About the Blogger
Grant Martin covers business in and around southern Beaufort County. He is a native of McLean, V.A., and a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, V.A. He moved to Bluffton in September 2011 after earning a master's in journalism from Arizona State University. | Email Grant
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I was writing on the whiteboard, my back turned to my students, when I heard a telltale snicker behind me. It was the spring of 2009, and I was teaching fourth grade in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia. I whirled around to see Alonte, arm cocked, a suddenly innocent look on his face.
Upon learning that an employee of my state’s Department of Commerce was recently fired for a disparaging tweet she’d made about the town of Walterboro — “worst cty visit ever & they wonder why they get no good biz/jobs,” it read — my interest was piqued.
This, presumably, was someone who’d been to many places throughout the Palmetto State, and had seen some seriously derelict and downtrodden areas. And so it was with an eager spirit and an abiding obligation to you, four dear readers, that I hurtled up I-95 Saturday morning to see this apparent trainwreck of a town for myself.
“I’m going back to dignity and grace,” Rhett Butler angrily informed Scarlett O’Hara, in one of my favorite books. “I’m going back to Charleston, where I belong.”
I know nothing about dignity nor grace — I’d abandoned my final vestiges of both in Savannah on St. Patrick’s Day, where I left the following morning with bleary eyes, a pounding headache, and a bloody gash of entirely mysterious origin on my left foot — but I, too, wanted to go back to Charleston.
Jin Uk Kim, a 28-year-old from South Korea, took top honors at last Monday’s Hilton Head International Piano Competition for his rendition of a Beethoven composition. But I thought his performance paled, both in emotional impact and dramatic effect, to the sounds of Kim’s accompanying orchestra as it had tuned up before he took the stage.
It’s not that his performance wasn’t brilliant. I’m pretty sure it was, though all I could think of as I sat there listening was whether he’d practiced piano for as many hours as I’d played MarioKart during my thoroughly undistinguished five years of collegiate study. See, the sounds of a tuning orchestra — approximated pretty well here [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfSH1ezevjM], if you're interested — convey better than anything else the sense of anticipation, with all of its attendant adrenaline and optimism.
Many summers ago, on the shore of a Minnesota lake during a family vacation, my uncle taught me about the perils of high expectations. My father stood alongside me with a video camera to record the moment — as he so often did during my phenomenally untelegenic childhood — unwittingly capturing the very instant my sense of anticipation was irrevocably changed.
I lurched through our office’s front door a few Mondays ago, stiff-legged and grimacing, arms swinging like crooked pendulums to maintain my meager momentum.
All of which would have been perfectly normal if I’d, say, just tied my old burro to a saloon-side hitching post after a long day on the trail, but I had no such excuse. I’d thrown a frisbee for a little while the day earlier, and the exertion this required was so strenuous as to render me partly paralyzed and wholly humbled the following morning.
Saturday’s bike ride through Hunting Island’s lush forest to its southernmost tip had been unremarkable, and offered no indication of the spectacle that would greet my arrival.
I’d fallen only once, on a treacherous downhill stretch of trail; a brief but thrilling tumble, both precipitated and cushioned by the dense mat of pine needles that blanket the ground beneath the island’s soaring canopy. I was still coated in dirt and leaves — as a five-year-old might camouflage himself — when I wheeled through the treeline and onto a surprisingly vast beach.
Of all the ways to familiarize oneself with a new community, I submit there’s nothing more instructive than spending some time at the local grocery store. Its fluorescent lights expose our habits and our peculiarities, our flaws and our merits, and invite the same kind of unflinching scrutiny we all apply in the produce section.
The decision to leave Arizona for the Lowcountry was an easy one, I recall. I’d finished graduate school in Phoenix — a sprawling and smog-veiled city, with snarled traffic and sweat-stained wardrobes — and was eager to escape to a cooler and calmer part of the world.
Having once spent a summer in Charleston, I was somewhat familiar with this area’s abundant charm. But within days of first moving to Bluffton in September, I felt an urge to explore, to better acquaint myself with the history and beauty of my new home. To this end, I’ve already participated in the Audubon Club’s bird count on Fripp Island and listened as my colleague David Lauderdale shared from his bottomless reservoir of local knowledge as he drove me around Hilton Head Island. As I see it, though, my explorations here have only just begun, and I’ll be chronicling my future field trips in this blog.