One of the things that happens when you travel in retirement is you see a lot of the big sites first. Places you’ve dreamed about. Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia, elk in the Smoky Mountains, petroglyphs on an archway in the Grand Canyon and booming Old Faithful in Yellowstone.
Once you’ve hit those things you move on to smaller sites. Astronaut Gus Grissom’s museum in his hometown of Mitchell, Indiana, the Museum of the Gilding Arts in Pontiac, Illinois or Charleston, South Carolina.
Often you find the best surprises in those little places, like Kevin Costner in Hyman’s Seafood in Charleston.
We stopped at Charleston last week on the way down to a mission project in Florida. It’s a nice spot to spend a couple of days off the road.
I didn’t know much about Charleston.
I knew it has a big port that has been vital to the country since Colonial times. Francis Marion, AKA the Swamp Fox played by Mel Gibson in The Patriot, is from that area. Fort Sumter is there.
What I didn’t know was it was a large slavery center, that abolitionist icons the Grimke sisters were born there. Or that I could create my own perfume at a fancy shop or buy a puzzle box in a four block-long Charleston City Market.
Charleston’s tourist area isn’t that big. We opted not to pay for a tour, and instead chose to walk around on a cold January weekend with the air smelling like newly sharpened pencils.
I was fascinated with the porches with hardwood doors. It seemed odd, front doors opening to front doors.
Back in the main tourist area I spotted Hyman’s. People were outside waiting for a table in the old dry goods store that is now a restaurant serving seafood and kosher meals. Anytime the locals are waiting for food you know it’s going to be good,
Sitting on a joggling board and eating hush puppies, we waited 20 minutes for our turn inside.
“Table 31,” said the hostess after our name was called. “Follow the carpet upstairs to the second floor.”
Another hostess upstairs led us through the crowded room to a small wooden table by the window. The table had little plaques on it. Kevin Costner read one. Tara Lapinski another. Kyle Busch. Looking around, I could see the little labels on all of the tables.
Looking up, the walls held white plates that appeared to be signed by other famous people. I squinted to see better: Mel Gibson signed one, so did a member of the band Imagine Dragons.
Had Kevin Costner really sat at this table, I asked the server.
“That’s what they say,” she said. “I don’t know. I’ve only been here a year.”
We ordered generous shrimp and crab dinners allowing ourselves to dream that we were eating with Kevin Costner.