Just about every other day, I ride along a road on the south side of the capital city and in the past few weeks, signs of the impending solar event known around here as the “E-clipse” have been popping up all over the place.
There’s a bedsheet hanging off a pasture fence. It’s spray-painted with fat blue and green letters and says, “ECLIPSE PARKING $8 11 AM.” The parking area appears to be a pull-over patch of mowed weeds between the fence and the road.
Farther up the road, or down the road – take your pick – is another sign. This one is in front of a hardware store and spitting distance from a Dollar General. It’s a mite more O-fficial given that it’s on one of those roll-out jobs with a collection of plastic letters, an arrow and blinky lights.
It says, “SOLAR ECLIPSE EVENT AUG 21st PARKING $10.” Makes sense that the price would go up by two bucks given that you can park your car on hot-as-Hades asphalt as opposed to just any old anywhere.
Then up past the hardware store (or down past it, whatever you prefer) you’ll find a huge mulch pile off to one side of the road and a couple of metal carports for sale and there you’ll see yet another sign.
It’s not selling a thing; it’s just joshing about all this E-clipse business.
“SOLAR ECLIPSE,” it says, “NOTHING LIKE GETTING MOONED DURING THE DAY.”
Nope, nothing like getting mooned during the day, especially if on Monday you happen to be right here in the Primetime E-clipse Viewing Place of All Places – Columbia, South Carolina, known to many as “Colatown” ’cause the postal abbreviation for Columbia used to be “Cola.”
Up to a half-million folks from far and wide are expected to descend upon our fair city as the sun spends more time hiding behind the moon than in any other major city in South Carolina – and as far as that goes, it’s longer than anywhere else along the East Coast.
Bragging rights? Yup. We got ’em this time.
Here in Colatown, where the heat and humidity are our most usual claims (and complaints) to fame, we have the longest period of totality at 2 minutes and 30 seconds downtown.
Charleston. Our hoity toity big sister to the south. Totality time? One minute and 31 seconds. Bless her heart.
Greenville. Our busy little sister to the north. Totality time? Two minutes and 10 seconds. Better luck next time, kiddo.
I mean, who can blame any of us Columbians for getting all fired up about something that hasn’t happened in one heck of a long time and isn’t gonna happen again for another long time?
And better than that, something that takes our sister-cities sibling rivalry to another level. Bam and boo-yow! Charleston, you can keep your bowties and your old houses. Greenville? Your upscale, contemporary kind of attitude.
Here in Colatown, it’s E-clipse Central and we’ve got what it takes to show you a good time.
Things not to miss?
Of course, we have all kinds of good restaurants and museums and movie theaters and rivers and parks and an award-winning zoo and whatnot, but if you’re willing to poke around a little bit more, well then, let’s get started.
There’s a place on Bull Street – a collection of beautiful old brick buildings – that was once the site of the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum, established in 1821. While some of the buildings are abandoned and eerie, still others are being converted into modern-living spaces. Spirit Communications Park, where you can catch some baseball, is just around the corner, too. Plenty worth a walk around.
A little farther downtown, you might want to visit the grounds of the State House. And take a stroll along the revitalized Main Street, one of the coolest places to hang out these days. Be sure to head on down toward Taylor Street, too, and take time to see what’s classified as the world’s largest fire hydrant.
Now if you’re hankering for a souvenir to take home from here, I’d suggest a chicken painting from Ernest Lee, The Chicken Man. Sometimes you can find his mobile art studio (a wildly painted truck) at Gervais and Oak streets, and most times you can find him on Saturday mornings at the Soda City Market on Main Street.
And not far from Main, there’s the Vista. You can stroll the galleries and look for the still-operating flour mill in the middle of town. It’s called Adluh Flour and sticks out of the skyline like a big white box fan. You can’t miss the whopping red letters on the side of the building, spelling out “ADLUH,” which, when written backwards, spells “Hulda,” which, according to city lore, is the name of the daughter of the mill’s founder.
Tired of poking around? Ready to eat?
How about some boiled peanuts?
We’ve got all you need – from a substantial store called Cromer’s down there on Huger Street (which is something we need to talk about) to the “Dam P-Nut Man” who sells his goobers out of a trailer at Lake Murray’s Dreher Shoals Dam to roadside stands, which amount to someone sitting under a tent with a pot of peanuts boiling in a kettle cooker.
(Note: You may see homemade signs poked in the ground advertising “Boiled P-Nut.” This means a roadside stand is coming up soon, but this does not mean that only one peanut is being sold despite the lack of an “s” on the end of “Nut.” There’ll be plenty of warm, soft, swimming-in-salt goobers to go around.)
Also plan to have at some barbecue while you’re here. It’s all over the place and it’s all good and I’m not about to suggest one specific spot because I’ll have every other ’cue operator in town coming after me.
As for fried chicken, if you want to get off the beaten track of chain-type chicken places, I suggest you visit Bernie Shealy at Bernie’s Chicken on Bluff Road. We chatted it up just the other day about how he was planning for the E-clipse.
I mean, just how many pieces of chicken does he figure he’s gonna need to fry for an event that may bring as many as seven times the number of folks (80 or so thousand) who turn up for Gamecock football games just down the road from his joint?
“That’s a damn good question!” Bernie said.
“I ordered 50 percent more chicken for Monday. I’m gonna be prepared to fry a whole lot more chicken. On Monday, I’ll start selling chicken at 10 a.m. If we run out, hell, we’ll go home. I mean, how do you plan for something that’s never happened before and is never gonna happen again in our lifetimes?”
Well, Bernie, I suppose you could do what George Eleazer’s gonna do. Which is to not sweat the small stuff, nor the E-clipse either.
He’s got himself a mannequin standing in his vegetable patch off the side of the road out in the Dutch Fork area. The mannequin’s name is Ellie, after his mother, and she’s become kind of a local institution because George is always putting new outfits on her.
“I ain’t on the Internet or whatever that Snapchat is,” George said, “but folks tell me there’re pictures of Ellie all over the place. Grannycan (George’s wife; the grandkids call her Grannycan) gets outfits for her from the thrift store. You can get a pretty nice one for five bucks.”
So what will Ellie be wearing for the E-clipse?
“I hadn’t really given it a whole lot of thought,” George said, “but I guess I’ll put a hat and some sunglasses on her.”
And I guess I better wrap this story up, but there’s just one more thing we need to talk about. Well, actually, two.
Huger Street is not pronounced “Hugger.” Rather, it is pronounced “U.G.”
And the interminably long trains that travel through the big intersection near the State Fairgrounds on Assembly Street? A place where probably a lot of you may be parking to take in the E-clipse?
Well, first of all, do not be surprised if these trains clear the intersection after moving forward at a terribly slow pace. Then, just as you are ready to put your foot on your car’s accelerator, do not be surprised if these trains begin to back up, balling up the intersection again.
You see, it’s a Columbia thing.
Not a Charleston thing.
And not a Greenville thing.
And along with the E-clipse, we’re happy to share it all with everybody.
Salley McAden McInerney is a local writer whose novel, Journey Proud, is based upon growing up in Columbia in the 1960s. She may be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.