The National Hurricane Center has officially named the first tropical storm of the season, Alberto, situated 110 miles southeast of Charleston as of 11 pm Saturday night. Hurricane season doesn’t officially start until June 1. Alberto must not have read the memo.
Charleston, South Carolina is a city rich in history, tradition, and Southern culture. Nearly 4 million visitors a year consider the Charleston area as their destination of choice, which is no surprise after taking into account its reputation for outstanding hotels, beach rentals, entertainment, and local cuisine. Charleston has been voted the number 1 friendliest city in the country for several years in a row. We once were designated the “Most Beautiful People” and another time the “Most Polite People.”
But, let’s not forget that we rate pretty high on the scale in many other areas. The CDC has rated South Carolina as 10th in the rate of new AIDS cases in the United States. South Carolina is 3rd for gonorrhea and 4th for chlamydia among all states for its infection rate. South Carolina has one of the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in the country. South Carolina is number 7th in the number of women killed by a spouse or partner. We have close to a 41% drop out rate from kids that start 9th grade. We are 50th in education rankings including SAT scores. These figures all vary to some degree depending on the organization doing the research, but you get the idea.
In spite of this, I do love Charleston. Charleston is one of the more enlightened areas in the state. I have to defend it; after all, I am a Southerner and a Charlestonian. Yes, I am one of the rare native Charlestonian. My high school Alma Mater song began with “Here in Old Historic Charleston; City by the Sea.” My high school was in an old historic house in downtown Charleston. A quick afternoon walk would find students strolling along the Battery talking, sneaking a cigarette, or planning to return later that evening to “watch the submarine races.” The truth is there were never any submarine races in the Charleston Harbor. It was the term used to describe parking along the Battery and “making out.”
Growing up we defined Charleston by sections. Either you lived Downtown, in the North Area, East of the Cooper, West Ashley or you lived in the country (Johns and James Islands). We didn’t really think of people living at the beaches. We figured they were all tourists renting a room or part of a house. Summerville was a nice Sunday drive to visit the old folks at the Presbyterian home. You had to choose between the beautiful drive along Highway 61 with the giant oak trees and flowing moss or you would take your changes driving Rivers Ave. through the dreaded North Area.
We had one and only one Cooper River Bridge with two very narrow lanes reminiscent of a roller coast-one going out of Charleston and one coming into Charleston. The big hurricane we all remembered then was Hurricane Gracie. Hurricane Grace formed in late Sept. 1959 and made landfall of the coast near Edisto Island as a category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. They had just opened the new St. Andrews Shopping Center when Gracie spawned a tornado that turned new stores into piles of rubble.
Over the years, we have retained some of our valuable old Southern ways. We usually know at least a few of our neighbors. You go to a store and people are polite, smile, and say hello. Now just remember that those same sweet people will attempt to cut you off, run you off the road or pass you at the speed of light on the highway. We do live in NASCAR country and many people think they should practice just in case they ever get to drive.
However, something strange happens to people here in the summer. It also happens in places like Jacksonville, Savannah, Beaufort, Myrtle Beach, and the NC coastal areas. Those folks, who normally just smile at each other and say hello, begin to talk to each other everywhere. They talk in line at the bank, Wal-Mart, the grocery store, the hair salon, and any place 3 or more people are gathered. They talk to each other as though they are at a family reunion. It goes something like this:
“How did you do with Charley?” “ I was here for Hugo..how about you?” “Did you see that Francine is on the way?” “Gaston was a real pain…it took out two trees in my yard.” “So where will you go if Francine comes here?” “Want me to help you load that water and bread in your car?” “Do you think the Governor will open I-26 east bound (close it to incoming traffic and let folks evacuating use all lanes on both sides of freeway).”
People tell each other what family or friends they will visit or which direction they will go and what they plan to pack. They discuss whether they should leave the boats at the dock or take them into the intercostal waterway and hope for the best. They discuss prices of gas, plywood, generators and more.
It seems a shame that Hurricanes are the one thing that seems to bring us all together and for only about 6 weeks out of the year. Of course, if we really get a big one, we will all pull together and help each other as much as we can. We have done it before and I feel sure we will do it again if necessary.
I wonder what might happen if we all put as much effort into talking and planning and working together during the rest of the year. Maybe we could change those statistics I mentioned earlier.
If you want to find out more about helping in the Charleston area, you can call the 2-1-1 Hotline by dialing 2-1-1 or 744-HELP(4357) and asking about volunteer opportunities.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
-Margaret Mead, anthropologist
What are the challenges in your community? What can you do to help?