11/12/08: From Charleston to Wilmington to Chapel Hill

A grey and overcast day, although the sun began to come out later in the morning. The hotel staff had recommended a breakfast place called the Bear-E-Patch, so I ate there before I made the rounds of record stores.
Monster Music and Movies is owned by the same Nashville firm that owns Pop Tunes in Memphis, but this store was nearly a block long and full of music. I noticed a new CD from the Numero group that featured the Young Disciples from East St. Louis, a group that had been formed as part of an anti-poverty program in the 1960’s, so I bought that, a new funk compilation from Soul Patrol and the new Mercury Rev CD. The girl that was working at Monster recommended that I head over to the Cat’s Music on Folly Road, but when I got there, they refused the promotional items and told me that they were closing down the store.
After walking around the harbor and taking pictures, I drove out to Loco Record Shop, and then back downtown to King Street, where there were a couple of stores. 52.5 was mostly a rock store, but there were a few jazz and rock items, and down the street was an old and intriguing store called Honest John’s Records and TV Repair. On the shelves were plenty of old LPs and a handful of old 45s, but I didn’t have time to look through them. Instead, wanting coffee, I used my iPhone to locate a place called Kudu Coffee, which was just across from the campus of the College of Charleston. In keeping with the name, the coffee house was decorated with African artifacts and artwork, and the coffee was very good. Driving further south on King, I ultimately came to the Battery, the wooded park at the tip of the peninsula featuring monuments, cannons, statues and stately mansions. Despite the wind, it was warm enough to walk around, and I took a lot of pictures, but it was much later in the day than I had intended, so at 3 PM, I headed across the Septima Clark Bridge onto Highway 17 for the drive to Wilmington.
I had driven this route in reverse a month before, going from Myrtle Beach to Charleston, but today the trip seemed to take forever, made worse by the traffic signals and endless snarls in Myrtle Beach. Once I crossed into North Carolina, I was still much further away from Wilmington than I had imagined, and by the time I arrived there, it was pitch black.
I approached Wilmington with some foreboding. From my reading, Wilmington had always been a place of riots and racial tension, the scene of the Wilmington Ten incident, so I half expected to see an old and decrepit port city of deteriorating buildings and was quite surprised to see the charming downtown with its restored buildings lit up for Christmas. Christmas choral music was drifting across the chilly night air (whether live or a tape I could never determine), and the threat of rain seemed imminent. After leaving some posters at CD Alley, I decided to walk around the corner to Port City Java for some coffee, but across the street I noticed an antiquarian bookshop, so I ducked in there and ended up buying several books about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Then I ran back across to the coffee bar for a latte to go, and then drove eastward from downtown. What my iPhone thought was a record store in a Black neighborhood east of downtown was actually a recording studio, but fortunately, that put me closer to Gravity Records, an indie rock store that nonetheless was thrilled to get some Pastor Troy promotional items. In the store they were playing a disc by a British singer named Richard Hawley, whom I had never heard of, but whose mournful, melodic tunefulness seemed to fit the dark, foggy, chilly night.
The guys at the store warned me that the trip to Raleigh on I-40 would take about 2 hours through rural lands of absolutely nothing, and they weren’t far from right. I was ravenously hungry, but the exits along the way either featured nothing or fast food. Raleigh seemed to be a place of feast or famine, with very expensive upscale restaurants and the usual diners and fast food, but little in-between. A promising-sounding steakhouse proved to be out of business, and another proved to be $30 and up for entrees. Finally, I discovered a mall in Durham where there was a Cheesecake Factory, and I stopped there, but, noticing a Champps Americana across the walkway from the Cheesecake Factory, I decided to eat there, thinking that it would be cheaper than Cheesecake Factory. It wasn’t, and the food, while basically good, didn’t stand out.
After a dessert and coffee at the Cheesecake Factory, I drove another few miles into Chapel Hill, and had no problem finding the Sheraton Hotel. My room proved to be very luxurious indeed, and I went straight to bed.

09/27/08: Ocean Boulevard/SMES Day 2, Myrtle Beach

There had been an afterparty until 2 AM the night before, and I was convinced that people wouldn’t show up for the conference panel I was supposed to speak on at 10 AM, but I was told that it would go on as scheduled, so I decided that there wasn’t time to eat breakfast away from the hotel, and I went into the restaurant there for breakfast instead.
When I got to the conference room, however, I learned that it had been rescheduled for 7 PM, and there were several rap artists there waiting for me who thought it would be held at 10 AM as scheduled. So we held a little panel discussion about distribution in the foyer in front of the ballroom door, and afterwards, I decided to spend some time in the whirlpool. The sun was out, the wind had died down, and the weather was much warmer.
At noon, I drove down to the River City Cafe in Surfside Beach’s little downtown, since I was told that they had the best hamburgers on the beach. The place was crowded and cute, with an upstairs view of the Surfside Beach pier and beaches, but the burgers, which could have been really great, were only mediocre because of a South Carolina law that requires burgers to be cooked to medium well or above. So, needless to say, my burger was grey throughout, and dry as a bone.
Afterwards, I used my iPhone to locate an internet cafe around the corner, where I ordered a latte, and then I headed back to the hotel for the performance showcases. These ran longer than expected, however, and the 7 PM panel didn’t get under way until nearly 9 PM. By the time it ended at 10:15 PM, it was much too late to go to the Crab House at Barefoot Landing, where I had planned on eating dinner. In fact, to my surprise since Myrtle Beach was a resort area, I soon found it was too late to go anywhere at all. Most restaurants closed at 9:30 or 10 PM, even on weekends, I was told, because this was the off-season. I finally found that TGI Friday’s in Murrell’s Inlet was open, so three rap artists that had been at the panel discussion rode with me and we rode down there to eat a late dinner.
Upon our returning, we learned that there had been a fight outside the hotel, but on the hotel grounds, and the Surfside police had been called. Once again, alcohol seemed to be the catalyst, and the individual who had gotten the worst of the incident had threatened to bring a weapon up to the conference and kill the person who had whipped him. After things had calmed down, there were some conference panelists and attendees in the lobby talking about the Obama candidacy and hip-hop versus gangsta rap. But I was tired, so I headed up to the room and to bed.

09/26/08: Myrtle Beach Days/SMES Day 1

When I woke up, everything hurt. Especially my elbow, which had hit the pavement hard when I fell. I managed to get up, get dressed and head out to breakfast at Omega Pancake House, which I had seen the night before as I was going to the hotel. After breakfast, I went back to the hotel and registered for the conference. Since I wasn’t scheduled to speak until Saturday, I spent some time in the whirlpool on the pool deck, and then I walked down onto the beach. There was nobody in the water, and after testing it with my feet, I learned why, because the water was icy cold. I started walking south along the beach, noticing birds and shells as I headed down toward the Days Inn hotel to the south.
The weather was cool, but overcast and quite windy, and I walked back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. I had scouted out a place called the Liberty Brewhouse at Broadway at the Beach. The restaurant was a brewpub featuring steaks, and was owned by T-Bonz out of Augusta, so I figured it would be good. Getting to Broadway at the Beach proved to be more difficult than I had expected, however, since traffic was backed up for miles because of an incident in front of a McDonald’s where a car had struck a child on a bicycle, and everyone was stopping to look as the ambulance was pulling up. Broadway at the Beach proved to be an elaborate outdoor shopping village built around a manmade lagoon full of catfish, other fish and ducks. One of its anchors was a Hard Rock Cafe built in the shape of a pyramid, and there was a Kiss Coffeehouse (the name and logo licensed from the band), a Tripp’s Family Restaurant, a Crab House, a Key West Bar and Grill, and many interesting shops. I decided to walk around a bit before eating dinner, and I walked through nearly all of the facility, stopping in a few shops to look around. In addition to the shops and restaurants, there were entertainment options like Dragon’s Lair goofy golf, and some sort of Adventure Quest laser game, and a theatre. I soon walked right to the Liberty Brewhouse, and, to my surprise, had no trouble getting a seat. The Liberty Brewhouse brewed their own root beer, which was excellent, and the steak and lobster dinner was really good as well.
Afterwards, I stopped into a Kaldi’s Coffee Bar for a latte, and then drove over to Ocean Boulevard, to drive that way along the Grand Strand back to the hotel. The sun was going down red to the southwest, and I stopped to take a number of pictures. When I arrived back at the hotel, showcases were still in progress, with artists performing and being critiqued by some of the panelists. After that, a beat battle and a freestyle battle were held. Unfortunately, liquor was flowing freely from the hotel bar, and a fight was narrowly averted when one young man who had lost in the freestyle battle complained that another man nearby kept staring at him. Altogether, however, day one of the Southern Music and Entertainment Summit went very well.