Monday, January 19, 2015

Nothing in Common Goes South, PArt 2, Day 13, the penultimate day

Years ago we saw a documentary film about a man in South Carolina, who, with no formal training, little money and rejected planted material, created a remarkable topiary garden in his small plot of land.

Now his garden has a dollhouse/public restroom donated by Coca-Cola.

The man is Pearl Fryar and his story is well-told in the documentary and on his website.

When I saw the film and realized that Pearl lives in Bishopville, SC, I thought, Great, next time I am in Spartanburg for a business meeting, I will scoot over to Bishopville and check out this amazing garden. That was before I look at a map of South Carolina and realize that it is 147 miles between the two cities, and driving takes 2 hours 28 minutes, assuming you don’t stop every few minutes to take picture of a Jesus billboard. Which is not a safe assumption, given my lack of resistance to temptation.

We arrive at Bishopville in the evening and, I am sorry to report, eat very badly, and then find a no-tell motel. In the morning we breakfast at Waffle House on the Sumter Highway, and note that it has topiary plants out front. Later we will learn from Pearl that he and the Waffle House have a warm relationship.
You could almost miss Pearl’s garden and house, an ordinary bungalow on a flat suburban cul de sac, until you realize that every bush, every shrub, every tree, every living thing surrounding the house, has been clipped and shaped and molded and created.
We park the car and start wandering around. Pearl soon arrives driving his John Deere golf cart and drinking his Waffle House coffee. Pearl is very chatty. Pearl will tell you his life story, Pearl will sing praises of his employer, Pearl will advertise the American dream, Pearl will promote education, Pearl will wax eloquent about his vision of a garden. We had a great time. Pearl’s garden is worth traveling 147 from Spartanburg or other miles from elsewhere. And if you drive past Watford’s BBQ without stopping, that is fine as well.

One of the shticks of Nothing in Common goes South, in fact the original - the seminal - shtick, was that we were going south so that CSB could go to Nascar races, and I could visit the childhood homes of great American writers. Shall I elaborate all the ways that shtick has become more conceptual than reality? Clearly something has gone awry, because until today we have not seen a single Nascar race, while I have visited the homes of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Thomas Wolfe, Flannery O’Connor, along with their graves.
But that is about to change. Today we are driving along SC-34E and right there is an exit for the Darlington Raceway, situated on the Harry Byrd Highway. CSB is not even excited, which is suspicious. Was the Nascar shtick a ruse all along? And if so, for what?
But I am excited. I have never seen a Nascar racetrack and here it is, fallen across our seatbelts and into our laps. I quickly dash across three lanes and exit.
You can read the history of how Darlington Racetrack was built on cotton and peanut fields, and how Farmer Ramsey’s minnow pond was saved, here.
There is no actual race going on today, but apparently (for a fee) you can get in line and then get a ride around the track in a racecar driven by a race driver. There is not enough Dramamine in the world to make this a good idea.
There are also on display hundreds of lovingly tended vintage cars and their owners, generally less well tended than their vehicles. I am sorry that I neglect to take a picture of the entirely turquoise 1962 Corvette, and when I say entirely I mean the paint, the upholstery, the dashboard, the steering wheel, the knobs, doohickeys, and the hubcaps. It gleams like a gem. It makes me reconsider my lifelong indifference to cars. It would make a believer of anyone.

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