Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blythewood, SC

On my last trip to Columbia, SC I couldn't get a room in town (the Masters in Augusta swamps everything for seventy miles around). So I stayed in Blythewood, about ten miles up I-77. Near the highway is the usual new concentration of boring hotels (though I was grateful for a room in one - a smoking room (yuck) because it was all they had), strip malls, fast food, etc. My favorite restaurant in town is an all-you-can-eat buffet called Southern Pig. I bet you can guess what the food is like. Even with this old style southern food, though, this part of Blythewood could be anywhere new in the U.S.

So after dinner I got in my car and went in search of old Blythewood. I found traces of it on this sign (click on it for a larger image). When I moved to NC, back in 1978, this kind of advertisement for a grocery store was the norm. Duke's Mayo - with a limit so no one would come and get twenty jars... Naturally pork was the meat mentioned, though it might also be whole fryers. My first job in NC was as a bag-boy at a local Winn Dixie - so I knew all about those adverts, and the whole aisle of fifty different kinds of self-rising flour, and the huge bottles of vinegar and picking salts and canning jars and hams in cloth bags and heaps of sweet potatoes. This IGA sign was like getting a whiff of lilacs - taking me back to a simpler time.

But Main Street turned out to connect only a handful of older buildings, and most of them were houses. A drive out into the countryside revealed that the old abandoned farms, with forty or fifty years of pines and oaks on them now, were giving way to little homesteads, built in the current style, many quite pretty in the long spring twilight with the pink of the newly sprouted oak leaves and the green of new grass. Some had big gardens, ponds, chicken barns, and looked like a modern version of an older South Carolina, but most were just a tiny patch of suburbs painted over the scrubby hills around what must once have been a tiny hamlet. I saw almost no people.

Then, on the way back, I found the biggest chunk of unchanged Blythewood. It was a long road of trailers and little houses built in the fifties and sixties. It's near the highway, running for miles north of the new strip. It appears that as the white South moves into the bland twenty first century, the black South is still stuck in the middle of the twentieth. Everything is smaller and poorer, but it has a lot more character, and I saw a lot more people out enjoying the beautiful evening and each other.

No comments: