Arizona · Charleston · Restaurants in AZ

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen: Bayou Cookin’ in Phoenix

Did you know Red Lobster is dangerous? Yeah. Me neither. Here’s how it happened. Right before Christmas, I ran in to the nearest Red Lobster to buy a gift card for Jake’s grandpa. I thought it would be a simple task, but when I walked in and smelled seafood I got sick to my stomach.

At my first oyster roast on Sullivan's Island in South Carolina. Love.
Not because I don’t like seafood. I love seafood. This was something else. This was something I didn’t even realize I missed, and that “something” was Charleston, South Carolina. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t miss the person I was in Charleston. I don’t miss the dating scene in Charleston. I don’t miss humidity, but I do miss oysters from Charleston. I miss the ambience of gas-lamp-lit streets at night and cobblestone pathways. I miss the way every restaurant in Charleston smells like seafood and how you can sit on Shem Creek and have a beer while watching shrimp boats unload their bounty.

This realization, while standing in Red Lobster, was enough to make me sit at the bar and take deep breaths. I got all emotional! I know, me? Emotional? Unbelievable right? Ha. But seriously, when I got back to my car, I felt all shaky and desperate to be back in Charleston if only for a day.

I told Jake about it that night—the way the smell of a seafood restaurant had cast me back to 2008 and Charleston, the Most Beautiful City on Earth. Then, last weekend, Jake suggested we go on a date, but he wouldn’t tell me where we were going. First, we sat outside on the porch and drank Corona. No, it wasn’t because I particularly like Corona. It was because drinking Corona outside while watching a sunset reminded me of being in Charleston, where I did stuff like that all the time. We set off on our surprise date soon after, and what a surprise it was when Jake pulled into the parking lot of a mysterious restaurant called “Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen.” And what bliss when I walked in to the smell of seafood!

I can’t describe the joy. A wave of ecstatic enthusiasm washed over me like Atlantic Ocean foam. I could barely refrain from running up to the bar and shouting, “Oyster shooters! NOW! … And where are your raw oysters from? Galveston? Sure! I’ll take a dozen! …. You make a good Bloody Mary? Sure! Two of them! HOORAH!”

The place was packed, which is always a good sign. It was filled to exploding with a completely mixed demographic, which makes me truly believe that no one is immune to creatures of the sea. The wait staff was pleasant, funny, and accommodating. The oyster shooters weren’t as good as the ones on East Bay in Charleston, but nothing is perfect. The raw oysters themselves—served with rockin’ fresh horseradish—were practically orgasmic. I did my best to subdue my obnoxious moans of enjoyment, but I couldn’t help it. It had been months since my last raw oyster, and girlfriend has an addiction. The seared scallops were a little salty, but I ate every last one. Jake and I both cleaned our plates; we were so full, we barely made it home before we both fell asleep.

If you like seafood and you find yourself living in a land-locked state called Arizona, you have to try Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. It’s like a pool of warm ocean water in the middle of the desert. It’ll bring back memories you never knew you had, and for a moment, you can pretend you’re sitting on a beach at dusk, watching Southern boys shuck oysters into ice-filled buckets.

Pappadeaux's back patio in Phoenix. Did I mention they have live music??

Charleston · Entertainment in SC · Restaurants in SC

Best Day in Charleston 2011

I could tell you about reuniting with “the girls” at Social. I could tell you about sand between my toes and Shem Creek dolphin-watching with my family. Or maybe the fact that Charleston left me a reminder: bronchitis and an ear infection. Fact is the trip was too chock-full of good stuff to tell you about the whole thing. So instead, I’m going to tell you about the best day: Thursday, June 23rd.

The day began with grocery shopping. Jake and I needed ingredients for mojitos. We headed to Crickentree: the apartment complex I first called home in SC, where I met current resident and amazing gal, Becky. Becky, her sister Mary, and I used to spend afternoons by the Crickentree pool, so in homage to those days, we did it again on Thursday. Although Becky was under the weather, Mary, Jake, and I concocted our beverages and spent the early afternoon floating around a clear pool. We talked as if not a day had passed, and we laughed (when was I not laughing with Mary?) until finally, it was announced Jake and I had to leave for our “date.”

Our “date” was simple—I told Jake we would go wherever he wanted to go in downtown Charleston, before heading to my brother’s gig at The Pour House at 9 PM. We began our tour at Magnolia’s on East Bay. Magnolia’s is a classic Charleston restaurant, known for expensive lowcountry dining, white tablecloths, and pleasant wait staff. Jake and I ordered a bowl of Blue Crab Bisque—a fancy name for She Crab Soup. She Crab is maybe the most famous dish in Charleston, and it should be. It’s damn delicious. The key ingredient? Crab eggs.  Although Magnolia’s Blue Crab was good, the best She Crab is at Mistral on Market, which tragically no longer exists.

Next, we were off to Pearlz, where we each did an oyster shooter, composed of Pearlz special blend of pepper vodka, cocktail sauce, spices, and a huge raw oyster. I did about a dozen oyster shooters last week, which still wasn’t enough. I also enjoyed a bubbly glass of champagne, while looking out over the slate sidewalks and pastel paint of lower East Bay Street.

Stepping outside, we took a moment to wander past Rainbow Row and into The Battery. I came to realize on this trip that I don’t miss Charleston as much as I thought I did. I don’t miss the tourist hubbub. I DO NOT miss the humidity. I don’t miss the packed bars and lack of taxis. However, I do very much miss walking through The Battery, up Church Street, and over to Broad. I miss the look and feel of Charleston, but I’m not sure I could ever move back.

We headed to dinner at Bocci’s, an Italian restaurant down Church Street off Market. The food wasn’t mind-blowing, but the ambience made the place, as did the sudden (and very Charleston-esque) thunderstorm that descended with no warning outside. I love this about Charleston. I love that it’s sunny one moment and a deluge the next. In Charleston, the streets don’t get wet when it rains; the streets flood. I’ve seen it, first-hand, and I even used to know which streets to avoid when driving home because I knew they’d be two feet under water.

Jake and I paid our tab and ran outside, having missed the lightning and thunder now that we live in the desert. We walked down to Amen Street (it’s a bar; not an actual street). We did two more oyster shooters and headed to McCrady’s—a classy pub hidden down an alley. When we lived in Charleston, Jake and I spent many a quiet pre-party evening sipping scotch, just the two of us. Even the smell of the place reminded me of conversations once shared when Jake and I were still just two semi-strangers, learning each another.

At 8:30, we headed across the water to James Island, where Matt Dobie and his band were set to play at The Pour House. Matt is the lead vocalist and guitar player for Gangrene Machine. They’re four crazy dudes who play funk/psychedelic/rock music, featuring creepy lyrics, occasional costuming, and a wild headman. Matt Dobie? Wild? You heard me. If you met my brother off-stage, you’d think he was a low-key, funny, shy guy. Once on stage, he becomes a head-banging, dancing, theatrical genius. Tom Waits, step down. A new King of Weird has taken your place. My favorite song? “Meat my Friends” about a group of “reasonable cannibals … they just take what they need,” which may include your belly fat. Even though my mom looked a little disturbed on occasion over Matt’s less than politically correct lyricism, my dad walked up to me after the show to say how impressed he was with my little bro. I agreed. In fact, when I saw the boys outside, I pulled a Wayne’s World. (“We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”)

Thursday, June 23rd, was the best day of Charleston 2011 for me. The trip in its entirety reminded me how much fun I used to have talking with my gal pals. How much I miss having my little brother down the street. How much I love the ocean and Spanish moss on Church Street. I did see the ghost of my past self—unavoidable in the same haunts, doing the same shots of Van Gogh, with the same girls I was once single with. I blame my past self for my present bronchitis. But it was worth it, and knowing I’ll be back again in April for Mary’s wedding puts a wide smile on this Phoenician’s face.

Charleston · Restaurants in SC

Ghosts of Charleston

First month in Charleston; first oyster roast on Sullivan's Island.
It’s ironic that on June 6th, for my 29th birthday, I received two albums: Sara Bareilles (Kaleidoscope) and Punch Brothers (Antifogmatic). It’s ironic, because listening to earlier albums by these artists got me through Charleston, South Carolina, alive. And now, for the first time since I left, I’m going back next week.

Charleston, South Carolina, is admittedly the most beautiful place on earth. I fell in love with it immediately, as soon as I moved there—literally within four hours. I always loved and will always love the city itself. Phoenix took a while to grow on me. There was smog and traffic, and from our house, it took an hour to get anywhere good. I used to cry over my lost memories of Charleston; now, I can’t imagine living anywhere but Phoenix. Now, Phoenix is my home.

For the first time since leaving Charleston in February of 2010, Jake and I are going back Monday morning. I should feel nothing but excitement, and yet, I’m uneasy. Charleston feels haunted to me now—memories, hazy, as if in a dream. Did I really live there? I can barely believe the things that happened to me there; did they really happen at all?

Social on East Bay. A must-eat in Chucktown.
I have evidence that I lived there. I have wonderful friends who plan to meet me on East Bay at Social Wine Bar on Tuesday. I have the Frommer’s Charleston Travel Guide with a bunch of hand-written notes inside, based on my personal opinions. I have Jake, and if I never lived in Charleston, where did I meet Jake?

Like a soldier returned from battle, maybe I’ve blocked a lot of it out. I’ve hidden my memories of Charleston behind a mental filter to avoid looking them head-on.

I don’t hesitate to admit, the year and eight months I spent in Charleston were the most important years of my life. I had my first career job, and I learned I never want a “career job” again. I had my first serious heartbreak and then, I met my future husband. I realized I was capable of moving to a city I’d never seen and building a group of friends I was lucky to have. I realized I was brave.

Jenny and Matt (my bro), being serious. A moment caught in time ...
Yet, like the carriage tours that so popularly circle Market Street, down to the Battery, and back, I feel as though I could walk down the streets of Charleston and give a tour of my own …

“King Street was where Sara celebrated her twenty-sixth birthday but jokingly told everyone she was turning twenty-one. On East Bay, outside this bar, she sobbed when she realized her uncle was dead and her family would never be the same again. Next to Shem Creek, she decided she would quit her job before depression ruined her life …”

Maybe it’s less an historical tour of my life and more a ghost tour—ghosts of ex-boyfriends, failed opportunities, and a version of myself I no longer mourn.

Who was I in Charleston? That girl was mad as a hatter. She dated the wrong people, went out every night, and drove drunk. She didn’t sleep much, and she was unhappy, unhappy, despite all her denials and cheerful veneers. She loved the city (how could she not?), but she did not love herself.

In Phoenix—with Jake’s help—at the wise old age of twenty-nine, I have figured it out. No, I’m not happy all the time. I still like to go out and party it up, but it doesn’t feel desperate anymore. I’m not desperate. I’m not empty, trying to fill my life with bad men, beach parties, and a job that almost tore me apart. I’m different now, so does that mean Charleston will feel different, too?

Rejoicing in the present.
Not long before I left Charleston, I did a photo shoot on Sullivan’s Island. I wore minimal costuming, no makeup, and had to battle a bunch of balloons, knee-deep in surf while avoiding jellyfish. The photographer said the balloons represented a woman letting go of her dreams. I look sad in most of the photos from that shoot, except for one. In one of them, I appear to be rejoicing. I think I realized it wasn’t about letting go of dreams. It was about letting go of the past.

I still struggle with letting go of my ghosts. It’s not easy, and I am often haunted. Maybe that’s why I’m uneasy about going back to Charleston. I’m afraid the ghosts will be waiting at my old haunts. When I walk into Pearlz for oysters, will I catch a glimpse of the woman I once was? Or will it be okay, because now, Jake is here, and he has a way of exorcising my demons?

I’m leaving you now for two weeks. Don’t worry about me too much. I will have ocean water between my toes soon, and salty, warm waves have a way of keeping ghosts at bay.

Book Review · Charleston

Sara Isn’t Allowed to Read Mysteries

As a kid, I noticed my mom always had a book somewhere nearby, usually a mystery, featuring some smart cat (literally, a feline) solving a murder. When I got older, she and my dad fell in love with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on CBS. Jake is partial to Law & Order. I love both (especially Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I got a thing for Chris Meloni).

I never got into “The Cat Who …” books, but I do watch crime shows all the time. The thing I love about them is that I can watch a murder, an investigation, and get a cathartic ending, where the bad guy gets his/hers, all in the space of an hour. I’ve noticed that I have trouble stopping an episode mid-way. If I get started, I have to see who dunnit. The ending is part of the process; after all, you can’t have a murder without a “perp.” And I don’t find peace until the “perp” is brought to justice. (Or “unsub,” on Criminal Minds, but Jake hates that show almost as much as he hates NCIS.)

I requested to receive an advanced reading copy of Carolyn’s Hart’s Dead by Midnight: A Death on Demand Mystery for several reasons. One: it was a mystery, and I wanted to give mystery a try. Two: It takes place in fictional Broward’s Rock, South Carolina, which reminds me a lot of the Charleston area. And three: The heroine owns a bookstore, and dang it, I’d love to own a bookstore. I thought it would be a pleasant read; I didn’t expect to become obsessed.

The premise: Pat Merrigrew is murdered, and nobody in Broward’s Rock knows why. In fact, the police think it might be a suicide, but not bookstore owner Annie Darling. Annie knows Pat was murdered; now, she has to figure out why—and who would do such a thing to such a harmless, neighborly local? As you may suspect, there are more than a few characters that might be guilty. There are several shadowy bits of behavior, intended to throw Annie off track. There is excitement, good dialogue, and some playful sleuthing. And of course, there is the necessary catharsis at the end.

I miss South Carolina's Angel Oaks sooooooooooo much!!! (But not Palmetto Bugs.)
I very much enjoyed Dead by Midnight. That’s not my problem. My problem is (thank goodness it was on a Sunday) I couldn’t stop reading the book once I started. Jake pointed out that this is what all good books should make you do. However, even my favorite books have taken me a week to finish. In the case of Dead by Midnight, I read it in one day. It was like a tangible episode of CSI, made in paper. I couldn’t stop! I had to know who dunnit! I had to help Annie catch her perp! This is why I don’t think I’m allowed to read mysteries—I would never get anything done!

I want to thank Ms. Hart for creating such lovely characters in a lovely world. I enjoyed hearing about Annie Darling’s bookstore. I had no idea there were so many different mystery sub-genres. And I very much enjoyed Annie’s hunky, supportive husband, Max. I strained my brain to try and guess at the ending; alas, I was incorrect … but I was close … kind of. Maybe if I read a couple more mysteries, I’ll be a first class sleuth. Of course, this will never happen, though, because Sara is not allowed to read mysteries.

Arizona · Charleston · Restaurants in AZ · Restaurants in SC

Raw Oysters at Casey Moore’s


As far as I know, I ate my first oyster at an oyster roast on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. At the time, I was a novice. I showed up, dressed up, ready to party. I didn’t realize we would be surrounded by oyster-scented mist and flying shells. I didn’t know I had to “shuck” anything. I certainly didn’t know I had to eat slimy creatures that closely resembled massive piles of snot. Most surprising, though? I loved the slimy creatures.

I soon discovered, via Pearlz on East Bay in Charleston, that I prefer oysters raw rather than roasted. (I prefer them in Oyster Shooters, too, which entails a single oyster in a shot glass of cocktail sauce and Absolute Peppar). Over the course of my two years in Charleston, I consumed more oysters than the entire land mass of the United Kingdom—where oysters are actually protected by an Act of Parliament during the spawning season.

Rumor has it oysters are aphrodisiacs. I recently read a biography of the so-called “great lover,” Casanova, by journalist Ian Kelly. (An interesting read. Made me want to go back to Venice. Check it out here.) Casanova used to eat piles of raw oysters pre-coitus, plus bottles of champagne. I don’t know much about the aphrodisiac claim. I do know that I had a craving last week that felt like pot munchies, minus the pot … and I did not hanker for Doritos; I hankered for raw oysters.

Where—in the land-locked state of Arizona—was a girl to find raw oysters? Jake took me to the grocery store, where I swore I saw some oysters, but they only had mussels. We asked the guy if we could order oysters. He priced us at over a dollar an oyster. I wasn’t that desperate. Not yet. Luckily, I did an online search, where I discovered Casey Moore’s Oyster House in Tempe.

I love Tempe, not just because it has raw oysters. I like the college town feel. I like the ASU campus. I like all the restaurants and bars spread along the two block radius of Mill Street. It feels like home to me; it feels like Athens, Ohio, in the middle of the desert. Casey Moore’s is an Irish pub—one of the most famous in Arizona, according to the website. It’s a nice little place with a dingy, dark inside bar area and a big outdoor patio covered in palm trees and umbrellas. Not classy but cute.

All I cared about were the oysters … and the Bloody Mary’s, which were excellent. I ordered a dozen oysters; nothing else. In case you’re wondering, even in a beach town like Charleston, the oysters were rarely from Charleston. The best oysters are arguably from New England, so I was okay ordering oysters in Arizona; they travel, no matter where you are.

I made my order, and then I waited. I watched the door to the kitchen, and when the little college dude brought my slimy monsters surrounded by ice chunks to our table, I wiped the drool from my chin and dug in.

How do you properly eat a raw oyster? First, you pick up the oyster on the half shell. Using the tiny fork they give you, wiggle the oyster around to make sure it is dislodged from the shell. I like to add fresh lemon juice to mine and a dash of fresh horseradish. (You only need a dash of fresh horseradish. Even when dabbling, you still get that intense burn in your nose that makes you feel like you’ve been punched in the face.) Then, open your mouth, lean the shell on your bottom lip, and pour the whole thing—oyster juice and all—down your throat. At this point, you smile, because you just consumed one of the best known delicacies on earth.

I ate my dozen oysters at Casey Moore’s. I could have had a dozen more, but I stopped myself. See, I didn’t have to panic about the lack of raw oysters in Arizona, because I have now discovered my personal oasis in the desert. I can always go back for more. You should, too, especially if you’ve never tried a raw oyster. I know they look like slimy little monsters, but they taste divine.

Charleston · Exodus Series: Arizona · Music

Exodus V: I’ll Never Be as Good as Matt Dobie

My little brother plays Neil Young the way Neil Young wishes he could play Neil Young, and I taught him everything he knows. Ha. Kidding. I attempted to become a guitar player when I was in junior high. I lasted a couple months. Then, Matt picked up my discarded acoustic guitar, and well, at the age of 23, he’s been playing for about fifteen years. On and off, we play together. He rocks out on guitar; I do some wailing on vocals. It’s a semi-Partridge Family situation, without the bar haircuts and bell-bottoms.

The Exodus Series is about me leaving Charleston and moving to Phoenix. So what does my brother have to do with any of this, you ask? Matt moved to Charleston back in October. He did not specifically move here to be near me; he moved here because he likes Charleston and he likes my friends. (Luckily, Matt also likes Jake, but that’s a whole other story…) Anyway, he moved here, and it was a great comfort to me, because Matt and I have always been close—more like best buds than siblings. He moved here. He met my friends. He became accustomed to my haunts (Griffon Pub on Vendue, in particular), and then, he became accustomed to the music scene.

And he decided to walk in and take over the entire operation.

Little Dobes. Guitar god.
At present, he runs an open mic night in West Ashley, SC, but it’s more like a Matt Dobie showcase. It’s not like most open mics, where a bunch of talentless yahoos play acoustic covers of Coldplay. No, Matt’s open mic is comprised of a full band—drums, guitar (electric and acoustic), bass, vocals—and anyone can do it. For instance, the first time I went to see him, I ended up singing. That was also the night when an old man walked up to my brother, pointed at him, and said, “I want to play music with YOU, kid.” And they did. Johnny Cash. Neil Young. Blues. Jazz. All the good stuff. And I was reminded that my little brother is truly a fantastic musician.

I’m not the only one who acknowledges this. Other musicians who’ve seen him play often end up saying he’s a “guitar god.” Guys twice his age shake their heads and wonder how a kid so young could be so dang talented. Even I do embarrassing dance moves and toe taps every time he goes into a screaming guitar solo. It’s impossible not to. And I—a vocalist who is intimidated by nothing—often fear being outshined by my younger sibling. This, of course, is an elder sister’s nightmare. That being said, I know there is no hope for me on stage. Matt will always be better than me. He will always be better than a lot of people.

Last week, he covered Tom Waits’ “Train Song.” The lyrics:

I remember when I left
Without bothering to pack
You know I up and left with
Just the clothes I had on my back
Now I’m sorry for what I’ve done
And I’m out here on my own
Well it was a train that took me away from
Here but a train can’t bring me home

I can’t listen to the song anymore, because it makes me cry. First off, I cry because my brother is better than Waits, yet Waits’ version is the only recording I have. Secondly, I cry because perhaps the worst thing about leaving Charleston is leaving my brother. Like trains passing in the night, we keep missing each other. As soon as I graduated from Ohio University, Matt began his freshman year. Now, as soon as we found a city to share, I’m leaving it.

I know Matt and me will play music together many, many more times in the coming years. For now, I just gotta tell him: Sorry I gotta head west, kiddo. Keep playing that Neil Young, and next time we’re together, we’ll rock some “Helpless” by Neil Young, because we know that Mom and Dad love it.

If you’re in Chucktown, here’s the website for the bar where little Dobes kicks some guitar ass every Saturday night: http://www.rpubonline.com/. If you wanna here my meager vocal stylings, check out my MySpace music page: myspace.com/sarasingstheblues.

The Dobies. An anti-Partridge Family.
Charleston · Exodus Series: Arizona

Exodus IV: Crazy Little Thing Called Love

If you wanna know the truth, Jake and I met purely by chance. And it almost didn’t happen. Per Exodus I, you know we met at Burn’s Alley and we ended up at Waffle House, but that’s not really how this started. This started with my roommate, Hannah.

Hannah is a volleyball player. She’s built for the sport—tall, lean, and muscular—and she’s damn good at it. We were on the beach at Sullivan’s Island one hotter-than-hell day in August, and this blond guy walked up and asked if anyone wanted to play volleyball. Hannah said “YES!” I said, “I’d rather just lay here.” So Hannah met Vince; Vince was Jake’s best friend.

Jake and me. The night we met. (Lower left hand corner.)
Now, despite the fact that Jake was also playing volleyball at the beach that day, I didn’t meet him for another week, and that was at Burn’s Alley. We did have fun that night, and he did get my number. Then, he didn’t call for awhile and I was kind of disappointed, because I’d had fun with the guy. I shrugged it off, though, because if it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t meant to be. Then, since Hannah was dating Vince at the time, I came to learn that Jake was only here on vacation, and he didn’t want to get involved with some chick named Sara because he didn’t want to end up hurting some chick named Sara. So be it.

But he did call. And well, I’m moving to Arizona with him on February 25th. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

First, lemme explain Jake’s “vacation.” He’d just gotten out of the navy in July, and for the rest of the summer, all he wanted was fun. He came down to Charleston to visit Vince (a fellow US Navy dude), and after Charleston, Jake planned to go on a road trip across the country to visit other friends and family. We went on our first date about three weeks after he got to South Carolina. He never left. He stayed at Vince’s house. He slept on an inflatable mattress, and he wore the clothes that he’d brought in his suitcase. For five months.

There were several times when I (being a flakey female) requested additional information. When Jake started applying for jobs outside of South Carolina, I wanted to know, “Well, what am I supposed to do?” <sob, sob> to which Jake would respond, “We’ll just see what happens. Things will happen the way they’re supposed to.” When Jake came home for Christmas, my friends wanted to know, “Well, if you get a job in Illinois/North Carolina/BFE, what are you going to do with Sara?” to which he responded (smart ass comments that decorum prevents me from posting here). And yet, through all the questions, we knew. We had an understanding that God had a plan and was taking care of stuff.

So when Jake got the job in Arizona, we looked at each other and asked, “Is this the plan? Is this how it’s supposed to work out?” With little hesitation, Jake took the job. With no hesitation, he asked me to move with him. And with a resounding “YES!” I agreed to move to Phoenix, just like Hannah had agreed to play volleyball all those months ago.

I love Jake; Jake loves me. I have never doubted him, and I’m pretty sure he puts a lot of faith in our relationship. And it almost never happened. Hannah takes credit for Jake and me. I let her keep the credit, because she certainly did have a lot to do with it at the beginning, and this credit makes her smile.

However, there’s a part of me that believes Jake and I would have met regardless of volleyball. We could have met before, in fact. When I was at Ohio University, Jake dated a girl that went to Ohio University. She lived on Union, three blocks from my apartment on Court Street. Two years later, Jake attended a wedding in downtown Toledo, Ohio—my hometown—back in the days when I used to go out downtown all the time. And yet, it was far from both of our homes, in Charleston, South Carolina, when we finally met. And fell stupid for each other.

I know it’s Valentine’s Day. Couples everywhere are squeezing into packed restaurants and sharing heart-shaped chocolates. Singles everywhere are doing shots, smoking cigarettes, and screaming “F@#% Valentine’s Day!” No matter where you fit in this mix, we all know what today is about: LOVE.

I don’t know much about love in the philosophical sense. I know how much I love Jake. I know that, after thirty years, my parents still make kissy faces at each other, and I know that my married friends like to say, “When love is right, it’s easy.” But like I said, I’m not a philosopher. I will tell you this: it was a long road, getting to Jake—through Athens, Toledo, and finally Charleston. Through years of terrible relationships and men who liked to let me down. But I found him. Finally. On his vacation that never stopped.

The week before he headed to Arizona to find us a house, he told me: “I think the reason I came to Charleston was to meet you and take you with me.” You know, babe, I think you’re right.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Charleston · Entertainment in SC

Micah McLaurin Makes Me Cry

I don’t remember when I fell in love with Frederic Chopin. I’m not sure when I first heard Clair De Lune or Debussy’s Beau Soir, but both still give me goose bumps. I know I hated playing piano as a child, so where did the love come from? What formed the fixation? Was it my mother, playing the ancient piano in our downstairs family room? The piano player at our church growing up? Maybe. I wish I could remember, because at least I would have someone to thank.

A couple weeks ago, I accepted a story assignment from the City Paper—a feature article on 15-year-old pianist and Charleston native Micah McLaurin. In the words of my editor, “What’s his deal?” I contacted the McLaurin family, and I delved into “his deal.” I did an interview, and you can read the full story HERE. One of the perks of writing the interview? I got free tickets to see Micah LIVE, and this happened last night at the Sottile Theater on George Street.

Sottile Theater, Charleston
The Sottile Theater is located in downtown Charleston. It is an attractive building, beautiful in its simplicity, and as I learned from Micah’s father, it used to be a movie theater. At present, it hosts College of Charleston and community events, ranging in theater to music to dance. For the International Piano Series, the stage is adorned with a piano, white barriers to aid in acoustics and volume, and…a performer. The performer last night was fifteen, and well, I know I did the interview, but well, I forgot how YOUNG fifteen is. Micah, decked out in a nice black suit and tie, was just a kid, but watching him play, it was easy to forget.

Honestly, he looked awkward walking onto the stage. He took long, meditative pauses before each piece, and in free moments, he wiped sweaty palms against the sides of his pants. I liked the opening arrangement—French Suite No. 5 in G Major—by Bach. It was okay. It was jubilant. It was…Bach. He followed this with Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, and I was done for. Part of Micah’s self-proclaimed mission as a pianist is to make audiences cry. Micah, mission accomplished. He went on to play a neurotic piece by Prokofiev, followed by a choppy Haydn sonata, and closing with an emotional rollercoaster by Rachmaninoff. He even did an encore. I was sitting beside his first piano teacher, and she told me the encore had to be Rachmaninoff, too, since Micah only moves his body onstage when playing good old Mr. R.

Micah McLaurin
Micah did an exceptional job. He is a talented young man who has many years to hone his craft. Watching him, he not only knows every note, but he feels every note. You could see it, in the slight Forrest Gump head tilt; in the focus of his face toward the keys and away from the audience; and in the way his fingers caressed and attacked and tickled that ivory, until the piano seemed to speak for each long-dead composer on Micah’s set list.

Although I loved the entire presentation, I cannot forget the feel of the Chopin ballade. What is it with me and piano? I like the way pianists (Micah included) develop Fuzzy Hand Syndrome, when their hands move so fast, they blur. I like the way the music feels on my ears. I like the feeling so much, I’ve been known to crank etudes and nocturnes until neighbors call the cops. Somehow, to me, piano feels soft. It feels warm. It makes my heart want to explode, but I take comfort in my auditory gluttony. It is nice to know that always, no matter what catastrophes descend, there is always a place to go for reassurance. There will always be warmth, safety, and goodness, as long as musicians like Micah keep the faith and keep on making audiences cry. Bravo, young sir. Bravo.

Charleston · Exodus Series: Arizona

Exodus, Part III: My Jaws Phobia

The ocean is evil. Or so I thought. For twenty-five years.

Having been raised in Ohio, all I knew about the ocean was based specifically on Jaws and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. Roy Scheider’s “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” was enough to make me say uh-uh—that body of water is baaaad news—and I existed happily in my land-locked existence for a quarter of a century. I realize the ocean is pretty. It makes nice noises. And yes, even I wanted to run naked down the beach after watching the music video for Chris Issak’s “Wicked Game.” But there was no way I was getting in the water.

Then, I moved to Charleston, SC, and when I was first offered the job down here, I had no idea Charleston was on the ocean. It is. I mean, it’s ON the ocean. It could very well be the next sinking city, like Venice. We’re built below the flood plain, and when it rains, the tide breaks on the stoop of the Griffon Pub on Vendue Street. So there I was, a chick with a phobia of dark water, and I was moving to a place filled with the stuff. I did seek out the ocean on my first day here. I met my prospective coworkers. I ate a burger at Poe’s Tavern. Then, I said, “Point me to the water!” As if I couldn’t smell it. When you’re near the beach in Charleston, salt crystals practically plug your nose. That first day, I walked beside the sea. I touched my toe in the white foam, and I enjoyed the breeze and the mansions on Sullivan’s Island. But I didn’t go swimming.

I did go swimming at an employee party. We were out in Charleston harbor on a speed boat, and everyone just kind of jumped in the water. Seriously, they just jumped in, as if a huge great white shark wasn’t about to bite off their toes. They waved up at me, saying things like “Come in”… “The water’s fine.” I thought about it. I looked at my coworkers, and I decided I could out-swim at least a couple of them. Sharks go after the slowest and weakest, right? So I jumped in, and I rolled into a little ball. I’ve seen the movies, okay? I didn’t want to lose one of my legs. I got out about two minutes later, and I called my dad when I got home. I told my father what I’d done, and he said, “What’s WRONG with you? Are you INSANE?” This coming from a man who would later…well, I’m getting to that.

Since that first salty tumble, I’ve become a water baby. If the waves are rockin,’ I’m the first one in. In the old days, I used to wade in up to my knees, and that was only if there were other people swimming farther out. (Again, Jaws would get them first, right?) Now, I’m addicted to body-surfing. I know exactly when to jump to get the best ride in, and I know how to avoid being smashed into the beach at the end. I’ve gone sailing, and yes, I’ve done graceful swan dives into choppy surf from the bow of a boat. I have even gone swimming at night. After seeing a show at the Windjammer on Isle of Palms, my gal pals and me stripped down to nothing—at 2 o’clock in the morning—and wallowed in the pitch-blackness of the sea. Yes, father, your daughter is insane.

That being said, I haven’t told you the worst part. I told you I was getting to it; here it is. When my parents were visiting last summer, Dad and me were walking down the beach. Something moved to our left, and we both paused long enough to see a baby SHARK struggling in the tide. The baby SHARK got loose and shot off down the beach. We looked at each other. This was an important moment. Would we run away back to Ohio, screaming and waving our hands in the air, or would we…go swimming? My father and I went swimming. When we got out, he turned to me. “Well, at least we didn’t lose a leg,” he said, and I realized, screw the sharks. Screw Jaws, and screw Shark Week. The ocean was no longer evil. The ocean was, in fact, one of my favorite places to be.

Now, I’m leaving it. I’m leaving the ocean for desert, and it’s funny because this is what my friends seem most concerned about. Not about me moving to a new place where I don’t know anyone. Not about me finding work or a LIFE PURPOSE. No, they just ask, “What about the ocean?” I tell them it’s not going anywhere. Oh, and did I mention San Diego is a seventy-buck plane ride from Phoenix?

Charleston · Exodus Series: Arizona

Exodus, Part II: A Charleston Top Ten List

Jake's lilies
Jake hit the road two hours ago. This morning, we packed his car full of stuff. He surprised me with tiger lilies, artfully arranged in an empty Macallan 12 bottle from his birthday. We shared a five minute hug. I cried melted, black mascara on his sweatshirt, and after a couple “I love you’s,” I shoved him out my front door for fear of a total meltdown.

This isn’t the end of the world. He’s just heading to Phoenix to get ready for his new job, to find us a house, and to settle in, before flying back to Charleston in three weeks to pick me up and do the drive west once more. It just felt like the end of the world, because we’ve never been apart for three weeks. It also felt strange, walking around his house this morning, one last time. His house—the place where we built a relationship. Where we spent so many nights making dinner together. So many mornings watching ESPN. So many moments laughing and looking toward a future.

Jake’s house in Charleston is just a place. Charleston, South Carolina, is just a place. However, it’s strange leaving the places we know. Leaving a place is like leaving a person—you have to touch the doorknobs, look out the windows, and hug the garage door, because it will be a long time (or perhaps, forever) before you see that place again. In the spirit of saying farewell to Jake’s house, I now have approximately three weeks to say farewell to Charleston. In homage, I have made the following list: Top Ten Things to do Before I Leave Chucktown.

The most beautiful house on the Charleston Battery
1. DONE: Walk the Battery. I walked the Charleston Battery within four hours of moving here a year and a half ago, and it had a lot to do with my immediate infatuation with the place. Jake requested to do the same once more before heading west. We did it the other day, which is where the pretty pics in this entry come from.

2. DONE: Pralines at River Street Sweets on the Market. Walking down Market Street, you can smell praline. They make ‘em fresh, right in front of you, at River Street Sweets, and they give you samples—warm, sweet, succulent, DECADENT. I dare you to have more than one.

Pralines at River Street Sweets
3. DONE: Oyster shooters at Pearlz, East Bay. I feared oysters until I moved to Charleston. Now, I’m obsessed. The oyster shooters at Pearlz are made with Absolut Peppar, cocktail sauce, fresh ground pepper, and a raw oyster. I will have as many of these as my body is able within the next three weeks.

4. DONE: She Crab Soup at Mistral, Market Street. She Crab Soup is a Lowcountry thing, just like New England Clam Chowder is an east coast thing. It’s rich, it’s heavy, it’s terrible for you, and it’s a must-have. Mistral is not only a charming restaurant—it has the best She Crab Soup in town.

5. Burger at Poe’s Tavern, Sullivan’s Island. Poe’s will put anything on a burger, from guacamole, to chili, to egg, to goat cheese. Go get one, medium rare, and have a Corona while you think about the beach, a block down the road.

6. DONE: Beach walk at sunrise, Sullivan’s Island. Speaking of beach, I was once scared of the ocean. Now, I know leaving the ocean will be the hardest part about leaving Charleston. I will miss the smell, the sound, and the feel of the waves. It’s gonna be rough turning my back on the sea.

7. Glass of wine at Social, East Bay. I love the smell of Social. I love the lighting. I love the wine list. I have spent many, MANY nights at the Social bar. I have built many memories there. I need just one more.

8. Dollar on the wall at Griffon, Vendue Street. Griffon is a pub, off the beaten path. I’m a regular. Dollar bills cover the walls, ceilings, doorways, and windowpanes. Patrons have hung these dollar bills, after adding their own personal touches. Jake put one up before he left for Phoenix. I already have one on the walls, too—added when a good friend of mine from Ohio came to visit. I need to add another one, saying farewell to this Holy City.

9. Manhattan at Charleston Grill, featuring Quentin Baxter, King Street and Market. I’m a whiskey fan; I’m a jazz fan. Therefore, I just gotta head to Charleston Grill one more time for a Maker’s Mark Manhattan and for Quentin Baxter’s jazz drum.

10. Bar dancing, Market Street Saloon. I like dancing on bars. Got a problem with it?

So. I’ve already completed two of these tasks. More to follow, as the Exodus continues. Wish me luck. Now, it’s just me. I will be Jake-less for the next three weeks as the adventure rolls on.

Mill Street Hotel. Chucktown.