Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lowcountry Blues

Driving along the southeast coast now it would be hard to understand the enormity of the changes that have come about due to the population shift southward and the resulting development as people made new lives in this region. Just in my lifetime I have seen the quality of life on several fronts improve greatly as new ideas and money from the north helped to enhance health care, education, and the general infrastructure of the south. As development increased new opportunities in the form of high paying jobs lifted many poor black and white folks out of poverty giving the children of these families a better chance at life. Yes, over the last forty years the south has benefited from all the people that have moved down here and the changes that came with them to what was once a hot, humid, backward place.

However, like all good things once you have too much of it at some point a line is crossed in which you begin to spoil, then destroy, the object of your affection whether it is a person, place, or a thing. As time has passed the development that lifted many of the locals out of poverty has strangely reversed and now forces many to leave the coast and near coastal areas because the building of high priced McMansions has raised property taxes and insurance costs beyond the reach of many. Families that have lived for generations on the coast making their livings from fishing, farming, or other enterprises are uprooted and sent elsewhere as condos, outlet malls, and golf courses take their place.


The local environment also suffers as residents seek to recreate miniature country estates with perpetual green lawns thinking nothing of the chemicals they spray and how it leeches back into the water and into the swamps, marshes, then the ocean. Swamps and marshes provide a much needed, but overworked these days, filter of what we in ignorance dump into the ocean and expose to the base of the oceanic food chain which always finds its way back to us. A recent study that aired on the Discover Channel made a connection between Bull shark attacks on humans and the pollution in those shallow waters which either drove away or killed the local aquatic life Bull sharks eat.

As construction for homes, golf courses and the likes have moved into lower lying areas such as swamps and marshes there has been an increase in how far tropical storms can move inland and retain their strength causing greater damage to lives and property. One of the factors that needs to be understood is how swamps and marshes provide a buffer against extreme weather. As a storm moves ashore they absorb much of the destructive surge of water as it moves further inland stealing much of its energy.

For these, and other, reasons I haven’t been real thrilled these last few years at the billboards, television commercials, or bright glossy magazine ads that proclaim the construction of another grand condo or plantation development, golf course, or outlet mall. In 1990 while driving to college on the highway that connects Conway and Myrtle beach, South Carolina that then was hugely undeveloped I saw a young black bear come running out of the woods. He or she stopped right at the edge of the highway, looked both ways like some child getting ready to cross the road then thought better of crossing and ran back into the swampy woods he or she had just came out of without looking back. On a trip to Myrtle Beach a few years later after moving to Columbia I saw that the same road was covered with Burger Clown clones, convenience stores, strip and outlet malls, motels, and of course entrances to several “professionally designed” golf courses. Aghast at how each establishment butted up against the other I wondered about that juvenile bear and if the road itself sent in scurrying back into the woods then what in the world would all the multiple redundant businesses that seemed to sit atop each other do to it now? That is if that bear is even still in the proverbial, but shrinking, woods and not occupying some gray concrete chamber in some seedy zoo. While nature seems to be on a permanent retreat unable to stem the tide of civilization in the form of real estate agents, golf pros, or outlet store managers I do remember one incident in which nature at least fought it to a momentary standstill.

My in-laws had migrated down south themselves in the very late 80’s from Richmond, Virginia in search of the “easy life” after all their kids had left the nest for work and college. After searching several locations, including my hometown strangely enough before I had even meet Dragonwife, they settled at some plantation development (glorified over priced subdivision) just off Hilton Head Island and had purchased a small retail business located on the island. By 1994 Dragonwife and I were married and often came down from Columbia to see her folks and for several complicated reasons my wife liked to help at the retail store her parents owned. That left me able to amble around the island, usually at the beach, when Dragonwife didn’t have some chore for me to do.

During one visit in the summer of 1994 Dragonwife had volunteered to mind the store on a Saturday but wanted me to pick her father up from the golf course he was playing at around noon so we all could go get some lunch. I was to meet him at the bar located at the end of the golf course and when I walked into the place I knew I had made a slight mistake. I had spent that morning at the beach and while I had dropped by the in-law’s place to clean up and change I was still just wearing baggy shorts, an old surfer t-shirt, and sandals. Everyone else in the place was wearing fashionable, if not outright chic, golfing clothes. I don’t think a leper, a chain saw carrying psycho, or even worse for those already inside a progressive liberal Democrat would have drawn more stares or gasps as I did walking into the place. Never the less I made my way to the bar, ordered a beer, and began waiting for my father-in-law.

While I had nothing in common with the other customers other than breathing air and as far as they were concerned being a member of the same Hominidae family if scientific classification was an interest, the bar itself was pretty nice. It had lots of wood paneling with many of the tables in semi-private alcoves and with the booths offering outright privacy due to the way the paneling almost surrounded them. As it would be expected the lighting was muted giving the place a sense of mystery and secrecy. As I looked around I could tell there were several couples taking full advantage of the privacy offered by the booths with sensual female laughter and stifled male giggles coming from some every now and then. Closer to the bar I was sitting at a common area had several tables arranged around a large television mounted on the wall. Groups of people were sitting at the tables watching a golfing tournament completely engrossed in how the little white dimpled balls were finding their way into tiny cups with the aid of men with grossly expensive clubs that probably cost more than my car.

The bar itself held just me in front sitting on a stool and the African-American bartender working behind it. The bartender was always doing something, either rearranging the vast collection of bottles on the counter behind him or wiping down the bar. I, at least, had the luxury to do nothing and just to stare out the huge tinted plate glass window just above the back counter that held the collection of bottles the bartender rearranged and over looked the final segment of the golf course. In the distance I saw several ancient oak trees that had been incorporated into the design of the course. Long oak limbs from the trees lying close to the ground draped with Spanish moss gave me the impression of weary old ladies wearing lace. A little further off you could see a small segment of the marsh and thicker native vegetation standing on either side of that small segment almost standing guard against the bulldozers and developers with their dreams of endless condos. By sheer happenstance overhearing conversations on previous visits I knew that at one time the golf course and the bar I was in was once a “dark, nasty swamp full of snakes and gators.” With that knowledge I was already predisposed to see the excellently manicured grass of the golf course as an alien invader out to conquer all that was right and true on the Earth. Nevertheless, even the course itself held some aesthetically pleasing qualities as it rose and fell creating ridges and valleys with a couple of sand and water traps placed around the final hole marked by a tiny flag flapping in the breeze. Increasing the alien nature of the course lying just out of one of the water traps was a gator sunning himself.


Minutes later if the medium sized leftover saurian lying close to the water trap noticed he was under attack by a collection of small white dimpled balls he gave no indication. Two of the three balls landed closer to the tiny flag sticking out of the cup but one rolled to stop right next one of the gator’s legs. Looking further down the course I saw a golf cart with three men aboard approaching the gator and what I’m sure were the golf balls they had just sent down range. They stopped a decent distance away from the gator and seemed to be discussing something. The three guys were obliviously in their later years in life (certified old farts) and were dressed in stylish golf attire that I’m sure matched all those around me in the bar in expense. At some point the three golfing buddies came to some sort of decision concerning the golf ball almost resting between two of the gator’s claws. They began walking toward the reptile waving their arms and apparently making sounds that I couldn’t hear in an attempt scare the gator back in the water. Despite the assumption I usually make concerning the wisdom of older people, trying to scare a gator for whatever reason is never an astute move. Wally Gator allowed the three to approach very close before he strung to life raising his head and showing off his fine collection of sharp white teeth. Mere seconds later I saw the gator swing his tail around in an attempt to contact one of the three hairless, but finely clothed, primates bothering him. I don’t believe the tail contacted with anyone but one of the guys did fall down on the grass but his buddies quickly dropped everything grabbed the fallen comrade and left clubs, the golf cart, and the greater portion of their dignity behind.

I appeared to be the only one in the bar who had noticed the latest clash between the orders of Crocodilia and Primates with the latter and all their vaulted intelligence and opposable thumbs coming up short. The bartender, ever alert, must have heard me chuckle slightly and came up and glanced out the window then asked if “Charles” had been disturbed by the golfers. Assuming that Charles was the gator who was still in the same place next the water trap maybe wondering if his kind would out live the primates like they had the dinosaurs I told the bartender yes, that it seemed Charles didn’t particularly care for them playing through. The bartender laughed himself and without asking handed me another beer and said it was on the house. Minutes later the three guys came in the bar with one of the three looking for me. My father-in-law didn’t look to bad except for the slight grass stain on the rear of his pants he got from avoiding the gator's tail and as we left and got in the car I didn’t even begin to ask how his game went and he sure as hell didn’t tell.


24 comments:

Keshi said...

**Mere seconds later I saw the gator swing his tail around in an attempt to contact one of the three hairless, but finely clothed, primates bothering him.


whoaaa! wud hv been a scary experience for em?


I always believe that we humans need to leave the animals alone, considering we r much more intelligent than the animals to know that. I hate it when someone gets bitten by a shark here in Aus, and everyone wants to kill the shark! We go into their territory, we provoke em and then we wanna kill em? I dun get it.


Keshi.

Mike said...

What is it about golfers that makes them so "fussy" about how people dress. My wife recently got interrogated when she was merely near a swanky ass golf course in Houston Texas. Apparently they have rules about what kind of shirts women can wear.

I'd always root for the gators near the golf course.

Colonel Colonel said...

up here every few years some doctor or lawyer golder will get pissed off and kill a goose or duck with his golf club after it spoils his shot. I'm thinking we need to import a few of Charles' relatives...

C.Rag said...

I was in Hilton Head once never went back. That's why I loved Hunting Island. It was protected from development, but it can't be protected from Mother Nature. Erosion is a bitch.

lime said...

LOL, chalk one up for the reptiles. and i certainly don't mean the real estate developers.

Beach Bum said...

Keshi: I completely agree, I've seen guys come back from fishing loaded with baby sharks that they killed and dumped once they went home.Yeah, we are going into their territory, after destroying it, and wonder why we get bitten.

Mike: I rooted for the gator myself as I watched what went on. But if the gator had bitten my father-in-law I'm sure that after several painful days the gator would have welcomed death from the infection he got. I hope that makes some sense.

Colonel: We have plenty of Charles' relatives down here but most of the gators seem to know that if they did eat a few golfers the powers-that-be would make sure gator hunting season got far longer. Now I have high hopes with the former pet pythons that owners have released in the Glades and now have established themselves and are moving northward. Those bad boys are getting BIG!

Lime: You are brilliant! I forgot that real estate developers and reptiles are one in the same.

Randal Graves said...

I too can't imagine rooting for the golfers over the gators. I'm not the most objective viewer here since I loathe golf, but what a waste of space. A few courses should suffice. If we have to wait in line at the grocery checkout, they can wait to hit a ball with a length of pipe.

Beach Bum said...

Randal: Actually if I was made emperor I would restrict the entire sport to the plains states like the Dakotas with a only a few courses like you said. Now putt-putt golf is a different story. And to be honest I have this weird vision of Tiger Woods being restricted to a putt-putt course for all eternity.

Stella said...

Beach, this post resonated with me and I understand completely. As an Angeleno, we saw people pouring into L.A. because the weather was nice. New Yorkers came by the droves insisting we had "no culcha." They knew nothing about the ties between Mexico and the southwest.

I live in an entirely different different city than the one in which I grew up.

As time has passed the development that lifted many of the locals out of poverty has strangely reversed and now forces many to leave the coast and near coastal areas because the building of high priced McMansions has raised property taxes and insurance costs beyond the reach of many.

I lived on (and I mean on) Venice Beach for seven years. I couldn't afford a closet there now. And developers have built up the wetlands with McCondos to the point where I don't recognize my old haunts. What used to be a quiet, hidden beach is... well, crowded beyond belief.

Here's another one: traffic. I could drive on the freeway from Venice to Downtown in 1/2 hour; the same trip now takes between one-to-one and one-half hours.

Worst of all: some moronic developer decided to tear down the Ambassador Hotel where RFK was assassinated. The Brown Derby is gone. There's so many portions of L.A. history that will never return. I think that's the worst part.

I can't even fathom what's happened to our environment. A few good earthquakes should change things. :)

Pardon my nostalgia and my ramblings.

Vigilante said...

An awesome read, Beach. I would Comment on golfers and MacMansions, but my words would be indelicate for most of readers' tastes. I'll just allow that they should be more endangered as a species than they are.

But an awesome post. Get a professional editor (you have to pay them!) to comb and massage these words and you'll be published B4 you know it. (Of course, I allow that you might already be published under a pseudonym for all I know!)

enigma4ever said...

great story...really well written and told- the gator would be proud...every great golf story has a gator in it...loved it...

( they prefer smartly dressed older men wearing kelly green polyestor pants and white shoes and belt...they never eat the young guy in the surfer shorts...they have high expectations...)

(my sister and I used to go feed the gators snacks every night on our bikes, down in Florida, summers...watermelon and marshmallows...and yes, my mom knew...can't believe she let us do something so silly...)

Utah Savage said...

"..at some point a line is crossed in which you begin to spoil, then destroy, the object of your affection whether it is a person, place, or a thing."

This is the heart of this piece I think. So perfectly stated and a subject that has always fascinated me. That we always end up hating the thing we most loved about the ones we marry. Every man who ever claimed to love me because I was pretty, smart and fun, ended up hating me for just those very reasons, never trusting me. Always assuming I would attract someone else who would love me for those things they now hated in me.

Loved the Charles encounter. You sure can write my man.

Vigilante said...

Good point, Utah. I saw that, too.

Beach Bum said...

Stella: Many years ago I remember reading and seeing movies and nature documentaries about California and was awed by the various open unspoiled spaces. Now we over here on the east coast see news reports of massive wild fires that threaten homes built in places that never should have been considered.
While we in the southeast don't have to worry about a dry climate giving rise to annual fires we do have to worry about a Katrina-like storm that could trash billions in the way of property. I must admit to a certain level of ambivalence to someone's second home on the beach being blasted to splinters except that those people will be whining to have the government disaster relief pay to have their homes rebuilt.
But yeah, I'm having a hard time recognizing my old haunts.

Vigil: Believe it or not I'm working on several of my older posts to make them ready for some sort of submission to writing contests.

enigma4ever: Because of space I left out a part concerning what the bartender told me about Charles and a part about the bartender himself. While I could never imitate or describe the Gullah dialect I recognize it when I here it. The bartender had a Gullah accent and his culture is also suffering and in my opinion bordering on extinction due to the influx of "smartly dressed older men wearing kelly green polyester pants and white shoes and belt". It is depressing to a huge extent. I'll have to write more about it sometime.

Utah: Humans are full of paradoxes and have a strange desire to self-destruct. My wife said once that my easy going attitude and optimism were things she loved about me but just a few years later those traits were reversed with me being lazy and not in touch with reality and how hard life can be. My first fantasies of becoming an expat developed about that time.

Leigh said...

What a GREAT and well worded story. Funny, yet sad....I agree with you on the development of wetlands and beaches to accomdate the wealthy with high end entertainment. I have to say this is why I love St George Island/Apalachacola Florida so. They refuse to build condos on the island. It remains pristene and home its original occupants, wildlife.

Great story. Standing ovation!
And tahnks for visiting my blog. Can I add yours to my list of distractions, from one parrothead to another?

Beach Bum said...

Leigh: Welcome and come back often. I've added you to me list already. That's it, I'm off to the beach tomorrow morning. Only going for the weekend though, and Dragonwife insists on going this time as well.

The Zombieslayer said...

As time has passed the development that lifted many of the locals out of poverty has strangely reversed and now forces many to leave the coast and near coastal areas because the building of high priced McMansions has raised property taxes and insurance costs beyond the reach of many.

This isn't just the South. It's here as well. The town I'm currently in still has an average home value over 800k. That's average. That pretty much puts it out of reach of most Middle Class folk, without of course having funny loans (the type that caused the foreclosure mess).

As for swamps, yes. These need to be protected. Ducks Unlimited does a pretty good job at protecting wetlands, but it's just one group and can only do so much.

I'm starting to believe the biggest culprit of all is simply overpopulation. We're just too successful as a species and are doing a lot of damage to the world as a result.

Beach Bum said...

Slayer: I'm starting to believe the biggest culprit of all is simply overpopulation.

Amen, and it gives me chills. Whenever some species or ecosystem gets so out of balance that it endangers the rest of the planet old mother earth seems to have a habit of fixing the system but reducing or eliminating the problem.

By the way have you ever read the Stephen King book "Cell"?
Reading it now and its sort of a zombie uprising novel with some sort of universal signal being sent to cell phones at least all cross the US that turns people into mindless killing hordes who answered that particular call.

MadMike said...

As I read this the Bush Gang is taking steps to dismantle the Endangered Species Act. They intend to get their hits in before the game is over. This was a great story BB.

Keshi said...

hows u BB? :)

Keshi.

Randal Graves said...

I feel better now that you've made public your plans for miniature golf exemptions!

Ghost Dansing said...

you know this tune........ nothing but flowers.......

Beach Bum said...

MadMike: This story was heavily edited and I left out a great deal about the bartender who was Gullah. I can't describe his accent but I know it when I hear it. Their culture is just as endangered as some of the species in the Lowcountry. I may rewrite this one to include more about how development has came damn close to destroying everything that is attractive about this part of the country. Fighting a sinus infection right now and writing is a pain.

Keshi: Feeling either drugged up with sinus medicine or having a major headache. Sorry I've not been very much online lately.

Randal: The kids and I love putt-putt, but I still suck at the game.

Ghost Dansing: Welcome and come back often. Will drop by your site soon.

Melvin said...

Great...interesting...
thanks for sharing....



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Melvin
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