Finding a road into South Carolina has been tough. It should not be so difficult. The interstate medians are wide there, and the traffic is light. But those are the wrong roads, unfortunately. They exist in the same three dimensions as the highways and backroads of my childhood, but they are missing the most essential dimension: time. The South Carolina we relocated to from Texas only exists in a moment in time.
When we moved there in 1977, Boiling Springs was a two lane highway with a traffic light on each end. In the miles in between were humble houses, family businesses, a school, the ubiquitous Southern Baptist church the size of a zeppelin hangar. A barber shop. The Community Cash grocery store was the closest thing to a brand name in the whole town.
Thirty-three years later the town is barely recognizable. The highway is four lanes now, and the only landmarks I’m familiar with are the church and the school. If there is a franchise that hasn’t parked its red and yellow clown shoe between I-85 and Rainbow Lakes Road it’s certainly an oversight that will soon be corrected. That once charming little town looks like an extended freeway exit now.
But we didn’t live in Boiling Springs proper. We lived six miles away, down Rainbow Lakes Road toward Fingerville, just past Mud Creek. If you get to Highway 11 you’ve gone too far. That six miles of black top was unfettered by traffic signals of any sort, so the Hortons and the Calhouns and the Bellews and the Bishops could drive their Camaros and Torinos as fast as they wanted. Peach orchards blurring past, the little rise before Holden’s Grocery, the big dip before you get to the old trestle bridge.
The peach orchards are housing tracts now, and Holden’s Grocery is long boarded up. The old trestle bridge still lurks next to the new bridge (now 35 years old at least), a rusty skeleton clipped at both ends and stripped of its flooring. We’d crawl through the kudzu and shimmy up its sides on summer nights, stretch out on the girders and talk about things we sure didn’t understand. I hope kids still do that.
The Camaros and the Torinos are gone, too. Not gone. They’re still there. They are racing down Rainbow Lakes Road in 1983 still. We’ve simply moved on.
So what does any of this have to do with music? After a recent business trip, I drove to meet a friend in that scar that now throbs where my town used to be. I left in the morning, south on I-85, for my 90 minute drive. What’s a drive without music? I turned on the radio.
Nobody bothered to tell the local FM station that it was no longer 1983. The same DJ was spinning records and making wacky zoo crew segments almost 30 years later. He spun The Who, Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi, Billy Squier. Lynyrd Skynyrd, but not just Skynyrd – relatively deep cuts like “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe” and “Needle and the Spoon.”
My pal and I had a nice lunch and then drove around for a bit. I tried not to be too sentimental, but I can’t really help it. Nostalgia can be a drag, and I’d hate to think our friendship only existed in a distant past; that it was dependent on the location of the old Palmetto Theater or some other bug trapped in amber.
I got it in my head that we should visit BJ’s Music, the independent record store that had been there since I was a kid. We found it eventually, not too far from its original location. On the way there my buddy pointed out where Pink Anderson’s house used to be.
We must have spent at least an hour in BJ’s, digging through the vinyl, pulling albums and telling stories about this one and that one.
“My band used to play a song off of this Honeymoon Suite album.”
“Spider? Anton Figg from Letterman’s band was their drummer.”
“I bought City to City just for “Baker Street” and it turned into one of my favorite albums.”
“Yeah, I agree that he was a great drummer. But it‘s still fun to make Ringo jokes.”
I have spent maybe two hours with my pal in the last twenty-five years, and for me that afternoon continued a conversation that began when we were in the fifth grade and he told the most convincing story ever about jamming with Blue Oyster Cult over the summer. Or maybe I was just the most gullible ten year old to ever set foot in Holden’s Chapel Middle School; regardless, I believed it. Thirty years later I couldn’t have been happier than I was digging through dusty albums and shooting the breeze with that same friend.
My town is gone now, paved over and super-sized. Wal-Marted. But it isn’t, really. At least not in any way that really matters. Yours probably isn’t, either. You just have to find your way to the rickety musical trestle bridge that leads you there.
That good old shapshifter time shows up again. Coming from LA, where one has maybe two year to enjoy what the town looks like before a landmark is destroyed to make room for another mini-or-maxi mall, you’d think I’d have some kind of mental vaccination in place, but I do not.
It was commonplace to hear myself and others shout, “What the hell? It was open and doing business JUST LAST WEEK!!” while staring at a pile of rubble or worse, a vacant dirt lot.
Moving to Pittsburgh, and going up one hour north to T.’s hometown, now he is getting blasted with the visual of his town being chain-stored and super sized.
So yes, the little joys are finding Marks Music still thriving, Flowers Television Repair open for business, and Luigi’s pizza just as tasty as when he was ten.
Hopefully they will stick around during our time here, just so we do not feel like old Martians on a strange planet.
But the cool thing is that I can summon Los Angeles 1988 at will. All it takes is a blend of Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, Faith No More, and Living Color. That’s borderline voodoo, or at least a very cool magic trick.
Yep, that is some mighty good voodoo. My combo plate for conjuring up Los Angeles has varying soundtracks to various times. 1988 teeters on some of the darker voodoo, and I prefer not to whip up that particular brew.
Plus, the last drive through my ancient stomping grounds of downtown LA was totally bizarre. The “small town” business that I used to frequent is now surrounded by bright neon signs advertising cheap flashy clothing stores and beauty supplies. There is even a Starbucks.
Still, the small business lingers in MacArthur Park, but it might as well be operating in the middle of a well lit freeway.
There is nary a skulky run down street or dark alley left for the oldtimers anymore.
Politics aside, the Deep South has an undeniable charm, and people who just think it’s a worthless bastion of hillbillies haven’t been there, or don’t understand.
More importantly however, WHERE IN TEXAS DID YOU LIVE?! Are you from here originally???? (Prying natives GOT to know…)
No, not a native. We lived outside of Mansfield for almost a year when I was a pup.