Greenville, SC

We once lived in Greenville, South Carolina.  My wife has often said she would love to move back and my swing through the upstate was a bit of a nostalgic one.  In retrospect, and upon my return, I found the town a great place to hang your hat.

Main st. Greenville, SC

I knew nothing of Greenville when my then employer sent us there to live, other than that it was the site of a presidential election flap.  Then candidate Bush had spoken at Bob Jones University, a Republican powerhouse which happened to have an official school rule banning interracial dating.  The school dropped the rule after all the uproar in the election but it would be fair to say we were a bit nervous when we arrived in town.

Ranked as the nation's second most conservative school (BYU is #1)
Furman University, a liberal arts college also in Greenville, is an amusing balance to Bob Jones in that its abreviation makes Furman University's shirts and hats quite popular with college aged kids who never attended the school.

No one warned us to get out of town as we unloaded the truck and my stomach began to like living there.  Greenville boasts a population of approximately 50,000 people and quite possibly 100,000 restaurants.  If there is a chain eatery that exists, Greenville has two of them.  Every building that ever gets put up for sale, or condemned, is quickly turned into a Barbeque joint.  I discovered two of my most favorite ingestible substances in Greenville; Mutt’s sweet potato crumble (mentioned in a previous post) and Blenheim extra hot ginger ale (which will have it’s own post to come).  I began to like this town.

Then there is main street.

Many small towns, or locales that are past their hey-day, attempt to create a revitalized downtown.  They give it their best to create an area that will attract shoppers and diners on a weekend or evening.  Few succeed, even fewer hit a home run like Greenville.

O.P. Taylor's Toy Store

Main street is lined with trees and parking spaces.  Even better, its lined with eclectic stores and shops.  O.P. Taylor’s toy store with its toy soldiers standing guard at the door, sports a collection of dolls, planes, and unique gifts that you would be hard pressed to find in Toys R’ Us.  The Mast General Store will help you find your obligatory palmetto tree logo’d gear, housewares, or vintage candies and soda.  I suggest a cold bottle of Cheerwine, cherry soda.  The list of stores, eateries, and galleries goes on, but is also supported by outdoor concerts every week in the summer, a street lighting parade every December, and little touches like life-size statues of mice placed randomly about town.  It was nearly charming enough to make one swoon.  But there is yin to this yang.

Confederate grave yard just off Main St.

There was some press while we lived there about the county being one of, if not the only, locale that did not recognize Martin Luther King day.  This was not a new controversy to me, I had lived other places arguing the same issue, and I thought little of it.  That is till I went to the DMV to renew my driver’s license only to find it closed for Confederate Memorial Day.  Either one in a vacuum could be explained away, but together they cast a shadow.  With this in mind I began to notice other things as well.

Begs the question, "in what way were the soldiers in grey right and how will history prove it?"

The historical markers about town did not just pay homage to, but praised the ideals of the old south.  Rebel flags flew on all sorts of structures and cars had stickers boasting “heritage, not hate.”  There was no room for doubt where this city lie in relation to the Mason-Dixon Line and which side of the civil war still had the town’s support.  One should be proud of one’s history and heritage right?

One Easter season Al Allen, a man from a previous generation, took pity on a young couple with no family in town, and invited us over for an Easter dinner.  As we made our way down his stairs to where a larger than normal table was set up to accommodate us, we stepped into what could have been a Greenville County black history museum.

Every inch of wall space in the finished basement was covered with photographs, certificates, and various nostalgic paraphernalia.  There was a young Al with a football team, with some man in a suit, with a group of men in suits, pictures of buildings I had never seen, and some pictures of buildings I had seen.  The images were all in black and white, but the people were all black.  He told me tales of when he met with so and so, or worked on a commission with you know who, none of who’s names I knew then or can remember now; except Sterling field.

Once the stadium and field of Sterling High School.

I played rugby on Sterling Field three times a week.  It was in the less attractive part of town, we had to share the field with local little league football teams, but it was the cheapest field around for a low budget sports club.  “Used to be a great field,” Mr. Allen told me matter of factly.  “Yeah?  What happened to it?” I asked, not really caring as I was more interested in the images on the wall than his list of unrecognized names.  His answer to my half hearted question got my full attention.

 He told me how Sterling High school used to have the best football team around.  It was the county’s black school and the pride of all who went there.  The kids got a top notch education, the community loved the place, and to top it all off, they won football games.  Then came integration.

Integration didn’t happen all at once.  Like most things, first rumors started, then meetings were held, and finally maybe a couple years later, something would happen.  It was the late 60’s and the writing was on the wall, the whole state knew it was coming.  Word came that Sterling would not be closed, sending their students off to other schools, but rather white kids were to be sent there.  This was a top performing school both in academics and on the field; it was going to be a great example and the Sterling community was guardedly excited.  Then, the year before it was to integrate…

It burned to the ground.

Local home showing its colors.

It caught fire the night of prom and burned down to stubble.  The school was never rebuilt, and in 1970 all the kids were bussed off to other schools.

As he told the story there was no anger or resentment in his voice.  He was just an older guy telling a “back in the day” story.  He moved right from that story to showing me his collection of R&B records.  The rest of the night consisted of great food, his wife chiding him for trying to smoke in doors when a baby was  in the house, and him later giving that baby a stuffed rabbit the size of a live horse.  I’ve never been the best at keeping in touch and I have no idea how Al Allen is today.  I wonder how he is, but I never do anything.

Travellers and visitors to Greenville would never know stories like this, and that is just fine.  Everywhere has its ghosts; they need not be put on constant display.  So if you ever find yourself half way between Atlanta and Charlotte, enjoy it.  Visit the Reedy River with its stunning bridge, get some jewelry at the Beaded Frog, and as you look at the confederate flags. know that Sterling field used to be nice.

View from the bridge over Reedy River.

Tuskegee Airmen

Monument at an old training field in central South Carolina

An oft ignored or unknown aspect of post emancipation America is the systematic crushing of black dreams.  Those of my generation have always known, or been taught, of the first black this, or first black that.  The initial astronaut, millionaire, Oscar winner, or president, have been praised.  They have been praised to such an extent that the significance and relevance of such achievements have been lost, rendering the names trivial.  Those cynical, young, or simply white, oft find it difficult to not drift towards the all encompassing, “so what.”

I turned off my prescribed path to follow a sign announcing a Tuskegee Airmen Memorial.  I was nowhere near Alabama, North Africa, or even a military base.  I was intrigued.  I found myself at an isolated South Carolina field that had at one time, just a short time, served as an airstrip servicing the squadron of black airmen while in training.  There was a small statue under a tree, a couple of plaques explaining some history, and an old searchlight.

The plaques explained that in an effort to squelch the new squadron, officials required all applicants to have a college degree and flight experience.  Those same officials were astounded at the number of men who qualified.  To that surprise is where my thoughts wandered.

We have been taught, indoctrinated, with the ideal of the American dream.  We have been raised with the expectation that in America if you work hard, if you try, you will achieve.  I was told by my teachers, my parents, my politics, by my very culture, that I must learn, work, and try.  If I did, my goals would be realized.  All these African-American firsts helped to prove this.  A memorial to the Airmen helped me realize otherwise.

Those surprised officials believed the dream.  These Americans had misjudged their culture’s ability to elevate the able.  They saw the lack of black doctors, professors, lawyers, and black professionals as proof that black people lacked qualifications.  In the land of meritocracy it was assumed that the disparity in achievement was a direct result of who had, or did not have, merit.  They were proved wrong.  How did they get it so wrong?

Slaves were not allowed to read or write, yet there was still a Frederick Douglass.  After Emancipation schools were opened and quickly flooded with students.  Most of our books or lessons plot this point on the timeline and chart a vertical trajectory in dramatic fashion.  The subsequent glossing over of all that transpired between then and the civil rights movement has left us blind to things we still don’t want to see.  All those firsts were not the first qualified, they were the first allowed.

For every one who achieved there were many who had previously learned and worked hard only to be thwarted.  They were not held back by inadequacy but by America.  W.E.B. Dubois, the first black man to graduate with a PhD from Harvard, a man now considered one of the United States greatest sociologists,  was commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania to do research and teach their students, but was denied a seat as professor.  He could teach the students, but not be recognized as a teacher.  Fisk, Howard, Morehouse, and even Harvard and Yale, produced black graduates long before the greater society produced black professionals.  It seems the speed of work, education, and legislation, were outpaced by locked doors, hard heads, and burnt crosses.

America is the land of dreams, the land of opportunity?  Yes, but it is, and has also been, a land littered with the remnants of crushed dreams and dashed aspirations.  Our country has created for itself a dual past and a checkered present.  Some were elevated and rewarded, others filled full of hope only to have it pushed back into the ground from which it sprung.  Things were not fair.  Things were never meant to be completely fair.  That is true no matter one’s race just as it is true that any man or woman stands a better chance of progress in America than any other land.  We can hold our heads high but should never do so with eyes closed.  If America is to pride herself in all the firsts she helped create, she must also admit that she is the one who stopped many other firsts from happening.

But the firsts have come.  As I looked at the bronze bust of a brown pilot looking up at the sky, I smiled cynically.  I smiled because it made perfect sense why these pilots showed no fear of German planes.  It was obvious why they proved so adept at avoiding enemy flak.  These were men who had a lifetime of having their dreams being shot down.  They had previously been trained under ‘friendly fire.’  That is the real triumph of these airmen.  I cannot, nor do I know anyone who can, tell me the name of any of these heroes.  I can find no real record of any of them later reaching some notable milestone.  They weren’t remarkable for any one event or battle.  What made them special is that they existed and despite the anti-aircraft fire from home, they still had wings and flew.

Day 1, Press

Day 1 of the show was open for the press and trade professionals.

Here are some highlights:

The usual trade show sign in... but this one has a consierge who will help you find the booths you are looking for.


How much do we need to slip the consierge for him to send everyone our way?
the little chair has gotten attention.
what a good sport.
Gary Knox Bennet is a legend in the design world... Kaleo will be a legend some day. A legend for what, we aren't yet sure.
Apartment Therapy blogger

Now…. time for day 2!

A Yankee’s Guide to Finding Good Southern B-B-Q

The Northerner who finds himself below the Mason-Dixon Line would be remiss to pass up the opportunity to indulge in real Barbeque.  Real Barbeque takes all day to cook and the sauce can’t be found in a national chain grocery store.
Strip malls, converted gas stations, any building will do. Work trucks outside are a good sign.

If you are travelling on business, the kind that requires a tie and possibly entertaining clients, it is natural to try to wine and dine, ya know, go upscale.  Get this out of your head now.  Barbeque is at its core, finger food.

I'm not sure how big the kingdom is but I'm a loyal subject.

Here are some sure-fire ways to find great B-B-Q:

Look for racially and otherwise diverse clientel.  Nothing unites the races like great food.  Barbeque is the common denominator that makes people from all social or economic groups unite.  If the place seems to be all of one kind of folks or the other, this place is about something other than food.

Be wary of anywhere that has placed too much emphasis on decor or presentation, ie. cloth tablecloths, china, abundance of themed decor, servers in ties… or anyone in a tie.  Again, remember that barbeque is finger food and the extent of “looking nice” a person or a place should indulge in under such circumstances is an abundance of napkins.  If you want to be fancy, “wet naps” should be the extent of it.  Now many, or even most good joints will have some element of kitsch.  I have seen a fine collection of hot sauce bottles, possibly the world’s largest collection of trucker hats, and my favorite place does have a model train travelling around the ceiling, these things are acceptable in that they are the expression of an individual who owns the spot, and thanks to customer repeat business and high school aged cooks, now has time for another hobby.  But again, if the place is too much into decor, it’s about something other than the food.

the floor at the BBQ King may not be cool but it will hold up a table and chairs, and that's its job.

Pig in some or all of its forms will be on the menu.  Pulled pork, pork ribs, pickled pigs feet, B-B-Q is about the pig.  Beef and chicken may sneak onto the menu but will never take center stage.

Pulled pork with slaw on top is usually known as "Tennessee Style". Notice the cups of vinegar dressing, ignore the fries.

Skip the french fries, unless they are sweet potato fires.  Fries are a fast food staple, but any form of cooking that usually requires hours of smoking till meat can be cut with a plastic fork, should never be considered fast food.  French and Southern are like hot and cold, up and down, blue and grey, so one should expect to see hush puppies as the go-to space filler.  Ochra, cornbread, fried green tomatoes, or a sweet potato in any form (my favorite is mashed with brown sugar and pecans at Mutt’s) are all acceptable.  Grits are nice, but be wary of them being sweetened in any way, and be warned that if everyone in line before you has fries on the side, you have been duped.

Notice yellow sauce, and the "sweet potato crumble" was so good I almost cried.

Finally, and most importantly, look for the sauce.  It isn’t unusual to find a good restaurant selling large containers of their signature sauce somewhere near the door or counter.  Labels with a cantankerous looking older person, a pig, or any sort of cartoon are usually a good sign.  Containers larger than a gallon are a great sign.  Unless you are in Texas, St. Louis, or Kansas City, none of which are southern, the only red sauce you should pay attention too will have the words, “hot” or “fire” attached to it.

In North Carolina look for a vinegar based sauce.  It may look like Italian dressing but this tangy sauce will sink into a pulled pork sandwich and coat every last shred of meat with flavor.

The vinegar sauce on the left, the one with the spout that pours in stead of squirts, was the best. The red or "fire" sauce was great on the brisket.

Everywhere else look for yellow, or mustard based sauce.  It may be hot, or sweet, or both, but it will surely be taste bud heaven.  If mustard makes you think of French’s on a hot dog (remember what I said about French and Southern?), or even Gray Poupon on a commercial, you have a culinary deficiency that must be fixed.

The third choice is the aforementioned red sauce with the accompanying words “hot” or “fire”.  Any true Southern sauce that is red will be more pepper based than tomato.  Be warned that when something says hot in an independent eatery, it may actually be hot.  If it says fire it should actually make you sweat just by smelling it.  If you are not used to spicy foods skip the fire and possibly sample the hot.  High temperature food is great if one works their way up to it but it will ruin both your meal and your evening if not.  Look at the sauce marked hot and if you see lots of little flecks and chunks of spices, or other ingredients known as “stuff”, you are most likely in for a treat.  A good spicy sauce will not just be hot but flavorful, with peppers, molasses or brown sugar, and any number of other secret ingredients.

At the end of it all you should be a little messy, stuffed to the point of being uncomfortable, and just plain happy.

College of William & Mary

Some things are old.  Some things are REALLY old. 

I am a native westerner so “really” old to me may be new to an Easterner, or downright cutting edge to a European, but lets not get into that here.  Lets just stay American for this one. 

Colonial Williamsburg is great with all its reconstructed and reenacted sites.  Jamestown is fine with all its folks dressed like one would in Colonial times.  But I say they both get trumped by a big slice of history that needs no recreating.  The College of  William and Mary is alive and has been for over 300 years. 

Lord Botetourt, cast in 1993, stands in front of an institution founded in 1693.

Let me put it this way; the guy who wrote our Declaration of Independence, which birthed our country, learned all those writing skills at this school.  Thomas Jefferson’s Alma Matter was almost 100 years old by the time The U.S.A. was 1.  The best thing about this school isn’t that it is old, but that it is still a school… a good one. 

This weather vein is older than our constitution.

O.K. here is the challenge: name an institution in this country that has existed continually for over 317 years (quiet down Boston, we know, we know).

The oldest school building in the country.

Enough of the old stuff, this place is a great spot to visit as well.  The campus is surrounded by shops, cafes, and stores housed in colonial era buildings.  The area is quite walkable and I say the Honeywell store is more than digestable.

How Spooky is this Place?

Driving between Beaufort SC, and Savannah GA I saw the sign that said “historical marker 1/2 mile ahead.”  I’m a sucker for this sort of thing and was pleased to find room on the shoulder to pull over.  Old Sheldon Prince William’s Parish Church was built in 1755.  It was burned to the ground by the British in the Revolutionary War, rebuilt, then burned down again by the Union during the Civil War.

The sun was just setting and the soft light through the Spanish moss made the ruins look beautiful.

Ruins of Old Sheldon Prince William's Parish Church

I wandered in to look around, and take in a bit of history.

These pillars look innocent enough.

 As I was wandering through the ruins looking at the pillars and arches, planning what pictures to take, when I tripped over a big marble slab.  Upon further inspection I saw that the slab had a name and dates carved into it.  Not only that, but the whole field was full of these slabs.

Of course a colonial church would have a grave yard.

By this time the sun was mostly gone, the frogs were getting louder, and the moss was suddenly a lot less charming.  I tried to look calm and cool as I hurried back to the van, why I’m not sure; no one else was around.  I got in, put it in gear, and called my wife.  I could hear her roll her eyes over the phone.

Me, trapped in the opening sequence of a bad movie.

Sweet Science of Fun

UPenn’s Law or MBA programs are not easy to get in to, neither is fight night. 

Every year Penn Law squares off against Wharton at the Legendary Blue Horizon (I know it’s legendary because it says so in the name).  What could be more fun than watching a bunch of Ivy League kids punch each other?  Tickets were sold out in 15 minutes. 

"The Blue" as Philly boxers call it, really is the best place to watch a fight.

The entrance a fighter makes is almost more important than the fight.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the leaders of tomorrow! 

One fighter was raised from the dead by a voodoo priest.
Why offend just one religion?
If one hails from Ireland they should have dancers and an actual Leprechaun right?
My personal favorite is having your Mom, your actual mother, come and try to intimidate your opponent.

The night was not pageantry alone, when the bell rang, jurist became pugilist, businessman learned the sweet science, and the student became the teacher… no really, one of the fights featured a finance professor boxing an MBA candidate.  The student won the fight but I wonder who will win that battle? 

While being Russian and dying your hair blonde like Draco from Rocky IV is intimidating, it was not enough to win this matchup.
Proof that this was more than just play time. Some were throwing thunder!
What better way to celebrate victory than diving into a crowd full of rugby players.

And finally, as my parting offering to what was touted as a charity event (proceeds went to the Philadelphia Boys & Girls Club), proof this was truly and most importantly about doing the right thing.  So much so that they not only featured male fighters and female card girls, but in a nod to equality they also featured female fighters and yes, a male card boy. 

What a night! 


Thanks "cape guy", we had a great evening.