Tourist in my Famously Hot hometown

On our first night back in “Famously Hot” Columbia, S.C. — where I spent 2/3 of my life and where Kenley spent 1/3 of his — we went to a going-away party. Our friend and former co-worker at The State newspaper, sports editor Craig McHugh, is returning to his hometown of Madison, Wis., to go back to school. Designer Meredith Rose and her husband, Eric, hosted the party at their place.

There’s been a long line of such parties in the past several years, including our own. Many formerly idealistic journalists have decided to move on from newspapers that desperately need but can no longer afford their talents; much of the industry has either failed to adapt to the Internet and to Twitter, or has done so at a terribly glacial pace.

But I have never worked with such an intelligent, fun-loving group of people. Good food, plenty of beverages and entertaining storytelling abound when we get together.

Craig’s party was no exception. There was a whole Thanksgiving spread, including a turkey, pumpkin mac and cheese, pumpkin pie and pumpkin cupcakes. And, as an homage to Craig’s return to Wisconsin, there were brats and grilled-cheese sandwiches. Props to Betsey Guzior, Gina Smith, Noelle Phillips, Meredith Rose, Rick Millians, Ron Morris and Neil White, who continue to produce compelling journalism at The State. And best wishes to Craig as he returns to the cold and the classroom.

In our attempt to squeeze in as many of our favorite people and places as possible into a five-day trip, we left the going-away party to go to Rockaway’s, one of Columbia’s favorite burger establishments. There we met man-about-town Tug Baker (Kenley’s former roommate and one of his groomsmen), as well as Columbia Free-Times music editor Pat Wall (Kenley’s bandmate) and Pat’s girlfriend, Jessica. We were too stuffed to order the famous Rockaway burger, which is drenched with melted pimento cheese, so we settled for the pimento cheese fries instead.

After catching up with members of the two major media outlets in town, Kenley and I felt like we were back in the Columbia loop, almost as if we hadn’t been on the West Coast for 11 months.

On Monday, we continued our tour of our favorite Southern places by stopping at Zaxby’s for a fried-chicken lunch. We determined that Columbia has good, cheap food. There is good food in Los Angeles, to be sure, but it will cost you. Perhaps that’s why the food-truck trend got its start in L.A.

Monday evening, I stopped by my friend Angie Greenwood’s house to see her twins, Eric and Campbell (one of my goddaughters), and to meet the latest addition to the family, Lilly.

While Kenley met up with Pat Wall and other bandmates for a jam session, Angie and I joined our other girlfriends from Irmo High School at Copper River Grill. The Harbison restaurant has a near-exact salad as Columbia’s famed California Dreaming restaurant (near the University of South Carolina campus), only without the commute.

This group gets together about once a month for dinner, so it was easy to pick up like I had never left. Their stories about their children growing up are as effective as any birth control. (One boy put a snake inside a Tupperware container and brought it inside; his older brother is getting text messages from girls asking him why he hasn’t kissed his girlfriend yet. Yikes!)

We dole out advice, but I’m glad I haven’t had to experience either of those situations.

I also learned that I should always live in an apartment across the country so I’m never expected to host Thanksgiving dinner and don’t have to figure out how to cook a turkey. A special thanks to Greer McDougald, who drove nearly two hours from Anderson, S.C., just to have dinner with us, despite also hosting Thanksgiving at her house that weekend.

After dinner, a few faithful went to the Marble Slab ice cream shop to order “The Shelley,” which I mentioned before on this blog. It’s pumpkin and cinnamon ice cream mixed with a caramel swirl, best tried in a waffle cone. You’ll thank me.

On Tuesday, Kenley and I went to Groucho’s Deli in Columbia’s funky Five Points district, which is home to many bars, restaurants and shops.

Naturally, we ordered the famous “STP Dipper.” You can find a version of this sandwich on many deli restaurant menus in Columbia, and most natives swear allegiance to one favorite. I think it depends on which deli first introduced you to the sandwich: warm bread with turkey and roast beef, topped with bacon and melted Swiss cheese. But the key is the “Formula 45” sauce on the side. Hence, the “Dipper” name.

Luckily, Kenley and I agree on Groucho’s. My brother is an Andy’s Deli fan. I should have bought some sauce so I could attempt to replicate the sandwich in L.A.

After lunch, I dropped Kenley off at The Jam Room recording studio, where he has started working on his next album. It will feature Pat Wall on guitar, Levi Gable on bass and Cameron Gardner on drums. (Read about when we saw Cameron with Washed Out in Los Angeles here.)

It was an eight-hour session, so I had time to go shopping. I stopped by the Mast General Store on Main Street to see what all the fuss was about. The store opened after we moved and was expected to provide a boost to redevelopment efforts downtown. Read the article, “Main Street on the cusp of a new life,” in The State newspaper.

I was wondering why the big deal, until I walked to the back of the store and found the old-fashioned food and candy department, where I had to restrain myself. And then I understood. The store is banking on nostalgia, and it works, even for someone my age. I allowed myself to purchase the pumpkin spice maple syrup and a Sun Drop out of the Coke ice box, which reminded me of the one in the filling station that my grandfather owned in Jackson, S.C.

If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, Mast General Store would be a great place to find stocking stuffers.

Next on my best-of-Columbia itinerary was happy hour at Five Points wine bar Cellar on Greene, which hosts Champagne Tuesdays. It was a perfect spot for my second girls night out — this time with my friends from Wofford College. When we got hungry, we moved next door to Mr. Friendly’s, where I ordered a Southern favorite: chicken and grits. A special thanks to my college roommate Leigh Murphy for traveling from Charleston, S.C., and Nicole Hupfer who drove from Florence, S.C.

By the time we were finished with dinner, Kenley was wrapping up at The Jam Room, so I picked him up and we headed over to Delaney’s Irish Pub, where Kenley once was a regular on stage. There, we met up with our friends from the media (Betsey Guzior, Craig McHugh, Gina Smith, Ish Abdus-Saboor, Jeff Blake, Meg Blake, Chip Oglesby, Dave Cloninger, Page Ivey and Jan Hogan) and the Columbia music scene (Pat Wall, David Adedokun, Jeremy Sakovich, the Magnetic Flowers and Bentz Kirby), as well as scenesters Kristin Morris, Tug Baker, Jonathan Sharpe, Carrie Phillips and others. Meg shot the photo below of Ish and me:

David Adedokun, who hosts singer-songwriter night at Delaney’s every other Tuesday, invited Kenley to sing a set of his original songs. Bentz Kirby snapped this shot:

You read about the first part of our trip back to South Carolina here. A third post is coming soon.


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