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Poor Johnny's Heads South For The Holidays

January 2, 2019

Poor Johnny's ended 2018 with a last-minute trip south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Leaving the relative safety of our home in the Steel City, and with the help of Avis Rent-A-Car and Capitol One, we followed Santa's flight path on Christmas Eve to see family, friends and cool places on the way to a final destination ... the Holy City of Charleston, SC.  


During our brief adventure, we crossed the highest arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere, walked the beach that was the site of a battle during

the Revolutionary War, glanced out at the fort from which the first shot of the civil war was fired, walked the cobblestone streets of Rainbow Row. saw a dolphin, did a little pickin' and ate some really good oysters.


A few facts about the journey:  our drive to and from was a total of 1310.4 miles, through 5 states, the highest elevation was realized in Fancy Gap, VA at 2,894'; and the lowest was 0' at Folly Beach, SC. (which was originally named "Coffin Island," and holds a place in beach lore as the birthplace of the modern surfboard in the 1960s).  The price of gas was highest in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at $2.69 per gallon, and cheapest in Columbia, SC at $1.93 per gallon.  And what may only interest those locked in a car for hours on end, XM satellite radio has 470 stations - of which we listened to two - 32 The Blend and 33 New Wave. 


The visit took us through the Appalachian Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, The Lumber Forests of the Peidmont, tobacco farmlands of North Carolina, the "Queen" city of Charlotte - named for a German princess, the upstate of South Carolina and the Lowcountry by the shore.


Our destination of Charleston is world renowned as a port city founded in 1670 and is defined by its cobblestone streets,

horse-drawn carriages and pastel antebellum houses, particularly in the elegant French Quarter and Battery districts. The Battery promenade and Waterfront Park both overlook Charleston Harbor, while Fort Sumter, a federal stronghold where the first shots of the Civil War rang out, lies across the water.  Here are a few things that folks may not know:


Charleston was the frequent target of pirate attacks in its early days. In 1718, none other than Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard, attacked several ships trying to enter the harbor. He took hostages and ransomed them for a chest of medicine.


In 1776, colonists holed up in a makeshift fort on Sullivan's Island traded fire with nine British warships bent on conquering Charleston. The battle lasted several hours, but Fort Sullivan’s palmetto logs held up against the barrage, and eventually the attacking fleet retreated. The effort staved off British occupation for four years and became a symbol of American resilience. The fort was renamed Fort Moultrie, in honor of its commander, and South Carolina adopted the flag Moultrie flew as its state flag, adding in an image of a palmetto tree for additional symbolic value.


Another famous fort didn’t fare as well, of course. In 1861, Confederate forces fired the Civil War’s first shots on Fort Sumter, situated in Charleston Harbor. According to writer Mary Chestnut, locals took in the 34-hour spectacle in a true Southern fashion: Sitting on their porches, toasting to the event.


Stroll around Charleston and you’ll notice numerous homes accented with a dark green known as Charleston Green. The story goes that after the Civil War, the Union sent buckets of black paint for residents to use when fixing up their damaged homes. Rather than use only Yankee black, however, citizens mixed in a bit of Southern yellow and created the distinctively dark hue. 


On August 31, 1886, the largest earthquake ever recorded in the southeast United States occurred near Charleston. The 7.8-magnitude quake, which damaged buildings in states as far away as Ohio, killed 60 people and caused more than $5 million in damages. Included in that estimate were more than 14,000 destroyed chimneys.


South Carolina’s oldest public building is a former gunpowder storage facility called the Powder Magazine. Built in 1713, back when Charleston was walled in to protect against land and sea attacks, the small building features three-foot thick walls and a thin, gabled roof—an ingenious design that, were all that powder to ignite, would send the explosion shooting upwards rather than outwards.


One of Charleston’s most famous sons, Stephen Colbert, grew up on James Island. After his father and two brothers died tragically in a 1974 plane crash, Colbert’s mother moved the family to East Bay Street in the city’s downtown, where she ran a now-defunct bed and breakfast.


The Charleston City Market is one of the country’s oldest public markets.  First opened in 1804, it featured meat, fish, and vegetable vendors, and was notorious for the flocks of buzzards (affectionately called “Charleston Eagles”) that would swoop down for scraps.  These days, the market features an enclosed, air-conditioned Great Hall as well as open-air sheds selling everything from handmade baskets to stone-ground grits.


The first golf club in North America, the South Carolina Golf Club, opened in 1786 on a peninsula field known as Harleston Green (really!). Back then, the ball was known as a “feathery,” and the holes didn’t have flags, tee boxes or a putting green. 


After a few days of fun-ing, sun-ing, and exploring it was time to pack up the 'ole cruiser and head back North.  Up early and after a fuel stop at the neighborhood Starbucks, we were on the road (with time allotted for extra-pickin').  The weather gage, which had cooperated up until this point, changed its course and we found ourselves navigating through the elements.  


With the aid of intermittent window wipers (invented by Gary, Indiana's Robert Kearns and patented in 1964) and a very basic knowledge of hydrodynamics (hydroplaning occurs in a car traveling over 35 mph) we made slow progress to exit 80 off Interstate 77 in Wytheville, VA.  


Named for the first signer of the Declaration of Independence from Virginia George Wythe, and birthplace of Edith Bolling Wilson, second wife of President Woodrow Wilson, the town boasts scenic vistas, natural resources, and ... cool antique malls!  


We met some nice folks, wandered, picked and haggled our way through the backroads that follow the highway towards West Virginia.  We bought a few things, passed on others and still managed to fill the trunk with some overflow in to the backseat.  Now, we can't tell you all we came across, but here is a sneak peak of a life preserver we found that began its journey in the far east aboard the cargo freight liner "The Great Prestige," a 600+ ft, 28,000 gross weight vessel moored in Hong Kong harbor.


We look forward to sharing our tales in 2019 and hope you enjoy our travel logs as we continue to search far and wide for cool stuff to fill the store and learn from life on the road along the way.  Please check back often for adventure updates, guest writers, featured finds, a little history and share advice on places to visit on our next journey.


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