Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mr Friendly's in Columbia

This essay refers back to the second day of our vacation,on the road from Ramrod Key to Asheville, the beginning of our ten day tours of places a little cooler, supposedly, than the Florida Keys. We had spent the first night on the road in a motel on the outskirts of Savannah and to get us on the road to South Carolina my wife's GPS chose for some reason to send us the scenic route out of town, over the river on this rather impressive toll free bridge. It gave us,momentarily a view of the downtown we had just left (chronicled in a recent essay here), the spires of the river city, Georgia's main industrial outlet to the sea.
My wife is, by her own accounting, a useless map reader. Despite years of frustration on my part she is worse than useless at reading a marine chart or a road map and because I like to drive (and my wife trusts me behind the wheel) I end up navigating and driving. No more. The introduction into our lives of the miraculous iPhone with it's GPS capabilities has changed all that. Now my wife navigates with confidence and tells me, unerringly, where to go. She uses the Global Positioning System with far more ease on her phone than she ever did on our sailboat. Amazing. She still tells me to stop when she sees a stand that looks interesting by the roadside.Highway 17 up the coast from Savannah to Charleston and Morehead North Carolina is a delightful scenic route passing through small brick towns, leafy woods and gazillions of people offering honey, boiled peanuts and delicious sauces and spices and pickled vegetables. I highly recommend it.We plan to pay another visit on our way home later this week. In this instance we rejoined the freeway, I-95 to I-26 bound for Columbia, the capital of South Carolina and thence up the mountains to Asheville. First we had to find lunch and Layne's iPhone worked it's magic. She asked it for recommendations fo southern cooking in Columbia and back the answer came Mr Friendly's New Southern Café (803 254 7828, no reservations, lunch and dinner daily, closed Sunday). It was seven miles across town from the Interstate but Mr iPhone directed us unerringly. Scooters it seems are now officially everywhere.Of course the blessed iPhone could only get us to the block where we promptly found parking, but we had to walk and ask for directions to this hidden gem, literally a back street hole in the wall, in what appears to be Columbia's hip student district.
"Would she like ice in her water?" the young cheerful waiter asked us. "My dog likes ice in his ..." Oh hell,why not. We lashed Cheyenne to a convenient railing and took an outdoor seat on a delightfully warm, yet sweat free afternoon. from a menu that features salmon croquettes, pan fried catfish and po'boys and salads my wife ordered an astounding sandwich of crab, fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese which was as delicious as it sounds bizarre, while I went for the more staid but equally fine shrimp and grits offering which had perfect grits and crisp grilled shrimp arranged on a bed of salsa in the center of the plate. My wife risked a glass of red sangria which was fresh and delicious while I was stuck with the driver's sangria (unsweetened) iced tea. In the midst of all this bounty I noticed our very friendly waitress was wearing a particular t-shirt. "Come again, bring a friend!" was printed on the back while a photo of a gnarled old black dude was on the front.
"He was a well loved long time employee," she said in answer to my question. "He died a few months ago and we had these shirts made. He was famous for saying goodbye to customers with the phrase on the back." Very cool thought I, and then i did what I have never done before and I asked the young woman if I could take a photograph of her chest. She did it with pride as you see above."Nobody has ever asked to take a picture of my chest so nicely," she said as she went to get our slice of mango pie. (Lucky riepe wasn't here I thought to myself or that could have gone badly). "I can't believe you asked her that!"my wife hissed at me as I sat down drooling at the thought of mango pie. " I don't know if I'm going to like riepe..." she muttered. Too bad thought I, as I nurtured the realization that I had done what I had done and had a picture to prove it.
Cheyenne and I went for a walk along the railroad tracks next to the parking lot, leaving the wife to scrounge through her purse to find the $44 needed to pay for our extravagant and delicious lunch. As you can see Mr Friendly's is well camouflaged, off Columbia's Greene Street.
We stumped down the railroad tracks for a quarter of a mile and came to small park overlooked by some lovely, yet modern, homes. They deal in lots of signs around here.
Of the formal and informal type.
The other side of the tracks was rather more...light industrial, let's say, than this genteel spot.
This is not a sight you get to see very often in a blog normally about the Florida Keys, so here it is. Actual Railroad Tracks.
I should not have dissuaded my wife from adding a quarter or two to the meter, because 44 minutes it turned out was insufficient for our leisurely luncheon. However she wasn't mad at all as an expired meter in Columbia garners the city but $7. In Key west it's $25. We put a check in the mail the next day and did NOT dial 9-1-1 to bitch about it. You'd be surprised how many assholes do when they come to Key West and decide not to take responsibility for themselves.
Full of good food and good cheer we wended our way back to the freeway and got in line behind this wide load. He was going fast enough I felt no compunction about following his load (Riepe's Ass was written below the sign in small print) and I have never seen a wide load pass traffic with such ease and verve as this guy. He gets a gold star for outstanding driving in my book. I wish everyone were as swift and capable as he was.
As we approached the North Carolina state line in the foothills the sky darkened and we entered the maws of hell. Rain and wind came down so hard and so fast we felt 20 mph was speeding in those conditions. It seemed tropical.
But eventually we worked our way out of the rain and climbed the mountains, the Ford Fusion pulling like a champ. It was just a great day on the road and let's not forget I asked her if I could photograph her chest. A big step forward for timid little me.