Wilmington, NC

The last time I went to Wilmington, NC  it was to take part in one of the worst days in the Atlanta Renegades Rugby Club’s illustrious existence… but that is another story.  This second trip was much more enjoyable.   

I never tire of mossy oaks.

Having never been the star like Savannah or Charleston, Wilmington remains a little sleepy.  Situated on the Cape Fear River, this southern port city has had its run with pirates, planters, ironclads, and exports.  These experiences have given the town a depth of stories and tales but most of us miss them because we are busy hanging around the city’s two bigger sisters.  I’m calling Wilmington the “Forgotten City”.   

I don't know what the artist titled his sculpture of Venus Fly Traps, but given its placement in front of the Post Office I call it "the Check is in the Mail."

Forgotten Wilmington #1.  The port and waterfront.  Docked on the opposite bank of the river is the retired battleship USS North Carolina.  It is forgotten because I have never heard of it, am too lazy to Google it, and it was on the wrong side of the river so I never went to see it.  I’m sure it was worth seeing but the road didn’t take me there.  Sorta like the interstate doesn’t go to Wilmington.  Sorta like how most of the main street shops were hard to get to because of construction.   

It looks like it is trying to hide behind the tees.

Forgotten Wilmington #2.  William Gould.   

William Gould was a slave owned by a peanut farmer.  He was hired out as a skilled plasterer working on many fine houses in the city, including the city’s most prized home, the Bellamy Mansion.  We know this because decades after Gould’s death, his signature was discovered under some moulding.   

William Gould's signature is displayed prominentley along with a whole floor of the mansion dedicated to slavery. Hats off the the Bellamy mansion for preserving and educating.

In 1862 William Gould disappeared and was eventually forgotten.  Well, maybe just forgotten by those in Wilmington.  

 Turns out, Mr. Gould escaped via rowboat with seven other slaves.  They were picked up by the U.S. Navy in the Atlantic and taken north.  Gould joined the Navy and served honorably throughout the civil war, afterward put down roots in Boston, and raised a very successful family.  While Boston knew about the family Wilmington may not have remembered till Gould’s great grand-son, the chair of the National Labor Board in 1994, found Gould’s wartime journal and published it as “Diary of a Contraband: the Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor.”  

Wilmington has since remembered him as seen in the Bellamy Mansion as well as an informative marker on the spot on the riverfront where he launched his escape.  

Forgotten Wilmington #3.  Mural from the “Hudsucker Proxy”  

The sign called this a mural, I was thinking it was more of a relief... but then again I'm not sure I even spelled that (relief) right, so what do I know?

Walking through a surprisingly high end indoor market I came across this interesting “mural” on the wall.  The sign, attached with scotch tape, touted how the mural was featured prominently in the Coen Brother’s movie, “The Hudsucker Proxy”.  I have never seen that movie and the idea that It hangs on the wall of a market with a piece of computer paper stuck to it with Scotch tape, makes me think not too many others have seen it either.  

Forgotten Wilmington #4.  The Coup d’ etat of 1898  

The Bellamy Mansion

When people say “race riot”, it usually invokes the idea that black people got mad at something and got violent.  It is a shame how misinformed we are.  In 1897, Wilmington not only had a large black population, but a politically active, thriving, black population.  The local Democrats decided they were sick of it and came up with a plan. 

They launched a year long, state wide, white supremacy campaign.  Now when I say “white supremacy campaign”, I am not looking at the situation, interpreting it, and giving it a name; they called it that.  They put up a list of candidates complete with a list of opponents who were warned to be noticeably absent on election day.

Once election day came around, things got a little wild.  First, the black newspaper’s press was destroyed and building burned to the ground.  Then a mob surrounded a warehouse where many black men worked, blocking the workers from going to the polls.  I guess saying it was a “mob” isn’t quite right, maybe I should say, “a bunch of soldiers on leave who had a gatling gun mounted on a wagon.”

Another mob went to the black part of town.  Tensions were high, shots were fired, and by the end of the day over 100 black people were dead, 2 white people, and a complete Democratic ticket was sworn into office with no votes ever being counted.

The Governor and President both knew about the event, knew who planned it, and did nothing. All the successful black people left alive were banished from town.

I had never heard of this and apparently neither had most people till a book and official state report was published in 1980.  In 2007 the Democratic party finally admitted party leaders had done wrong.  Maybe there are lots of things Wilmington wants to forget.

Blenheim Ginger Ale, a love story

I have a confession to make.  I had a reason to stop at the “tackiest place in the world”.  James’s comment on my last post called me out on it.  Here goes…
It was destiny.  Some loves are pure, some passionate, and some are carbonated. 
I once lived across the street from a roadside produce stand.   I’m a sucker for local or independent stuff, so I wondered in.
Blenheim's extra hot outside the place we first fell in love.

 There, in the back, behind the table of inedible fruit cakes, we found each other.  I had never heard of this brand and the bottle was kind of cool.  I had three choices: diet, regular, or extra hot.  I always choose extra hot. 

Back there, behind the fruitcake.

 I’ve never smoked before but I assume my first drink of Blenheim was something like a first puff; I started coughing uncontrollably and was forever hooked.  It cleared my sinuses caught in the back of my throat, but in between… was heaven.  It tasted like ginger!  

I have a problem with beverages, well, mostly I have a problem with anything ingestible.  I eat/drink amazingly fast and in large amounts.  I regularly amaze waitresses who find it impossible to keep my glass full.  The ones who care quickly bring me a pitcher just so they can pay attention to their other tables. 

But not with Blenheim.  The spicy kick, the kind that takes away your breath if you are drinking it from a wide-mouthed glass, makes me pause and slow down.  I love it. 

Then we moved. 

Turns out Blenheim, one of the countries oldest continually operating soft drink manufacturers, is owned by a man satisfied with its level of success and uninterested in expansion.  The consequence of the owner’s satisfaction is that it is nearly impossible to find if you are outside a 100 mile radius of its bottling plant; which is in South of  the Border, SC. 

A sign like that is just asking for it.

 I called ahead and was told they didn’t give tours or receive visitors. They didn’t realize they were talking to a guy who once attended a closed meeting of the American Philosophical Society because the subject matter (the history and politics of state and national borders) looked interesting. I found out about the meeting by walking into their library, which is closed to the public, and asking if I could please go to the meeting.  They let me. 


 The receptionist apologized because they weren’t actually bottling that day but I could still go back and look at the machine.  In the back I was greeted by two guys wearing mechanic style shirts sporting the Blenheim logo on one side and their names on the other.  The taller one, in a thick and slow southern drawl, asked if I wanted some.  Of course I did.  I was pulling out my wallet while telling him a tale of how I once paid $4 for a bottle in NYC.  He told me to put my money away, it was. “on the house.”  I thanked him, returned my wallet to my pocket, and then I almost fell over when he lifted a whole case from the pallet and asked if I wanted him to walk it out to the van. 

How can I get one of these?

I still have 3 bottles in my fridge.  I have made a rule for myself that I can’t drink it alone, otherwise I would squander a whole case in a weekend.  This stuff must be shared and enjoyed, not guzzled. 

So if you invite the Brohammas family over for dinner, or we invite you, expect me to bring a bottle or two.  After I do, you will surely be added to the list of those who call me on a regular basis asking, “when you goin’ down south again?”

The Tackiest Place On Earth

No, its not Vegas, not anywhere in Florida, or even Reno.  The hands down, no arguments, tackiest place on earth is South of the Border, South Carolina.  

This is as classy as it gets

O.K. if this picture doesn’t say it all lets look a little closer.  

Because two signs would obviously not be enough.

Once you are within 20 miles, north or south, of South of the Border, you will be treated to one billboard every mile.  When you get within ten miles, there is a billboard every half mile.  The closer you get, the closer together the signs; it’s the billboard version of an overbearing used car salesman.  

its like the kitsch hall of fame

As far as I can tell this town began as a border stop for North Carolinians to buy contraband fireworks.  Then, some time around 1952, a plastic flamingo mated with a sombrero and Ta-Da! a thriving metropolis was born.  

From the top of the tower you have a nice view of... not much.

I may, or may not, have bought a brick of firecrackers, bottle rockets, and a bumper sticker.  I was just passing through.  I have no idea what these folks were doing there.  

Someone spent who knows how much building a town of faux caricatures of Mexicans. Someone else spent who knows how much on a yellow Ferrari. At least the car is fast.

As you leave the town, billboards berate you for going.   It’s the type of place where you feel like you are supposed to have light blue polyester pants and a comb-over. 

I’m still wondering what the Ferrari was doing.

Don't you want to be there even more now?

Have some pride Pedro.

Aiken is Horse Country?

Sometimes when travelling you run across things surprising and unexpected.  Aiken, SC was one of those.  It was not on my map, I was in the middle of no where, and suddenly I was on a well kept and attractive Main Street.

I pulled over, got out of the car and nosed around.  The first thing I noticed was a predominance of women wearing riding boots and tights.  This wasn’t particularly telling given the popularity of that look this year, but as I stepped into galleries and shops, I knew this wasn’t just some random town.

Matching your clothing to your dishes is in-deed a new thing to me.
Not the same store, but a familiar theme.

So, I must be in horse country.  The street, shops, and people were all unusually well-kept, and all were leisurely whiling away a sunny Saturday.

I have never been one to pass up a preppy clothier and Aiken had a fine one.

They will happily sell you a tie as well as explain what English regiment it represents.

As I browsed the store I began ticking off the University pennants along the ceiling.  An observant sales rep noticed what I was doing and helpfully asked, “which school did you attend?”  I told him with a smirk, expecting to be dissapointed.  He simply said, “Ahh, yes.  Right over here sir.”

I was pleased to find BYU was not on the wall. Sorry Cougs.

It was explained to me that all the pennants were brought in by alumni of the schools represented.  The salesman told me Aiken has a thriving nuclear research facility and that the University of Utah is in fact quite well represented in the town.

Who knew?

Charleston, SC

Full disclosure; I absolutely love Charleston.  I have for quite some time.      

18th Century town homes line the waterfront.


One of the real reasons I went to Savannah is because this sister city just down the road seems to get all the attention and I wanted to see if it is warranted.  Savannah may deserve the rave reviews, but if I had to choose, it would be Charleston all the way.      

Why do I love it?  Lets list the reasons:      

1) Pirates.       

Any park that can boast the hanging of actual pirates has some appeal... unless you are a pirate.


In 1718 Edward Teach a.k.a Blackbeard, held the whole city hostage for a week.  Blackbeard captured every ship that left the harbor, took prominent citizens captive, and demanded a chest of medicine for his crew.  He got his snake oil and let the city be.       

Come on, thats a cool story.  I suppose to prove the city was not a collection of punks, that same year they captured pirate Stede Bonnet and hung him at White Point Gardens, then threw his body in the sea.  White Point Gardens is still a park but now it sports big civil war era cannons and statues rather than gallows.      

Anyone who has ever been six years old, loves pirates.      

2) Rainbow Row.      

If one row of colorful houses is not enough for you, "little rainbow row" is not far away.


Pre- Revolution, Charleston rivaled both Boston and Philadelphia in population, and probably outpaced both cities in money and style.  Unlike Philadelphia, Charleston did not explode during the industrial revolution, nor did it implode afterward leaving the urban blight so popular up north.  Charleston’s historic town homes line the clean streets appearing so well kept that one may forget that they are historic at all.      

Little trick I picked up in Philly; a true mark of an old urban neighborhood is large granite or marble stones at the edge of the sidewalk. These are "mounting blocks" placed at the edge of the road to make mounting a horse easier.


Charleston has a great mix of stuff that was nice way back then, and still has stuff that’s cool now.  Restaurants, galleries, law firms (surely filled with sear sucker clad men with Atticus type morals), real estate offices, etc. etc. hum along day to day housed in history but not becoming relics.      

3) Gullah/Geechee culture and street markets.      

Originally a slave market, you can now get any tourist trinket imaginable.


The Rainbow Market was once the site of buying and selling people, now it sells bottles of sand, t-shirts, jewelry, and hot sauce.  In the market, as well as up and down Broad St., and along most other main streets, you will find older black women (not always older women, but usually) sitting behind a blanket full of baskets.  These pieces are hand woven from sweet grass in a tradition passed from generation to generation.      

The country roads are lined with stands of artists offering their trade.


These artists are part of the Geechee or Gullah culture.  Since Africans first came to American shores, the Carolina coast has been the home of both freed and escaped slaves.  They lived autonomously for generations developing a distinct culture and tradition.  These sweet grass baskets are a part of that tradition.     

I must admit I have never actually purchased one of these baskets or anything else sold in the market.  I will one of these days and I encourage you to do the same.  I will probably buy it from one of the ladies on Broad st. as the idea of shopping in an old slave market creeps me out.  But I do love the idea of open air markets and Charleston has one.     

4) Food.     

I have it on good authority that unlike the rest of the south, Charleston is NOT the place to find your culinary pleasures at a hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint, you will be disappointed.  No, Charleston is the place to find a white table cloth, open the wallet just a little bit, and enjoy the sort of meal Paula Dean would pay for if she wasn’t cooking herself.     

I recommend Magnolia's, on E. Bay st.


Magnolias offers many fine southern dishes along with standards… I had the filet.  The butter for the bread was 50/50 cream cheese, the bleu cheese topping was made on site, the grilled tomato was fresh, and the service was superb.   

The filet was fantastic.


Everyone has to eat… in Charleston you can eat well.   

5) The Old Slave Mart Museum.   

South Carolina's only in-door slave market still standing.


In 1856 public outdoor slave sales were outlawed.  The actual capture and selling of slaves was never a completely respectable job and the 1856 legislation simply moved the sales aspect of the “peculiar institution” indoors.  The building at 8 Chalmers housed these activities then, but now it houses a museum that educates the public on what life was like for the people of this fine city pre emancipation.   

People were "stored" here before the sale.


At the time of the American Revolution black people outnumbered whites by a huge margin.  So much so that the British plan to capture the South hinged on promising freedom to all slaves who escaped to join the redcoats.   

The fear of revolt and revenge led to drastic measures to maintain control.


No aspect of life in old Charleston went untouched by slavery.  It was in fact the whole reason for the cities existence, yet strangely the guided tours of homes and locations focus more on furniture, generals, and politicians.   

Guides dressed in civil war garb will tell you of the cities wealth and sites yet explains very little about the majority of the cities then population.


The Old Slave Mart Museum holds artifacts that illustrate the realities that made all the money and style possible.  If I had a suggestion to give the tourist in this beautiful and historic city I would suggest stopping at the museum before you go anywhere else.  Stop there and look at the whips and chains that insured the wealth of the white population.   

Managing the slaves and keeping them in their place was more important and more difficult than most other tasks of business or agriculture.


The houses will still be beautiful, the streets still romantic, but after visiting the museum you will know a bit more about who actually built the houses and cleared the roads.   

Alright, I admit #5 was not the most cheerful reason to love a city.  But again, I do love the city.  One can still love a place with a dark past.  I was not there then.  I would not have loved it then, I love it now.  History needs to be faced and should be done honestly.  I love the food, I love palmetto trees, and I love streets lined with bright colored town homes.  I do not love that a war to preserve the right of one person to own another began here.  That war was won and is over and consequentially my wife and I can walk together in parks shaded by Spanish moss and the ladies selling baskets get to keep the profits.   

A nice walk looking out toward Fort Sumter

Lighthouse on Tybee Island

The lighthouse is a standard inspiration for metaphors and symbolism.  It’s beacon warning of danger lurking unsean in shallow waters, the tower standing tall despite the pounding waves, or the safe call of home and harbor bookend to travel and adventure.

I am no modern mariner but the lighthouses of today are probably most useful to photographers and motivational posters on office walls.  I have never been one to pass up an adventure, real or imagined, and I could not pass up the oft photographed lighthouse on Tybee Island just outside Savannah, GA.

There were no crowds on the beach, all scared of the cold I suppose.  Resort towns in the off-season always have an unfinished quality.  It is as if you just missed something, or rather you are presented with a gift you just can’t enjoy.  The beach was beautiful but just not quite warm enough to swim… unless you are a mountain beast/polar bear like myself.  I spared you the pictures of that.

One of these days I will indulge in a comfortable room, art on the walls, a sleek lounge downstairs where I can loiter mysteriously as if I’m important and awaiting my equally sophisticated company.

my immitation of a Jack Vettriano painting

But for now, a hammock, a dinner of spicy peanuts and ginger ale, and a bumper are just fine.

Oh Sweet Savannah

Savannah was not on my planned route, but a place about ten miles away, was.  Through my life I have heard and read so much about that majestic southern jewel that I had go and see.

Stately State St. with its mossy oaks and fine homes makes the perfect backdrop while I consult the guidebook.

Savannah was first and foremost a port city.  In colonial times right through the civil war the shining city on the river hosted vessels and voyagers moving people, rice, tobacco, indigo, and king cotton.  As I walked down Dayton St. toward the waterfront I passed a majestic colonial graveyard boasting continental congress attendees, revolutionary generals, and poets.  I suppose there is something about the sails of ships, moss hung oaks, and stifling humidity that breeds writers.; the heart of Savannah.

walking down Dayton.

Not on the map, but anchored at the waterfront was the three masted ship “Peacemaker”.  There was no signage, just a secured walkway with a steady stream of tourists filing on and off.  I, being a tourist, joined them.

If the "Peacemaker"has a motor it is hidden, and the captain would not spill the beans.

The ship was beautiful inside and out.  I know nothing of sailing other than the sense of both style and adventure that wind born ocean goers inspire.  As I browsed the decks I spotted a silver haired man with a well trimmed beard and tied back pony tail sitting casually sipping a cup of tea.  I asked if I could sit and rest for a while and he allowed it.  “You look far too at home not be employed on this ship in some capacity”, I stated, making sure it sounded like a question.

With a small grin he told me he was the captain.  The peacemaker sails up and down the coast with several captains taking turns during different times of year.  It isn’t a job, its more of a hobby.  In other words there is no money in it.  This was his first time in Savannah and as we discussed his travel schedule I brought to his attention Philadelphia’s all-you-can-eat ice cream tent and he soon promised to be docked at Penn’s Landing this fourth of July.

The captain wouldn't let me take his picture but insisted on taking mine. I could get comfortable for a three hour tour on this ship.

Two blocks back off of the waterfront the city sports two parallel streets that alternate houses and parks for a length of a half mile or so.  The homes are ivy hung and romantic while the parks host statues and fountains.  At one end sits the Telfair mansion and academy.  The once palatial home of an aristocratic family is now a very fine art museum and school.

The inside is even better, as is the security which actually enforces the "no pictures" policy.

Further down the street is the Owens mansion.  This home is touted as the product of an architectural genius and the one time resting place of Lafayette.  I toured the house and a very proper southern woman told me all about the indoor plumbing, the symmetry of the windows and doors, and the tale of a family (Richardsons) who travelled to London and found both love and a young architect, William Jay, to build this masterpiece.

"Lafayette slept here" signs make me feel right at home.

I asked what the Richardson’s did to become so wealthy post Revolution and was politely told he was a banker and merchant.  My thoughts leaned towards the familiar Wall St. trader who works with numbers and commodities.  A more accurate picture of the Richardson’s employ was given inadvertently as the tour ended in the small gift shop out back. 

Up stairs from the gift shop is where the people lived who actually built the architectural masterpiece, cooked and cared for the Richardson’s, and in more than one way backed the “securities” bankers of the day traded in.

Slave quarters for the Owen's mansion; up stairs from the gift shop.

The crown jewel of the old south is surely worth a visit.  Gone With the Wind may have been about Terah, but it still lives in Savannah.


I have now completed the southern end of my Appalachian route.  I should take this moment to confess something… I play the dulcimer.

It felt like coming home.

O.K. I don’t really play the dulcimer, more like I can play one very rudimentary song and 1/2 of another.

A dulcimer is a sort of lap guitar related to the Appalachian backwoods and my childhood home.  Strangely enough my childhood home was no where near the Appalachians and none of said home’s inhabitants were from there or had ever been there.  Yet two finely crafted, fully functional, instruments hung on our living room wall.  They would come down in the summer time and join us on our adventures (a subject for another day) but usually they hung there doing nothing more than amuse my friends who had never seen such contraptions.

I knew enough of suburban teenage social rules to never attempt to explain or demonstrate what these wall hangings were.  I ignored them along with any questions regarding what they might be.

It was not unusual for my family to leave me home alone for extended periods of time.  I was old enough, somewhat responsible, and lived in a cul-de-sac of very involved and nosy neighbors.  It was standard operating procedure among us guys, that in the event that one of our parents were gone, that was where we would be.

On one such occasion I came home late from work to find all the lights in the house ablaze and quite a racket coming from the open windows.  Inside I found my friends staging a live performance of the finest dulcimer playing ever displayed along with some of the worst singing.  Say what you want of the quality of the concert but what it lacked in talent it more than made up for in volume.

Late nights and loud noises are a sure fire way to attract my neighbor and the police.  As usual we simply promised the officer and the neighbor that we would be quiet and act our age and that was the end of it.

Upon my parents return I happened to overhear one of my neighbors give a report on my escapades while left alone.  “So-and-so said she caught Brohammas and all his friends drunk in your house.  She says she called the cops and is very upset that Brohammas would drink and cause such a commotion when she had inpressionable little kids at home.”

“Wow.  And what did you say to her?” I heard my mother ask.

“I just rolled my eyes and said, you don’t know him and those idiots very well do you?”

Its not hunting season, I don't know where you are going, but man! I think I would show those things off too.
I could be mistaken but werent those native to the plains?