A week ago I woke up and decided to drive to South Carolina. This is what I do now. Drove through Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee. Couldn’t bear another dinner of roadside fast food, so I got off the interstate, searching for a historic district and an interesting place to eat. Downtown was empty and streetlight haze-dark and I wandered back to the strip of chain restaurants and ate a disappointing burrito.
Quiet man with a soft Tennessee drawl in a Super 8 late at night, says they have Wifi throughout the hotel. Room seems 20 years from a decent renovation, somewhere tucked into the beginnings of the Great Smokey Mountains. Faded hotel with worn-out towels and free wireless internet, some strange collision of the future and the stubborn past.
The mountains become the Piedmont and I’m in the South. Shuttered beachwear shops and me in short-sleeves in late January. Coastal community along the Intracoastal Waterway. Borrowing my aunt’s condo, sitting empty for a few weeks, cousin Mary two doors down.
Spend my time reading Martin McDonagh plays, watching DVDs of the glory years of The Simpsons, and trying, trying, trying to write something decent. Ponder where the new one should go, tinker with the structure of an old one, trying to raise the stakes, deepen the dramatic conflict. Mostly failing. Hand is still numb, feet and heart want to take me back out on the road, hop from place to place and explore the different villages and communities.
Myrtle Beach, a canyon of mid-century beach hotels, packs of Snowbirds mixing with seedy clumps of men strolling along the strip. Shabby chic of Pawleys Island and a deserted beach. Deluxe shopping center tucked inside an ancient forest of Southern Pine and Palm. Upper Strand vs. the Lower Strand. Egrets and herons and an occasional lone hawk circling overhead. Old ladies drinking rum in an outdoor bar on an overcast day. New York voices eating liver and talking about Indian Wells Golf Club.
The deli at the nearby grocery store had Lebanon bologna in the case, Pennsylvania Dutch-style salami. Something from my youth, and my ancestors from the Lancaster County days. Guy behind the counter says he’d never heard of it until a few years ago, but they started carrying it to feed the Yankees that all come down here on holiday. It’s pretty bland-tasting, nothing like the Weavers brand Grandma would order by mail decades ago.
It’s been cold here, relatively speaking, but nothing like what’s been going on back home. There are beaches, but no downtowns, no sidewalks, really. A short boardwalk along the marsh lined with empty restaurants with names like “Bovine’s” and “Drunken Jack’s.” People seem in pretty short supply around here.
In a few weeks the Canadians will come, I am told. They come here every year around this time. It’s too far to drive to Florida.