Late August, the beach this morning is nearly empty, just a few dog walkers, a limp kite, and those enormous puffy clouds against a blue, blue sky. Two gulls laugh and call, their high-pitched yammering signals a sigh of relief — we've made it through the better part of summer. No hurricanes (yet), no 1,000-year floods, no mass shooting tragedy (at least on local turf) to break our hearts wide open.
All in all, it's been a good summer, with some super good moments: a free Porgy & Bess live-stream at Spoleto; Raven Saunders going to the Olympics; City Council affirming the Legare Bridge bike/ped lane; Lewis Barbecue's opening; and Leon's soft serve at the ready. With sprinkles.
And this just in: Charleston's "having its moment," says CNN, referencing the latest "Friendliest City in the World" accolade from our media fans, this time Conde Nast Traveler. Yep, another huge pat on the back for our fair, and evidently fairly chummy, city. But such exalted BFF status begs a few questions: friendly how, and to whom?
According to Conde Nast, "friendliest" cities are those that are easily navigable and where locals say hello (actually, here we'd say "Hey") and are quick to offer tourists directions. No matter that the only way in Charleston for said direction seekers to "easily navigate" to their destination is by foot or slow-going car, since our transit options are outstandingly unfriendly and basically nonexistent.
Granted our "friendliness" index may have risen a notch now that South of Broad visitors no longer have to squat behind an oleander to pee, but it'd be awfully friendly if the workers who clean that one public bathroom, or change the sheets at our expanding galaxy of hotels, could actually afford to live within a 30-mile radius of their jobs. Is it friendly that our neighbors in the Charleston Neck and North area don't have access to fresh, affordable groceries? Are we friendly when we scare the hell out of parents of special needs children by threatening to shutter the school that offers much-needed, and yes expensive, services to their kids?
And what the hell does "friendly" even mean these days, when people rarely speak to anyone except via text, or look up from our phones while walking down the street, or become deaf and numb to a certain presidential candidate lobbing hateful, bullying comments with hair-swishing gusto, like he was Raven hurling her shot put?
It's hard to tell anymore. I've not had to knock on my neighbor's door to borrow an egg or milk for a long time now that we've all gone vegan or have our groceries delivered. But something from way back in my Southern upbringing makes me think it might mean looking people in the eye every now and then, maybe even smiling — and I'm not talking an emoji wink-wink. Being friendly means being happy for another's good fortune, and working to correct the ingrained injustices that keep others from similar success. It means listening. Practicing patience and compassion. Looking beyond cynicism toward solutions, toward hope. And good lord it may even mean admitting we're wrong (hello Council members Moody, Waring, Summey; hello Sargent Jasper; hello cruise terminal; hello me — an occasional Ms. Know-It-All), and then doing our homework to understand better options to make wiser decisions.
I think it means remembering that we're all "having our moment." And that these moments are all we're going to have. Fewer of them than we realize.
Charleston's still reeling from the loss of two of our friendliest women — Consuela Francis and Alison Piepmeier, both professors at the College of Charleston, both intellectuals with huge friendly smiles who made sure that all were welcomed and respected no matter if they were gay, straight, black, white, trans, queer, born-again and/or brazenly unrepentant, able-bodied and those less so, tatted, prepster, men, women, and those who'd stump bathroom attendants in North Carolina. We're two down, my friends, so the rest of us need to work double time to reach out to those who need direction, who could use a word of kindness and welcome, who need to be assured that, as Mayor Tecklenburg said to fretting bike/ped lane naysayers, "everything's gonna be alright."
Hurricane season is just heating up — we may need to be nice to each other yet. Let's round out this summer and head toward fall giving it our friendliest, most generous effort.