Thursday, January 13, 2011
I grew up in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. Life there was whimsical at times, and when I look back on my childhood, my grade-school experiences, my teenage and high school years, I realize just how lucky I was to live during that time in that place. My family didn't take summer vacations in the usual fashion, in other words, by loading up the car and heading to Ocean City, Maryland or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Our vacations usually were to visit my grandparents in Marlinton, West Virginia (for those who don't know, Marlinton is the town closest to the Snowshoe ski resort in WV). While those vacations made wonderful memories, I always felt envious when my friends would tell about their week at the beach. Other than that one year when my dad loaded us into the Olds Delta 88 and we headed south to Key West, with stops along the way in Atlanta, Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale/Miami Beach, and of course every Stuckeys Pecan Log stand and Howard Johnsons along the way.
So, as I entered my adult years, my only experience with lands where palm trees grew was that one week as seen from the backseat of an Oldsmobile Delta 88 with a blue haze of combined Winston and El Producto smoke rolling out of the car through the cracked front windows. By the way dad smoked the cigars and mom the cigs. Those experiences of hearing summer after summer from my friends about the beach, would probably account, in some fashion, for the mid-life crisis and pioneering spirit that resulted in me moving my family to the land of palm trees in 2007.
I guess you could say, I went through a good portion of my life with a limited experience and knowledge of the ways of life in a beach town. When I thought of palm trees I had these wonderfully fantastic images in my mind. Like images of sand and blue water, sunshine and orange trees, tanned bathing beauties and the smell of coconut tanning oil. As I aged and my exposure to the good things in life increased, those images were enhanced by visions of margaritas, Jimmy Buffett tunes, steamed peel and eat shrimp and lush beautiful golf courses.
I have to say, moving to a sub-tropical climate like the Lowcountry of South Carolina has been all that and more. Some of the reasons we chose the Charleston area was the city, the shopping, the airport and ease of travel, the rich history, and the culture. Charleston is unique, it has it all. Here I can pretty much play golf year round, go to an outdoor restaraunt for oysters on Saturday night and head to a minor league professional hockey or baseball game on Sunday afternoon. I can catch a broadway quality musical or see The Dave Matthews Band after driving 25 minutes to get to the venue.
I can spend the day at one of the most beautiful Atlantic beaches or spend the day fishing from a boat on a lazy tidal creek. I can open up a Civil War or Revolutionary War history book, read a chapter then jump in my car, drive downtown, park and walk a 3 block area and have the history come to life.
Those are some pretty tangible examples of what makes Charleston great for me. If you asked me for a list of bullet points that make Charleston such and enjoyable city to visit and live in, I would have to begin the list with fun. Following close behind would be artistic, eclectic, hospitable, colorful, constantly changing yet maintaining it's unique identity. These are all characteristics that make Charleston, Charleston.
As a relative newcomer to the lowcountry, aka, the land of palm trees, no other landmarks, and there are plenty, strike me as being so purely Charleston as the Folly Boat. The boat, a left over relic deposited roadside compliments of Hurricaine Hugo has served as a community wide message board for over 2 decades. It is as much a part of Folly Beach as, well, Folly Beach.
For those of you who aren't real familiar with the local geography, Folly Beach is located on the Atlantic Ocean side of James Island and is arguably Charleston County's most popular beach. During the summer months on most days traffic snakes along Folly Road toward "the beach". Thousands of cars, trucks, motorcycles and other motor vehicles make the pilgrimage to Folly and while doing so, they all drive past the Folly Boat. The boat serves as an exciting reminder to all that you are close enough to the beach to smell the surf and taste the salt, a welcome sight after dealing with slow moving traffic for several miles.
Shortly after we moved to Charleston the family made the trip to Folly Beach, and the grafiti tatooed boat is what I remember most about that first visit to Folly. As a matter of fact, a couple of weeks later, when I still had not learned my way around town very well, a friend was trying to explain to me the location of a popular restaraunt."He said, you turn off of Folly Road just past the painted boat." I had no idea where the post office was, not a clue how to get to the court house, the doctors office or the bank. But, I knew where the painted boat was located and how to get there.
Not only does The Folly Boat have it's own listing on Wikipedia, there is a web site that features daily photo galleries of the artwork that adorns the boat dating back nearly two decades. As you can see from the galleries, no work of art lasts very long on The Folly Boat. As a matter of fact, last May on the last day of school, my son Noah attended a classmates birthday party at Folly Beach. When my wife and I passed by the painted boat we noticed that the kids had painted the boat earlier in the day to wish their friend Happy Birthday. Less than an hour later as we headed home, the boat had already been painted over congratulating Peggy and John on their marriage.
What makes the boat so purely Charleston? What could be more fun than pulling off the side of the road with paint rollers and brushes in hand to create a masterpiece commemorating a friends birthday or wedding? The Folly Boat must have over 5000 coats of paint on it's surface, but each time the roadside art gallery is updated or changes, somehow it just seems to work, it fits. Each new message is just as important as the one before it, it is ever changing, but it stays the same. Just like Charleston. And talk about hospitality, you couldn't ask for a better welcome mat for a beach that calls itself "the edge of America."