Charleston, SC

The Charleston trip was interesting. I got a bit of science done, spent some time with a friend, got rained on and ate dinner in Magnolias along with Oprah Winfrey and a couple hundred others.

I got in to Charleston, found navigation to be surprisingly easy for an old East coast town, found my hotel, grabbed a bite to eat at Coast, billed at Charleston’s freshest seafood, where the food was acceptably good, but the service was nicht so gut. After that, I went back to the hotel to check email and crash in time for my seminar the next day and experiments with Baerbel Rohrer.

The science was good, the conversation was equally wonderful and I had a good time. Dinner that night was had at the Waters Edge with a recommendation to have the prime rib as I was informed it was the best prime rib in town. I must say that it was quite simply, not only the best in town, but it was the best prime rib I’ve ever had.

The next day I had to myself and decided to go on a walking tour of town, hopefully finding some good spots for capturing images of birds by the waterside. I stopped by a ship under construction, the Spirit of South Carolina which is an opportunity for students to learn about the ocean and coastal environments all while learning how to sail a tall ship. When completed, she will be a two masted vessel with beautiful lines that will sail the East coast, teaching students.

That was followed up with a visit to Ft Sumter where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired. Unfortunately, it really started pouring rain at this point, so photographs were difficult to take if not impossible given my current gear. Although I must admit, that taking photographs was the last thing on my mind during this visit to the Fort. It’s odd, but the feeling of historical injustice just permeated the place. Many in the North and the South *knew* that slavery was an injustice, but they were also afraid of the loss of economic infrastructure with the abolishment of slavery. Others simply had no moral qualms about maintaining slavery as they simply did not view their slaves as human beings. I was aware of all this history, but there was something made more real by actually visiting Ft. Sumter.

Some bird watching was accomplished but the rain prevented much of that and when the rain let up enough, the mosquitos were out in force and I had no bug juice in my possession. So, after spending some time down at the coast getting bit by mosquitos and taking pictures of birds followed by walking around down at the ports looking at ships, I went over to the South Carolina Aquarium which had a small, but nice exhibit on the Amazon.

Dinner was had on East Bay St. I looked into a couple of restaurants and had decided on an early dinner at Cypress so I could get some sleep for an unpleasantly early flight out of Charleston the next morning. Upon entering, the hostess heard the door open, picked up a menu and turned to look at me. At this point, she looked me up and down, lingering on my Chuck T. tennis shoes and blue jeans and, while sighing, placed the menus back down and informed me that they were entirely booked for the evening…. If I would like to come back at about 9:30, she informed me they could help me. The funny thing was that there was not a soul in the restaurant at this point as I was there at about 5:00. I politely informed her that I would not be coming back and decided to take the advice of a fellow passenger (Chairman of Golden Isles Aviation and very interesting guy who knew a mutual friend that helped broker the deal between the US and Moldovan governments on some Mig-29s) on the flight into Charleston and go to Magnolia. Of course as you might have surmised from the URLs, I found out later that Cypress and Magnolia were owned by the same group/owner.

At any rate, walking down the street a few feet to Magnolias, early in the afternoon, the street outside was mostly quiet except for a large black tactical van that had driven up the street and pulled around the corner behind a big Lincoln SUV. It was a mostly inconspicuous van, but it was conspicuously inconspicuous in that it was VERY clean, very black with no emblems or markings of any kind and was beautiful in an industrial sort of way. It was obvious that this van was loved and cared for by someone routinely and was the sort of van that one sees with Secret Service details when political or foreign dignitaries are around. However, it did not have government plates, which while not unusual for a Secret Service detail, was interesting.

Upon entering Magnolia, I was greeted most graciously by the hostess and I informed her that I would like a table for one. She escorted me to the back of the currently empty restaurant and seated me at a small table whereupon my waiter appeared. He was most professional and the epitome of what one would expect of one who waited tables as a profession rather than a job to get them through school or something. This g
uy knew his stuff and obviously took waiting tables seriously and is the sort of person that is far too rare in the restaurant business. At any rate, I ordered the Tattinger La Francaise white wine with the pan seared sea scallops on sweet corn hoe cakes with caramelized apple smoked bacon cream and balsamic syrup as an appetizer, and as the main, a fillet of beef with lump crab cake with sauteed spinach, smoked bacon and a mushroom and Madeira sauce and Aries pinot noir from Robert Sinskey vinyards to accompany it. The appetizer was spectacular, and piqued my hopes for the main course. As I ate the scallops, the restaurant was getting very busy and people were packing into the place at an impressive rate. Eating alone and my position at the back of the restaurant allowed me to watch the action unfold as the wait staff was obviously buzzing with activity. A number of people began coming into the restaurant checking things out in preparation for their appointed charge to arrive and there was some noticeable tension in the wait staff and just a whiff of jealousy among them that led me to wonder just who was coming in. As my main course was delivered, I looked up to see a group of beautiful people walking in through the back entrance, all impeccably dressed with Oprah Winfrey in the middle of the group. They moved past and Oprah’s assistants started working the room. I have got to say that all of her close protection were most polite, and the assistants were more than happy to to collect autographs for some of the other diners. It was at the same time a weird and fascinating display. I did not ask for an autograph or take a photograph even though I had ALL of my camera gear with me as it must be hard enough for certain folks to simply go out to dinner without being mobbed. No, I figured the dinner for me had been a sublime experience and I would let Oprah enjoy hers as well as my desert had just arrived, a toffee cheesecake and a Buller muscat finished off with a most perfect espresso.

On the way out of the restaurant, I had to navigate a phalanx of close protection all wearing lapel pins with Oprah’s “O” on them. “Cute”, I thought and briefly talked with one of them who again was most professional and not the sort of thug that one often finds working in close protection. Oprah obviously selects some of the best and perhaps he even had federal training? After navigating out, I was surprised to see groups of people hanging outside of the restaurant in the rain waiting for a chance to glimpse Oprah which absolutely amazed me. It has got to be impossible for Oprah to get anything done with any degree of privacy.

I am pretty much ignorant of most popular culture and had no idea how popular Oprah was until I related this experience to a couple of people who promptly set me straight on the issue. I’ve heard Oprah before on the occasional news show being interviewed and was always impressed with her candor, honesty and intelligence. So, thinking about it afterwards, reviewing those interviews and the observations I made at dinner Saturday night, I got to mulling over the idea that perhaps this woman, with the following she has, the intelligence that she possesses, and her sense of social issues domestically and internationally, would be the ideal Presidential candidate for a more neutral political party than the two shrill parties that dominate American socio-political culture. Oprah Winfrey for President!

Of course like most people who would be perfect for that job, she likely has no interest or desire to fill that role… Oh well.

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