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Poe's North American Tour '99

Episode 6: Southern Hospitality

Before I left to cross the pond, I realised that there were a few people I would have to meet. Not just 'want' to meet, but 'have' to meet too, because otherwise a trip to North America wouldn't have seemed complete. I'm only going to name two of the seven that spring to mind, but I'm very glad that I met six of them. The two I'll name are Nublet and Slohand, the wonderful couple who ran the best room yet to appear in Cosmo, the original deepsouth that was open almost every hour of mid to late 1998, and the couple who kindly knighted me in the New Year Cosmo newsletter.

Another plan I had before the start of the tour was not to plan. I knew that I could wander round the States and Canada and enjoy myself, but I'd get caught in every tourist trap from north to south and east to west. If I put each little section of my tour into the hands of the people who I'd be with in each respective area, I'd get to see the real America: the towns behind the souvenir shops, the scenery that guidebooks don't cover and the quiet places too. And I'd get a good glimpse into the American psyche into the bargain.

Every now and then I'd do a little research first though. My entire research for Charleston, SC was to look up 'southern hospitality' in the dictionary. It said 'Nubs and Slo'.

Viewers of Nublet's website will have seen that they had already hosted one meetup. Earlier in the year, three players from farflung parts of the USA found their way down to Charleston: MMartyGal aka MartyMarty, Candoo and Pritz, all three deepsouth regulars. I'd heard about what a wonderful time they all had and was looking forward to meeting the King and Queen of Deepsouth myself.

Following our normal pattern by driving way out of our way down a few beautiful but totally unnecessary bridges, Tracy and I arrived at Deepsouth HQ swathed in southern heat. I'd already got slightly sunburned by swimming around at the hotel in Boone, but the heat of South Carolina helped it plenty. And we stayed busy.

Nubs and Slo are the perfect hosts: finishing school in Switzerland couldn't improve them a bit. We got to sample the justly famous Slohand barbecue, in a state where each town has its own subtle differences. Barbecue is the gourmet food of the south.

I got to try a whole selection of American cuisine too tho, both local and national, which set a trend for the rest of the tour. And after eating another huge meal, we got into the habit of burning off our calories by playing basketball in the yard. I enjoyed this so much that even when the rain starting pouring and the thunder cracked overhead and the lightning struck at the other side of the street, Slo's niece and I carried on playing basketball happily. Here I am doing a wonderful impression of a drowned rat. Oh, but it was refreshing!

Before my trip started, the IRS group of Cosmo, on their message board which I am both happy and proud to say has now reached over 58,000 hits since I set it up in May, debated what foods I should sample. Tarheel#23 and her husband introduced me to my first from the list, in Blowing Rock, NC: the wonderful waffle cone. Now, you Americans may find this basic and commonplace, but to us poor Brits who have to suffer cheap cornets or wafers and a total choice of around eight different flavours, this was heaven. Here was a shop with fifty plus flavours of icecream to choose from, many of which I hadn't even heard of. But I'd be happy to check them all out... turtle, what's turtle?

We went to a very nice seafood restaurant on the coast where I got to try Alaskan crab legs and hush puppies made of crabmeat (I called them 'crush puppies') and a whole swathe of strange seafood stuff. We tried boiled peanuts, a truly local delicacy. We tried the infamous southern grits for breakfast. And we got back into the icecream again with a wonderful local sundae that feeds four: a scoop of each of four different icecreams, a dollop of each of four different toppings plus nuts and whatever else they could find. Oh wow! And I got try the infamous American twinkie, a true heart-attack in a wrapper. Later on I introduced Treacle in turn to these dubious delights, and his reaction was to wonder why they come in packs of two when one is surely enough to kill anyone. Methinks he's right.

And, as you'd expect, throughout all this, my total ignorance of just how to eat this stuff had Nubs in stitches. I don't think I did a very good job of cracking open foot long crab legs, and my answer to "how do you eat your eggs?" was "er, with a fork..."

The new foods didn't even stop with what Nubs and Slo could cook/find for us. After staying on at Boone, the Caves drove back to Florida via this very spot, and dropped Kelly off in the process. We had an interesting couple of games of Cosmo with me typing away under the handle of nublet and six (count 'em) other players helping out with answers. But I digress... Kelly introduced us to the charms of goo goo clusters, a personal favourite of hers that quickly became a personal favourite of mine. But where do you get these names from? It must be quite embarrassing for someone over the age of about twelve walking into a shop and ordering a goo goo cluster...

Well, it wasn't all food. Charleston is an old historic town, the gateway by which more African slaves reached America than any other single port. And we got to see some of this history. Nubs and Slo drove us into Charleston where we took a horsedrawn tour courtesy of a very knowledgeable local chap by the name of JC (no, not the one in Cosmo).

We'd already seen some of what JC talked us through, things like the hurricane bolts in many old houses used to literally screw them back upright, but he showed us plenty more. We saw Tara, and Rhett Butler's house opposite. We saw the old gaol, and the tree outside that hanged a lovely landlady who had got into the habit of tipping her staying customers out of bed into a lime pit in order to rob them blind. We saw Whistler's Walk, a short distance of pavement (sidewalk) that slaves from a particular house walked to bring food to the master, so named because he ordered them to whistle whenever they carried food as it meant they couldn't be eating it at the same time. And we saw the oleander bushes that charming Charleston ladies harvested to poison the cups of tea that they fed to visiting British soldiers. Hmm... what was that bush outside your house again, Nubs?

All in all, we didn't want to leave... but we have a lot of good memories. On top of the above, I won't forget MsCave stunning us with her knowledge of movie minutiae, Slo's incredible CD collection and the wonderful cats and dogs - complete with one dog who manages admirably with one never-healed broken front leg. Thanks for the demonstration of true southern hospitality.

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