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09 June 2011

Driving through the South - Jacksonville to South Carolina

Day 18: Tuesday, 7 June 2011
We woke up in Jacksonville, at Jennie's apartment. I slept on the couch, and Ueli on the air mattress, which had a small hole and slowly leaked out all night (this is the 2nd time we've ad a leaky air mattress). Unfortunately we had no glue, sealant, or even duct tape to fix the hole. Jennie looked noticeably different then she had in the evening, since she was dressed and ready to go to work (at Deutsche Bank) just as Ueli and I were waking up. She left, and Ueli and I soon got ready and picked up Pat at a nearby Dunkin' Donuts. (Jennie's apartment was very close to the house of Pat's friend Joel - we could not have stayed closer if we had tried.)

Jacksonville, Florida, is the largest city in the US (by land area). In any other city, there would be dozens of suburbs all around, but Jacksonville incorporates all those suburbs and beyond into the city limits. We drove back to the 95 and headed north into Georgia, passing by a a nuclear power plant. We stopped by the Georgia welcome center, taking a picture by the sign saying "Glad Georgia's on Your Mind." Ueli took over the driving, and we stopped for gas, searching for the cheapest gas station, but Ueli really did not know where he was driving, making 3 wrong turns just from the off-ramp to the gas station! A short while later, we were entering Savannah. The outer neighborhoods of Savannah looked rough, and you could tell that these areas had been ravaged by neglect, crime, and drugs. But central Savannah is a totally different story. It's charming and quaint, with lots of historic buildings and squares. Pat guided us first to Forsythe park, right in the heart of the city, where we walked around, saw a couple cool cafes, and asked some girls where we could find the bench from the movie Forrest Gump. They directed us to a square up the street, and so we drove there, where a bystander told us that there is no actual bench from the movie, that the bench was put in just for the movie. So we took pictures on a conveniently located bench. ("Good choice of bench," remarked the bystander).

Our main stop in Savannah was Paula Deen's restaurant, the Lady and Sons, located right in the central business district. Pat knew the way to get in without waiting: Go straight up to the 2nd floor bar and order food there. Unfortunately we got intercepted by a hostess at the top of the elevator who wanted to have our reservation card, but Pat was able to talk us into snagging an open table near the bar. We had had a wonderful host, Sidney, who exemplified the polite Southern hospitality we've encountered here and there, saying "y'all" and "sir." Ueli and I each got the buffet, which was $14 (such a good deal!), while Pat left us to find food elsewhere. The bread they gave us, a freshly-baked garlic biscuit and a buttery cornbread pancake, was a major highlight for me. But so were the candied yams, the fried chicken, and collard greens; and not to forget the peach cobbler and banana cream pie for dessert!

Ueli and I ambled over from Paula Deen's to the heart of old town Savannah to meet back up with Pat, who took over the driving. I was so full that I had a hard time taking full breaths and forming full sentences. We crossed into South Carolina, Pat taking us down back roads through forests, swamps, and savannahs. He got a milkshake from McDonald's because they were not selling the strawberry lemonade he was craving. We turned around to stop at a post office, which was closed, but the lady inside was nice to take my letter and sell me a stamp.

I drove us into Charleston, and we had to say bye to Pat at his friend Bill's house on Jones Island, just 15 minutes from Charleston proper. (Bill wasn't there, but Ueli and I got to look at his extensive workshop, full of drill presses and various tools. He's also restoring a 1920's Studebaker. He's entirely self-taught and has become an expert toolmaker, mechanic, engineer, and jack-of-all-trades! He's also vegetarian and an atheist, and it's such a shame that I didn't get to meet him, because he seems like the kind of person that I would like to be.)

It was already 6pm, and we had another 2 hours of driving until we'd reach our destination for the night, Florence. So I drove briefly through Charleston's city center full of historic buildings. I parked and we walked around for a bit. Charleston is gorgeous and feels full of history and character. It's somewhat similar to New Orleans (but of course no where is really like New Orleans). We peeked inside a cool wine bar called Social. There were several restaurants with live music playing that we could hear on the street. It seems like a really cool place to hang out, and it's more open to all ages than Austin or New Orleans. I then drove us over a magnificent cable-stay suspension bridge to Mount Pleasant, where we pulled into a marina and walked out to catch a view of Fort Sumter (which is just a small island in the distance with a stone fort on it.

The sun was setting as we left and headed north on Highway 52 towards Florence. We stopped at Bojangles, a chain of friend chicken fast food. We split a biscuit and some dessert tarts. It was alright. Night fell, and I drove onward, having a good conversation along the way. In Florence, I accentually drove too far, passing the McDonalds where we were supposed to meet our host Danielle. Luckily I called her and she met us back at a nearby Burger King with her friend Jordan. We then went to her friend Chris's house, where several friends were gathered, including Danielle's boyfriend Andy. They were all Southern so it was a bit of culture shock, but they were all my age so we had much more in common (politics, music, etc.); it was only the environments we grew up in were different. This became obviously apparent when a toad appeared and they picked it up. I freaked out, because I  had never held a frog or toad before and they said that I would get salmonella if I didn't wash my hands. So with some trepidation, I took the toad in my hands. It was not slimy as I had imagined. I also had to squeeze it so it wouldn't jump out. It was fidgeting and jumping around in my head. I then tried to catch another frog that was hopping along, but overtime I reached for it, it jumped away. I could tell that everybody was laughing at me, the city boy who's never seen frogs in the wild nor seen any fireflies. I ended up holding another toad, their snapping turtle, and their hamster. It was "Jason talks to animals" night apparently. What an experience!

Chris is part of a band, The Michael Scott Groove Company (MSGC), and he gave me a copy of their CD. He and his friend Sid had an impromptu jam session with us watching right there in the living room. Very cool.

We headed back to Danielle and Andy's house. They're about to move out into a new house. Either way, their futon was comfortable to sleep on. Ueli and I stayed. up late catching up with emails, photo uploading, and sending couchrequests.

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