Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another Rehabilitated...

...bridge? I thought "rehabilitated" was a humorous word to describe the updating of the Ben Sawyer Bridge, a span that links Mt. Pleasant, an outskirt of Charleston, to the small Island where Edgar Allan Poe, and other renowned personalities, have stayed and/or called home at one point or another.

At any rate, here's the info. If you're into bridges you'll probably dig this.

Ben Sawyer Bridge Design & Information

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hurricane Hugo Twenty Year Anniversary

Twenty years ago Hurricane Hugo swept through South Carolina's Lowcountry with a hurling force that only mother nature can muster. A category four storm with wind gusts estimated up to 135 miles per hour, Hugo changed our landscape, lives and sense of security all in one night.

Days before September 21, 1989, Charlestonians had already begun preparing. Hugo was coming right at us. Bottled water, coolers, ice and batteries had disappeared from grocery store shelves. Lumber and plywood had been bought up. Flashlights, candles and camping equipment had vanished. My own hurricane supply checklist assembled, I spent the morning scrubbing the bathroom tubs and refilling them with water (for general water use & toilet flushing in the aftermath), cleaning up and listening to officials on the news warning residents to, "get out." Located in the town of Summerville (at the time), I figured we'd be alright considering the twenty miles between my humble abode and the coast. Several friends were even scheduled to arrive at the house later that afternoon, themselves escaping to higher ground in anticipation of Hugo's ravaging visit. I taped the windows, as directed by neighbors (taping is the cure du jour for inland residents in the event windows shatter). After taping, I walked the exterior of the house collecting items that could be picked up in the wind, and I got a strange feeling. Then it hit me! It was the calm before the storm (I learned it was true; not just an old saying). The air was completely still. There was not a cloud in the sky. Nothing, NOTHING was moving, except people. It almost seemed like even the birds had gone away somewhere. Still today, I give a nervous laugh over my youthful ignorance, for I had no idea the magnitude of what was going to unfold later that evening. Yes, I was twenty years younger and twenty years stupider (lol).

As the hours passed, I noted the alarm in officials' voices heightening. They were now taking the air waving pointed fingers and making grave announcements that it was our very last chance to, once again, "get out." With only hours before Hugo was scheduled to make landfall, it was quickly becoming too late to leave. Police and Firemen had been deployed on the islands to collect dental records, I had heard. There were stragglers on the barriers who refused to leave for various reasons. Some were concerned about their property, while others wanted a rush, and stayed on the islands to throw hurricane parties. Dental records help identify bodies.

As you can imagine, the calm outside broke sometime toward dusk. A brisk breeze picked up. The friends had already arrived with food and more water. And the wind blew harder. I allowed the dog to go out one last time. The outer bands of the storm started to move over the area at intervals that grew closer and closer together as the giant storm lumbered onto land. Hugo had arrived. I watched out the windows as the rain poured down in sheets. Once the wind really sped up, it was too dangerous to stand close to windows, but in my last look, with a bolt of lightning filling the sky, I saw that it was raining horizontally. Downtown, the news told us, they were worried about the storm surge which had already begun pushing the sea up into the creeks and onto land.

Somewhere in the thick of things I remember clearly thinking about what a stupid idea it was to stay behind, even twenty to thirty miles inland, because I was pretty sure in that moment it was possible that we were all going to die. The walls were shaking - visibly, and the power and cable had gone out. All that was left was the little radio and things weren't sounding so good there. 96 Wave was taking live call-ins. We listened out for callers from downtown Charleston knowing that whatever they were getting, we would experience within about a half hour's time according to our distance. With each passing hour, the storm got worse. The sound of the wind outside had grown so loud that our little group didn't even bother trying to talk anymore. With many of the radio callers-in reporting spin-off tornado action, we simply turned up the radio as loud as possible and huddled near the center of the house.

After what seemed to be a lifetime of screaming winds and unknown objects loudly smacking against exterior walls, finally, Hugo's eye immersed us in a serene calm. Everything was completely still in the center as Hugo's devastation hoola-hooped for miles around us. Within about five minutes it went from sounding like multiple locomotives were running through my living room, to an absolute eerie stillness. Hugo was right over top of us and we had what was estimated to be about an hour of eye-time based on his size to think about our existentialism. I peaked out the windows. Then I dared to open the front door. Crap was everywhere. Hugo's front side had already snapped trees and uprooted anything untethered. Timidly, I walked the front yard in the dark for a few minutes, then suddenly realized I was completely exhausted. I didn't want to participate in further exploration with the others anyway, what, with the threat of downed power lines looming in the dark, and all. No, if I was going to die on this night, Hugo would have to take me because I was not about to be electrocuted by South Carolina Electric & Gas. Everyone else was going outside, but I went to my room to catch a few z's. I slept instantly, although for what seemed to be only minutes. The howling winds shook me awake again and the whistling was like an annoying alarm clock I could not turn off. Hugo certainly was not going to let little me sleep through his wrath when he was only half way finished with Charleston and her surrounding islands, towns and villages.

It's difficult to provide many details from this point. I think I was so tired, I was slipping in and out of consciousness. At any rate, the second storm wall was worse. We knew things were bad on the flip-side when a caller on the radio dropped the f bomb on live air as he screamed something about bricks being blown out of an exterior wall. To this day, I don't know if that story was ever confirmed.

Eventually, the wind stopped. For the next morning, there is nothing else to say but that it was a complete disaster. I had never seen anything like it until that point and I have never seen anything like it since. Things are different in the daylight. And things are very different when your neighbor's roof has been neatly lifted off of his house to be set in the middle of a street totally covered over by detritus and organic debris.

In Hugo's wake, the power was out, the water was unclean and bees were everywhere. The best I could figure, a nest nearby had been destroyed. For hours we walked around awestruck by the damage. One by one, people emerged to observe Hugo's toll. But, within the day, people also began to organize. Charleston has been through many disasters before. These people are proud, and resilient. We started to dig our way out street by street, clearing and sweeping, and generally helping out friends and strangers whenever necessary. We also learned on that first day that we were under Marshall Law. No one was allowed out past dark to deter looting and possible injury.

Within days most of the roads were passable. But a full two weeks would go by without power. The water came back on within the week, but when it did, it ran brown; and without power, only cold showers were on tap. We lived by candle light and played cards. There was nothing to do. There were no computers to pass the time, no tv, and we weren't allowed to go anywhere. Ugh. I fried eggs in a pan on a charcoal grill and had to figure out how to cook everything in the fridge/freezer before it went bad. How exactly does one cook useless microwave meals without a microwave? Say, on a grill? I couldn't wait for the electricity. To humor myself, I left a light switched to the on position so that I would know the exact minute when power was restored! Hurricane Hugo was a formidable reminder of just how fragile our modern lives actually are.

Hugo's devastation was drastic and took years to repair, yet, somehow we got through it. There were cases of price gouging and looting, but there was also genuine goodness and compassion shown by the greater majority of people as we worked together to repair our infrastructure and lives. So, with that I say, Happy Anniversary, Hurricane Hugo. Several of us here at The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian rode you out, and we will never forget being in the eye of your storm.

Here's a gallery of pics I scanned in for posterity. I remember not having a lot of film and not being able to go far. But, enjoy.

And here's a bunch of old news footage if you want to watch.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Leave your Lover - Go to Charleston

The Battery; Charleston, SC

Everyone loves a good song about Charleston, and its been quite a few years since one's been written. But then, out of the blue comes, Sons of Bill (not from Charleston), with a steel guitar, raw country-rock sound and a heartfelt story of leaving a worn out relationship behind to start anew in the holy city. Of course, starting anew happens after getting drunk on the Battery. My advice? Don't forget your brown bags, boys, because the CPD will have your achey-brakey hearts at Leeds Avenue (a street not mentioned in the song) faster than you can say, "I was just lookin' at Fort Sumter, Officer." For future reference, the battery is a park overlooking the site where the first shots of the civil war were fired.

Son's of Bill's (SOB), Charleston can be found on their sophomore release, One Town Away. And despite the fact that we're not big country fans here at The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian, this "under the radar" band is kind of growing on us. Word around town is they are also a favorite pick of The Windjammer staff (see City Paper review).

"But tonight, girl, you can sit there by the phone
Because tonight, ya know, I don't think [your man's] coming home
I'm gonna go down to Charleston
And get drunk on The Battery
Then stroll up and down King Street and find myself a queen
Then take her down to the ocean and watch as the waves roll in
And build a castle in the sand
And never come home to you"

Side Note: Yes, we find it ironic that the shortening of the band's name to the acronym, "SOB" provides yet another connection to the city. In Charleston, SOB is the well-known acronymic reference to the area known as "South of Broad." Anyway, just sayin.'

Saturday, August 29, 2009

An Evening Walk on the Arthur Ravenel

In 2005, the 13,200 ft long, 575 ft high cable-stayed Arthur Ravenel suspension bridge was opened to great fanfare* in Charleston. The bridge replaced two rusting cantilever bridges, the first of which was erected in 1929 (above pic). By the 1990s the old cantilever bridges were dangerously outdated and too small to support the traffic demands of the bustling cities and major thoroughfares they linked. After many years of inter-state arguments, financial wrangling and much compromise, the construction of the Arthur Ravenel bridge began. Charleston said goodbye to the Silas Pearman and Grace Memorial bridges, thereby ushering in the Arthur Ravenel era.

Aside from the fact that the new Arthur Ravenel bridge was keenly constructed to withstand the many natural disasters that have befallen Charleston throughout her long history (think hurricanes, earthquakes and ship collisions), that the new bridge ends up on episodes of Extreme Engineering, rather than DOT Most Dangerous lists (as did its predecessors), is the greatest comfort to those of us who remember daily commutes over the rattling roller coasters that once spanned the Cooper River. For posterity, lots of people recorded one last drive over the Grace bridge (the family in this driving video is especially delightful). Yet, there was hardly any sadness when the trusses of the old bridges were blown apart and hauled off shore to become artificial reef material.
History and nostalgia aside, there are dozens of reasons to appreciate the new Arthur Ravenel bridge. But, one of the very best things about it is the 12 foot biking and walking platform extending off the Charleston Harbor side of the bridge. The addition makes the bridge a destination in and of itself, and taking the time to walk it can be a pleasurable and unique experience. In fact, short of strapping a set of home-constructed wings to your back and leaping off the barn roof, taking in the sites and sounds at the high point of the bridge is as close as a human can come to being at one with their inner bird. It is quite difficult to put into words the exact sensation when standing approximately 190 feet over the river with nothing between you and the black waters below but 128 cables and two free-standing diamond shaped superstructure supports.

Looking up-river, views extend beyond the I-526 cooridor located in North Charleston. The Ravenel bridge's walking lane is open 24/7, so if you go around dusk, or at night, you may find cooler breezes while bedazzled by the twinkling lights of North Charleston and West Ashley, spanning out as far as the eye can see.

Facing the Atlantic Ocean, the peninsula of Charleston juts out into the harbor, and from this vantage point, looks like a Google Map satellite live view. The spectacular city is bordered by the Cooper River (foreground of below picture), and the Ashley River off to the west, which separates the city proper from James Island (seen below in the far background - if you can make it out).


A few things to know before you go:

~There are no toilets up there, so handle your business ahead of time.
~4% Incline with a running/walking lane and a biking lane.
~It is a suspension bridge - movement and shakiness are natural, esp. when large trucks cross and during high winds.
~Platform is nearly 200 feet high (if you have a fear of heights, you may want to take this into consideration).
~Access from Patriots Point, New Mt. Pleasant Waterfront Park or Downtown Charleston.
~No pets. Sorry to say, Rover can't walk the bridge with you.
~You can park cars on either side of the bridge in designated areas.
*Brian Zimmerman out in google video land caught this EXCELLENT ten minute long video of the fireworks display that opened the Arthur Ravenel in July of 2005. This was one of the best videos we could find; however, the creator probably doesn't have rights to the music and I can't find the code to disable it. Warning: We're not advocating hijacking tunes. Just sayin'. Thanks.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Rubber Tree Stripped

In yet another example of some strange artistic urban movement, this telephone pole at East Bay Street and Market wears the gnawed deposits of thousands of passers-by. To combat the problem, the city has been hiring The Charleston Gum Guy to strip the pole of its rubber layers as needed. He has visited again, because the pole has recently been cleaned, but this is what it looked like in late June, right before the Gum Guy's last visit. Considering the number of people participating in the apparent joyous activity of gum sticking, we are certain it won't take long to accumulate again.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Old Movie Props & Chiggers

It's been about two years since we've ventured up to beautiful Cypress Gardens. Last time we made the trip, most of the old movie prop built for The Patriot (2000, Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger) was still standing . Now it's not. There isn't much left of the hollow structure built nearly a decade ago. All that remains now are the two columns which created the entryway staircase to the shell of what was, in the scene, the ruin of a spanish mission where Gibson (playing the Swamp Fox) organized his troops in secret.

This is sort of how I remembered the faux mission circa 2006.

Photo by Micah Ponce.

Over time a few storms took their toll. Once the structure began to disintegrate, it was all downhill from there. It was, after all, just a prop and wasn't meant to last for any significant amount of time anyway. But I do have to say that I had gotten used to seeing it IRL (in real life) and via local pictures.

The Patriot was filmed all around Charleston, including several of its outlying plantations, two of which were Cypress Gardens and Middleton Place. The story is structured loosely around General Francis Marion's life, and is not the most historically accurate depiction of the Swamp Fox's (Marion's nickname) role in revolutionary war events; however, it's still an entertaining flick, for sure.

Spending the day at the gardens was just lovely, and therapeutic. Most unfortunate for me though, skulking around the swamps of South Carolina in mid July is still as treacherous an endeavor as it must have been in the 1700s.

Although there were no Redcoats to fear, there were red bugs. The bites of the chiggers flared up the next day, were large and red, looked like poison and exceeded the burning and stinging of a man-of-war jelly fish sting. I am left to wonder what did the Swamp Fox do back when there was no Calamine Lotion?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Please Shut Up, Mark Sanford

Jon Stewart pretty much sums up most South Carolinians' feelings on our Governor's recent disappearance, and later reappearance from a place that was not the Appalachian Trail. Hilarious, yet hidiously accurate, Stewart recaps Sanford's recent affair(s) on The Daily Show.

In the meantime, we're all speaking Episcopalian as mishandling the state is unacceptable. That is the real issue here, after all.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Shut Up, Mark Sanford
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tall Ships at Charleston Harborfest

The tall ships are back and we've spent a lot of time milling around the docks checking out this collection of splendid vessels, which have traveled the vast open seas to dazzle us with their beauty, antiquity and billions of knots. All the beautiful people have been out. Friday evening, even the porpoises seemed to be enjoying the Harborfest-ivities. Sunday is the last day of the festival, so if you can make it out, don't miss these gracious ships. For schedules and more info, check here. Charlestonharborfest.orgWe're so lucky to have these ships practically in our back yard, but one of the best things about hanging around the docks for any length of time is observing the activities of the people that actually live on the water. As we strolled around Friday night, we came upon an impromptu bluegrass concert, which began as a trio and turned quartet as we watched. I noticed the houseboat the fiddle player emerged from was named, what else, but, Harmony.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Community Garden on Eastside

The details are a little sketchy at the moment, but it seems a big development has taken shape on the Eastside. A vacant lot on Columbus Street near the Hanover intersection has been transformed into a small community garden. We stopped to admire it and chatted with a local who shared that the garden was open to all. There is, however, no signage and no official information for a specific point of contact in or around the garden lot.

The only other information gleaned from the colorful fellow guarding the garden, so to speak, was that the owner of the lot had agreed to let everyone use it for planting if it was kept clean and neat. With a big toothy grin he said he was trying to work a similar deal on other vacant lots on the opposite side of Hampstead Square.

The Eastside is a living, breathing community always in constant motion. Regardless of the somewhat loose organization of this little endeavor, I must say, we are glad to see it and hope the garden is successful and productive. It is certainly a lovely addition, and much better than a vacant lot unkempt and littered with trash.

In Bloom

Finally in bloom, this is a rare, white Tennessee Wisteria plant. Rather than the normal light purple flowers regularly found wild all around the South, the flower is a soft white and spectacularly fragrant. Scratch the picture to sniff (just kidding - please don't try that).

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Divine Defacement

Graffiti Follow Up - In our last post, we lamented over the fact that our house got tagged. Since graffiti is a bit of a "problem" in the downtown area, we got over the feeling of being violated pretty quickly, painted over the billboard-like atrocity and now can only hope it doesn't happen again. And, so far, so good. The corner of our old Charleston single house has not been treated as a canvas for the vandal's spray can again to date.

Since we are so often exposed to the creative will and talent of our fellow city-dwellers, and with a bit of a sense of humour, we compared the random defacement of our property to a PROPER graffiti campaign, noting our appreciation for urban arts that transcend simple 'hood rivalry.

Perhaps we just identify with one graffiti style over another. Or, maybe graffiti is just cooler when it's not located on the side of ones own house! At any rate, a walk down King Street today provided another opportunity to appreciate the urban arts. We discovered a few new introspective messages left behind by the brainy bandits pushing the 1.618 graffiti campaign. For those of you unfamiliar with Charleston, King Street is an internationally known shopping district. In other words, the campaign's not-so-subtle hints against consumerism have been strategically placed.The 1.618 graffiti campaign, like all other graffiti, will eventually be cleaned up with taxpayer money. But at the very least, it is smart, modest in size and continues to beg the mysterious question, "what is 1.618?"

To learn more about the meaning of 1.618, scroll down and read our previous post. Or you can click here. Additionally, if you have any insight into the 1.618 campaign, we'd love to hear from you as we remain captivated by these marks of enlightenment showing up all over our fair city.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Divinity in Charleston

The famous and historic city of Charleston, South Carolina is known for many things, but is not typically recognized for its role in the urban art movement. Charleston was, however, the original home of the 1986 Obey campaign, and played a small part in the phenomenology of Andre the Giant Has a Posse. OBEY spanned the globe, growing out of the cosmopolitan seaside city of Charleston, into a world-wide phenomenon in urban street art.

But this post isn't about the guy who famously created Andre the Giant has a Posse, and the Obama campaigns. This post is about two emerging graffiti campaigns - one spreading a message of the divine, and the other, on the side of The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian's house.

Over the course of the last few months a string of introspective graffiti art has been showing up on the streets of downtown Charleston. Applied by stencil, each one presents a thought-provoking statement to passers-by. The campaign's deeper substance, however, is rooted in the question, "what is 1.618?" And this is where divinity comes in.

The answer to the 1.618 question is, Phi.

For 1.618 is the measurement of divine proportion, also known as "the golden ratio." Studied by Divinci and found over and over again in nature, 1.618 is a representation of divine perfection and beauty.The depth of the message in a good graffiti campaign is not lost on us, but the line between property damage and free expression is often crossed by urban graffiti art. The difference between art appreciation and property value depreciation is obviously made clear when it happens to you.

Bad graffiti campaigns seem to crop up everywhere in Charleston regardless of the fact that Charleston's officials continuously fight the graffiti movement.

Perhaps one can imagine why we may not find the message sprayed on our own wall quite as intriguing as the 1.618 campaign. This note, making a billboard out of the side of our home, simply states, "I'd like to take over this corner." Too bad for the artist a local Sherwin Williams store is one block away, and they know how to match colors. We are armed with exterior paint.

Regardless of being vandalization victims, we are going to continue to look down for those subtle messages, inspired by the divine, being sprayed most typically at ankle level, or directly on random sidewalks.

Torn between art appreciation and victimization, we're simply left trying to compromise. So, we submit this - Dear Universe: If for some reason we are to be revisited by the Graffiti Gods....will you at least send the guy with the deeply thoughtful messages?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Celebrating Black History Month in Charleston

In honor of February's Black History Month, we'd like to remind everyone that the only official African Village within the United States is located just outside of Charleston, South Carolina in a small town called Sheldon about halfway between Savannah and Charleston on highway 17.

The Cosmopolitan Charlestonian has visited the Oyotunji Kingdom in the past and found the small tribe absolutely fascinating. The village was founded in 1970, receives tourists and now has a website. Tours include overviews of the Oyotunji history, beliefs, and traditions. Trinkets and clothing, masks and many other handmade crafts are for sale in small wooden stand-like structures near the entrance. Cottage homes are located off toward the back sides of the village, peppered among native Carolina trees blanketed by swaths of dangling Spanish Moss. The ritual and celebration areas linger in the center of the village. The Oyotunji people do have cars and stuff. They're not exactly like the Amish in Pennsylvania living without electricity. But, they are certainly practicing an alternative lifestyle, probably as close to their original African heritage as is acheivable in modern times inside of the US.

Two interesting things stuck out as we sat here pondering the details of our last visit to the Oyotunji Kingdom for you, our readers. We seem to remember being told not to take pictures. The good news is another Charleston blogger has a great one. But the more striking memory was this - as we lumbered down the long dirt road, a painted wooden sign greeted us at the point where the Oyotunji's 27 acres of land began. It read, "You have now left the United States of America."

Check a video:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blog going mobile

Testing mobile blogging with intensifying excitement.

Sent from my iPhone