The Beautiful South

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As most of you know, the first SlopeFest East was held on Saturday, September 18th at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

A few weeks ago, I decided to show up to SlopeFest as a surprise, so I told Iggy that I'd be coming, but I asked him not to mention it to anyone else. I woke up at 4:30 Saturday morning to make a 6 a.m. flight, which arrived at 1:45. I got a rental car, and I drive nearly 4 hours to Myrtle Beach.

Now, you may be wondering why I didn't select an airport that was closer to the event; there are a couple of reasons for this: first, Myrtle Beach's airport isn't very big, and so it's terribly expensive to fly there; and second, I don't get out much, and I really enjoy taking in the sights, particularly in a part of the country that I rarely visit.

I grew up in the South, so the sights aren't wholly foreign to me, but I confess that my drive was like a voyage through an alien world. Sure, there were plenty of things that were all-too-familiar sights from Generica, like the Wal-Marts, Party Cities, and McDonalds. But much of what I noticed was novel.

Here are a few items I noticed during my drive, and during my very brief stay in Myrtle Beach:

Ironic Signs – For some reason, there was a preponderance of unintentionally ironic signs during my drive. For instance, one mobile home vendor claimed on a huge billboard that it was a "Small Dealer with a Big Heart." Directly beneath that claim it mentioned that they sold "Foreclosed Mobile Homes" in addition to the new ones. I wonder what the former owners of those repossessed homes thought of the heart of this vendor.

Although there were a stunning number of empty commercial buildings during my drive, it seemed that a disproportionate number of them featured being the "Area's Biggest" or "Most Popular" on fading, weathered placards.

The funniest of all, to me, was a permanent, official metal sign at the border of one of the towns. In white letters on a green background it announced the "Task Force for Excellence". But the first word was spelled T-S-A-K.

Alien Beings – I suppose it may be unkind of me to notice, but there were some genuinely-scary looking people in these parts. In some areas, it looked like try-outs for the sequel to "Mask" might be going on. The prize had to go to the bouncer in front of Senor Frog's, who was a dead ringer for Lurch from the Addams Family.

Land of the Free – I have to conclude that land is simply given away, homestead style, in the Carolinas. I saw homesites whose size even my richest friends in California could never afford, and in the middle of the open expanse of land was………a beaten-up mobile home.

The Gender Gap – Maybe this isn't specific to Myrtle Beach, since at my age I don't exactly hang out at clubs (hell, even when I was that age, I didn't hang out at clubs). But it seems to me the self-esteem movement never was introduced to the young women of South Carolina. They were out on Saturday night, completely tarted-up and wearing ridiculously revealing clothes (which, on some of the specimans, was done to horrific effect). The douchey-looking young men at the same venue were evidently their quarry. Suffice it to say that cabal of Slopers looked more than a little out of place.

I Gave My Heart to Christ, and All I Got Was This Stupid T-ShirtWitness Wear is a retailer I'd never heard of, or even conceived as possible – – – but they sell all manner of shirts, cups, and what-not with declarations of your allegiance to the big J.C. They seem to be doing a brisk business.

Odd Bragging Rights – I've never been gung-ho about bumper stickers, but I can see why some folks might want to display their alliances or affections to the rest of the world. However, some of the bumper stickers I saw displayed during my journey seemed to advertise the strangest achievements. For instance: "Blue Collar and Red Neck". And another – – – "All My Friends Are From Low Places." I'd have never guessed.

Hellfire and Brimstone – Since I was driving to the airport on a Sunday morning, I decided to listen to some of that good old-time religion. I'll say this – – I'd rather belong to a fervant black Baptist church than one of the milquetoast white ones. The black preachers – – or the white ones that are channeling their inner black – – are passionate. These guys sound like Sam Kinnison on a bad day, and it's marvelous. Can I get a witness?

Amex? iPhone? Huh? – I was in a popular, well-traveled vacation resort in the United States. This wasn't the third world, but some of the most common elements seem to catch others by surprise. I stopped by Kroger's, a big grocery store, to buy a comb (I get uneasy without my comb; add that to my list of quirks). I swiped my MasterCard, but it didn't seem to be agreeing with the machine, so I used my American Express instead. The clerk there mentioned, "Wow – American Express. In all my time here, I always wondered what Amex stood for." Hmmmm.

One other oddity was at a bar we briefly attended. I had my iPhone out, and I was swiping through some pictures. As I was swiping my finger across the screen, this somewhat inebriated fellow stumbled up to me: "What are yew doin'?" Ummm, I'm looking through some pictures. "Do yew do that all day long?" No, no, I don't. Hey, look, gang! A table has freed up! Let's go! (scamper scamper……..)

I'll close by saying that SlopeFest is starting to take on a life of its own. There's chatter about Las Vegas and New York Slopefests coming up next Spring. Maybe we'll even branch out and get some international events going.

I would like to give Iggy a huge thank-you for putting together SlopeFest East. Everyone had a great time, and I know from experience that putting these things together is a lot more work than it may seem. He even had commemorative cup holders and name badges made for the event! So thanks, Iggy. The group owes you a lifetime supply of bacon.