Saturday, February 23, 2008

Getaway CAR-TA

Sometimes truth in the public transit realm is stranger than fiction. Considering a recent total eclipse of the moon, it's likely the odd scenario I’m about to describe to you could be further astrological phenomenon, typically resulting in crazy human behavior as noted previously in Full Moon Bus Rides. Regardless of the cause, what I observed last Friday night was nothing short of a mystery. With the worries of the office left behind I boarded the bus. I patiently read as we motored through Mt. Pleasant back toward Downtown Charleston. The bus jerked a bit to a quick stop and a random guy boarded. He passed in front of me and sat diagonally across from my seat near the back. At quick glance he carried what appeared to be a large cardboard box. A closer look revealed an item wrapped in a clear piece of plastic. It looked as if it was the clear wrapper from another product, retrofitted around the cumbersome object being heaved around by the young passenger. I was able then to make out what looked like an old desktop computer inside the plastic bag. Along the back wall, where the guy picked a seat, he was able to situate the large box to his right, snuggly tucked against the end of the intersecting row of side wall seats where there is just enough legroom to slide in against the wall. There his box was probably slightly more secure, being deterred from sliding forward should the bus jerk to another stop. Fascinated and totally nosy over the mystery object dude carried through the rain on a miserable Friday night, I spied over my book and eyed the man as he looked out the window. He was outfitted in black and I noticed the item was not a computer, but in fact, A CASH REGISTER. I almost began to laugh and cursed my own twisted sense of humor for finding scenarios such as this to be completely hilarious. I mean, come on, how often do you see a guy dressed in black get on the bus carrying a cash register protected from the rain? To top it off, no one on the bus looked a bit concerned. Not one person batted an eye or said a thing….including me. How could any of us know if the guy was a criminal without a car, or a cash register repairman without a car? In either case, how does one approach this question with a perfect stranger, anyway? Mystery intact, the bus finally lumbered up to my stop and I exited without incident or a further hint of what would unfold when the guy would later get off the bus. I thought about him carrying that cash register around on the streets of Downtown Charleston and snickered a little. I wondered if anyone would notice. It seemed to me the least the cash register carrying enigma could have done was wrap it in something other than CLEAR plastic! Honestly.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Like Totally 1988 All Over Again

The Eastside's transformation from abandon and run-down homes to a fab urban mileau is every day more clearly evident. Sometimes, though, dashing toward the future includes a few flashbacks.

We've lived here on Charleston's Eastside for a few years now and have literally watched all types of people come and go. This area, a pocket of the community once economically depressed, running rampant with crime and drug traffic, was simply off the radar. At that time most people simply didn't venture above Calhoun Street on foot out of sheer fear. Calhoun Street acted as a belt around the waist of the peninsula, fashioning a defined separation between the lower, gentile and heavily toured portions of this grand city from the original middle and lower class suburbs located outside the walled boundaries.

Times have changed though and Charleston's historic Eastside is now attracting a diverse cross-section of local color. Last weekend as we waited for an afternoon bus into Mt. Pleasant for a shoet escapade of shopping we spotted four guys decked out in full 80s glam-rock regalia heading toward us. These guys had the whole tribute thing down pat too. Their spiral permed hair styles were all taller than our friend, Carolyn's, 4 inch teased bangs circa 1986, and they had evidently spent a good hour applying stage makeup as well as knotting dozens of leg bandanas to compliment their spandex pants. Ten to fifteen years ago we doubt these guys would have dared walk around the streets of the Eastside sporting looks akin to the group Poison, or Johan Sabastian Bach. But today is thankfully a different era. Welcome to the 'hood guys. Oh, and yo, fellas....Bret Michaels called. He wants his zebra print spandex pants back.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Wall Street Turning to the Stars

Noticing a peculiar headline on Bloomberg today, it took blinking twice to be sure the eyes weren’t playing tricks. Most certainly, the screen was projecting an ominous warning for the stock markets in the Chinese New Year. Beginning February 7th, the Year of the Rat is upon us. Does it appear Wall Street is turning to the stars for advice during a horribly confusing financial crisis? You betcha! And how about this timing? Ironically befitting, considering today's record losses.

Well, we thought only Ronnie and Nancy used in-house astrologers and such, but thanks to revered Bloomberg News we now know that the, “year of the rat portends losses in Asian stocks, astrologers say". Don’t get us wrong. We are fans of the mystical realms. Besides, who knows? Even if jobs are sagging – it might be a great time to open shop as a seer since those big bonuses will be filtering down into the micro economies of establishments like, Juanita’s Taro, and Readings by Mrs. Balkewicz - Palm and Chakras.

Do you think this could mean they don’t believe in decoupling after all?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Charleston Magazine Features the East Side

January's issue of Charleston Magazine included a write-up on Charleston's East Side. If you've been following our postings you may already know that The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian resides here on the East Side of Peninsula Charleston. We are crunched between Columbus Street and the lower Wraggborough area. We are just blocks from the Visitor's Center. It's a friendly, urban environment full of energy. This is a diverse neighborhood that may appear an abstract, yet, should a very unique set of ideas continue to mix, may complete its march toward humble historic residential district meets modern passive-green gateway to the lower regions of Charleston in just a few short years.

We moved to the East Side just because we wanted to live downtown. And it was affordable for us. It was about as simple as that. It's possible we were drawn to the East Side because of our own personal advocacy for new urbanism. East Side Story articulates the draw and exemplifies our belief in this diamond-in-the-rough section of Downtown Charleston. With its strategic location, amount of available land and convenient access to public transit, there is a unique synergy in this area's footprint that will likely feed urbanism as development switches gears from a world of cheap oil to a world limited by the expense of oil.

Here mixed use is not civic design slang or a New Urbanaism buzzword, but an authentic, centuries-in-the-making reality. Homes, parks, schools, churches, storefronts, mills and mansions all remain part of the East Side's dense, diverse, and somewhat tattered urban fabric.
We expect one day soon to have a corner drug store, a deli, a few more restaurants and shops, and possibly a transit line exchange hub. Job creation is certainly a good thing as these dominoes slowly fall into place as the East Side reaches for its revival.

For now, we sit on our Charleston Single front porch, smelling the harbor's salty, pluff mudd-scented breeze watching the many passers-by sashaying up and down the street in their Southern Sunday best. The East Side has the sun shining bright upon it on this day, and we can appreciate where this neighborhood has been in the past. We can also laugh about the things that Charleston magazine could never tell you about the East Side. For creativity and entrepreneurship blossom in the fertile soils of transition.

Historically, the East Side was a suburb of Charleston proper. It was a niche location where the wealthy, working class and freed slaves enjoyed escape from “the city.” Many laws taken seriously inside the walled city proper were less stringently enforced on the East Side back then. On occasion residents fail to recognize that it’s 2008 and the East Side is no longer a refuge of sorts. One recent night as we walked home from dinner we caught a glimpse of entrepreneurial spirt mixed with old world East Side lawlessness.

It happened that a resident up the street near Nassau decided their Momma's cooking was good enough to sell right out of the kitchen. As we passed the house, surely zoned Residential, we noticed an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper tacked to the siding next to the screened door that said:

Momma's Cooking

1 chicken breast plate $5
2 chicken breast plate $10
vegetables $2
collards $4
green beans $3
Chicken Legs $3

The new business owners cleverly left the main door wide open, and the exterior screen door left slightly ajar, so people could walk right in. Wafting out from behind that screened door was the best damn fried chicken smell the two of us have ever sniffed - and we consider ourselves foodies! A few days later the sign was gone. We figured Momma hadn't thought about a business license or a kitchen rating. On top of that her restaurant probably wasn't paying taxes, so there was no way to continue to overlook her racket. Upon further reflection, it was probably The Piggly Wiggly that reported Momma. Her little scheme was probably affecting fried chicken deli sales.

The East Side is a great spot, though. We must be quite cautious to respect diversity, lest this jewel not come to shine as it was meant to. And let's not leave any of our creativity behind in the dust as we move toward inevitable change.

DASHing About Town - Am I A Tourist?

Recently, one of us had to get to a meeting downtown. After walking half way there in beautiful , fresh, crisp weather, which helped to clear the mind, it was decided one of the local loop DASH busses would shorten the second half of the walk. This worked out well with the DASH trolley dropping me off just a few steps from the front door of the office building near King and Market. However, after leaving the meeting, getting back into Mt. Pleasant was just a little trickier. I grabbed the DASH on the corner of King and Market for a quick ride back to Ann Street to the major bus-lines. Apparently the DASH busses are mainly used by tourists. I instantly found myself on a tour of King Street. Looking around, it was easy to recognize that the three couples were middle-aged Baby Boomers. They were proudly enjoying our weather in their Hawaiian shirts with fully-loaded fannie packs hung safely around each males' waste. The ladies carried plastic bags most likely containing standard vacation gifts, like plastic refrigerator magnets pressed neatly with the recipients’ name in bold letter staged on a square plate with a header modeled after Rainbow Row, the words, Charleston, South Carolina scrolled under the plastic painted streetscape of these famous town houses. Oh boy, I thought. No doubt, I’ll have to make this time up at the office. Dashing, we were not. The tour guide/bus driver went into full tour chatter. “And, here on the left you’ll see Berlin’s Department Store! We love to drive by Berlins! They always have the prettiest gowns and trendiest suits on display in their windows.” Next we passed what she identified as the “wedding cake house.” Yes, I was also confused, as you may be now. I’ve never heard anyone call Number Two Meeting Street, the wedding cake house, but maybe this is a widely known sub-title among bus drivers, or something . The house is breathtaking, but the tourists didn’t get to see very much. The house was being painted, so the view was of a bunch of workers smoking cigarettes and painting amid flapping sheathes of hanging plastic suspended from the upper walls of the house. No elegant cake house here. Shortly thereafter, one guy pulled the string, signaling they wanted out. Time to meander along the Battery. After they departed I began changing into my walking shoes (didn’t want to do that in front of the tourists and destabilize Charleston’s reputation for hospitality). Suddenly I hear the microphone grind on. “Chrrrrrccccchhh…you live here, right?” Having to yell over what ever the hell kind of engine that DASH bus runs on, I bellowed back a , “yes, ma'am,” to the driver as we turned the corner toward East Bay Street heading (finally) back to the main bus terminal. The driver’s microphone announced, “ok, well, then I’ll spare ya the details.” HA! WTF? What if I was enjoying the tour? Did I maybe look like I didn’t care for the historic Charleston refresher course? Maybe I'm not cut out for the small bus. Luckily I only had to wait a short while between connections to catch the “normal” bus back across the pond (the Cooper River) toward Mount Pleasant to the office.

The trek ended up taking about fifteen minutes longer than hoped. But, hey we got a great story out of it anyway. We’ll be working on broadening our familiarity with the DASH bus system since our regular bus passes are honored there too. Yippee! We can run around town continuing to elude those gas prices while occasionally catching a tour. That is if the astute driver doesn't recognize us as locals.