October 29, 2001 - Finding a Charleston Home
When we arrived in Charleston on the 23rd, we spent the next day touring other area campgrounds to make sure we had the best place. Turned out we did, since getting to downtown via the other highways would have been much worse as it seems they're tearing up all the roads around Charleston at the same time and the traffic and lights on the feeder highways are pretty bad.
This KOA has a more commercial, crowded feel than most other places we've stayed, but it's not really that bad, and it sure is nice to be next door to my baby girl again. I went out on Friday and visited 9 law firms, leaving my introductory letter and resume. I intend to follow up with telephone calls tomorrow.
We've already started some sight-seeing. It took 2 days to tour the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. This is a magnificent house and gardens that also includes a nature trail through the swamp and marshlands - really well done and preserved. It sparked a revival of my cajun heritage walking under the huge live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. Again, the history of the area when it was built was fascinating to me - the slave cabins, the reconstructed barge they used to transport goods, the period furniture and furnishings - we all truly enjoyed the tours.
Yesterday and today was spent thoroughly cleaning the RV inside and out. What a job - I think I hit every bug between Maine and here!
November 4, 2001 - Looking for work in Charleston
I'm not exactly panic stricken yet, but definitely not happy that I still have not found a job. I received quite a few return calls from the first wave of resumes I delivered, but mainly it was because they were curious about what I was doing - as far as employment, they mostly say they very rarely use temps or if they do, they don't know of anything coming up in the near term. Last week I brought another 10 resumes to firms outside of downtown Charleston. I would much rather work in the downtown historic district because I would so enjoy exploring the area during my lunch hour as I was able to do in Portland. We walked around there today and I was enthralled. I did not realize that Charleston has a French Quarter similar to New Orleans. That was the forbidden zone when I grew up there, so it held a particular fascination to me. I would always get in major trouble when my mom found out I had skipped school to hang out in the "Quarter." I didn't get caught every time or I'd probably still be grounded, but it didn't help that I had an uncle who lived there who would rat me out when he'd see me at Jackson Square.
Anyway, the French Quarter here reminded me so much of New Orleans, except it was much cleaner and seemed better preserved. Maybe it was because it didn't have a Bourbon Street, but it also felt much safer. We walked down "Rainbow Row" which is a narrow street of Georgian style connected homes painted in differing pastel colors. The street fronts the water and is near really picturesque parks with great fountains and those wonderful huge live oak trees with drooping limbs draped with Spanish Moss. I'm so glad we'll be here a while because I could be happy walking around just that one area for days, there's just so much to see - peering through the garden gates into the shaded courtyards, the walls covered with ivy, the quiet old-world feel the wrap-around porches evoke - the old brick streets massage your feet - I just really loved it all.
So, it's good there is so much to explore for free. I'll wait until after I get a job to take more tours of plantations and other attractions that charge a fee. Tomorrow I'll set up appointments with employment agencies even though that's obviously not my preference. There's only one firm here that specializes in legal personnel, but even if I have to take a normal secretary job, as long as I make enough to get by, I'll be fine. The rent at the KOA here is only $350 a month, including electricity, where in Maine it was $540 a month, plus about $60 a month in electricity. Therefore, I can make less here and still get by just fine.
Even with the uncertainty about my job situation presently, it has done nothing to damper my enthusiasm about what I'm doing. There was a moment today as I stood in a picture perfect gazebo in a beautiful park in the midst of an avenue of grand live oak trees that I again thanked God that I get to do this in my life.
November 11, 2001 - Boone Hall & Cypress Gardens
Yesterday we attended a re-enactment of the Battle of Secessionville at one of the most beautiful plantations here, Boone Hall. It was really fascinating - we were very close to the action on the Union side, who lost this particular battle big time, to the delight of the southern crowd. The booms of the cannon were almost deafening and seeing the men fall in battle was disturbing even though we knew it was fake. A tree in the middle of the battlefield caught fire for real from all the gun powder going off and the modern day firemen running onto the field to put it out ruined the effect just a little, but at least provided a little comic relief. All in all it was a really neat experience - another fun history lesson to make up for those I yawned through in school. The men and women dressed in period costume strolling down the avenue of oaks was particularly fun for me, whose favorite movie of all time is Gone With the Wind. My mom took me to that movie every time it came out and it's one of my favorite childhood memories. Since I was a little girl I've imagined myself as Scarlett in those gorgeous hoop dresses, being the belle of the ball. I'm really looking forward to touring one of the museums here that has a display of memorabilia from the movie.
Today we walked through Cypress Gardens, a truly wondrous place. The paths wind through the swamp and we couldn't believe how close we were to the black water with no guard rails, so kept vigilant watch out for alligators. The guides advise if we come across one not to run, but to look it in the eyes because that makes them nervous. Oh, yeah, I'm sure that's exactly what I'd do!
November 12, 2001 - Still Unemployed
Well, it was a glorious weekend, but here it is on Sunday night and all I wish for is that I had a job to get up early for tomorrow. On Wednesday and Thursday last week I spent hours at 3 different temp agencies and took all their silly tests. They claimed to be impressed with my skills and said they'd get right on marketing me to the firms they work with. No calls yet, though. The people at the agencies say I can only expect to make $9 - $12 an hour, which about gave me a heart attack. That's almost ½ of what I made in Maine! Explanation is that Charleston is a very desirable place to live and people are willing to make less to live here. I don't know how regular housing compares, but the redeeming thing for me is that the rent at the KOA is about ½ of what we paid in Maine, also.
I have another appointment tomorrow with the firm who specializes in temp legal placement. However, I've been duly warned by a couple of people that Charleston is a "good ole boy" kinda place who gives preference to the natives here. One lady who moved here from far off North Carolina says she's been here 10 years and still doesn't feel like she's accepted. Not a happy thing for me to hear, because I really love it here and could spend at least a couple of months exploring the charms of this city. However, if I don't have a job in another week or so, I'll have to think about moving on, either to Florida or to Austin for a while, where I know I could find work.
It's amazing what a trickle down effect the devastation of two months ago has had in our lives. Like I read in a local article, on the one hand, we're told to resume normal routines, spend money, travel. Then the ticker tape at the bottom of our TV screen tells us to be alert to the 100% likelihood of further terrorists' attacks. It's not an easy thing trying to balance these two directives. However, I guess in all reality nothing has really changed - there have never been any guarantees about today and planning for tomorrow has always been risky business.
But as Scarlett says: "Tomorrow is another day..." and I'll hit the job hunt trail again giving thanks that even if this journey ends tomorrow, it will still have been worth it. The things I have experienced and seen and the people I have met have been nothing but blessings and angels.
November 16, 2001 - Working in Charleston
Today ended my first week of work in Charleston - but it wasn't a full one since I started there on Wednesday. I was very grateful, though, and it was a great week. I have registered with 4 agencies now, and still believe things will pick up soon. I spent part of my lunch hour walking around downtown passing out more resumes to some of the smaller firms I had missed before. Today was a great day for walking in beautiful Charleston. I bought a sandwich and ate it at a waterfront park and enjoyed talking to some of the people around town.
November 22, 2001 - My first Thanksgiving on the road
- that's enough to be thankful for in and of itself!
It was a great day - we had a ridiculously glutenous buffet lunch at a great restaurant and then came home to promptly pass out - a real traditional kinda Thanksgiving. I had thought about cooking, but after working all week and never making it to the store, the thought was as far as it went. At least I've made enough to pay my rent and living expenses for next month, so it's Thanksgiving all the way around.
November 27, 2001 - Job security at last!
Well, at least for the next 4 weeks. I started today at a small law firm within a stone's throw from the waterfront park I love to walk around at lunchtime. After worrying about not having a job from day to day, yesterday I was offered 2 jobs each lasting a month. One was at the largest law firm in the area, but it was located across the river. Besides, it seemed like a very stuffy kind of firm and I much prefer working in the beautiful downtown area. The weather here is still absolutely fabulous and my favorite part of the day is the exploration of the little streets laid with aged brick, window shopping in the quaint old shops and gawking at the amazingly gorgeous historic homes.
December 8, 2001 - Exploring Historic Charleston
We took a guided walking tour today through the old historic downtown area. Most of it I had seen many times as we were in the same area where I work, but it was interesting having a long-time resident show-and-tell us about the way things were back then and how unhappy the local preservationists are that so much is changing and they just aren't preserving things as well as they used to. I still find Charleston so captivating that I don't need to imagine it as being any better. I'm still perfectly satisfied just walking around the downtown streets and through the old market, even though I've been there several times. The sheer resilience of the place is amazing in and of itself. She has been attacked and occupied in several wars, has survived devastating earthquakes, fires and hurricanes - and yet she still has such an air of grace and welcome that you feel lucky just to be in her presence. It's so interesting to see the huge steel rods sticking out of the buildings on both sides - they just ran them through and tightened them to pull the walls back together after being bent by earthquakes and hurricanes.
It was funny, though, when I remarked to our guide that I hadn't known that Charleston had a French Quarter like New Orleans, she said "Neither did we - to tell the truth there never was an area that really was predominantly French in those days to justify it being called that... the tourism bureau here thought that since it worked so well for New Orleans, they'd just call it that here. So they put up a few fancy street signs that said this was the French Quarter. I thought how human to take something that was plenty good enough in what it was and try to make it better by placing a label on it. The streets and the architecture and just the feel of the place is special enough no matter what it is called and trying to make it anything other than just simply what it is is patently absurd. At the end of the tour, our guide served us tea and homemade finger sandwiches in the courtyard of her downtown home -all in all a perfectly great Charleston day!
It still feels like there could be magic waiting around every corner here. We can't believe how perfect the weather has been since we've been here. It's unbelievably warm for mid December - in the high 70's today. Every weekend we say we're gonna do outside stuff before the cold weather comes, but so far winter has not passed this way. We've enjoyed hiking and biking on the weekends through parklands, cypress swamplands, butterfly gardens and there's still so much to see!
I bought a beautiful picture last week by a local artist who's become famous painting "ghost images" of Charleston. It started when a large favorite oceanfront restaurant was blown to smithereens by Hurricane Hugo, leaving nothing but the foundation piers. She painted a picture of the piers with a ghostly image of the restaurant still resting on them. All copies of it sold out in two weeks. Now she paints these mystical pictures of present Charleston scenes with characters in costumes of the past looming in the background. I'm really enjoying collecting my little pictures - it's a great way to decorate my little home with meaningful memories of my journeys. I have a powerful scene of Niagara Falls, a lighthouse shot in Maine, and now my favorite Charleston images.
December 9, 2001 - Happy Birthday Keala!
It's my baby's birthday and she wants chicken fried steak for her birthday dinner. I haven't had a chicken fried steak since I left Texas. Once when Don ordered chicken fried steak in New York, they had the nerve to serve it with brown gravy! I mean, what could they have been thinking???
I'm going to bed now with a thought taken from the latest issue of an RV publication:
December 12, 2001 - I hate getting fired!
Well it seems I've screwed myself out of a job - the firm that hired me to get them caught up just told me Friday was my last day. When I took the job, the temp agency told me they wanted someone right up until Christmas and I was glad to be working until then. But, because I got them caught up sooner than they projected, they're letting me go early. Kinda like "hey thanks for doing such a great job - we sure appreciate that we can spend less money than we thought - and hey, sorry that it means less money for you, but Merry Christmas!
Well, sometimes ya just gotta laugh at it all. This is not good news on the financial front, but it's not fatal. I do have another job lined up already starting next Friday and into the following week. If the agency can't put me to work any earlier than that, we're going to take advantage of my forced vacation and take a trip to Asheville, North Carolina. The Biltmore House, the largest mansion in America, is there and, besides being truly one of America's "Castles," it is supposed to be one of the most outrageously decorated places for Christmas.
So even though I had hoped to work more steadily, I have to admit it'll be nice to have a serious sight-seeing break. When I'm working, by the time I get home it's dark and some weekends just need to be spent lazing around, so we don't feel like we have to spend every waking minute on the go. And of course, it will come as no surprise to those that know me, but I was telling Don this morning that the thought of traveling for a few days sounds really great to me. I mean after all, I've been parked in this one space now for almost 2 months now - my tires are growing moss! I would truly enjoy driving my home around again for a while.
It's been fun Christmas shopping in Charleston. Now that's usually not something you'd hear me say - that anything about Christmas shopping is fun. But I haven't been to one mall, and that helps. During my lunch hour I've been walking through the historic downtown market picking out things unique to Charleston to share with my family to give them a taste of where I've been. Charleston is truly a unique little place - you could drive right by here on the interstate and think it was really a pretty boring landscape. And sometimes driving along that interstate, the wafting odor of the paper mill kinda makes you want to drive through as fast as you can. So it's not until you get right into the heart of the old downtown area that you feel what Charleston is really about - it's there where its value lies. The plantations and parks around her perimeter greet and welcome you properly, but it's the Battery and the Waterfront Park and Rainbow Row that are her true heart's treasures.
December 15, 2001 - Day trip planning
So I've been getting ready to hit the road again tomorrow. I surfed through some Asheville sites yesterday and I'm so excited about getting to visit there. I remember when I was in Maine I asked for input about what not to miss on my way back down south. A friend suggested Biltmore House, but it was too far from our route when we were heading directly to Florida. But it's a perfect little side trip from here, and it'll help scratch them itchy feet I've got. Well, what's the purpose of having an RV if you don't put it on the road at least every couple of months or so?
December 15, 2001 - Sad news
I found out this afternoon that one of my neighbors here at the RV park attempted suicide a few days ago. She took a whole bottle of pills, someone apparently found her in time, her stomach was pumped and she is now in the psych ward at a local hospital.
It's times like this that I seriously question my intuitive powers. I talked to her several times and never picked up on that degree of depression. I knew she had been having health and subsequent money problems, but when I spoke to her last weekend, she had plans for seeking alternative treatments. I had no idea how alternate her ideas were. Apparently when she was remodeling an old house, something she breathed in seriously compromised her immune system and she began suffering from severe allergies. It finally resulted in her being unable to work and she had to quit her teaching job. She is a very articulate, attractive woman - she has a masters in teaching - she has a family who loves her, and yet she feels so desolate and hopeless that she no longer seeks answers or help, but only escape.
Having felt such utter despair in my life before, I've at least a couple of times debated on which ways would be most effective to end my life. And even though I've had way too much experience with the subject due to a beloved family member having taken that route, it shocked me to realize how little I understand of the subject.
Keala theorized that I couldn't see the depth of her unhappiness because I was so happy in my life now that I believe everyone is in my same boat. So I pray that God show me how to have a more open heart - to be more receptive and able to at least try to make more of a difference in the lives of those people I come in contact with.
I truly do wish everyone could feel at least some of the peace I am able to attain at least some of the time - I suppose more than anything that comes from my now doing exactly what I know I should be doing. It doesn't mean I don't worry about things (read: money) sometimes (ok: often) but ultimately I have faith that something that feels this right will be supported by the universe and besides that, I have everything I need to support myself.
So again, I pray not to lose sight of what's real and important. We've all been given ample opportunity to identify our priorities lately - I just wish it didn't have to come as a result of such disasters.
I don't remember where I read this, but I saved it because I knew I'd need to hear it over and over again: "It is true that life is not always what we want it to be, but it always, ALLWAYS, All-Ways, gives us a chance to grow and become something more than we have previously been. So when a door closes in your face, shed your tears, but then turn your head toward the light and you will see it is coming from a new door that is already opening for you."
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