Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Observer Effect (originally published in The Charleston Mercury; July 2018)

The observer effect

By Ajax Carpenter

Come one, come all! Come on down, y’all!

Welcome to the Holy City™.

We have restaurants and ghost tours. How about one of those carriage rides; you want one? Oh, and don’t you worry; we have bars galore.

We’ve got everything this famous town is known for. Of course, there are the palmetto trees, sweetgrass basket-weavers, museums, and churches. 

Welcome to this sleepy little place, off in a crook of this vast expanse of a country, down where time doesn’t pass. Look at Rainbow Row! Look at the Calhoun Mansion! Ain’t everything grand?! Ain’t everything just so historic!?!

Thank God for the Board of Architectural Review, the mayor and Charleston City Council, who, lo these many years, have protected our skyline and the character of the city. Thank God monstrous hotels and condos and the ever present cranes aren’t blighting our postcards and pictures and just general quality of life. Just focus down low, down where the restrictions on doing any work on any building whatsoever make it so cost-prohibitive that all but the ludicrously wealthy got fed up long ago and said “It might be nice to live out on John’s Island; maybe Wadmalaw, even.”

Don’t mind the three-hundred-dollars-per-thirty-seconds* parking meters that are monitored twenty-five-hours-a-day*, or the potholes, flooding and legendarily bad drivers. Bring your car. Join the fray. Come to get away from it all, but, if you get homesick for back where you’re from, where it’s not so sleepy and time moves so fast, jump in your car and get that slice of Up North or From Off. We have all the traffic you can handle.

If that doesn’t remind you of home, just wait; you’re gonna love the prices. We’re trying to get them up to Manhattan levels for you. It embarrasses us that you’re not able to pay $17* for a bland margarita.

Do you like our districts? We learned a thing or two from the Florida theme parks. Disney’s Magic Kingdom has TomorrowLand, AdventureLand and Main Street USA; we have South of Broad, the French Quarter, and Wraggborough. Think of the horse-drawn carriages like they’re our monorail.

Spill off the sidewalks. Walk in the streets.  The cars aren’t really supposed to be there any way. They’ll stop. They’ll wait.

Ask the questions. You know you want to. All of y’all do. Titter as you say aloud: What’s a Huguenot? (Ha!) What is a grit? (Hilarious!)

We want you! You’re hardy folk. Way back when we only had 847 million visitors a year* (instead of the current annual count of 74 Trillion*), they’d peter out and leave us be for the real hot of summer. But not you! 143 °* and 138%* humidity for July and August, and still y’all pour in here. Charleston can count on death, taxes, roaches the size of compact cars and this relentless parade of “treasured guests.” If you're sweltering, might I suggest a refreshing bland margarita?

Rarer than a ghost, you might just see a local. They’ll be one of the slightly befuddled older folks (always older; ever older), polite if you ask them a question, helpful, of course; but often with a consternated look as though they’re still trying to figure out what happened.

Downtown used to be full of locals. Children played in the streets. The houses had lights on at night because folks actually lived in them (they weren’t just trophy vacation homes back then). They worked and shopped there and played bridge and had book clubs and threw cocktail parties and actually attended all these churches.

Look at all the contractors. There are more of those than locals. That’s for sure.

But enough about them. That’s not why you’re here. You’re here for the nightlife and the beaches. Get a sunburn and then get to Upper King. Mill about. Spend your money. We’d prefer it if you wouldn’t drink and drive, or shout and fight, but you be you.

Try not to notice the homeless folk that have materialized in the past couple of years, sitting heads down, arms outstretched. But, if you do, don’t they add a little extra flavor?

That guy complaining that everything has changed? Don't mind him. He’s not a local even though he insists he is. That's Gary. He moved here from Dayton three years ago. Don't know which of the guys complaining is Gary? Don't worry. They're all Gary.

Sure, this place isn't what it used to be. It’s not a place very many real people live anymore. Any old place can be that. It’s better! It’s CharlestonWORLD:  the Premier Adult Museum, Shopping and Restaurant Park.

Don’t you like this?! Isn’t it enchanting?! Spend and enjoy! Tell your friends and family! Bring them! Bring them ALL!

Why leave? You never have to leave. We can just make more Charleston, expand it up and out. Absorb the other townships and islands. Stack and build. Stack and build.

Come and see.

Come and see.

Come and see.

Come and see!

*Numbers are estimates, only, but you never can tell when satire will morph into reality.

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