborhood, but we found a kind and courteous lady within. Frankly, most such places run us off once we pull out the camera, but the lady wished us well and spoke favorably of the Mustang.

We like it and we hope that there's a place at the table for Neighbor's Store when regentrification is completed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Clubbable Mustang

As Americans, we like tout the concept of the Melting Pot, the tradition of assimilating all comers into the one big happy family which is the United States. We wax eloquent on public monuments, we talk a pretty good game of it in our classic movies and it runs out of our ears around every election season. The old E Pluribus Unum: "Out of many, one", is all over our money.

Do we put our money where out mouth is? No, we use it to pay club dues. We love clubs and we love belonging them. Some facet of human nature enjoys belonging where others do not. Certainly we love being part of this one big happy family of Americans, but we'd kind like having that fifty-first star on our own private flag flown over our own private club.

We floated Samuel Johnson's concept of one being "clubbable" in our visit to and picture of the Poinsett Club in Greenville, SC last year. The Poinsett has that burnished look of old money and first family networking. We stopped by Harold's Country Club at Yemassee, SC, last December, a bit more toward the other end of the rainbow. We beheld the Oaks Country Club at Goose Creek, SC, in November of 2005 and lamented its future as the masthead of yet another development in Berkeley County. In May of '06 we rolled over to the Sea Island Yacht Club in the village of Rockville, SC, just prior to their annual mega regatta. On the very first day of this year we pulled up to Mel's Filling Station out on Dorchester Road in North Charleston, SC, only to find the pumps to be dry window dressing for what is actually the meeting place for the Low Country Model A Club, a sort of semi-secret age specific automobile group. Later in January we enjoyed the open air quality of the Spit and Argue Club at Columbia, SC, our state capital where the General Assembly does quite a bit of both in their very exclusive public club. Most recently we can be seen incognito sneaking up to the Wow-Wee Country Club...INC, apparently some sort of private corporate club for executives who seek the remove of Bamberg County. We were captivated by the sheer exuberance of the name. The unassuming nature of the clubhouse in the background adds to the stealth and charm of the place.

You can see the diversity of the clubs from the photos provided. While private clubs may seem anathema to the American way, there is no nation which has more of them. If we are actually some sort of melted goods, we seem to use many individual pots into which we want to we want to be poured with our own chosen alloys.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

TUNNEL VISION - More Midlands Mystery

Don't let our insurance company see this. Here we are again going the wrong way on the wrong side of the road around a dangerous mountain curve...and NO ONE is in the car ( as usual ). You can bet your blinking blogs that we were plenty scared...and who wouldn't be !

We're a bit enchanted with the Midlands, actually Columbia, SC, the state capital and bedrock of the all knowing, all seeing, all blogging cognizanti. Naturally, one would be a bit taken aback to run into a mountain road tunnel right in Columbia. If you run into this " tunnel " things will go hard for you. It would be like those old Road Runner cartoons where characters would slam into a wall on which had been painted a road only to crash and peel off the surface. That's just what this is: a tunnel painted on a brick wall.

This is a wonderful piece of outdoor art painted on a wall at a Columbia parking lot by the artist Blue Sky in 1975 which is called " Tunnel Vision ". If you look closely it seems as if textured paper has been through an ink jet printer and there's just a bit of " banding " on the print. That is the texture of the bricks coming through. The only three dimensional prop is the guard rail. Everything else is painted. In person this is a stunning image which suddenly confronts drivers along a relatively drab section of Taylor Street.

There are some unkind critics who suggest that " Tunnel Vision " is not just artwork, but a theme for our Legislature. We pass off all political footballs to folks such as Ms. Manning at LaurinLine. We feel that driving into painted tunnels is a safer sport.

To get the true perspective of this display see the photo posted below:

The Duke of Berle

In the Pantheon of abandoned commercial spaces, the former site of the Berle Manufacturing company rates high on the stunning index. There is more parking here than in all of the metered spaces in the City of Charleston. One could, some have had sports car racing events here.

This place may be found just past Signal Point Road on the right hand side of Folly Road heading toward the beach.

The structures on his property are disused except for the space on the south end of the complex. It's been a very popular French restaurant and a smoky bar for boozers who live near the edge of the edge of America. It is some sort of chicken wing place now. Otherwise, the abject vacancy of the place is breathtaking. The Olympics could be held within this buildings and with no blocking of internet access.

How often we've passed this place and duly noted the scope of its oddness, but paid no attention to what might be found BEHIND the buildings. We figured that little more than empty liquor bottles, spent safety socks, needles and such might be there for the taking. Little did we know. Using a tip from an unnamed source, we eased around to the back of the building and saw what you see in the photos above.

These murals are clearly signed outdoor artwork and not criminal graffiti which we neither abide nor promote. The artist seems to go by the name of "Sheep head," a breed of fish to our book. We doubt that he's exhibited in any of the upscale northeastern galleries yet. Maybe these paintings are designed to drive off trespassers by sheer dint of fear. Whatever the commission, we were quite taken with this stuff.

Now if this quality of artwork could be painted on the front in what might be a more commercially instructive message, the parking spots might begin filling up. This fellow may not be king of the outdoor artists, but he is certainly the Duke of Berle.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Last Look at Randy's Hobby Shop

[ FOR BETTER RESOLUTION, CLICK ON IMAGE ] An item in the Charleston CITY PAPER by T. Ballard Lesemann sent us over to Mt. Pleasant, SC, to have a last look at yet another local treasure which is on it way out: Randy's Hobby Shop.

With the exception of some public nuisances, it's almost always sad to see a local business close. When it's a business which speaks to our early life adventures it will be missed all the more. Randy's has closed its doors. They specialized in delighting the spirits the very young, the very old and every group in between. Some hobbies are simple diversions, but others are educational, even inspiring.

In 1968, Randy Dicks of Dayton, Ohio, bought the rights for custom blending of model airplane fuel. Sooner or later most boys were lucky enough to get one of those model airplanes which had an actual internal combustion motor which was flown and controlled with a set of strings. They'd fly in a circle like the astronaut's pod on those giant centrifuges. You could make the plane climb and dive simply by the way you held the strings.

Dicks moved to South Carolina in 1974 and opened his hobby business. Over the last 29 years, the models and even some of the hobbies went through great changes, but the one constant was the fascination and delight which they bring. Mr. Dicks must have loved hobbies and those who followed them. What could be more rewarding than seeing a little boy's eyes grow large a saucers on walking into a place like Randy's. Old boys, too, were dazzled by the massive inventory at Randy's.

Advances in radio controlled devices boosted the hobby and the business. Regional championships are held in every part of the country. One has only to drive out to James Island County Park to see men well into

Friday, September 25, 2009

Supply and Da Man at Edisto

We are on Edisto Beach, SC, in front a place which promotes its Ugly Fish Gift shop. The green roof and blue trim are new, but the gas pumps it covers are not. Behind this bright greeting is the old solid concrete block building from which Whaley's Store has been supplying islanders for many years.

In the days before the supermarket or convenience store came to the north end of the island, all things came from Whaley's. If you didn't bring it with you then you went to Whaley's. If your ran out if it you went to Whaley's. They carried everything from soup to nuts, from beer to ice, light fishing tackle to chicken necks and crabbing sinkers. If one had not been prudent enough to full the gas tank long before reaching the beach, it was fuel at Whaley's price or he could sell you some nice flip-flops for the long walk up Hwy. 174. Whaley even had some sort of weather station rigged up at the store which provided customers with more of a curiosity than forecast.

Pricing and policy were not set by remote home office. Marion Whaley was the man who made all rules, regulations and revenue. It was all well and good to stew over the higher prices at Whaley's, but there it was, take it or leave it. It came down to the simple economic principle on Edisto, " Supply and Da Man ". Da Man being Marion Whaley.

Folks tend to fall into partying ways once settled in at the beach. When more, beer, ice or tonic water was needed, Whaley's was the safest, the only choice when it came down to driving any distance under those impairments.

There was, of course, unrelieved grumbling about the high prices at Whaley's, but we all went there and we all got what we wanted ultimately admitting that we could well have brought what we needed. Whaley's was part of what beach life should be. A stay at the beach was, after all, a getaway. You weren't spending the weekend at a shopping mall. Implicit in any sane person's getaway is the removal from stores of convenience as well as from the general crush of urban life, traffic and people.

Those were the days when an old AM radio might sit on the kitchen counter and pick up mostly the sharp pops of static from distant lightning. The few TV's around were small black and white models with little aluminum flags flying from their rabbit ears. We had yellow anti-bug bulbs at the street side of the house to save people from tumbling down the steps. Folks sat in the dark on screened porches, rocked in chairs to the sound of the surf, fast melting ice clinking in raised glasses with the only light coming from cigarettes. You could see faces only when the smoker drew hard on their cigarette.

One of Edisto's primary virtues is the fact that it's just a little too far for uninvited guests to simply happen by. Brazen were those who would drive a minimum of 45 minutes from Charleston over largely rural roads and claim to have just been in the neighborhood upon darkening your doorway. So, in those rare sober moments of beach weekends at Edisto, folks generally agreed that Whaley's prices were small prices to pay for the peace and relative solitude we so enjoyed in the old days.

Besides, we often went down on the chance that we might see Mr. Whaley himself and extract some bit of wisdom, some opinion or some advice on fishing, weather or sports. Whaley was decidedly charming in a salty sort of way. There have been Whaleys on Edisto Beach almost as long as the sand has been there, but they are far less vulnerable to erosion.

Fortunately, Edisto Beach still has a Whaley Store, still has indigenous Whaley families and is still a full 45 minutes drive from uninvited guests.