It was quite a drive last night from the Interstate up to Chester. It took me by surprise - I didn't think it would be so far. My first impressions were that it was a weird town. One of these places where half the people here were called Bubba and the other half were all related. And there was no telephone signal either.
It reminded me of a story I heard about a family in Tennessee.
Young boy comes home one day and announces "I've found myself a real nice girl and we're gonna get usselves married"
His mother asks him "is she really nice?"
"She's the nicest girl in the world, and, even more importantly, she's a virgin"
Father pipes up from the comfort of his armchair "Out of the question, son. If she's not good enough for her own family, she's certainly not good enough for ours!"
Chester reminded me very much of that.
Anyway, back to the plot. I'd driven all around the town to find a motel, and I came across the Executive Motel, but considering that it probably charged executive prices, I'd carried on my search. Finding nothing, I'd stopped at an all-night petrol station for more root beer and to ask the advice of the girls behind the counter. When I expressed "economy", they pointed me around the back of the town to this place. After visiting all the Fredericksburg battlefields until gone 2.00 in the afternoon, and then driving nigh on 500 miles to get here, I wasn't too fussy about where I stayed. I was disappointed not to have made Columbia, and so this was better than anywhere else.
The motel was run by some Indians ...well, not those Indians, the other Indians, if you know what I mean. 1950s decor, stained bath, chipped sink, that sort of thing, but quite clean, perfectly adequate, and 35 dollars including tax. I didn't think I was going to get a better deal than that at this time of night. I was quite happy.
So over the noise of the loudest air-conditioner that I've ever heard, the receptionist told me there was no chance of a restaurant but pointed me in the direction of the local all-night shop. I missed it and found instead an all-night petrol station that served some sort of food, so I bought more rubbish and took it back to bed. It's been awhile since I ate anything decent. My healthy diet had gone right down the chute as it always does when I'm over here, but never this quickly before.
Next morning, up bright and early as usual and took the photo of the motel that you can see here. To my shame I've forgotten its name. I paid by cash so the name is not on my card statement, and I can't find the receipt. if you know what it's called.
The reason for this is that I like to give places like this a little plug if I'm satisfied, as I certainly was here. They made me a nice fresh pot of coffee which I really appreciated. And then promptly spilled it all over myself as I got into the car. Even worse was that I had dressed up in my best "meeting the friend's future in-laws" clothes specially for the occasion. what a mess. And I didn't have any spare "meeting the friend's future in-laws" clothes. What was I to do?
Easy. The previous evening driving around the town, I'd found the Walmart and the like. I'd have to go shopping. But not at 7.15 in the morning. Time to go sightseeing first.
First thing I noticed was that I'd got the signal back on my mobile phone. Obviously cellphone coverage round here depends on the position of the tea leaves in the cup in the morning. At least it's better than Crewe.
First thing you notice about Chester is that the rather small town centre is built on the top of a rather steep hill - an ideal defensive site if ever I saw one. Your average Norman feudal lord would have had a stone castle on here in a twinkle of an eye 900 years ago. Nevertheless, it was the Cherokee who were settled here together with the Catawba, after whom the nearby river is named. Then the white man came in the early 1700s, pushed the natives out, and began to settle in the area
During the Colonies' Rebellion, several conflicts took place around here, and after independence, the city was established. It continued as a quiet agricultural centre until 1851 when the railway arrived, and this provided quite a boost to the local economy.
Sherman's army passed through here in early 1865, scorching the area on their way through. Reconstruction after the war, as in many places in the south, was slow and difficult but the arrival of the textile industry towards the end of the 1880s led to another boom.
The town also profited from the building of the interstate, bringing some new industry and new residents into the area. In addition to this, an interesting and unusual industry here is the cinema. The area has appeared in quite a few films and T.V. series, including several well-known ones. However, engaging the residents in some kind of cursory and unofficial chat, I received the impression that all is not well with the economy just now, and a great deal of discontent is bubbling away just below the surface.
4 major fires have swept through the town, as well as a tornado which crashed through here in 1884.
Looking at the town centre, however, gave me a very clear impression of the current state of the economy - like it was totally dead. Fair enough, there are new shopping malls outside the town everywhere you go in North America, but I had never seen town centre as decayed as this one. I mean, there were many shops, more than I'd expected to see, and there was obviously some trade being done up here, but it really looked so sad
One thing that did caught my eye, though, and you'll have to forgive me but I'm a North European, was that in one window of the run-down local "beauty parlour" were quite a few, probably as may as 20, photographs of models, presumably to give inspiration to the local clientele, and every single model (and probably the married ones too) was black. Many of the heads they were using to display their wigs were black too. You'd never get that in Europe.
There was also a taxidermist's shop in the town too. Well, you can stuff that for a lark. Apparently the local taxidermist had once been arrested for stuffing half of the bushbaby's political advisers - but was released because they couldn't work out which ones he'd done.
The Misguided Tour
I walked up to the top of the hill to the town square (which was quite nice, by the way) where there was this monument to the men of Chester County who "obeyed the call" to sign up for the Confederate States of the Civil War, and lost their lives. The monument says that it was erected by "The Daughters of the Confederacy" in 1905, although I suspect they didn't do it themselves, but got a man in.
The building faced with a pale red stucco effect behind the war memorial used to be the town hotel back in the 1830s 40s and 50s. At least, there's always been a hotel on the site since 1835, and this particular bulding dates from 1854 (or at least, parts of it do). It was used as a hotel until 1876.
This view from the town square down the hill to the other side was taken from the foot of the war memorial. If you were to go straight on down the hill, you'll eventually come to the motel where I stayed the night. I wish I hadn't forgotten its name.
If you look closely at the clock in the photo, on top of City Hall, you can see what time it is that I was up and about. However I have to admit that the clock was about 15 minutes slow. Everything seemed to be behind the times in Chester. Looking even closer, you can just about make out the water tower in the background.
And do you notice all the pictures of pineapples on posters everywhere? I reckon it has to be something to do with the city emblem. I thought it might be the official fruit of the state, but subsequent enquiries revealed that it's the peach, established by the General Assembly's Act 360 of 1984.
Here on the left is an interesting photograph. This is an old water cistern. Apparently they used this to accumulate the run-off rain water for use in the town.
Why it's interesting for me of course is that one of my main aims on the farm is to capture my own rainwater for my own use, so I'm always interested in other people's schemes. But as you know from one of my earlier visits to the States, it's illegal to intercept the rainwater in Colorado.
The building you can see down at the bottom of the hill in the photo just here is in fact the city's United Methodist Church.
The building with the large American flag flying outside is the Federal Building. The building between that and the courthouse (out of shot on the left margin of the photo) is the Presbyterian church. I was amazed at the number of churches here in town, but not as amazed as I was to become when I saw the number of churches in other towns down here in the Carolinas.
This is the courthouse. Nice Greek temple style, built in 1852 and designed by an architect named Edward Brickell White, of Charleston.
The gun outside it is an 1863 Confederate "Parrott" field rifle, three inch bore, that fires 10inch "Reed" shells with a timed fuse of wood or metal. Why it's called a rifle is of course that it has a rifled, or spiral-grooved bore, which distinguishes such a piece from a musket, or smooth bore. The aim (if you'll excuse the pun) of a rifled bore is firstly to make the projectile a tighter fit, and secondly to spin the projectile, which makes it stay on a truer course over a longer range. Spirals inside a bore are quite unique, and it is the grooves on the projectile caused by the spiralling that enables firearms specialists to match spent projectiles with the barrel that fired it.
It was found on the grounds of the Calvary Baptist Church here in Chester in 1986. The imagination boggles. I mean, how could you lose a gun like that? And finding it again, 120-odd years later, in the grounds of a church, of all places. There has to be some mileage in a story like that, surely.
It was outside the courthouse that I encountered an eccentric local guy who told me he was all for blowing it up and building something modern in its place.
He was all for throwing the bushbaby out and replace him with someone else, and throw the local councillors out and replace them with others, to produce his own oil and get the "boys" out of Iraq (I suppose a man after my own heart, really). He certainly added a bit of local colour to the situation, that's for sure.
Hmmmm. Yet another church, and quite a big one too. I didn't go over to see what it was, although I should have done. Truth was that I was getting rather fed up of churches by now.
From here, I walked back up the hill to the centre. And, much to my surprise, I was waved at by the local copper. Even more surprisingly, he used all of his fingers, and not just one (American) or two (British).
The Interesting Bit
Now, let's move on to interesting things. Climbing up to the top of the hill earlier on, I'd had a good view of the backs of the shops at the bottom. And all the good stuff is always around the back (said the actress to the bishop). So on my way back down the hill I took the long way round and went for a poke about.
My friend Paul would be delighted with this. It's an "Airstream" caravan - typical of mobile America of the 1960s. I'd love to be able to take this home for him, but it won't fit in my suitcase, and Vanessa would probably make him go and live in it. In any case, the Focus doesn't have a tow bar.
Talking of Focuses, a Ford Focus estate car (or break) drove past me. It was absolutely identical to the European ones.
Here on the left is another symbol of 1960s America. A Buick Invicta convertible. This has certainly seen better days, that's for sure, but it's not too far gone that anyone with sufficient interest and patience couldn't get it up and running. As you can see from the Chevy Vega and the van (or panel truck) below, there are some people in the vicinity who would do it, too.
I like these Invictas, even though they don't go with my ecological or environmental credentials. I'd put a Transit 2.5 n.a. diesel in it (I just happen to have one lying around somewhere), and run it on biofuel.
The Vega is an interesting car, and quite rare these days. Designed in the late 60s and launched in the early 70s, it's aim was to counterattack the small car imports from abroad. But it had quite a few design faults, such as unlined aluminium cylinders that distorted in the heat causing them to seize up, and carburettors that caught fire spontaneously. The bodies just rusted away (in fact the front of the car fell off the original test model after only 8 miles of road trials).
In fact the infamous John DeLorean, who was in charge of the development, later said "Chevy engineers were ashamed of the engine. It looked like it had been taken off a 1920 farm tractor".
None of the foregoing however stopped GM from trying to flog it to the public and of course it was a flop. Even the Ford Pinto outsold it, and it was quietly dumped in 1977. It was cars like this that led to the small-car import boom of the 1970s, and the crises that still bedevil the American motor industry today.
So there you are. A nice piece of history for you. Nice to see someone taking care of it.
Now this is also a nice piece of history for you too. A Chevrolet panel truck, or van. Probably from the 1950s I reckon (I'm not much good at dating American cars of this era) and another symbol that got America working.
You can see from looking inside it how absolutely basic it is. Cars don't need to be any more than this, in my opinion, except for a decent CD player of course.
What you can also see from the outside is what good condition it's in. There's not a lot wrong with this and it should be on the road fairly quickly.
Again, it's really nice to see people putting this sort of vehicle back on the road again. Only wish, from my point of view, is that they' would put the original motor back in it, and not some souped-up V8 hemi or whatever. Still, I don't suppose you can have everything.
So, that was Chester. Churches absolutely everywhere. Can't move around here for churches, that's for sure. But I was glad I came.
Anyway, it wasn't quite Chester, because I still had some clothes to buy. So off to the mall. Nice and hot and sunny. Must get some shades. After a brief wander around, I found the "Bi-Lo" supermarket.
I really must stop reversing into parking spaces, otherwise I'll have to start charging people to watch me. I'm getting some terrible looks from the assembed multitudes.
The supermarket was one of those 24-hour places with deli counter, coffee machine and everything like that ("nowhere open at this time of night." Ptah!) but of course when I got there coffee was out. Shame!
Nevertheless, I bought a few other things and got a till receipt. Reading it (I do strange things like that) made me realise what part of the USA I was in. "Free Gallon of Bi-Lo milk with 6 milk tokens". The USA may be the richest country in the world, but only parts of it are. As Andrew Tank, Chief Economist and Executive Director at a company where I once worked on a project, said, "The USA is a great place in which to succeed - but it's an awful place in which to fail."
I went up the road to the Walmart, got myself some clothes, a map, some rechargeable batteries and a few other bits and pieces. Got changed in the gentleman's rest room of the shop next door, and got back on the road. And Rhys 'phoned me up. Wondering where I was. I wasn't surprised. I was running late, as I've explained. So I told him the story so far, and said I'd be with him in due course. Then bye-bye Chester.
THE ROAD TO COLUMBIA
One strange thing I noticed on the road back to the Interstate was the post office delivery man. He was just driving a Subaru estate car (station wagon) with a post office sign on the roof. He'd just pull up at the side of the road, stick out his arm, and shove the mail into he mail box without getting into his car.
Now it was a Saturday. Deliveries on Saturday, that surprised me, and then something occurred to me. Have you realised yet, The car was a right-hand drive. That was how come he could feed the mailboxes without getting out. How many right-hand drive cars do you see in the USA? My first thought was that it must be a grey import from Japan. Another thought made me go dashing to my old photos
By this time I was going so well with a good head of steam that I almost missed the junction to get back on the Interstate, and had to do a last-minute swerve, much to the consternation of the driver in the car behind.
I should at this stage point out that speeding here in South Carolina is a 250 dollar fine and 30 days in the slammer! A sign in the Walmart rest room indicated that shoplifting can get you a couple of years in choky too.
No wonder people around here go berserk with loaded firearms at the slightest provocation if they get 30 days for speeding and two years for eating a chocolate bar in the restroom. I suppose that you arrive at a certain point where the law can't do any more to you, and anything beyond that limit becomes irrelevant.
I read a report somewhere in an American newspaper that a man had been sentenced to "life plus 80 years". Just how stupid can you get? I went round for ages after that imagining American prisons full of skeletons and rotting cadavers.
And while I was thinking about all of this, another thought hit me. I hadn't been arrested yet on my journey. That must be some kind of first.
Back on Interstate 77, and back in the rolling hills and the forests, I had to say that I really liked this kind of country. One day, I'll have to do much more about seeing more of it, instead of watching it dash by at 70 miles per hour. It was around here somewhere that I saw yet another Prius. Seems I keep falling over them in North America. For heaven's sake, I only come over here once every year or so. I live in Europe and I've never seen a single one there.
One thing that I hadn't noticed, however, were many tall pines. I reckon that the Byrds must have been pulling my leg. Mind you, I have to admit that I wouldn't recognise a "Hickory Wind" even if one jumped up and bit me .
And I pushed on to Columbia. It was a beautiful morning, sun was out, hardly a cloud, and some classic "Santana" blaring out of the CD player. And all of this, and the USA, really contributes to some real conducive thought. I've loads of ideas running around in my head again.
I hit the Columbia ring road. Well, it's not actually a ring road, but Interstate 20 goes across the top, Interstate 26 goes around the west, and Interstate 77 carries on down the east and south side and makes like the third side of a triangle. Rhys and Gretchen live just off Interstate 26 but I dodn't know exactly where so I decided to keep on I77 until I hit I26, and work my way back up north until I found the correct exit.
It was here too that I noticed the fuel warning light was on, and the steady dark glow told me it had been on for quite a while. So I turned off and made my way to Cayce where there was bound to be a petrol station. Had I used that much fuel already? My records showed I'd travelled 655 miles since I set off - only two days ago by the way, and I'd done some heavy sightseeing too in that period.
Ahh - of course! Only 16 fluid ounces in an American pint - 128 fluid ounces in an American gallon instead of the 20 fluid ounces in a British pint and 160 in a British gallon I'm accustomed to. That explains it. And that's why it took 11.332 gallons to fill up the 330 miles I'd done on this tank of fuel since Burkeville. Thats about 30 miles per American gallon, which is ... er ... 30 x 160/128 = 37.5 miles per British gallon.
Back on the Interstate, back up the road, and found Rhys's exit. Made my way to his house, which I found easily enough, but the birds had flown. They had heard I was coming.
So, what happens next?
Strictly speaking, if you want to remain in chronological order, well you can't. The next bit doesn't work like that. The domestic issues were divided by a bit of free-lance touring and visiting so I've kept all the domestic bits separate from the tourism and travel. You need to be here for the wedding and the social life, if that's why you've come to this page.
If, on the other hand, you're here for the adventure, the travel and the sights, then you need to be here.