Category Archives: Driveby

Is the number of handicapped spaces proportional?

I often find myself wondering what sorts of formulas are used by the people who lay out parking lots to decide how many spaces to dedicate to handicapped parking. However they do it, they often seem to be wildly off.

For instance, look at these photos I took late last week, in the middle of a weekday, at the Target at Woodhill shopping center. You can see the two views more or less from the same vantage point. In the photo above, I’m looking slightly to my right, toward the store entrance. You see a huge expanse of spaces that are empty, because they are reserved for handicapped parking.

Turn slightly to the left, and you see the tightly packed “regular” parking. (Yes, I was in part motivated to shoot this by the Karmann Ghia in the foreground — I love those cars.)

Something seems off, although it probably isn’t.

I say it probably isn’t because, if I backed away and took a picture of the whole parking lot, the number of “regular” spaces would be proportional to the handicapped — and if, say around Christmas, the whole lot were nearly full, so would be the handicapped spaces. But it seems to the casual observer, day to day, like the number of handicapped spaces are disproportional in relation to the demand.

I worry a bit that the fact that it seems disproportional could undermine public support for handicapped spaces in general, since folks so often find themselves walking past so very many empty ones.

Maybe there would be a way to shift the number of dedicated handicapped spaces according to the demand at different times, the way some cities change the direction of some lanes according to which way rush hour traffic is going.

Or maybe, just maybe, those of us who have two good legs and relatively good health should shut up and walk the few extra yards without complaining. If for no better reason, because it helps to keep us healthy …

Some views of the Moore School that is to be

This is a story from the “drive-by” beat that I always wanted The State to create, but it never did. The idea would have been to satisfy people’s curiosity about things they drive by every day and wonder about. Today, we answer the question of, “What’s that thing coming out of that hole in the ground next to the Carolina Coliseum?”

That was the subject of Hildy Teegen’s talk today to the Columbia Rotary Club. (Disclosure, to the extent that it means anything: I invited Hildy to speak to the club, and introduced her.)

Speaking to Rotary. That's Club President J.T. Gandolfo in the foreground.

It’s the new Moore School of Business, of which Dr. Teegen is the dean. It’s intended, among other things, as the gateway to the Innovista, and should go a long way toward helping people understand that Innovista is NOT those two buildings everybody keeps obsessing over, but will constitute a transformation for that whole underdeveloped urban expanse from this location down to the river.

Innovista is conceived around the “live, work, play” concept, and the new Moore school has been designed to complement that. The key word Hildy keeps using to describe it is “permeable.” That goes from the literal sense of the rooftop garden, to the fact that it will be open to the whole community 24/7. In fact, she pointed out, it is architecturally impossible to close off the building.

One of the goals is for the building to achieve “net-zero” status, meaning its energy and carbon impact on the surrounding community will be nonexistent.

The building, which is to be completed in December 2013, will house the nation’s No. 1 international business master’s program and all of the school’s other business education programs — such as the night school that has just entered the top 25 in the U.S — except, of course the multiple distance-learning opportunities the school offers across SC and in Charlotte.

You can see the entire PowerPoint presentation here. And here are some pictures:

So is fishin’. And eatin’. And watchin’ TV…

This morning, I saw something that made me feel good, in advance, about any tag lines or campaign themes I might come up with for ADCO this week.

“Huntin’ is good!” it insisted. Not just hunting, but huntin’, which I suppose is meant to convey a certain deep and informal intimacy with this particular activity.

What really grabbed me was the registered trademark symbol, which seemed to assume that this phrase was just so darned clever that it was inevitable that some unscrupulous varmint would be tempted to try to steal it…

But I declare, I don’t believe I’ve ever run across anything as vanilla as that in my life. There was no indication why huntin’ was good, or why anyone might think it wasn’t. It didn’t say it was particularly good in this or that locality, or at any particular time. Nor did it bother to reach for any adjective more descriptive or precise or evocative than good.

It was a marvel, and I had to look it up on my phone during the morning meeting at work. That’s where I found this website, huntinisgood.com, which offers all sorts of merchandise, such as the very decal I had seen.

The website seems dedicated to perpetuating the art or hobby or whatever of hunting at a time when the number of hunters is dwindling in our once rugged, intrepid nation of pioneers. I had known that. I had read before about how the industry was worried about how few children of hunters were taking up their forefathers’ outdoorsiness, and how marketers were trying to entice the kids, as well as women, to the pasttime with such innovations as pink rifles.

But I had never seen such a full litany of threats to hunting as what were detailed on this site:

Hunting Industry Under Attack

Tracking Down An Industry-Wide Problem. Across the United States, and for well over three decades, the population of hunters in our country has been on the decline. Since 1975 alone, the number of hunters in the field has been reduced by over one third.

Since the issue of attrition within the hunting community has only recently become a cause for serious concern, usable research is still limited. But just as writers, industry experts and retailers all speculate on the causes, we have developed our own list of suspects which have created a negative impact on the hunting culture.

Erosion Of The Family Unit. With divorce rates and single parent families on the rise, the number of Dads and Grandfathers in a position to mentor our youth, and pass on an appreciation for the hunting culture, are dwindling fast.

The Anti-Hunting Community. Highly organized, with seemingly unlimited budgets, their goal, simply put, is the elimination of the hunting industry.

The Lure Of Technology. These days, our children are “jacked-in” to video games, hunting only in Cyber Space. They’ve become masters of Wi-Fi and pixels, not the way of the woods.

Industry Fragmentation. We have evolved into a highly fragmented industry… bow hunters, turkey hunters, rifle hunters, safari hunters, duck hunters, muzzle-loaders, gator hunters, low-fence, no-fence, high-fence… it’s all become a lot of nonsense!

One thing we can all agree on 100% is that:
Huntin’ Is Good!®

The day is fast approaching when we all must decide a course of action, or face the reality that our industry, and the way of life it represents, may become extinct.

It’s time we draw the line! The Hunting Tradition, and its’ Way of Life, needs your help! Please wear your HIG gear soon and often. This will let other’s know, what you already know, Huntin’ Is Good!

Whoa. Huntin’ may or may not be good — I’m neutral on that point — but it certainly seems endangered. Either that, or paranoid. (Of course, if some outfit as ominously named as the Anti-Hunting Community got after you, you’d be paranoid, too!)

I’ve never gotten into it myself. I like to go out shooting now and then with my uncle in Bennettsville, who does hunt, but I prefer to shoot at tin cans and pine cones to living things. On account of the fact that pine cones don’t have to be skinned and dressed and butchered and put up in some freezer bigger than the one I have at home. They’re just a lot less trouble.

The Guys gird themselves for battle. Or something.

You ever watch people in a public place doing something fairly ordinary, but there’s something about it that makes it interesting, and you’d like to ask them what’s up, but the normal social threshold for doing so just isn’t quite there, and you’d sound sort of loony asking? You know, people you see and without being able to help yourself, starting making up a story about, for no particular reason?

It happens to me a lot. But I’m easily distracted.

One recent morning, I was coming down the steps in the city garage behind the Capitol Center (yep, I’d been to breakfast at Cap City), and as I passed one of those glassless windows in the concrete — between the 2nd and 1st floors, it was — I saw five guys standing lined up with their backs to me in the median of Assembly. They were in dress shirts and pants, but no coats yet. They were standing alongside two SUVs, standing so close to the tinted windows that their noses couldn’t be a foot away. All in the same attitude. It was like a drill team or something, and this was their routine. I half expected each of them to hold an arm out to the side to dress the line.

I kept descending the steps, and by the time I passed the next window, I realized they were putting on, or adjusting, ties. They were making quite a production of it. I was next put in mind of a group of commandos in an action thriller — you know, the guys who, after they’ve slipped in past security, reach into their duffels and, all together, in practiced motions, pull out black coveralls and automatic weapons. (Forgive me; I’ve recently watched the whole “Die Hard” series while working out at home. There’s a scene like that in every one of those. See the video below.)

By the time I’d reached the street, they were pulling on suit coats, very deliberately and seriously. In all this process, there had been nothing of preening; they were too sober about it. Deadly serious. They were girding themselves, preparing for… I don’t know what. Something they had trained for, seemingly. The two younger guys closest to me looked like athletes. And the older, beefier guys could have been ex-athletes. Or soldiers. Or cops. Putting on suits didn’t look like an everyday thing to them, although when they were done they were the essence of business propriety.

I didn’t notice any of them talking to each other as they started walking together along the median. They were just… moving out. Again, like they’d rehearsed this.

Sorry that I hadn’t taken a picture from the stairwell when I’d first noticed them lined up, looking at themselves in the SUV windows (if you’d seen that, you’d know why they seemed out of the ordinary), I shot a picture of them crossing Assembly after I stopped at the light there. I had to stop again at the light at Main and Gervais. By that time, they were crossing the street in front of me, headed for the State House.

All that time, they had walked down the street with the air of the Earps and Doc Holliday heading for the O.K. Corral. Not talking at all, that I could see.

Initially I had thought they were headed for some serious business meeting in the Capitol Center (the old AT&T building), maybe at the state Commerce Department, or one of the law firms in the building. “Business” in the sense that Beaver Cleaver used it: They were gonna give somebody “the business.” Lay down the law, as Dad did when Wally or the Beav got out of hand.

But when I saw them headed for the State House, I decided they were either representing a police association that was lobbying lawmakers about some kind of law enforcement legislation, or one or more of them (or maybe a fallen comrade) was about to be honored by a resolution of the General Assembly.

But really, I have no idea. I just knew there was some kind of Serious Guy Business going down. And these guys had dressed for the occasion, right there on the street, in unison.

Even superheroes slip up now and then

I met a superhero over the weekend.

Not the kind in “The Avengers,” as enjoyable as that entertainment was (I actually saw it that first huge weekend, which is unusual for me). More like…  did you see “Unbreakable,” about a very ordinary guy who gradually comes to  realize he is invulnerable (except to water) and far stronger than a normal man?

More like that.

We had an eventful weekend. My little grandson had to go into the hospital on Friday night. He had a virus that his sister and cousins had been passing around, with fever, and because he was only three weeks old, they put him in Children’s Hospital and did a spinal tap on him. I would have thought that excessive, except his father, my elder son, actually had meningitis when he was only two weeks old, and it was caught just in time.

The good news, the wonderful news, is that he’s OK (except for a temp slightly over normal) and is home  now.

Anyway, Saturday, we were visiting him, and when we got out to the car, it had a flat. I got out all the gear to change it, including one of those ridiculous little dogleg tire irons that never work. And true to form, this one did not. Oh, I got three of the lug nuts off, by standing on it to loosen them. But by then the too-soft metal at the fitting had bent, and it wouldn’t grip the remaining nuts.

So we called the roadside assist number on our insurance card, and waited.

After awhile a man parked next to us in a plain dark-blue pickup. No markings, and certainly not the wrecker we had expected. Very unassuming vehicle — a secret identity pickup truck, if you will.

Out of it got an ordinary, unassuming man in regular streetclothes. He looked sort of like Reginald VelJohnson, the actor known from “Family Matters” (the guy whose life Steve Urkel made miserable) and the first “Die Hard.” No uniform or coveralls or anything. It was when we saw him open his tailgate and start putting on kneepads — serious kneepads, like the ones that the Delta team wore in “Black Hack Down” — that we asked, “Are you here for us?”

Yes, as it happens, he was.

We showed him the tire. I showed him the useless, bent tire iron.

He reached into his unassuming pickup, and revealed his super power. It was … having exactly the right tool for the given situation!

He pulled out a heavy, 25-inch socket wrench with a 3/4-inch drive mounted on its rotating 1/2-inch drive. It gripped the nut tightly enough, and provided sufficient leverage, that it was easy to remove the nuts even one-handed. Like butter. Or like Superman, depending on your preferred metaphor. (I went out the next day and purchased one exactly like it. I works beautifully. Why, oh why, don’t cars come with these, instead of those useless little junior crowbars?)

Oh, but you say, any ordinary mortal could  have the right tool once, in a given situation. But he went on to show that this was no fluke. We were wondering how we were going to get that tire repaired over the weekend, when the man said he could do it right there.

He opened his hood, and used jumper cables to power a small air compressor he had in the truck bed. He had the hole from a broken-off screw plugged in a couple of minutes, and slapped the tire back on. Then, he drove off into the streets of Columbia as quickly as he’d come.

The perfect wrench was one thing. The MacGyver-like rig to repair the tire was something else. I resolved that I wanted to be this guy when I grew up.

This is the kind of superhero the world needs, and I was glad to have met him.

Unfortunately, there is a postscript.

With the baby getting out of the hospital this morning, we headed to the beach. At a stop to walk the dog, my wife noticed a bubble popping out of the side of that same tire.

I checked it with a gauge, and it had 40 pounds of pressure in it, instead of the usual 30 or so. I let some air out, and we drove to a tire place (fortunately, in my iPhone I have a computer of comparable power to the one Superman had in the Fortress of Solitude, and found the biggest tire place in Aynor was 1.4 miles away). We had a new tire in about 40 minutes.

Superheroes aren’t perfect. Sometimes, in the midst of struggling against supervillains, or merely life’s pedestrian vicissitudes, they forget a key step. In this case, checking the pressure before putting the tire back on.

As Uncle Ben put it so well: With great power comes great responsibility.

How’s your Confederate Memorial Day going?

Stream of consciousness this morning…

I got a bit of a late start and didn’t get to the Capital City Club for breakfast until after 9. I had been struck, when I parked my truck on the southbound side of the Assembly median between Lady and Gervais, that there wasn’t a single other vehicle parked on the block. Many days, you can’t get a space.

Forty minutes later exactly, I come out and my truck is still completely alone. What causes such fluctuations in the demand for parking in that area? No idea…

NPR comes on as I crank up the truck. As I move toward Gervais and prepare to turn left, author John Irving is being interviewed. This prompts thoughts about why he’s so celebrated. I read a review in the WSJ of his latest, and saw nothing that made me want to read it. At the insistence of a friend (who was sure I would love it) years and years ago, I tried to read A Prayer for Owen Meany. Distaste caused me to quit after the first chapter, much as I did with Conroy’s Prince of Tides. (I have a strong negative reaction to novels that start out heaping horrific personal misfortune on the central characters — I mean, come on; gimme a chance to get used to who they are first.)

Turns out that — possibly because his latest is about a sexual omnivore; at least they seem to be relating the question to that — he’s being asked about Obama endorsing the idea of same-sex “marriage.” Great. KulturkampfYesterday’s post was enough time spent on that for me. With an air of weariness, I change to Steve FM.

Just as I do so, into my view come two jokers dressed up in butternut imitation uniforms, standing at attention in front of the Confederate soldier monument. Aw, gee, not… yes. It’s Confederate Memorial Day.

I would say, “Get over it!” But what would be the point? South Carolina is so not over it that this is an actual state holiday. Really. In fact, this observance should have been on the front page of The State this morning, right next to the Obama gay-marriage thing, to remind us all where our state leaders’ priorities lay. But I had to be told about it by these guys.

So now I know why there was a whole block of empty parking spaces.

It’s a good thing I got some good personal news this morning (my mother, who is in the hospital, is doing better). Otherwise, the day would be starting out feeling rather hopeless.

In South Carolina, we can’t get our stuff together on anything that would actually advance our state and make the lives of its citizens better. Everything that might move us forward languishes, year after year. But we can decide to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, yet again. Because that does everyone so much good, you know.

Here I would type “sigh,” but that wouldn’t express the weariness that I feel.

Maybe I’m just missing the purpose…

Speaking of Twitter, here’s something I sent out yesterday…

It’s a conundrum.

Is the purpose to help the planet, or to save gas? Either way, a hybrid something else would get the job done better. I mean, why buy a Tahoe, and then spend extra to make it a hybrid (I’m assuming, perhaps erroneously, that the hybrids cost more).

Or is it just to send a message to the world: I care about the planet, I really do! I just can’t help myself — I gotta drive a dreadnought through the city streets!

Or is it something else? Such as sheer irony?

No profanity in the city’s parks? What the…?!?

Bryan Cox, former news director at WACH-Fox, brings this to my attention. That’s Bryan in the picture, holding the “COCKS” photograph.

Here’s Bryan’s commentary on the matter:

Hey Brad,

These pics were taken Sunday at Sims Park in Shandon. The Columbia police department announced anti-profanity signs were going up via a Facebook post on Wednesday.

See that post here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=288864641151114&set=a.182579751779604.32971.182562865114626&type=1&theater

This announcement sparked some local media coverage; none of which I saw took a hard look at whether this is legal. The city ordinances cited on the sign are 14-91 (disorderly conduct) and 15-1 (rules of a park).

The SC Supreme Court has ruled at least twice that profanity alone is not grounds for arrest. See: State v Pittman (2000) and State v Perkins (1991). The court has since ruled for profanity to be illegal it must have been accompanied with “fighting words” that could reasonably incite violence. For example, (my understanding of the case law, not an actual example given by the court) cursing at a man’s wife in public likely would not be protected speech as it could reasonably incite a fight with the man. However; simply cursing in front of the man and his wife in public is protected speech.

Aside from contradicting South Carolina law, the city claim runs contrary to other states’ recent action on the issue.

North Carolina Superior Court struck down that state’s anti-profanity law in January on free speech grounds. Here’s a link: http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/state-s-anti-profanity-law-unconstitutional-rules-superior-court-judge

Chicago suburb Park Ridge repealed its anti-profanity law in October. In this article the city police chief is quoted as saying the law likely was unconstitutional: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/05/park-ridge-repeals-anti-s_n_995899.html

Obviously I’m not an attorney. However; it seems clear the city knows, or should know, this isn’t enforceable and is spending taxpayer money on signs threatening to arrest citizens for actions that are legal.

It’s also worth noting I posted my photo as a comment on the city’s Facebook page Sunday afternoon, and it was quickly deleted by the department. Apparently, in addition to arresting citizens for crimes that don’t exist the department wants to censor those who dispel this misinformation.

Thanks for taking interest in this. Bryan

Well, of course I’m going to take an interest. You hold up a picture of a pretty young woman holding a sign saying, “COCKS,” it gets my attention.

But I think Bryan’s missing something here: I think that in the Midlands, anything having to do with the Gamecocks or anything that takes place at the Grid Temple takes on religious overtones. Just as we are enjoined against coveting our “neighbor’s ass” in Exodus 20:17, there are words that are OK in a certain context (as long as they refer, in this case, to a donkey). I think in the Grid Temple Bible, there’s probably something about, “Thou shalt have no gods before thy Gamecocks,” or some such.

Anyway, to be serious, I have to say that while Bryan may be on firm legal ground here, my sympathy lies with anyone trying to make our public spaces less coarse. I don’t think we, or our children, or our wives, or our innocent asses, for that matter, should have to be subjected to the kind of filthy that is routine poured forth in loud voices in our parks and elsewhere.

So I’d give our local cops an A for effort, even if they do get slapped down. And don’t quote the First Amendment at me. No rational person believes that the Founders meant that Congress shall make no law abridging F-bombs in public.

Before you fill up, here are a few safety tips…

When I was leaving the Marionette Theatre the other day, I decided to swing by Columbia’s Hydrogen Fueling Station, since I was close by and had never seen it before.

The good  news was that, had I been driving a hydrogen car, there would have been no waiting.

The bad news was the really scary series of warnings posted at eye level.

But then I got to thinking — such warnings would have been a good idea at the very first gasoline fueling station in a community, back in the days when folks weren’t accustomed to working with that extremely volatile substance.

Come to think of it, we DO have such warnings at gasoline stations — along with those that tell us not to operate our cellphones, and to place a container on the ground before pumping into it. We just tend not to notice them any more.

There’s a tradeoff with so many things that pack a lot of energy — gasoline, hydrogen, coal, nuclear. Once you get the economics to work — which tends to be tougher with the lower-risk sources such as wind and solar — it becomes a matter a matter of engineering things to minimize risk. Or so it seems to my nonexpert mind.

I’m seeing inspiration for yet another really tacky Christmas song here

An alert source whom I shall keep anonymous shared this with me via email over the weekend. I wrote back to ask, “Is this a real Santa, or a mannequin?” and I was assured it was a real guy. My source was NOT going into the club in the picture, but was attending to important business across the street at the Central Midlands Council of Governments. Or so my source says, and I believe my source.

There’s a really tacky Christmas song in this somewhere. Something like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” or “Santa, Baby.” Something really, really not in the spirit. Something like the thing I heard this morning for the first, and I hope, the last, time, which I think is called “Gonna Get Drunk, Drunk, Drunk on Christmas.”

Occupy Columbia almost make me have a wreck

Just a little while ago — within the past hour, as I type this — I nearly got hit by a van at the intersection of Lady and Sumter.

Why did that happen? Because the driver of the other vehicle was too busy gawking at the Occupy Columbia demonstrators who were chanting, and creating as much of a distraction as they could, on the northeast corner of the intersection.

The light was green, but he hit his brakes as he got to the intersection. I went to go around him, and he started to roll forward without his eyes on the road, and wandered over into my lane.

That reminded me of something.

This morning (see the lousy photo above), one of the OC demonstrators was holding a homemade sign out before him into the right-hand lane of traffic, in front of the State House right where Main runs into Gervais. I’m supposing he backed off as the traffic started; I was too busy watching where I was going to testify on that.

Anyway, since  some of my friends here wonder what possible harm causing a commotion out on the street could cause — well, this is one kind. I don’t think that’s the intention of any of these kids. But to use a badly overworked cliche, I’m just sayin’…

Beware the tidal wave of protest as the Mighty Left of SC rises up!

In case you're having trouble spotting the demonstration, it's just below and slightly to the right of the traffic lights.

Last evening, rushing to get to The Whig, I glanced across the street and saw the above demonstration. At least, I think that’s what it was. There was a sign, although the guy holding it never turned it so it could be seen. I didn’t have time to run across the street and ask, but I wondered at the time: Is this Occupy Columbia?

Apparently not. Apparently the Days of Rage don’t start until Saturday:

An offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protest phenomenon will stage a gathering Saturday at 9 a.m. on State House grounds.

“Occupy Columbia” is hoping to attract 200 people and grow in number from there, one organizer, Travis Bland, said.

Saturday’s event will be held on the same day as “Occupy” protests and gatherings around the state and world, said Bland, a 2010 graduate of the University of South Carolina with a degree in history.

“We were inspired by the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement,” Bland said…

I keep waiting for the moment when these folks wake up and realize, Oh, wait! This isn’t Egypt! There’s no police state, no Mubarak, no repression! This is the premier liberal democracy in the world, and it’s headed by Barack Obama! Never mind…

Until then, you might not want to drive near downtown on Saturday, because the streets will be clogged. Of course, that’s more likely to be because of the State Fair.

But you never know…

New drivethru at Florence Starbucks

OK, not really, and in fact, at least one person appears to have been injured. So it’s no joke. But the truth was, that headline was, I must admit, my first thought when I beheld the scene. Or rather, my second. My first was, “Someone was even more anxious for a cup of coffee than I was.”

This morning, I was heading back to Columbia from Florence (after participating in a symposium at Francis Marion University last night), and debating whether I should stop for a Starbucks on my way out of town. Why the debate? Well, I’d just had two-and-a-half cups of coffee at breakfast.

Of course, I decided in favor of all that is right and good. But as I turned in, I saw that all was not as it should be. There was a firetruck blocking my view of the shop, and all the baristas were standing around outside. Which was not good, because if they’re standing around outside, how are they going to serve me coffee?

I parked, got out and approached, and saw the above. The third- or fourth-hand story I got from one of the baristas was that a woman was trying to park and her brakes failed. Or she hit the wrong pedal. Or something. I looked at the curb she would have had to jump, and decided it was probably “or something.” (It turns out the driver was complaining of chest pains.)

I didn’t bother any of the police officers standing in a clump at the other end of the firetruck, because they were busy standing there staring, talking in murmurs, and waiting for something. Besides, I had to get on the road. Which I did, after Tweeting out the above picture.

I stopped again shortly thereafter, and saw that the FloMo had this report:

FLORENCE, S.C. –A Nissan Altima crashed into the drive-thru Starbucks at Five Points in Florence.

According to emergency responders, the undentified female driver was complaining of chest pains before and after the accident. Although she showed no signs of cardiac problems, she self-administered nitroglycerin medication as a precaution.

The driver was then taken to the hospital to assess her injuries.

An unidentified female customer also sustained minor injuries when she was struck by both the car and debris from the accident. She was able to transport herself to the hospital.

The Starbucks is closed until further notice.

So no joke, and I hope everyone will be OK. And that there will be coffee next time I go there.

Portrait of America on the 10th anniversary

OK, so I shot this on the day before 9/11/11, and I’m posting in on the day after, but I think it still works. I’m thinking this view of Charleston was pretty similar on Sunday.

This was something I shot spontaneously while waiting for traffic to move, coming out of a side street onto King Street in the Holy City on Saturday afternoon. I didn’t think much about it at the time. The image just seemed worth grabbing.

Not until late last night did I happen to see it on my phone, and really like it. I tried to post it then, while it was still 9/11, but I had trouble with my Internet connection. Eventually I went to bed.

But here it is now. How does it strike you? (Try clicking on it to blow it up and get the full effect of the blue and the gleaming buildings and the flag setting them off.)

What in the world are these things?

Went to Greenville over the weekend, and was puzzled the whole way by these things, which were spaced more or less 100 yards apart all along the median of I-26.

I have no idea what they are. They appear to be covered in some sort of synthetic fiber, but moving at 65-70 mph, it was hard to tell. (And no, I was not driving. It was hard enough capturing one of these in a frame on my iPhone as we whizzed by even as a passenger. It took a bunch of exposures to get one as clear as the one above. The blurry one below was second best.) I could not tell whether they were solid — made, say, of concrete — or mere covered frameworks. There may or may not have been gravel about the base.

They were four or five feet in diameter.

Drains of some sort? Shock-absorbing barriers for cars that wander into the median? UFOs? I don’t know. If they are drains, they seem … excessive. Like maybe DOT had some stimulus money it didn’t know what to do with.

Anyway, can anyone tell me the correct answer?

Freedom, man. Just freedom…

Thought I’d share this with you. Saw this dude going east on Gervais today.

Figured he was making some sort of a statement. Thought I’d amplify it for him. Not sure what it is, but I figure it’s just, “Freedom.” So, to all my libertarian friends — don’t say I never gave you anything.

As Jack Nicholson said in “Easy Rider,” “They’ll talk to ya and talk to ya and talk to ya about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ‘em.”

Speaking of that movie, I called this guy a “dude” above. Here’s the definition, as given by Captain America: “Dude means nice guy. Dude means a regular sort of person.”

Dude.

The terrible, awful, horrible day that the VAT went up

So maybe you didn’t feel it where you are, but today was the day — and they’ve been building up to it for the whole week that we’ve been in the UK, with sales urging people to come out and buy before it happened — that the VAT went up from 17.5 percent to 20 percent.

Guess what — I didn’t feel it, either.

There are several things that it’s taken some time to get used to here in the UK:

  • People driving on the left. This is maddening when you’re riding in a bus. And I’ve almost been hit from behind by buses several times walking along a road too close to the curb, with the road on my right (you expect to see traffic oncoming, but it sneaks up behind you — and is really close, because the lanes are so narrow).
  • The fact that tips aren’t expected. We made friends with a barman from Sri Lanka in Greenwich (a really nice guy), and he explained that they don’t get tips. We left him one anyway. But it’s really weird to leave, say, 15 quid for a bill of 12 pounds 52 pence, and have the server chase you out of the place trying to give you change. It happens time and again.
  • The fact that you NEVER feel the tax, no matter how high it is. That’s because it’s built into the price of the things you buy. If something is listed as 99p, and you give the clerk a pound coin (and why is it we haven’t had a dollar coin, or two or three dollar coin, catch on in this country? they’re so convenient), you get back a penny.
  • The fact that I’m in a country where the conservative party is raising taxes (OK, technically it’s a coalition government), and the dominant party of the left (Labour) is griping about what a terrible burden taxes are on ordinary families.

But both The Times and The Guardian are going on about this big, monstrous, huge increase. To which I say, who crosses the street to get a 2.5 percent discount on anything? I mean, really? This increase would amount to 25 p on 10 pounds. Or say you spend a thousand pounds on something — which is a lot more than a thousand dollars, mind — what’s the increase in tax? Twenty-five pounds. Like you’re going to worry about that if you can afford a thousand. (Oh, and by the way — that 600 pounds a family The Times predicts is on families that make 70,000 pounds or more. The burden is much less on median incomes.)

All that aside, the most amazing thing, the thing hardest to get used to, is that I’m in a country where the government has decided to deal with the deficit by — now get this — cutting spending and raising taxes. Of course, back home, the recent huge compromise between President Obama and the Republicans was to raise spending and lower taxes. That’s how we deal with deficits in the U.S. of A.

Riding through London on the magnificent Tube — which as far as I’m concerned is one of the marvels of the world, a testament to the ingenuity of Man — and asking directions from the helpful bobbies (“just 200 metres more on your roight, mate”), reading the extremely clear directions on where the buses that come every few minutes go, or going to the fantastic museums and paying nothing (except a few pounds voluntary contribution now and then), I personally feel that the tax I’m paying is one of the great bargains of all time.

And I’m wondering how well I’ll adjust when I get back home to a place where folks don’t want the gummint doing anything, ever, if it’s going to cost a penny more…

No, folks, I’m not a convert to socialism. I worry about the burdens of the welfare state, and I know that increasing taxes too much can have a nasty cooling effect on growth. But I have enjoyed some amenities here that seem more than worth the taxes I’ve paid here. All I’m saying.

See you — I’m off to England

Or not. They just announced a “maintenance problem” on our aircraft. To be fixed in a “coupla minutes.” We’ll see. But it just gives me time to dash off this note.

So I think we’re ready. Some last observations before leaving:

  • One reason I didn’t post yesterday was that I had some last-minute shopping to do, such as for a carry-on bag that will also hold my laptop. And I have this question:  What happened to the day after Christmas, which is supposed to be one of the biggest shopping days of the year? I went to WalMart and out to Harbison, and did not run into crowds anywhere. WalMart had several registers given over to “returns,” but there was no one lined up at them. And the “crowd” in the store might have been a midyear weekday. And after they pushed so hard to get rid of the blue law. Harbison was practically deserted — I got around MUCH more easily than on a typical weekend. So what happened? Did that uptick in consumer spending just crash, or were they waiting until today? Surely it wasn’t that little bit of snow, none of which was on the roads…
  • Speaking of Boxing Day — here’s hoping the London Tube workers got their little strike out of their system yesterday. What worries me is that the Boxing Day holiday is actually on Tuesday this year. Here’s hoping some of the workers didn’t think that was the day, since that’s the day I arrive. If I have trouble getting around London because of labour unrest, I’m voting Tory next time. Strikes? That’s SO Old Labour. It’s like they never heard of Tony Blair or something…
  • By the way, I’m totally set for thoroughly embarrassing my wife on this trip. When she saw me last night proudly showing off my new travel vest with all the pockets stuffed, she laughed uncontrollably. Then she seized control of my bulging wallet and forced me to give up most of the cards that I “wouldn’t need,’ in her opinion. She did let me keep the one with the Our Father in Spanish on it. Good thing she’s Catholic….
  • Speaking of embarrassing my wife — in spite of Kathryn Fenner’s urging, I’ve decided NOT to put on phony British accents wherever I go. After all, I’d probably use the wrong one in the wrong place — go all posh in a working-class pub or something — and get into trouble. No, I have a better plan: I’ll pass myself off as Irish…
  • It’s totally amazing that we didn’t have any trouble checking in at CAE, the way those things were stuffed. But I did have a spot of passport trouble. It wouldn’t scan, so they had to handle in manually. Here’s hoping I don’t have that trouble everywhere. Maybe I should have brought one of the others from the safe deposit box. The Bourne one, maybe…

I will check in with y’all as soon as I’m settled at the hotel. Assuming the laptop works there.

When you see this sign, drive fast. Drive very, very fast…

The lt. gov. with his mother and sister at the dedication ceremony Dec. 21.

How did I miss this? Earlier this week, the humongous interchange where I-77 runs into I-26 was named the “Lt. Governor-Senator André Bauer Interchange.” Which is a mouthful. Not sure I’ve ever seen that construction — “Lt. Governor-Senator.” Kind of like “singer/songwriter,” I guess…

I suppose this was the best parting gift Jake and them could think up, but it really seems like it would have been more appropriate to give André, I don’t know, a plaque, or a toaster, or a pair of socks.

Anything but a public road, seeing as how he is so famous for tearing up such roads. We’re talking about the guy who:

  • When stopped speeding down Assembly Street, charged so aggressively at the cop that he felt threatened enough to draw his weapon.
  • When driving 101 mph on a wet highway, got on the police radio frequency to tell the patrolman pursuing him that “SC2″ was “passing through,” and when he was stopped anyway, asked, “Did you not hear me on the radio?”
  • Lied to reporters about that incident, then said he “forgot” about it when confronted with the evidence.

City doing what it has to do on buses

Yesterday I had breakfast with Joel Lourie over at the Lizard’s Thicket on Forest, and as we were chatting he was accosted by a constituent who didn’t like what he’d halfway heard Joel saying about the need for more moderates in the Legislature. He proceeded to lecture Joel on why voters are more and more “conservative” these days. Mainly, it had to do with spending.

But the thing that jumped out at me was the local example he used. After excoriating the effort to raise the sales tax to pay for transportation needs, he said, flat out, “We don’t need buses.” He said it like public transit was just the stupidest, most wasteful idea he had ever heard of.

The conversation ended pleasantly, as Joel listened politely and declined to engage the voter on the more incendiary things he said. (After many years of dealing with angry readers, I can testify that’s a good formula for ending conversations better than they started — look for areas of agreement, look for opportunities to explain your own position better, but mainly allow the frustration to be vented. Most people just want to be heard, and don’t have the same opportunities to make that happen that politicians and journalists do.)

But I thought back to it later in the day. Brian Murrell of ADCO and I went to get some lunch at Greek Boys, and had to park almost a block away north on Sumter. As we walked past the bus stop at Sumter and Hampton in the bitter cold, we passed a guy — probably a patient from Palmetto Health Baptist across the street — standing with a walker waiting for the bus.

We had a nice, warm lunch inside — I had the beef tips over rice with greek salad (minus the feta). It didn’t take all that long — service is fast there — but we weren’t in a hurry, either. We took time to chat with Butch Bowers and Todd Carroll from Hall Bowers over at the next table. Call it 30 minutes, maybe 40.

Then we bundled back up and headed back into the bluster. And as we passed the bus stop, there was that same guy with the walker, still waiting. He had to be chilled right through his bones.

At that moment, I wish that voter from Lizard’s Thicket that morning had been there to tell THAT guy we don’t need buses.

All of which is a long way of getting to the point that Columbia City Council is simply doing what has to be done by coming up for different revenue source for the bus system, for now. Read about that here.

What we should have done was pass the sales tax. But since we didn’t, the city’s got to do something (and so will the county). So that, so far, is what it’s doing.