11/12/08: From Charleston to Wilmington to Chapel Hill

Breakfast, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Coffee, Coffee Bars, Desserts, Diners, Durham, Food, Hip Hop, Hotels, Indie rock, music, Myrtle Beach, Parks, Raleigh, rap, Record Stores, Restaurants, rock, Shopping, soul, Travel, Wilmington

A grey and overcast day, although the sun began to come out later in the morning. The hotel staff had recommended a breakfast place called the Bear-E-Patch, so I ate there before I made the rounds of record stores.
Monster Music and Movies is owned by the same Nashville firm that owns Pop Tunes in Memphis, but this store was nearly a block long and full of music. I noticed a new CD from the Numero group that featured the Young Disciples from East St. Louis, a group that had been formed as part of an anti-poverty program in the 1960’s, so I bought that, a new funk compilation from Soul Patrol and the new Mercury Rev CD. The girl that was working at Monster recommended that I head over to the Cat’s Music on Folly Road, but when I got there, they refused the promotional items and told me that they were closing down the store.
After walking around the harbor and taking pictures, I drove out to Loco Record Shop, and then back downtown to King Street, where there were a couple of stores. 52.5 was mostly a rock store, but there were a few jazz and rock items, and down the street was an old and intriguing store called Honest John’s Records and TV Repair. On the shelves were plenty of old LPs and a handful of old 45s, but I didn’t have time to look through them. Instead, wanting coffee, I used my iPhone to locate a place called Kudu Coffee, which was just across from the campus of the College of Charleston. In keeping with the name, the coffee house was decorated with African artifacts and artwork, and the coffee was very good. Driving further south on King, I ultimately came to the Battery, the wooded park at the tip of the peninsula featuring monuments, cannons, statues and stately mansions. Despite the wind, it was warm enough to walk around, and I took a lot of pictures, but it was much later in the day than I had intended, so at 3 PM, I headed across the Septima Clark Bridge onto Highway 17 for the drive to Wilmington.
I had driven this route in reverse a month before, going from Myrtle Beach to Charleston, but today the trip seemed to take forever, made worse by the traffic signals and endless snarls in Myrtle Beach. Once I crossed into North Carolina, I was still much further away from Wilmington than I had imagined, and by the time I arrived there, it was pitch black.
I approached Wilmington with some foreboding. From my reading, Wilmington had always been a place of riots and racial tension, the scene of the Wilmington Ten incident, so I half expected to see an old and decrepit port city of deteriorating buildings and was quite surprised to see the charming downtown with its restored buildings lit up for Christmas. Christmas choral music was drifting across the chilly night air (whether live or a tape I could never determine), and the threat of rain seemed imminent. After leaving some posters at CD Alley, I decided to walk around the corner to Port City Java for some coffee, but across the street I noticed an antiquarian bookshop, so I ducked in there and ended up buying several books about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Then I ran back across to the coffee bar for a latte to go, and then drove eastward from downtown. What my iPhone thought was a record store in a Black neighborhood east of downtown was actually a recording studio, but fortunately, that put me closer to Gravity Records, an indie rock store that nonetheless was thrilled to get some Pastor Troy promotional items. In the store they were playing a disc by a British singer named Richard Hawley, whom I had never heard of, but whose mournful, melodic tunefulness seemed to fit the dark, foggy, chilly night.
The guys at the store warned me that the trip to Raleigh on I-40 would take about 2 hours through rural lands of absolutely nothing, and they weren’t far from right. I was ravenously hungry, but the exits along the way either featured nothing or fast food. Raleigh seemed to be a place of feast or famine, with very expensive upscale restaurants and the usual diners and fast food, but little in-between. A promising-sounding steakhouse proved to be out of business, and another proved to be $30 and up for entrees. Finally, I discovered a mall in Durham where there was a Cheesecake Factory, and I stopped there, but, noticing a Champps Americana across the walkway from the Cheesecake Factory, I decided to eat there, thinking that it would be cheaper than Cheesecake Factory. It wasn’t, and the food, while basically good, didn’t stand out.
After a dessert and coffee at the Cheesecake Factory, I drove another few miles into Chapel Hill, and had no problem finding the Sheraton Hotel. My room proved to be very luxurious indeed, and I went straight to bed.

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11/11/08: Augusta to Columbia to Charleston

Augusta, Breakfast, Charleston, Coffee, Coffee Bars, Columbia SC, Food, Hip Hop, music, rap, Record Stores, records, Shopping, Travel

A cool but sunny day. I went to breakfast at the Veranda Room of the Partridge Inn, a historic restored hotel near the famous golf club where the Masters is held every year. The view from the restaurant was great, but the food was average and overpriced. The rest of the morning was spent going around to a number of record shops and hip-hop clothing stores, after which I went downtown briefly in order to take some photos of the skyline and the fountain at the foot of James Brown Boulevard.
I made a brief stop at the Jury Room Coffee House across from City Hall, but, as they didn’t have any espresso drinks, I had only a gelato there, and then headed over to the Aroma Coffee and Wine Bar for a latte before I hit the road toward Columbia. There were several record stores in Columbia, and they were scattered across the city, and, as it was late in the day, it was getting dark, but I managed to visit all three of them, and then I continued on to Sumter.
There I left posters at the Music Gator, but I found the other store closed for the evening, and now I headed southwards toward I-95. Thoroughly hungry, but wanting to eat in Charleston, I made my way into the city, and having called to make sure that restaurants would still be open, I headed across the massive Septima Clark Bridge into Mount Pleasant, where there were several waterfront restaurants along Shem Creek.
I chose a seafood restaurant called JB’s, which was built with a view of the water, and I ate dinner there, although it was extremely cold both inside the restaurant and outdoors. After dinner, I resisted an impulse to go to Red’s next door where a band was playing, and instead, I drove down King Street to Market Square and a dessert cafe called Kaminsky’s, which I knew was open until 2 AM. I had a slice of chocolate peanut butter pie and a cup of coffee there, and then, with no information about any jazz clubs, I drove into West Ashley and checked into the hotel there. It was quite cold, but I managed to get my room warm and comfortable.

09/28/08: Exploring Georgetown/Charleston Afternoon/Meeting V-Tec in Augusta

Augusta, Breakfast, Charleston, entertainment, events, Food, Hip Hop, music, rap, Restaurants

I woke up early to another beautiful day, and I almost wished I wasn’t checking out until Monday. The SMES Awards would be held later in the day, but the whole point of my checking out early was to first of all see Charleston for the first time, and also to not have to drive all the way back to Memphis in one day. So I checked out and drove over to Eggs Up Grill on Highway 17, where I enjoyed a delicious breakfast while all the talk on the TV screens in the restaurant was about the congressional bailout bill to try to rescue the US economy and to prop up failing banks like Wachovia. I drove into Murrells Inlet, which billed itself as the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina”, and found it to be a rather sleepy fishing village except for the elegant waterfront restaurants along the main road. Further down the highway pulled away from the coast and crossed over a drawbridge into the town of Georgetown, South Carolina. Georgetown was very old, with a number of historic buildings and homes, as well as a charming riverwalk along the harbor behind the downtown buildings. Here too there were a number of restaurants, mostly seafood, and a lot of yachts anchored in the harbor. The trip from Georgetown to the Charleston area seemed to take forever, but eventually I came to the road that led to the Isle of Palms, so I headed down that way and into the little resort island, which had a hotel, a small downtown village of shops and a few beachfront restaurants. The beach was actually quite crowded, perhaps due to the warm, sunny weather. The island road crossed a small pass onto Sullivan’s Island, and there crowds of people were eating outdoors on decks in front of the restaurants. The main street was named for Edgar Allen Poe, who apparently had been stationed at a fort on the island. Another causeway took me back onto the mainland and into the town of Mount Pleasant, where there was a beautiful creek called Shem Creek which was lined with restaurants, lounges, boat docks and a hotel. I took a number of photos there, but I resisted the temptation to eat there, and drove on through Mount Pleasant and into the city of Charleston itself. Many of the restaurants and shops I had seen on my iPhone were on Market Square, so I immediately headed in that direction when I got into Charleston. The city was far more like New Orleans than I had realized, with an old brick market several blocks in length, which reminded me of the French Market in New Orleans. There was a French Quarter in Charleston also, although it was a residential area and not a tourist destination, and many of the Black youths in downtown streets were speaking a patois not unlike the unusual New Orleans accent. (I was later told that this slang/patois in Charleston is called Geechie or Gullah.)
On either side of the market were restaurants and gift shops, but I soon found that parking (at $1 per half hour with no daily maximum) was quite expensive. I knew I would have to pay it to enjoy the city on foot (and that’s about the only way to enjoy Charleston), so I paid and parked my car and then began a walking tour of the area, snapping photos of nearly everything. While trying to snap a picture of the old US Customs House, I nearly backed into to a bellboy of what turned out to be the Market Place Hotel behind me. Seeing that they had a rooftop bar, I decided to ride the elevator up there, and found that the view of the old city from there was beautiful beyond description. The weather was downright hot, but the bar was crowded with people sitting around the rooftop pool, and I took pictures of the city, and of Mount Pleasant’s yacht harbor, visible to the north beyond the amazing bridge that I had crossed into the city over earlier.
I walked down to Meeting Street, noticing a lot of youths in military outfits who were cadets at the Citadel, and then I made my way back to the Charleston Crab House restaurant, where I enjoyed a shrimp dinner. The T-Bonz family of restaurants had a dessert cafe called Kaminsky’s across the market from the Charleston Crab House, so I walked over there foran after-dinner dessert and coffee. I instantly noticed a chocolate-peanut-butter torte, which proved to be moist and delicious, as Kaminsky’s only serves fresh desserts each day. Thoroughly relaxed and contented, I sipped my cappuccino while hearing rousing cheers from the T-Bonz next door where people were apparently watching a pro football game.
As I drove up Meeting Street, I stopped at an Exxon for gasoline, and then continued through some rough and ramshackle ‘hoods into North Charleston and on out Highway 78 into what truly was a primeval wilderness, broken only by the occasional small town. Some of these were a little bigger than others, and Branchville proved to be a rather good-sized place, where I stopped for a cold drink. The town was in a state of excitement due to some sort of fair and street festival, and crowds of young people were everywhere. It was thoroughly dark by the time I got into Beech Island, and I called V-Tec who agreed to meet me at the T-Bonz on Washington Road in Augusta. I was still heavy from dinner, but I ordered some cheese fries that were quite good, and he and I hung out watching an NFL game, while a jazz group was playing in the restaurant. I considered checking into a hotel there in Augusta, but, wanting to get closer to Memphis, I decided to head on towards Atlanta. Gasoline was still hard to come by in Augusta, but I found some, and headed west, passing through Atlanta into Douglasville. I had picked up a coupon book for hotels in Georgia, and had been heading to a Quality Inn in Douglasville, but when I got there at almost 2 AM, that hotel had rooms whose doors opened to the outside, a security nightmare. So, even though it was slightly more expensive, I opted for the Comfort Inn next door instead, and as soon as I got into my room, I went straight to bed.