Before I start this column, let me state up front that I do not want some damned realtor cutting and pasting it with the next e-mailing to her clients. TO SAID CLIENTS: We're just fine without you -- thank you very much.
After all, there are 135,000 houses in the pipeline for the tri-county area -- and those are just the ones we've heard about.
The Charleston area has too much traffic, too much noise, too many people. That does not mean things are out of control. In fact, there are some very encouraging signs that public action and market forces are beginning to stabilize things. We can never turn the clock back, but we may be able to keep it from spinning out of control.
I've been watching the clock for some years now and I've seen a lot of changes. In 1999, I went to live in Myrtle Beach. As a romantic, I wanted to recover my childhood; as a journalist, I wanted discover the forces that had destroyed my childhood vacationland and turned it into the crowded, ugly, noisy place that has become Myrtle Beach.
In retrospect, I can say that my findings were not terribly surprising. Myrtle Beach simply became too popular for its own good. As more people and more money poured onto the Grand Strand, good judgment and political will bent before the flood. Regulations were stretched; laws were broken. Some public officials went to state prison, others to the Statehouse.
I spent three years at the "scene of the crime," writing and researching Banana Republic: A Year in the Heart of Myrtle Beach, in which I tried to describe what went wrong in Paradise.
At the end of the day, I found a lot of corrupt politicians, but also a lot of people who look a lot like you and me -- people who didn't get involved, people who had come to Myrtle Beach to have fun, to make a dollar, and move on to the next real estate boom, to the next seasonal town that needed short order cooks and amusement operators.
Myrtle Beach needs lots of vacationers and short-term employees -- but not citizens. Citizens have commitments. Citizens ask too many questions. But as the corporate and real estate forces of Myrtle Beach learned through years of trial and error and close brushes with the law, citizens can be bought -- or at least compromised. Some of the most compromised are in the General Assembly and other high offices today.
One measure of Myrtle Beach's annual prostitution was the wave of motorcycles which roll into town each May -- two major events, which draw hundreds of thousands of bikers to town with their noise, their filth, their lawlessness, their traffic which makes the Grand Strand unpassable and unlivable for days.
Well, I am happy to report that better people and wiser counsel are available in Charleston. And perhaps a few stars have aligned, as well.
Whatever the cause, the Heritage Motorcycle Rally has been cancelled after five years in the Charleston area. The reason given was the inability of the promoters to get insurance for the event and the reason the insurance dried up was because of the bad behavior associated with past Heritage Rallies. Whatever the explanation, I can only say, "Hallelujah! We are delivered."
On another front, the people out on Isle of Palms are upset about short-term rentals and giant houses being built in their quiet little town. (See story on p. 14.) Nothing can be done to bring back the Isle of Palms that was here 20 years ago, but it is enough to know that the citizens are alert and on guard to protect their town and public officials seem to be listening. If the people of Myrtle Beach had done the same a few decades ago, maybe that town would not be the poster child for bad development that it has become.
Charleston is a mellow place to call home. I have lived in mill towns and in a beachfront motor strip and in several places in between. I have found fault with all of them and I find fault with this town -- because it is in my nature to do so and because my editor gives me the column space each week and a modest remuneration. But let it be recorded that if I were in Heaven, I would be bored out of my mind and complain about the organ music.
So I will remain in this beautiful harbor city, but I will continue to complain -- complain about old attitudes and stupid politicians, which hold us back from our true potential; complain about the broken, cratered streets which jar our bones; complain about rudeness and incompetence and folly; complain, complain, complain ... that's what I am good at. Be warned.