So, the love-birds having duly flown off to their love-nest, and all other visitors having duly arranged transport, yours truly abandoned the wedding. He zipped into the nearest toilet cubicle (no telephone boxes around here) and transformed himself back into the superhero we all know and love, complete with jeans and tee-shirt. That didn't take long.
Now it was time to take up the adventure again, from where I'd left off.
I collected Itzé
"Who's Itzé?" I hear you ask
I take it you didn't read the page concerning Rhys's wedding. Serve you right.
and we drove back to the motel. Itzé changed her clothes and packed her case while I checked out, and then we hit the road, or rather Interstate 26, in the general direction of Charleston. I had lots to do in Charleston and only a short time to do it, and I appreciated the company, but this was no time to be hanging around.
But you know how it is when you have someone with you. Dictating into a hand-held tape machine makes you look like a right ponce at the best of times, and when you have someone with you it's even worse. Pretentious isn't the word. So you'll simply have to take my word that Itzé was extremely pleasant company and extremely interesting to chat to, the evening was sunny and warm, the scenery was beautiful and the drive was uneventful. Only when we arrived at Charleston and were buzzed by all the aeroplanes (civilian and military) flying over our heads to land at the airport alongside the Interstate did I remember anything about the journey. Beautiful girls have this habit of distracting me.
We drove around the edge of the city for half an hour or so for me to get my bearings and for us to have a look around, before heading for a motel for the night. In passing, it has to be said that Charleston should not be judged on the evidence of the edges of the city. Here, you can see some real squalor, which is quite different from the elegance of the old waterfront city centre.
Despite all the time I've spent in the USA and considering most of the places that I have visited on my travels, this was my first encounter with real, mass poverty. It was not going to be my last, either. It certainly had me wondering what on earth a rich country like the USA could be doing, making some of its citizens live in conditions that wouldn't look out of place in Fallujah after an American offensive. And, of course, nowhere have the Americans been more offensive than in Fallujah.
They say that the average standard of living in the USA is the highest in the world. All I can say is that there must be some very rich people hidden away somewhere, because there were certainly some dreadfully poor people around here.
This on the left is the "Best Value" Motel. Well, all I can say is that I've had better value than that in the past, 59 dollars plus taxes, but there is a difference between the kind of place I'd stop at on my own, and the kind of place I'd stop at when I was with company. And breakfast was thrown in (not literally into the room, of course, you understand), so I suppose I ought to have rather less reason to moan and groan than usual.
However, as for the motel itself, I've no complaints about the room or the standard of service. Nothing fancy, just quite normal. But it was the kind of surroundings where I left the car parked right outside the 24-hour manned office rather than round the corner in the shadows outside my room, as you can see if you enlarge the photo above. But it could have been worse. We could have been staying at the Siesta Motor Lodge.
Round about here, it dawned on me that I'd had nothing to eat all day (or at least since breakfast, that is) so the motel staff pointed us over the road to Alex's Diner.
Now, this was your typical real American diner, just like the one where Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and mind's gone blank oh - yes, Jack Nicholson, meet the young girls in Easy Rider. Absolutely. I can't describe it better than that. The tarnished blonde waitress aged about 40 but pretending to be 20, the local feds calling in for coffee, a chat and a look round, the regular customers sitting at their usual places eyeing up all the newbies, in more ways than one.
And not to forget that you ordered something to eat and you were served something completely different. I spent about half an hour fishing cheese I didn't want out of a salad I hadn't ordered, and Itzé had a "sandwich surprise" too!.
But you don't complain - you lap up the atmosphere and the ambience. It's all this sort of thing that makes the USA the experience that you mustn't ever miss.
I went for a walk round, and discovered a part of this motel that I hadn't noticed before. It's what might be called the ... er ... long-stay residents quarter. Lots of motels have these sections, for people who can't for one reason or another obtain accommodation any other way, as I was to come across some time later. It was complete with the usual old, abandoned cars and the like.
This one didn't seem to be abandoned, even though it had the air of being fairly old. I suppose putting this kind of warning notice on it is probably of some use.
Not, though, that I have anything against Christians. Far from it. Some of my best friends are Christians and I admire them greatly for their simplicity and faith. But in the USA most Christians aren't the simple, calm followers of Jesus that you would expect - they are noisy, aggressive, arrogant Old Testament "eye for an eye" - and they simply can't understand that their bible is nothing but rehashed Old Testament Judaic vengeance, which has no place in the Christian world.
I can't see any of these people giving all that they have to the poor, or turning the other cheek. "God Bless America" cheered the people as their troops went off to Iraq and to Afghanistan to "Smite the Unbeliever". They just don't understand that Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers", not "Blessed are the war-makers". Where are the teachings of Jesus, that said "Forgive them that trespass against us", or " love thine enemy"? Call themselves Christians?
Personally, the world could do with more Christian religious leaders of the like of Pope Pius X, who when asked by the Emperor Franz Josef to bless the troops of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as they set out on the road to the First World War, replied
"Get out of my sight. Get out of my sight!
We grant blessings to no-one who provokes the world to war"
The American so-called Christians would do well to remember those words.
Afer breakfast and checkout, we set course for the "H.L. Hunley". Of couse I missed it - I couldn't remember what exit it was off so I went in totally the wrong direction. It took a while to work out the way back, and eventually we arrived at its exhibition centre. Of course, Sunday morning (you have to come here either Saturday or Sunday, otherwise you don't get to see the submarine - I did tell you it was a submarine, didn't I?), and it's closed. And it doesn't tell you when it will open either.
So, read about the "Hunley" while you're waiting for the museum to open. Itzé is reading her tourist brochures and I'm going to go for a walk.
Just look what I found while I was walking about. Now, I know what they are. Do you?
In fact they are solar-powered matrix road signs that are used at road works where there is no electricity. If you look at the one on the extreme left, you can just about make out one of the solar panels in an inclined position. These, when erected to present a 90° angle of attack to the sun, charge up the batteries that are in the box at the base of the trailer, and a dot-matrix sign that is stood up to attract the attention of motorists, can be programmed to display the appropriate message in low-energy LED lighting.
This kind of thing makes me wish I had a towbar on the Focus, but I've said that before as well.
Since it was quite evident that no-one was going to be here for a while, Itzé and I decided that we'd put plan B into operation and go to see the "USS Yorktown", which is anchored over the river from Charleston. We'll come back to the "Hunley" later.
Visiting the Yorktown involved crossing this absolutely magnificent bridge that we had marvelled at the evening before. As you know, I'm a big fan of bridges. In fact, some of my bridge photos grace several web pages, including a German technical guide to bridge construction. I couldn't miss out on a bridge like this.
It's actually three bridges if you look closely. There's the old girder bridge that looks a bit like a baby Forth Bridge, then another more modern one, and a massive, huge, third bridge that's still under construction. It is just sooooo impressive.
And what is even more impressive is the photo that Itzé took as we drove up the ramp. There was nowhere to stop to take a photo (something the authorities will have to put right) so she took it on the move. And she really did well to catch it, particularly as she had the sun in her face.
As we drove down the ramp on the other side, Itzé took another shot, this time of the "Yorktown". You can't really get a very good impression of its size from here, which is a shame. Because, believe me, it's enormous.
We drove off the bridge and around the road works until we found the car park for the "Yorktown" (not easy seeing as the roadworks had led to some pretty impressive diversions). But it wasn't the ship that caught my eye at first. It was the beautiful view of the bridges, that you can see here below.
So, let me tell you about the bridges
Oh God, someone! He's off again!.
Well, the oldest of the three bridges is called the Grace Memorial Bridge. It was finished in 1929, and although the main span is only (only!) 320 metres long - the fifth longest span in the world at the time, the total length is almost 6 kilometres! Now, that's impressive! As is the height off the river, just over 41 metres. It was built in just 17 months and was named for John Grace, the man who was the prime mover for the project.
By the late 50s it was proving to be completely inadequate in handling all the traffic that needed to cross it, so a smaller replica bridge was built, being completed in 1966. Named the Silas Pearman Bridge, after the local Highways Commissioner, it is about three kilometres long, and takes the traffic leaving the city. The Grace Memorial Bridge takes traffic to the city.
By the late 1970s however, it was apparent that the Grace Memorial Bridge was falling down. It was in such a bad state that an 8-ton axle limit was imposed. Hence the great debate started about a new river crossing. And it lasted over 20 years.
The final straw was when it was revealed in 1995 that a survey of safety and integrity awarded the bridge a score of just 4 - not out of 10, but out of 100. This led to retired Congressman Arthur Ravenel Junior running for the State Senate, with a mandate to break the impasse
Eventually, and after not a little arm-twisting on people such as the port authorities, who were "persuaded" to cough up 50 million dollars, plans were submitted.
These plans in themselves led to heated debate and caused heart failure when the cost (over 630 million bucks) was announced, but eventually the contract was let out on 16 July 2001, with a finishing date of mid July 2006. Named after its champion, the Arthur Ravenel Junior Bridge is the largest cable-stayed bridge in North America. Its deck will be about 65 metres above the river, and the towers that support it are over 175 metres tall. It's visible for over 30 miles.
Just imagine how big the Arthur Ravenel Senior Bridge would be.
The biggest surprise was that the bridge was opened one year ahead of schedule. Itzé and I missed it by less than 3 months.
Now work has started on the demolition of the Pearman and Grace Memorial Bridges, and given the current rate of growth of road transport in the USA, I bet they are going to regret that they did that in 15 years time. The cynic inside me tells me that the price of scrap metal is currently quite high (it's only fairly recently that you couldn't even give scrap cars away - you needed to pay someone to take them, and Paul and I did quite well out of that) and there's an awful lot of metal in those bridges. 15 years from now will be someone else's problem.
There I was, getting all enthusiastic about a bridge, and not noticing how perishing cold it was with this biting wind. It was so uncomfortable. It really was unpleasant staying out here in this wind (and why aren't there any wind turbines here? This would be a fantastic place to put them, that's for sure).
So I walked back across the car park to the "Yorktown"
This isn't of course the famous "Yorktown" of Battle of Midway fame. That was designated CV-5 and was torpedoed, and sank in the Pacific on 7th June 1942. Her wreck was discovered in the late 1990s by Robert Ballard.
This one, designated CV-10, was already in the laying-down stage and had been tentatively given the name "Bonhomme Richard", but the events of 7 June 1942 changed that. When she was launched in 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt christened her "Yorktown".
She served in the campaigns against Wake Island, the Gilbert Islands, and many of the other island-hopping campaigns, as well as naval battles against the Japanese ship "Zuikaku" and the "Yamato" battle fleet. She was struck by a bomb on 14 March 1945.
After the war she was mothballed, coming out of retirement just in time to miss any action in the Korean War.
Her final significant action was in the recovery of the crew of "Apollo 8", and she was laid up in 1970. Struck from the roll in 1973, she was destined for the breaker's yard but a change of heart in 1974 saw her donated to the new naval museum here at Patriot's Point, and she finally arrived in June 1975.
Also here at Patriot's Point is some destroyer that was hit by suicide bombers, several bombs, torpedoes and the like and never sank
"It's called the "Laffey", Eric"
Indeed it is, and it's not the original "Laffey" either, as it happens. This is DD724. The original "Laffey" was DD459 and was sunk at Guadalcanal by the "Hiei" on 13th November 1942.
There's also a submarine that was launched just too late to see any action, as well as quite an impressive collection of aircraft. But did we go and look? Did we 'eck. 2 reasons really -
"Did you say "piercing", Eric?"
"Yes. What did you think I said?"
We toured the gift shop too and I was tempted to buy an imitation hand grenade. It would have given Customs a heart attack, and serve them right too. This collective loss of sense of humour by government officials is annoying.
When the UK was being blown to bits by the American-funded IRA in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, we Brits all thought it was hilarious and went around telling terrorist jokes all the time. These days, of course, it's illegal to laugh and you are liable to be carted off to Belmarsh if you don't take it seriously.
Humour is a great safety-valve and is wonderful for releasing the tension. Go round the UK in 2007 and it's like everyone is living in a big pressure cooker with the valve stuck down. And we know what happens when a boiler explodes.
In the 1920s, British experts made a study of the effects of bombing. They examined carefully the works of people like General Douhet, and came to the conclusion that at the fall of the first few bombs on civilian targets, there would be a panic, the citizens would riot and force the Government to sue for peace.
This led to the famous quote of Stanley Baldwin in the House of Commons on 10 November 1932 that "the bomber will always get through". This was exposed as a shameless fraud over South-east England in the summer of 1940 and in the daylight over Germany in 1942. And when the bombs did start to fall in massive numbers over industrial Britain in late 1940 and 1941, and when the British massacred German civilians in their tens of thousands in Hamburg, Berlin and Dresden, the population didn't panic for a moment.
This was because the population had their own safety valves for letting off steam and for letting out the tension. Humour is just one of these safety valve, and to suppress it or to threaten it is just screwing the valve down tighter.
And the seeds of panic are already here. Look at how deserting passengers after 11 September 2001 brought several major airlines to their knees, and how London Transport was abandoned by its passengers after the London bombings. All of this can be laid squarely at the doors of the governments of the UK and the USA who, instead of reassuring their citizens that these are just isolated events that are unlikely ever to be repeated, have grossly exaggerated their effects as a means to terrorise their own citizens.
The purpose of a terror-bombing campaign isn't to kill or destroy. It's impossible to do that in such large numbers as would be required. The aim of a terrorist is to sow fear, distrust and suspicion. The British cottoned on to this in World War II when, on nights unsuitable for bombing, they used to send aircraft just to stooge around the German skies for the purpose of frightening the civilians. These days the terrorists have no need to make any effort at all. The Governments are doing their jobs for them.
Now that all the citizens of the UK and the USA are living in total fear thanks to their governments, the governments have created the very circumstances that the British of the 1920s and 1930s had feared. However would citizens of today have coped under the IRA offensive?
The British and American governments don't have a clue.
We missed out on the coffee, though. The only place to buy coffee was outside, and there was this piercing wind.
So back in the brumsie and, aided by some skilful navigation from Itzé, we hit the Coleman Boulevard and thrashed down the Ben Sawyer Boulevard onto Sullivan's Island, where we turned west. Why Sullivan's Island? Well, you may indeed ask. Two reasons really, and this is one of them just here. Recognise it?
It's actually Fort Sumter, here in Charleston Bay, and the farthest westerly point of Sullivan's Island is the best place to get a butcher's at it without actually getting a boat out there (and believe me, if I had have had time, I would have done).
Now I talk about Fort Sumter at length elsewhere but just to say a few words about it here, when South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861, the Unionist forces were still occupying the fort. The South Carolinans asked them to leave, but they refused, so the South Carolina army (such as it was) ... er ... obliged them to go.
In other words, the first organised confrontation of what became the American Civil War was here.
You can't really see how choppy the water is in that photograph, but if you look at this one on the left that shows Charleston, Charleston Bay and the Cooper River bridges, you can immediately notice the waves.
This wind was dreadful - really cold and really strong. If you could get out of it into some shelter, it was a really nice morning. But we didn't have time for that. In fact the second reason for being on Sullivan's Island is also just here, and quite rightly so as it is bound up in the story of Fort Sumter.
This is Fort Moultrie.
In fact, this isn't. This is the tomb of Osceola. He was a chief of the Seminole Indians, who resided in Florida. When the United States bought Florida from the Spaniards, they tried to move the Seminole out to Oklahoma, but they refused to go. When force was tried, this led to a series of Seminole Wars which lasted well over two decades.
Osceola was imfamously captured under a false flag of truce (a device exploited ruthlessly by the Americans who believed that no honour could be lost when dealing with the "savages" - something that still persists in American nature today with the treatment of detainess in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib) in September 1837, and he died in January 1838.
His head was removed and presented to the New York University Medical School where it was lost, allegedly in a fire. But that wasn't all. An attempt by grave robbers to steal the remains in 1966 was thwarted but another coffin containing the body of a newborn infant was found at the gravesite. The plot sickens.
The other reference on the placard is to the USS Patapsco, which was a Union ship that was blockading the harbour here when it struck a Confederate mine on 14 January 1865, and sank with the loss of 62 crew. This tablet is in their honour. I have to say that it totally beats me how the Southerners put up with Unionist war memorials on their territory. I just don't understand it at all.
So, back to the plot. This is Fort Moultrie.
Originally called Fort Sullivan, after the island on which it was situated, it was built to guard the entrance to Charleston Harbour, which was one of the most important ports on the eastern seaboard.
The original fort was constructed by Colonel Willian Moultrie, and it still wasn't completed when he used it to fight off an attack by a British marine force in June 1776. The fort was thus renamed in his honour. It was abandoned at the end of the war, and a survey in 1791 showed that very little remained.
At the outbreak of war in Europe in 1793, authorisation was given to construct 20 new forts along the eastern seaboard to protect the USA's coastline, and Fort Moultrie was rebuilt. It was completed in 1798 but destroyed in a hurricane in 1804.
Several others were in a poor state of repair, so new brick-built ones were authorised. This is the present Fort Moultrie - built in the "economy Vauban" style, and was completed in 1809.
Its first task was as a prison to house the Seminole Indians displaced from Florida, but it sprang to prominence at the start of the Civil War, when the Confederates used it to bombard Fort Sumter, which is just several hundred metres offshore.
From 1863, Union naval forces launched a continual 20-month bombardment of Sumter and Moultrie and although Sumter was reduced to rubble, Moultrie held out, due no doubt to the amount of sand around here that would absorb the force of any explosion from the Union's rifled shells.
The Confederates abandoned Fort Moultrie in 1865 when Charleston fell to the Unionists, and it was rebuilt and modernised by the US forces in the 1870s. It was still being used as an active part of the USA's coastal defences until 1947, when it was finally abandoned.
It's now a museum, with an absolutely superb collection of artillery pieces, as you can see here on the left. What you can see in the background is part of the "modernisations" of the 1870s construction, but I'm more interested in this absolutely superb trench mortar in the foreground. I could have hours of endless fun with one of these taunting my former colleagues in "Justus Lipsius"!
If you look here, you can see why Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie were so important during the Civil War. The deep channel into and out of Charleston harbour passes between the two forts, so shipping has to run the gauntlet to get in and out of the harbour.
The south relied upon fast blockade runners to sail to Europe to bring back military hardware, and the North did all that it could to stop them. Either of these two forts held by the Unionists could close down the port.
It's hard to credit but if you remember the "Patapsco", to which I refer briefly above, it is located directly underneath here at 40 feet. A mere stone's throw away from here are the remains of the "Acteon", a British frigate that was set on fire, and sank on 28 June 1776 after it had run aground during the British attack on Fort Sullivan.
But you can also see why there was a need for a new bridge in Charleston. This is a huge ship, and shipping is getting bigger and bigger. There's so much of "upstream Charleston" and its safe harbour that's closed off to modern ships such as these because of the low height of the bridge. Putting a higher bridge in can enable ships like these to sail higher up the river.
And I can't think why I never took a note of the name of the ship. Not like me at all to forget to do that. Having women around the place don't half make for some distractions.
By the way, a famous name associated with that of Fort Moultrie and Sullivan's Island is Edgar Allan Poe. He served at the fort in 1828 during his stint with the US Army. His subsequent fascination with cryptanalysis led to one of his more famous novels - The Gold Bug - which was set on Sullivan's Island.
And while we are on the subject of Sullivan's Island, who will ever forget the headlines in the New York Sun of 13th April 1844? It proudly announced that a flying machine, in fact a dirigeable balloon, had made the first ever aerial crossing of the Atlantic and after 75 hours in the air the balloon and its 8 passengers touched safely down on Sullivan's Island.
The newspaper waxed extremely lyrical about the craft, all of the events that had taken place during the transatlantic flight and the personalities of the crew who had undertaken the voyage, and so just how much humble pie must have been eaten by the 15th of April when the newspaper was obliged to print that it had been the victim of a giant hoax and that no such flight had taken place?
The author of what must have been at that time one of the best practical jokes ever played on an unsuspecting population and which pushed the island to the apogee of national fame for a brief moment was none other than the aforementioned Edgar Allan Poe.
So that was Sullivan's Island, or Gilligan's Island, or whatever. I forget. Itzé and I returned to the car and drove back over the Grace Memorial Bridge (impressive!) into the old part of Charleston.