Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Dirty Little Secrets of America's Friendliest City

As many of you long-time readers of this site will recall, I live not far from the tourist Mecca of Charleston, South Carolina. 

In October of 2014 the readers of Condé Nast Traveler voted Charleston the #1 city in the United States for a fourth year in a row. Charleston was also ranked No. 2 city in the world behind Florence, Italy, in the Condé Nast Readers' Choice Awards. Charleston earned a readers' rating of 83.792, just behind Florence's score of 83.870.

Kiawah Island was voted #1 island in the U.S. and #2 island in the world behind Palawan, Philippines. The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort was ranked No. 17 among U.S. resorts. Our local beaches are superb. We’re even known as one of the nation’s most dog-friendly cities.

Here in grand and glorious Chucktown, we’re known nationally as the Most Polite and Hospitable City in America. We’re a destination for foodies and history buffs. We have a world-renowned arts festival. We have a major container port and Boeing’s billion-dollar facility here builds their newest passenger jet. Business in Charleston is booming, housing is being built at an exponential rate, and people are moving here to live the good life.

But…there’s always a BUT.

Greater Charleston is hiding some dark and dirty, borderline ugly, secrets that it sure as hell doesn’t want getting out into the open and certainly not out into the Common Knowledge of the nation as a whole. And by Greater Charleston, I include not just the City of Charleston, but also the areas of North Charleston, Summerville, Ladson, Goose Creek, and Hanahan. 

I live a few miles to the left of Cottageville.

The City of Charleston area includes the Peninsula, West Ashley, James Island, and Johns Island
Peninsular downtown Charleston
Where they want you to stay and spend your ducats
Some cities have a real image problem. The best example I can name immediately is Detroit. The Motor City is our very own Third World city in America’s heartland. When one thinks of Detroit one can quickly call to mind crime on a scale that boggles the mind, urban filth and decay, a declining population for decades, shuttered business and vacant factories, and vast swaths of city that are now empty save for dumped corpses of murder victims and packs of wild dogs. I don’t really know of anyone with Detroit listed as their top vacation destination. The state is doing everything they can to stop the hemorrhaging of businesses and citizens out of Michigan.

Stay classy, Detroit. Yeah, baby.
 But back to the Holy City, as Charleston is sometimes called for its abundance of churches. While the Chamber of Commerce is quick to point out all of our good points and usher the masses to our touristy wonders, deep down they gotta be shaking in their seersucker suits scared to death that the outside world might start to see our Dirty Secrets. 

The official fabric of snobby white Southerners.
No one seems willing to publicly discuss what I think is the greater of our problems, there’s not much that can be done about the least of our problems, and attention is actually starting to focus on our newest problem as it has seemingly sprung up and grown like a malignant and aggressive tumor to blight our local image like a cancer, while the downtown residents themselves, cozy and snug in their pastel-colored McMansions, would rather focus attention on a problem-that-isn’t-a-problem.

The least of the problems to really affect tourists (while GREATLY affecting the locals) is the fact that our roads suck. For a metropolitan area of barely 700,000 people our traffic situation during the rush hour commutes is a zoo on even the best of days. Our infrastructure here was never intended to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of commuters and tourists, not to mention the thousands of trucks coming and going from the various container port terminals daily. Many are the days when it takes me up to two hours to get home from work, and that’s with knowing 8 different ways to go to avoid the never-ending litany of daily traffic accidents to make the 48-mile +/- trip home, and once I clear the worst of the traffic my final 24 miles or so can be done at 60 mph. And it still takes up to two hours. Most of the roads are in a sad state of disrepair (why re-pave? Just hot-patch it with a DOT road crew of twelve guys; one to shovel on the hot tar and eleven to watch him do it.)

The "interstate" that partially rings the city? All of two lanes for tens of thousands of cars.

Typical parking lot scenario.

Multiple accidents daily caused by some of the worst drivers I have ever seen.
This could be us, if we had more highway to clog.

Why repave? Just slap some tar on it. No one will notice.

Most of our secondary roads suck like this.
 The problem that is garnering attention right now is something I started noticing in the fall and through the Christmas shopping season and has now totally spread like mushrooms in the yard after a week of spring rains. That problem: panhandlers.

The local newspaper, the Post & Courier (which on good days is almost middle of the road and on bad days is touchy-feely left-leaning) found out that there was a Facebook group called Holy City Pan Handlers that was focused on exposing the fake bums and professional panhandlers that seemed to work in organized, rotating shifts on all the major intersections in the West Ashley area of Charleston. The P&C article worried that these panhandlers could tarnish the city’s image as a friendly tourist spot. 

The group is made up mostly of concerned locals, for the most part small business people, who are tired of being accosted at every turn by individuals who are chronically unemployed by choice, who would rather hold up signs claiming the usual litany of homelessness, single parenthood, or the best one of all, claiming to be a veteran in need. These people seem to be in many cases dropped off for their bum shifts in a white van, and are “managed” by a certain cabal of ringleaders. Many of those exposed are actively on social media and are often seen on their smart phones, despite claiming a homeless and destitute status. Many of them will often harass legitimately destitute people who aren’t in their cartel. The Facebook group is so far doing a bang-up job of bringing attention to the cause, and refuse to back down.

Damn near every major corner has a platoon of bums, both fake and real.

Homeless my ass. This is one of the ringleaders of the cartel. Always on Instagram and Facebook.

The problem-that-isn’t-a-problem that the news reported on today is a case of the well-to-do biting the hands that feed them, so to speak. The news that Carnival Cruise Lines is planning on basing a second cruise liner at the port facility nearest downtown has all the upper crust and their tree-hugger lackeys up in arms, claiming that the ship will kill us all.

They've come to destroy us all.
"On average, the typical cruise ship emits four times as much air pollution as the typical cargo ship does and that's all because what it has to power on board the ship. It's basically a small city." said Katie Zimmerman with the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.

Environmentalists like Zimmerman are not against the cruise ship industry in Charleston; "Obviously they play a part in our overall tourism plan," said Zimmerman.

Zimmerman says the cruise ships idle for hours in port while people load and unload the ship.

"What we would like to see is have the ship plug in to what we call shore side power. So basically the ship plugs into our electric grid," said Zimmerman. 

One of four current container terminals, with another being built. None of those ships is on shore power.
 Oy vey. From having worked a couple years at one of the port terminals, the dozens and dozens of cargo ships that come in to port each week roll in on the high tide and generally leave 12 or 24 hours later on another high tide, and for the 12 to 24 hours they are dockside they run off their own power and not hooked up to shore units. The only shore power units I ever saw were for visiting Navy ships who were going to be here for a couple days or more. In fact, I saw personally on numerous occasions ships tied up at Veterans Terminal running their engines 24/7 for a week at a time awaiting cargo. So those cargo ships, many of which are old rustbuckets from second and third world nations, are burning fuel and sitting idle as they get offloaded and reloaded, for the same amount of time a modern top of the line passenger ship is pierside to embark and debark passengers. I'd trust the modern engineering and air cleaning devices on a cruise ship sooner than some of the battered old scows that float in on the tides. And as others have said, you have all the hundreds of 18 wheelers in and out every day, idling in line waiting to load and unload, and trains pulled by multiple diesel engines. And every few weeks they fire up the engines on those Military Sealift Command ships berthed by the ports and they sit idle and running for a few hours at a time. Please, people. Get a grip

Chinese freighter berthed at Veterans Terminal about three miles downriver from the cruise ships. And we know the Chinese are really into the environment and clean air, right?

I forget how many weeks this ship was tied up behind my old office without shore power.

I guess it would be overkill to point out the smoke?

Haters gonna hate. The people bitching the loudest always claim that they aren’t against tourism and aren’t against cruise ships, but the caveat always seems to be NIMBY Syndrome; Not In My Backyard. They simply don’t want the ships inconveniencing *them* where *they* live. And they swear up and down the cruise ships dump black soot from their exhausts directly onto their pristine homes despite the fact that prevailing winds at the port generally are from the southwest and take soot, et al, over the Cooper River towards Mount Pleasant, an no one hears them complaining. They’ll quote studies from Venice, Italy about how cruise ships are destroying the ancient city with their soot emissions…in fact, here is a quote directly from one of the people: 

Not saying that the freight ships are any better.... but look up the stats on cruise ships. They are awful. However, the freight ships are not disgorging all the soot, etc right into the historic district AND disgorging 3000 people at a time. If Charleston wants to continue to have cruise ships ~ they need to work on having enough facilities to accommodate all those people. People in the HD catch total strangers using the "bathroom" out in their yards. They will often knock on the door and demand to come inside. They don't seem to realize these are private residences and not Colonial Williamsburg ~ where everything is for show. (Carnival typically does not attract a higher echelon of traveler) But... just where is the city to install all these tons of public restrooms, etc???

Also, there have been studies done on the stack exhaust of cruise ships and how it affects other historic cities with sensitive architecture hundreds of years old. (Such as in Venice, Italy, etc) The acidity of some of the components is particularly damaging to very old woodwork, masonry, etc.

I think most people are not totally against the ships, they would just prefer that they build a new cruise port a bit further down the river, it would solve lots of problems. No soot on sensitive buildings (and in peoples lungs as they walk downtown), a bigger, more modern facility with lots of parking for those taking the cruises. (right now that is a major problem) Not to mention it would provide new jobs for people to ferry the passengers back and forth from the terminal to the HD and people to work in the terminal.

So...again, keep the rabble out of my yard.  And since I’ve never been able to afford to take a cruise anywhere and those lower-echelon travelers can, I guess that just makes me pond scum. Do the cruise ships create a traffic problem when they load & unload? Sure, for the few hours once a week that they do so. Actually, *anything* you do in downtown Charleston’s tourist zone will cause traffic snarls. You’re talking mostly one-way streets, back alleys, and even cobblestones on certain streets, with hundreds if not thousands of cars, thousands of pedestrians, and a few dozen horse-drawn carriages, all crammed in a couple square miles. And God forbid that it rain heavily…it floods downtown pretty badly.

Yes, these people are kayaking through the downtown Market. When it rains here, it RAINS.

I guess that leaves us with the most serious problem facing image-conscious Charleston, tourists and citizenry alike, and that would be the rampant gun crime. Is Charleston friendly and quaint? Sure, so long as you stay in the immediate downtown Market area. You go up King Street, Meeting Street, or East Bay Street past Calhoun Street and you’re in Da Hood. Accidentally stroll down President Street or Spring Street, and you’re taking your life in your hands. That, my friends, is the dirty secret that the guidebooks don’t mention. Go over to Rutledge and Ashley after dark and it’s sketchy as hell. Venture up into North Charleston and it’s a combat zone.  

The Charleston they WANT you to see, down on the Battery.
Corner of Aiken and Shepard Streets, barely outside the tourist zone.
Line Street. Not a place for tourists to be found, especially after dark.

Hardly more than a couple days go by without reports of a shooting of some sort in the area. Today it was a shooting in the parking lot of Frankie’s Fun Park, a mini-golf/go-kart/arcade center a mile or so from a large high school. A few weeks ago a gunfight broke out at Chuck E. Cheese. It’s become such an everyday occurrence that people are becoming not just inured to the violence but are actively making light of it on the Facebook page of one of our local TV stations that reports the shootings practically in real-time. 

This of course, rather than leading to in-depth reporting on what the police were going to do about the crime, or coverage on the causes or common denominators of the crimes, led to the station’s page lamenting that people were making jokes about the shootings as if the commenters on their articles were to blame for crime. THAT, my friends, prompted me to pick up the ball and run with it. 

For the past three months or so, I have regularly been making my own meme pictures and giving them a local slant, referring to the area as Chuckganistan. The pictures started taking on a life of their own, garnering dozens and dozens of likes whenever I posted them. So, I created my own Facebook page to use my own brand of dark dry humor and sarcasm, including the pictures, to point out the absurdity of ignoring our problems so the outside world doesn’t find out about them. And of course, since my own town is known far and wide across the state as a hotbed of violence and criminal activity I added the new name of Afghanaboro. The page is the Greater Chuckganistan/Afghanaboro Tourism Board, and I fully intend to continue calling attention to the insanity and duplicitous irony of clamoring for tourists and bringing more and more big companies to the area, encouraging people to move here for our quaint quiet lifestyle, while at the same time glossing over the big city problems that come with an expanding population and blighted ghetto neighborhoods blocks away from multimillion dollar homes.

The Boeing complex where they build 787's.
Boeing is expanding. In addition to the area mapped out below they also bought and razed the trailer park here.
Boeing built a billion-dollar airplane manufacturing plant here and is expanding even further. Daimler builds their vans here. A gun manufacturer recently relocated here from New York. We are drawing more and more businesses here and inviting the entire world to come visit and spend their ducats in our economy, and to drive our crumbling congested roads, dodge fake bums who by the day become more and more aggressive in their beggary, and to duck the spray of random gunfire.

Sssshhhhh…don’t tell anyone and maybe they won’t see anything.

No comments: