I first saw Charleston when I was about 11 years old. I fell in love with it then and knew I would live here someday. It took 40 more years before I arrived in 2002, but I have said many times since that this is the best place I have ever lived.
And there is a lot to love about this town — the architecture and eccentricity, the rivers and marshes and pluff mud, the mayor, the Battery, the food, the history.
So it is a little ironic that my editor told me to unpack my gripes with the city and share them with our readers. Not that Charleston is perfect, you understand. I've ground my teeth many times as I sat in a line of traffic waiting for a boat to go under the local drawbridges. I want to scream at the people who use Lowcountry streets and roads as their own personal trash cans. I have muttered at the terrible puns The Post and Courier insists on using all too often and inappropriately. And I have had more than a few things to say over the years about the P&C's antediluvian editorial positions.
I am more than a little annoyed at the whoppers the carriage drivers tell the tourists in our town. I don't care how many carriage drivers tell you Annabel Lee is buried in the Unitarian churchyard — it just ain't so. Charleston has enough real history to satisfy any serious history buff.
Speaking of tourists, we had plenty of them before the cruise ships started making Charleston a regular port of call, causing street closings and major traffic snafus around the historic City Market.
As for the City Market, it is one of many places that routinely floods when we have a heavy rain or a very high tide. Much of this charming peninsula is reclaimed marsh and tidal creeks. Unfortunately, when the 18th- and 19th-century engineers were filling them, they didn't fill high enough. Today, all of us in the 21st century have to live with the consequences of their errors.
I will say nothing about the no-see-ums, the palmetto bugs, the mosquitoes, and mildew. As for the heat and humidity, anyone who is not prepared for them clearly does not belong here. At least we have the respite of air conditioning, a relatively new development in Charleston's 340-year history.
Yes, this is a city and a region awash in history and natural beauty — and those are perhaps its curse and its undoing.
Too many people in the Holy City live in the past, when the challenges of the present should receive our full and undivided attention. They rewrite and willfully misconstrue their own history at a time when honesty and understanding are needed to solve the ancient divisions and inequities that plague our city and state.
We got a look at some of these damn fools last week at the Gaillard Auditorium. They held a Secession Gala to celebrate the 150th anniversary of South Carolina's secession from the Union. They will probably hold another celebration on April 12, 2011, to celebrate the firing on Fort Sumter and the beginning of the Civil War.
These misguided souls — and generations like them — steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the responsibility of their ancestors for the institution of slavery and for starting the terrible war that killed 620,000 Americans. We are still living with the consequences of slavery and of those dreadful decisions 150 years ago. It is impossible to heal this state and deal with its problems if we do not acknowledge the origin of those problems. There are a lot of white people in this state who refuse to hold their ancestors accountable.
The beauty of this land is also a serious threat. To put it bluntly, there are too many people here — and perhaps I am one of them. People visit Charleston and the South Carolina coast, or they read about us or see us on television, and the next thing you know, they are moving into the neighborhood and the neighborhood is sprawling across the landscape. Our roads and schools become crowded and dysfunctional. Our beautiful and fragile coastal environment is threatened. And our leaders, like state Senate Majority Leader Glenn McConnell, who was at the Secession Gala in his Confederate uniform, are incapable of responding to the challenges of the day because they are living in the past.
Yes, I complain. In fact, I have been doing it for more than eight years in this column, but at the end of the day, this is where I have chosen to live, and this is where I will stay. I vote against the stupid politicians, and I report the litterbugs on the state's litter hotline. As for the palmetto bugs and the drawbridges, I have learned to accommodate.