Our beach day in Charleston was everything we needed. Growing up outside Philly meant that a day in the beach was at the Jersey Shore, or in Cape Cod if I’d suffered through the eight-hour drive with my family. And I’ve never in my life seen a beach so clean and clear as the one here in Charleston.
We reminisced over a hearty breakfast, courtesy of the Sweetwater Café on Folly Road. I enjoyed a plate full of eggs, hash browns and country ham, which was a lot like a giant slice of bacon – a little tough and about as salty as beef jerky. The quickest way to my heart is with delicious meals like this, and I mean that in more than just cholesterol-related terms. Before we drove on to Savannah, Ga., we paid a visit to Market Hall, which served as a harrowing reminder of what Charleston used to be. This long stretch of stone buildings, four in total, was once the site of Charleston’s slave market, where thousands of African captives were held in shackles, torn away from their families and sent away into a life of servitude and abuse.
Today the buildings remain as a public marketplace, where locals set up stands with almost any sort of knick-knack you imagine. The same men and women whose ancestors may well have been dragged through this place against their will in the 1800s, sat casually weaving baskets beneath umbrellas to shield them from the hot sun.
I was astonished at the sheer size of the market, but even more so by the walls. The vendors here brought cheer and ambiance to the atmosphere, but use your imagination: take away the vendors, and look at what’s left. These buildings were hideous, sinister. It was as hot a day as any, but this place made me feel very cold inside.
Seriously, though, it was explosively hot outside. The previous night’s 90-degree camping experience left us with short tempers with regard to temperature, so on our drive into town we were already looking up a place to go for a cold drink. Looking over our WWG page for Savannah, I noticed I’d linked up to a place called Bernie’s for their bloody marys, which meant Sarah was on board (she’s quite fond of bloody marys).
Our brilliance impresses even me sometimes. Savannah gave us this big, fat kiss as a welcome, an ice cold bloody mary in a mason jar with pickled okra. Okra is an unusual vegetable – I’ve only ever seen it in gumbo before – that oozes when you eat it raw, but tastes a lot like a pickle in this case. Joey and Sarah peer-pressured me into a bite of it.
Refreshed, I went to the bathroom and when I came back, Sarah and Joey had three plastic cups with drinks of different colors in front of them. APPARENTLY, Savannah allows people to wander around the streets aimlessly, carrying alcoholic beverages with them – just so long as they’re in plastic cups. This also holds true a few hundred miles west, in New Orleans, which immediately got us in the mindset of using today as a practice day for our Big Easy trip about a week and a half later.
We took our road cups out the door, and quickly polished them off walking uphill in the sweltering heat. We found our way to a little Irish pub called the Rail, on the advice of our bartender at Bernie’s. Upon arrival, I was very excited to enjoy a delicious 40 oz., probably the first time I’ve done so inside a bar. The mood was calm, the floor was covered in peanut shells, and ashtrays lined the bar. Great place to beat the heat for a while.
Joey was wise enough to take notice, back when we were at Bernie’s, of a 25 cent raw oyster special that began at 4:00. Wouldn’t you know it, once the time was right we hustled our way back down the hill to partake in some of those little fellas. Sarah was kind enough to abstain from drinking, and between the three of us we polished off four dozen oysters. This was my first large helping of this unusual type of seafood, which entails using a special knife to pry open the shell and swallowing the slippery insides. I really dug in, possibly based on a ravenous appetite at that point in the day, and actually enjoyed the experience far more than I expected.
Before it got too late, Sarah took the wheel and we made a trek of about an hour to nearby Hilton Head Island, back in South Carolina. A friend of mine from the Pub, Caitlyn (at left), told me she was visiting her parents for the week and that her place was open if we needed to crash. We gladly accepted and met her (and her friend Amanda, at right) at a funky little spot called Remy’s, where we enjoyed the air conditioning and cheap Miller High Life before going to Caitlin’s.
Also present was Ryan, Caitlyn’s brother and a friend of mine for a long, long time. Ryan and I have enjoyed numerous jam band concerts together in the past, among other hilarious situations we’ve found ourselves in. Ryan offered us a choice of numerous bedrooms inside the house, or if we’d prefer we could sleep on his parents’ yacht. Pretty easy decision right there.
Thanks to Caitlyn, Ryan and their parents for having us stay the night in such glamorous fashion, resting up for the drive south through Florida. More on that very soon.