Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Sweltering Armpit of South Carolina

South Carolina is a state often under fire from outside. The controversy surrounding the confederate flag atop the state house comes to mind, but we are often the butt of other jokes concerning our ignorance and apparent desire to marry relatives. All in all though, I am a fan of our fair state of South Carolina, regardless of these criticisms, some deserved and others not. There is, however, one part of our beautiful land that I will not stoop to defend. Our capital,Columbia, South Carolina's sweltering armpit.
During two separate summers of my blissful youth, I was torn away from happiness and carried toward despair. Mom and Dad claimed that for the benefit of their historical research (both were college professors working on books at the time) we needed to leave our home in Charleston and head up I-26 to Columbia, where they could be within shouting distance of the State Archives. My brother and I were abandoned, thrown into a series of summer camps amidst the barren wastes of the city. Most of these camps took place in the open air, and although the town is a shit hole inside and out, the summer weather is assuredly the worst feature. Satan had originally planned to have Hell located in Columbia, but he decided that the town was just too hot to subject anyone to, regardless of how bad their behavior in the previous life had been. Heat and humidity combine to form a perfect storm of oppression that makes the Sahara desert seem like the ideal location for a vacation.
The city of Columbia was originally founded in 1786 due to complaints of those in the Upstate that Charleston, the previous capital, was just too far to travel. These whiny bitches/legislators chose a chunk of terrain located in the very center of the state as a compromise solution and moved the seat of government there permanently in 1790. Apparently no one had considered why the land had been unwanted in the first place. Besides the oppressive heat, the area was swampy, plagued with mosquitoes, roaches, and other signs of God's displeasure. The arrival of politicians only made the place even less desirable.
What of the quality of today's Columbia? Maybe the addition of various modern amenities could help the place to overcome its unfortunate location. Riverbanks Zoo is certainly a positive one can point to in defending the beleaguered city from its detractors. There is no better spot in the state to view caged animals prancing around their prisons. Kid stuff, though, and I imagine the thirsty reader not into exotic bestiality requires a bit more to be enticed into visiting our lovely capital.
For those in need of an oat soda or two, there is Five Points, the bar district made famous by the state newspaper, creatively entitled The State. The notoriety is due to the areas attraction to underage University of South Carolina football players and their apparently intense desire to get arrested there. Starting quarterbacks seem to be especially prone to the affliction, although former star running back Derek Watson did at one time have an entire unit dedicated to dealing with his illegal machinations.
If you would rather see this group stomping around the football field unfettered by handcuffs, then Williams-Brice stadium is the place to be for several Saturdays a year. Tailgating is a must, for watching the Gamecocks play in a sober frame of mind has been known to cause self-inflicted blindness and at times, outright insanity. The Cocks have been so terrible over the years that even Chicago Cubs fans like me feel sorry for their plight. The stadium nicknamed, "God's fingers," has seen much more plague and famine than it has seen feast over the turbulent recent years.
Despite misgivings, I traveled back to Columbia last month in order to see if the place had improved much since my troubled adolescent years. Since seeing Flogging Molly play live in Atlanta had improved my views on the city of Atlanta, I tried the same plan - seeing the band play live at Columbia's own, Headliners nightclub. Our capital still managed to come up snake-eyes though. The acoustics at Headliners were some of the worst I have ever experienced. Sound bounced around the box-shaped club like a deranged racquetball, clattering into itself in a wave of incomprehensible white noise. Only when the band started to play some of the slower songs in their set was I able to discern any of the lyrics, which are a somewhat integral component when listening to a group that specializes in sing-a-longs. The floor area was so small that the jam-packed crowd alternated between being slammed into the bar and the stage, which were only around twenty feet apart. Somehow, in the midst of it all Flogging Molly still managed to put on a great show.
Although there was very little in the way of actual sound quality, Headliners did manage to kick the violence up a notch, with three major fights occurring during the concert. You can't blame the folks, though, I would be pretty angry too if I lived in Columbia.
After the bruised and broken bodies of the wounded were cleaned up, I returned to the house of a Columbia native, with whom I spent the night before heading back home. She taught me how the locals deal with their appalling surroundings. I was handed a bottle of moonshine and ordered to drink heavily. After a short time, my senses all blurred and my consciousness began to slip slowly away. Hmmm, I thought as I fell into the welcoming arms of catatonia, this does seem to make things a bit better.

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