Was the cabbie an angelic travel companion, or just a practitioner of good old Southern hospitality?
Posted in , Jun 15, 2015
I checked into the historic King Charles Inn in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, the afternoon before my conference started. Time to explore! Charleston was known as The Holy City because of all the church steeples that dotted its landscape—over 400 places of worship in all. I knew that much. Otherwise, I was all on my own.
Cabs milled about near the hotel, so I hailed one and crawled inside. The driver looked over his shoulder, “Where to, ma’am?”
“I’m not sure,” I said, feeling a little self-conscious. I didn’t even have a guidebook! “This is my first time here.”
“Well, what kinds of things do you like?” he asked patiently.
“Antiques?” I ventured.
The driver laughed. “We’ll start at my wife’s favorite shop on King Street, right around the corner. There are plenty of antique shops in the historic district. My name is Clyde, by the way.”
“Very nice to meet you, Clyde,” I said. “My name is Roberta.”
Clyde dropped me off on King Street and said he’d return to get me in an hour. He had an idea. In the meantime, I thought I’d died and gone to antique heaven.
I waved when I saw Clyde at our designated meeting spot. “That was a real treat,” I said. Next Clyde pulled up to a large brick mall called the City Market that sprawled across four blocks.
“The structure dates back to 1840,” he said. “It’s always been Charleston’s largest market, and today it’s known for celebrating Charleston’s diverse culture and artisans. Take your time and have a bite. I’ll be here.”
I thought he was kidding—but he took a sandwich out of a brown-paper bag. “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere without you,” he said. I didn’t argue!
The market was open and airy inside, and I saw all manner of delights, many of them handmade by locals. I picked up some soap and a sweetgrass basket as souvenirs, then had a taste of barbecue and coleslaw.
When I got back to the cab, Clyde was snoozing, his head against the neck rest, a newspaper in his lap. I opened the door and he sat up straight. “Roberta, I meant to tell you to try the shrimp and grits,” he said. “That’s the dish Charleston’s famous for.”
“I didn’t know that!” I said. “I guess it’ll be shrimp and grits for dinner.” Thanks to my cab driver, I was becoming a Charleston insider.
We took a scenic route that featured live oak trees with their feathery strands of Spanish moss—an angelic scene. Clyde pointed out one of the few remaining cobblestone streets in the city. When we passed a famous place of worship like Old Bethel United Methodist Church or Grace Episcopal, he would stop the car and give me a history lesson.
Back at the hotel, Clyde helped me out with my packages. “How much do I owe you?” I asked, thinking that whatever the cost, my own private tour guide had been worth it.
“There’s no charge,” Clyde said.
I insisted—we’d been out for hours! But he wouldn’t hear of it. “I was on a special assignment today,” he said, getting back in the cab. He leaned out the window once more and called back at me, “Welcome to Charleston!”
Who knew what had made that man show me such a kindness. Perhaps it was just an example of good old Southern hospitality, an honored tradition in these parts. Or perhaps The Holy City had lived up to its name—literally, with its very own heavenly guide.
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