Like most locals, Tradd Bastian loves the Holy City. A sixth generation Charlestonian and man about town, his allegiance, like his accent, is clear. Yet there's one thing that threatens to end the native's Chucktown romance: A ragamuffin militia from the North.
"They have gelled hair, wear cargo shorts, vertical-lined shirts, and, if you're really lucky, high black-and-white socks with tennis shoes," Bastian says. Each spring they attack the city, gumming pralines and Hyman's hush puppy samples. Their legions are strong, and their numbers are growing. They're called Ohioans.
Now, corn-fed Caucasians have long been attracted to the Carolina coast, Ohioans in particular. With their endless winters and flat acres, the Buckeyes anticipate a trip to Charleston like a prepubescent boy's first step into EB Games — awkward and over eager. For a long time that was fine; the Charleston tourist economy greeted Ohioans and their pasty flesh with open arms — until now. What was once a highly lucrative trade of historical sites, beaches, and grits for bucks, is now more like a trade of grits for grief.
"Charleston has always been a melting pot, but it's turning into a Frogmore stew with way too much Old Bay," says Bastian. "If people get that reference, then they're probably not from Ohio."
A 26-year-old bouncer and entrepreneur, Bastian isn't the only one irked by the Buckeye invasion. Throngs of Ohio haters have grown since the attitude was made public four years ago with the creation of the website GoBacktoOhio.com. The site spawned reactions on forums and newspapers from Summerville to Cincinnati, produced a parody song by the band Live Oak, and inspired the RiverDogs to host the wildly popular Go Back to Ohio night against the Columbus Catfish in 2008 and 2009. So how did the hate begin?
A man, a plan, a complaint
"Back in late 2006, me and my friends noticed the increase of Ohio plates in the city," says a gentleman using the alias Rusty Shackleford. The creator of GoBacktoOhio.com, Shackleford and friends chose to count and compare the amount of Ohio license plates versus Pennsylvania plates, as the two states both reside north of the Mason–Dixon line and are equidistance from Charleston.
"We conducted the study over the course of a month, and there were way more Ohio plates," says Shackleford, confident of his unscientific findings. "A lot of other people were noticing the phenomenon too, so we decided to respond to it," he adds. Thus GoBacktoOhio.com was born.
Around the same time, Bastian began his own anti-Ohio effort. "I came up with the idea early in May of '06. I can't really pinpoint the exact moment of enlightenment, but I'm sure it had something to do with an Ohioan who couldn't drive," he claims.
Bastian argues that the genesis of his GBTO faction began after he noticed the influx of Buckeyes and put together a batch of bumper stickers reading, "Leave your daughters and go back to Ohio." The stickers became a local hit and eventually led the young innovator to create Koozies as well — perfect for beach boozing and Buckeye bashing — which can be purchased on his website (scgbto.com) for $3 a pop. He says after he discovered Shackleford's site he tried to contact him to unite their anti-Ohio efforts, but he never received a response. In Shackleford's defense, he admits he remembers Bastian trying to get in touch with him, but believes he lost the e-mail.
At any rate, as Bastian worked to get his bumpers stickers sold, Shackleford's GoBacktoOhio.com went viral.
A playground of mockery, Shackleford says the site produced "a torrential outpouring of fans and detractors alike." It proclaimed that Ohioans "stay far longer than the allotted welcome generally tendered to seasonal tourists." The site adds, "They take our jobs and harass our women," and that "Ohioans happen to be the world's largest consumers of baby seals." Obviously.
As of this publication, GoBackToOhio.com no longer appears to be online. Meanwhile, Bastian is still carrying the anti-Ohio torch. The GBTO Facebook page he started currently boasts nearly 300 fans.
First in aviation, last in reputation
"Don't get me wrong. I love meeting people from everywhere, and I have friends from all over the U.S. and other countries," Bastian says. "But if a person moves to a place, they should assimilate to that new environment. I wouldn't expect to move to Ohio and set up bars that are for Clemson fans."
He has a point. South Carolina is littered with Buckeye-friendly bars, or, shall we say bars that openly welcome OSU fans. There's Socastee Station and Overtime Sports Café (look for the blimp) in Myrtle Beach, Matthews Sports Bar in Mt. Pleasant, and Centre Point Bar & Grill in North Charleston, where the OSU Lowcountry Alumni Chapter meets. Hilton Head Island resident and Pink Magazine Editor Elizabeth Millen confirms the town also has its very own OSU bar called Mangiamo.
"There aren't even any Clemson or USC bars on the island," she says.
This doesn't make Bastian very happy. "They left for a reason. I don't want them bringing that crap down here."
But promoting their love for OSU football is all too easy. Ohio is within a one-day drive of 50 percent of North America's population. With Buckeye flags a'flying, they're taking to the road in droves. Ohio is what researchers call a low magnet state. According to 2007 Pew Research Center study data, that means Ohio has a net migration loss. Add to that the fact that in 2004 Cincinnati led the nation in population decrease, mega employer General Motors left Dayton in 2008, and Cleveland was just named the Most Miserable City in America by Forbes magazine, one can easily guess why all those Ohioans are leaving. South Carolina, on the other hand, is a magnet state — more than 40 percent of residents were born somewhere else. Just one glimpse at these statistics and things start to click. Five percent of the College of Charleston student body is from Ohio. The fourth highest tourist state to visit Myrtle Beach is Ohio. And Lake Erie is the only large body of water in Ohio. It's really the Palmetto State or bust. GBTOers understand this, but what they take issue with is the way Ohioans act when they get here.
"People that bitch about grits, sweet tea, and South Carolina drivers, among other things, can go the hell back to whatever hole they came from and leave my beautiful state alone," says Bastian. His experience with out-of-towners, specifically as a bouncer, is what's really fueled his fire.
Case in point: "I had a great experience last night. This gelled-head douche with his designer jeans and Ed Hardy shirt started talking shit to me at Big John's after he got shot down by this girl that I guess thought I was better looking," reports Bastian. "So he came out and talked shit about my polo shirt, sandals, and my 'Charleston' hair, which he ran his hand through. And after all of this he says, 'So you probably wanna give me a right hook don't you?' I responded by saying 'I have been a bouncer for three years and you are going to have to try a lot harder to provoke me.' "
This is why SCGBTO's fearless leader has such disdain for anyone that comes to his town and talks smack. "I'm sorry your douche-baggary doesn't work on smart Southern girls. This isn't Jersey Shore, where all the girls are like Snooki and want gelled-headed muscle-bound greasy jerks," he says.
Bastian's suggestion to saucy visitors from any state? "Go get yourself some Rainbows, Croakies, madras shorts, and take that gel out of your damn hair. No cargo shorts for the love of God. If it takes you longer than a chick to get ready there is something wrong. Just my humble opinion."
Ryan Billings, a Tipp City, Ohio, resident and friend of Bastian, does admit that style isn't exactly his native people's strong suit. "The only fashion blunder that I can claim responsibility for, in being from Ohio, is the socks with the sandals look ... the one with the thong of the sandal cutting directly through the toe of the sock. I do apologize for that, but we're not used to beach attire," he says.
"I think it's funny that the Charlestonians would be trying to give fashion tips," Billings adds. "The last time I checked, the men's Carolina short-shorts, a pink polo, a belt with the local catch on it, boat shoes, and Croakies are not the greatest fashion either. So I don't think either one of us has the ability to be dishing out fashion tips."
Them's fightin' words. However beyond trend wars, Billings thinks all this Ohio abhorrence is really about the insecurities of Charlestonians.
"I think the natives started to worry that there were people out there that possibly liked their city more than they did," he says.
To Billings, however, one man's douchiness is another man's loyalty to his home state. "People in Ohio are really proud of who they are, and where they're from," he says.
Though plenty of Ohioans have moved to town and aren't willing to budge, not everyone's impressed with the Lowcountry's particular brand of Southern hospitality. Kristen Rhodes, an Ohio native, lived in Charleston for six years and managed to get repulsed.
"When I was down there, whenever I wrote anything critical about Charleston, I would get letters to the editor saying if you don't like it, leave. So I finally did," she says. Rhodes worked in Charleston as an art critic for City Paper and Charleston magazine before throwing in the towel and returning to Cleveland when her husband got a residency at Case Medical Center.
She was happy to go regardless. She says the over-self-confidence of locals bugged her the most. "What I notice in Cleveland is we're like Eeyore. We suck, we have low self esteem as a city. We're called the Mistake on the Lake. That's just what it is," she says, and she likes that. She'll take a self-deprecating town over a self-involved one any day.
According to Rhodes, the trouble with Charleston is "everyone discovers it and doesn't want anyone else to find it." It's true, locals do tend to exhibit Gollum-like tendencies toward the city. But you can't hide the Battery in your pocket, and you can't drain the Atlantic. With Conde Nast top 10 ratings, culinary superstars, and international festivals happening year round, keeping the "Precious" unknown is nearly impossible.
"It does seem silly, as an Ohioan, to have to defend coming to an area that kind of prostitutes itself as a tourist destination," Rhodes notes, adding that tourist dollars pay for a significant portion of the state's jobs. After all, tourism is the Palmetto State's No. 1 industry.
Prostitute ourselves? I do declare, what kind of insolent woman would use such derogatory language. Actually, she's not that far off.
Our charming neighbor to the north, Myrtle Beach, the Redneck Riviera (a.k.a. the gateway drug for Ohioans to Charleston), is particularly good at enticing beach-goers from the heartland. The Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce runs a 60-second TV spot in the Toledo and Youngstown markets in Ohio. They also have a significant online and TV presence on the CNN-style Ohio News Network channel. Myrtle Beach Chamber Public Relations Manager Kimberly Miles reports, "We just dropped a small property insert into Canton and Cleveland newspapers, which went to a combined 143,000 insertions, and on March 5 we dropped the eight-page vacation planner insert in Columbus."
Miles adds, "Online, we also have a general east-of-the-Mississippi online push that includes pay-per-click marketing, display advertising, and e-mail marketing. Ohio is under that blanket of outreach as well."
Former Charleston and current Ohio resident Kristen Rhodes can count her parents as those who have been enticed to come live in the Lowcountry. After retirement, her mom and dad moved to Charleston. "They went down to visit my brother who lives in Atlanta and stopped in Charleston. They loved it and decided on moving there from that trip," she says. Her parents have been Ohio expats since 1994.
On a recent visit to see them Rhodes observed how much the city has changed. "Charleston has become such a vacation all the time," she says. "There's not a lot of intellectual thought. It's not a family environment."
Worst of all, she says, "Because there are so many retirees, no one wants to pay taxes."
In contrast, Rhodes loves the fact that in Cleveland, school bonds pass, real estate is affordable, and they have the best urban library system in the country. In her mind, Ohio offers more in the way of family benefits than anything in South Carolina.
As for all those fanny pack-sporting Ohio tourists, Rhodes admits that faction exists. "Just like the dumb bubba faction exists. I could certainly give you stereotypes of Charleston," she says.
But she's quick to remind locals that there are probably way more people from other areas of the South moving to Charleston than Ohioans. "It's more fun to poke fun at the fat people in the Buckeye sweatshirts than the fat people in the Bulldog sweatshirts, since there is that Yankee hatred that's still alive and well down South."
Sure, Bastian may bypass the Bulldog belittling to rip on Buckeyes, but he wants to make one thing clear: He and his Go Back to Ohio cronies do this all in fun. "I want everyone to understand that I know you shouldn't base an opinion on a select few people that make bad impressions," he says. "I may dislike or be extremely annoyed by people, but I don't hate anyone."
That's a good thing, as the number of Ohio visitors and Buckeye State transplants doesn't look like it will shrink any time soon.
As long as Ohio winters continue to be colder than a witch's tit in a brass bra, Wet Willie's keeps serving frozen alcoholic concoctions, and I-77 stays open, Ohioans will visit Charleston.
"They should probably just try to embrace us, because we aren't going anywhere," says Billings, "The only way to get rid of us is to secede again, and we all know how that went the first time."
Remember, William Tecumseh Sherman was from Ohio.
After we ran our this story, we were contact by GoBacktoOhio.com creator Jesse Nelson, informing us that he along with his brother and friend Harry Demosthenes created GoBacktoOhio.com.
Nelson tells us that GoBacktoOhio.com will be functioning again in a few weeks with a new design and same products for sale. “We donate all the we make to charities, like the Charleston Food bank,” says Nelson.