A Dark Cloud Over Charleston: Cultural Ideology of a City I Once Loved

By Mark A. Leon

We live and breathe under a cultural ideology and it is this ecosystem that surrounds us all that shapes who we are and how we live.  Shortly after completion of my graduate studies on the East Coast, where I was born and raised, I begin my formal employment career in Minnesota.  Battling the elements of culture shock was my biggest challenge.  After an awkward Hoedown on my first day of employment, I found myself questioning my ability to “fit in”.  Then it happened on a Tuesday afternoon on a warm Summer day.

Just outside my office I saw our Communications Director, Affirmative Action Manager and Health and Safety Manager gazing outside the front window of the facility.  This was my opportunity to bond with my new Midwest co-workers.  As I quietly joined in on their conversation, I walked over and listened closely.  The conversation was centered around a beautiful deer in the parking lot.  I looked and found no deer.  They raved and referred to it with intimate detail.  Still, no deer.

Finally, I resisted my fear of being embarrassed, and finally spoke up asking, ‘what deer?”.  All three looked to their left at me and pointed straight ahead.  Still, no sign of a deer, but within seconds I came to the realization, that beautiful fawn was none other than a large green John Deere tracker.

I was a stranger in a strange land.

Having moved often within the states and abroad, I found a home in Charleston and once again had to adjust to a new culture.  Now nine years in and I am still learning the culture.  Most often enlightened, but still very concerned.

After only spending one weekend in Charleston, escaping the crowds of my temporary Myrtle Beach home, I fell in love.  First, with the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.  Then as I penetrated deeper, the Colonial architecture and cobble stone roads of historic downtown, embracing the kindness of strangers, the seamless transition of city and residential living and the embrace of local business.  Finally, I absorbed the celebratory nature of the festival and events and the selfless support of human interest efforts on land and water.  This was truly a place I could call home.

It was a place where I could walk the streets in jeans, t-shirt and flip flops, go into my local bar on King Street and be greeted by my favorite bar tender as live trivia roared the crowds all around.  On a cool winter evening, I could put on a light jacket and head to a local theatre where some of the most talented actors in the South resided.

Charleston was a place where Jimmy Buffett or Warren Buffett could feel at home.  Celebrities were just like you and I and the taste of Southern cuisine made you want to come back over and over.

Elegant, yet unassuming, warm and inviting, but still personal in its connection to nature.  This was Charleston.

There was something so truly magical that all the Instagram’s in the world could not capture the cinematic beauty of a Charleston sunset over the harbor.  Every morning was a gift and every evening a blessing.

Church bells rang reminding us that faith is as strong as blood.

Going to a high-end steakhouse for a burger and a glass of Pinot Noir was just as acceptable as dressing to the nines.

Charleston’s idea of Tinder, was sitting outside a downtown restaurant, exchanging a smile with passing stranger and then spending the next few hours learning about each other’s dreams.

Charleston “was” a magical place.  A place historians, dreamers and visionaries could co-exist as one. 

Times have changed.  A cloud has stricken this city paralyzed.  Instead of a wheelchair or crutches, we are restricted by cranes, bulldozers and detours.

Our enemies are not the northerners as so many claim, but expansion and the greed hungry mongers in government and institutional investment.

Housing/apartment/condo prices and dining and hospitality costs all have hit record highs, but at what cost?

What is the new Charleston Experience?

  • Potholes and broken up uneven sidewalks
  • Constant construction that shows no signs of ending with the approval of two new hotels and continued development throughout the city
  • Traffic clusters throughout the metro and beyond
  • A rotating door of store and restaurant closures
  • Growth of common chain brands and reduction of local business owners
  • Rise of the homeless on the streets once again
  • Infrastructure on the East Side and West Side ignored
  • Rise in highway fatalities, home fires and violent crime
  • More restrictive parking laws and increased cost of parking
  • Urban and residential flooding still without resolution
  • Rumors of political greed and corruption
  • A separatist movement between the left and right, north and south
  • Disrespecting the beaches

This is not the Charleston I fell in love with nine years ago.   The look, the attitude, the culture and the warmth are hiding somewhere, hoping this dark cloud moves offshore.

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