Sunday, March 11, 2018

To Catch a Breeze

You don't expect to see a fire tower in the middle of downtown.

For that matter, you don't expect to wear out your tour guide and leave him huffing, puffing, red-faced and exhausted, either. Clearly the first day of February was not going to be a typical day.

Mac and I had signed up for a walking tour dubbed "Above Calhoun," a reference to the less chi-chi neighborhoods of Charleston. As it turned out, much of the tour centered around the neighborhood we'd already become acquainted with because it's where we were staying: Canonborough-Elliottborough.

Our guide Brian was new to the tour guide business - we were his 5th tour - but clearly had all the arcane knowledge Charleston requires of its guides. You know, who built the house and when, who bought it later and why.

As we walked from block to block (stopping at Sugar, a jewel box of a bakery, so Mac could score a tiny cupcake), it became obvious that Brian, unlike us, wasn't used to 5 mile walks. Oh, he'd made it clear that he'd be happy to do two hours with us instead of the usual hour and a half (it is off-season, after all) so we'd taken him up on that, but now he was realizing we meant walking the entire 2 hours.

Barley an hour in, he asked where we were headed for lunch and tried to lead us there, at least until we informed him we weren't ready for lunch at 10:53.

Curious about why all the side porches had doors on them, since you could easily talk to porch occupants or climb over the railing, I asked. Answer: the door insures that climbing over is considered breaking and entering. Only the South Carolinians.

Strolling down King Street, I spotted what looked like a fire tower and asked about that, too. Sure enough, it was one of two fire towers in downtown Charleston, odd because I thought those towers were rural things. Brian looped us around to the 1888 fire house to get a better look and the taller of the two firemen on duty regaled us with fun facts.

Back in the day, the tower was manned 24/7, with a bell at the top so the sentry could ring the bell and alert the squad. Right downtown. But of course, how else?

When we eventually released Brian to return to his tiny house via public transportation (and before you jump to any assumptions about Brian's hipster lifestyle, know that he's prime Baby Boomer material), it was my guess he was going home to nap. But we'll never know.

Our final meal in the Palmetto state was less than half a mile from our adopted hood, albeit across the Septima Clark Parkway that hovered above the dead end of our block, reminding me of how I-95 chops into Jackson Ward (and I'm sure for the same racist reasons).

Leon's Fine Poultry and Oysters was everything an eatery in a garage promises. Despite a lovely patio, sunglasses-less Mac passed on dining al fresco for the dining room. Fortunately, the inside dining room was wisely taking advantage of the sunny 69-degree day by having the single pane industry windows on two walls opened out, as well as front patio access and back door flung open.

We were there because Leon's is devoted to my three favorite food groups: bubbles, fried chicken and oysters. They have an entire menu devoted to grower champagne. It begins, "The combination of fried chicken and champagne is one of the finest in the world," and then goes on to explain why, in wine lover, not geek, terms.

I'd already been given that exact spiel years ago by an old boyfriend, tested it extensively and didn't need convincing.

As luck would have it, the oyster special was - wait for it - wild-caught Virginia oysters, which is not what we'd driven six plus hours to eat. No, for that we needed Bull's Bay oysters from 20 miles north, which had the brine we craved, although not as much as Virginia's Old Saltes. Go figure.

When we each ordered our chicken, our server felt obligated to warn us it had a bit of spice because of cayenne and Old Bay, but he could have them make it without. Please, we assured him, bring it on. Cava alternated with chicken skin that shattered with each bite and our fingers got stickier and more worth licking as we went. Meanwhile, the brussels sprouts got points for originality for the peppery and tomato-y piperade jazzing them up.

We could say we'd earned such a fabulous lunch after a 5-miler, but the truth is, it would've been every bit as satisfying and deserved if we'd just rolled out of bed an hour earlier.

Then, because nothing could be more wonderful after lunch at Leon's, we drove the 11 miles back to Folly Beach, this time to walk to see the lighthouse (unfortunately, the unclimb-able kind). Tuesday when we'd been there, it had been too chilly and windy to walk barefoot, but not today, though Mac had no interest in it.

When she'd bought a Leon's ball cap to shade her eyes at the beach, she'd complained that it was too stiff and I'd suggested a baptism in the Atlantic to break it in. She liked the idea but chose me to do the baptizing because she didn't want to get her shoes wet. I dunked it a few times and handed it back to her, but there was a dry spot, so she came to hand it to me, soaking her shoes in the process.

My point is, when a person goes to the ocean in January and February, a little saltwater's the least of her worries. As it was, she shook the droplets off the hat and put it on, tiny rivulets of ocean water running down her face and eventually dampening her hair.

Beach hair for life.

With less than an hour to sunset, we reluctantly hit the road, listening to local radio from town to town, scanning through clusters of jeezus radio, conservative crazies and 45-loving country pop in search of alternative, only to land mostly on dude rock: Bad Company, Rush, Thin Lizzy. You have no idea how grateful I was for small bones like Thompson Twins or Eurythymics.

The trade-off for cliched sounds was an astronomer's eye view of the enormous yellow rising blue super blood moon, which we watched burst forth from the horizon right up through lines of Carolina pines and eventually up into a Halloween-worthy assortment of drifty clouds.

It had been a clearer night last night when it was full, but we hadn't seen the whole of the moonrise, so that was tonight's cherry on top of the Charleston sundae.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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