Destination: Greenville

AUTHOR
So it wasn't the relaxing getaway we imagined (thanks to a towed car and lost keys), but our weekend trip to Greenville had some highlights—like enjoying tales told by a native and a bite of Bavaria

It hits me every spring. It starts with a sniffle, develops into a fever, and before I know it I've got the itis—or what doctors commonly diagnose as "wanderlust." Last week I had all the symptoms: the shakes, restless leg syndrome, an uncontrollable tick to Google Jet Blue. I needed treatment. I needed to get out of the "Best City in the World," fast.

 

But where to go? Savannah? On St. Patrick's Day? Hell no. Georgetown? Not far enough. Asheville? Maybe... And then I remembered, Greenville. A town I'd never been before. Fresh on the heels of John Mariani's "Is Greenville the Next Big Food City of the South?" (and Charleston's own Robert Moss' swift dismissal of the statement), I was eager to visit our city's so-called competitor. Twitter suggestions were fielded, restaurants were researched, reservations were made—oh, I had big plans. But as our book-on-tape on Cicero predicted on the drive up, "It is only perfection which is dull." And this little upstate excursion would not go as planned.

 

Business Week

 

Arrival:
Greenville is what I always hoped Columbia would be—beautiful, bustling, bi-pedal. Bicycles and steppers and skateboards, everyone is wheeling. We quickly parked the car on South Main in a dental office with a parking lot box for weekends. I shoved our $5 in the slot and we headed toward The Lazy Goat overlooking the Reedy River.

 

Florida Cruise & Travelers Magazine

 

The restaurant made the perfect vantage point for a round of my favorite sport: people watching. I had a whole story going for a 15-year-old boy on roller skates wearing a Stay Calm and Gangnam Style tee until the food arrived and distracted me. The menu leaned Meditteranean, and some shared spanikopita and basic wraps had us sated in no time. While the food was good but didn't dazzle me, the check did, coming in at a whopping $24.25 for two. A bit of a shock to our system in comparison to Charleston prices.

 

A stroll down Main was in order post lunch, and we kept finding ourselves comparing the city to a blend of New England mill towns and Seattle—judging by the newer architecture, there's a Scandinavian influence in there somewhere. The revitalization of the city center is the selling point. Clothing and home goods boutiques butt up against cafes, and each storefront appears to be thriving. We picked up new bike lights at the charming Pedal Chic then made our way to Falls Park.

 

10 Best

 

The overlook and surrounding garden is the most well landscaped public space I've ever seen next to Disney World. I mean it almost looked cartoonish. The grass glowed emerald green, and picnic-ers lounged below next to perfectly kept beds of purple, magenta, and blue pansies. The falls are impressive and one can easily imagine the city in its heyday when king cotton kept the locals employed at the brick mills (now lofts) lining the river. But while I made New England comparisons, I quickly was brought back to the South when a sweet gentleman walked by and actually offered to take our picture. Yeah, I've lived in Vermont, and that just wouldn't happen there.

 

We trekked down North Main Street, noting the trolley system and, best of all, the lovely signage. While it would look tacky in Charleston, Greenville has posted placards on every corner that say "More to See," with an arrow pointing down a street and a list of business names—a great way to encourage visitors to step off the main drag and throw their dollars to a side street boutique.

 

With an hour or so to spare before our plans for cocktails at the American Grocery, we plunked down on an empty bench outside Marys of Falls Cottage to deliberate. I still wanted to drive by Bob Jones University so I could say I'd seen it, or there was the Greenville Art Museum or the Upcountry Museum. But it was getting late—maybe we could make it to that vintage store I'd heard about before it closed, we decided.

 

When Things Took a Turn:

Blame it on karmic retribution for all the times I've seethed at Charleston tourists dawdling across the "Don't Walk" signal at the corner of Meeting and Market, but when we walked back to the lot, I heard my husband say those three sickening words everybody dreads: "Where's my car?"

 

"Kinsey, you put five dollars in the envelope right?" my husband Daniel asked, panicking.

 

"Yes. And it said make and model," I answered. "And so I filled it out—Ford Escape, Gray."

 

"But I don't drive a Ford Escape," Daniel said, his eyes getting bigger. "I drive a Toyota Corolla."

 

Oh my God. I'd gone into automatic and written MY car's make and model on the slip instead of his! But, BUT the envelope had a little tear ticket with matching numbers. We'd placed the corresponding ticket on our dash. So obviously they knew it was our car and that we'd paid...

 

Enter: verbal altercation with squat parking enforcement man.

 

I'm not going to go into details, but let's just say there was yelling and pleading and an insistence that someone return someone's five dollars (I got it back!), followed by us calling a cab. Twenty minutes later we were somewhere in Poe Mill Town (see red pin drop to the left) at a tow lot called Hales.

 

"That'll be $80," the woman swinging open the chainlink fence said when we arrived. Daniel handed her the cash and I started walking to the car when I heard him say the second worst four words ever, "Where are my keys?"

 

"Oh my God, where are my keys?!" We ripped through our shopping bag, tore open my purse—nothing. I grabbed my dying phone and dialed the cab company who patched in the cabby.

 

"Nope, not in the cab. But I found a phone. Is that yours?" he asked. No.

 

So now we were on the outskirts of Greenville without means of transportation and little to no clue where said keys could be. And then he drove up—our hero in a Hanes T-shirt. Mr Hale.

 

"Y'all done lost your keys?" Mr. Hale asked looking at our pathetic faces. "Well I'm 'bout go on down meet a buddy in town, I s'pose I could take ya." 

 

We hoped in his SUV and headed back downtown. Mr. Hale fielded calls on his cell as Daniel frantically dialed Mast General hoping his keys had fallen out in the dressing room—nope.

 

At last we were back downtown. Daniel leaped from the car, dodging traffic, racing to the lot where we had parked. Before I could open my door to join him, he was running back yelling, "I GOT 'EM!" He jumped back in the car and Mr. Hale turned the vehicle back to Poe Mill. Relieved, Daniel attempted conversation and asked him how long he'd lived in Greenville.

 

"All my life. I got married at 16 to my wife who was 14, and that year I started working in the cotton mills," Mr. Hale said. "Worked there until 1973 when the mills shut down. There was so many people heading to the social security office, I once waited seven hours for them to turn me away. But before that the mills was a good life. I made $80 a week and I remember the first time my wife and I went to the cash and carry grocery store—we got 20 bags of groceries for $4."

 

Mr. Hale drove us past his mama's house, the same home he was born in, nestled in the middle of the crumbling mill houses.

 

"She's 93 years old and still drives herself to WalMart," he said proudly.

 

He finally pulled up back to the tow lot and with profuse thanks we headed on our way.

 

By then it was 6:45 p.m.—two hours since we'd left the bench—and it felt like Greenville was asking us to go. We ditched our dinner plans and hit 26 defeated, $100 in the hole. We would have gone the whole way home that way if Daniel hadn't remembered something—GastHaus zur Elli.

 

GastHaus zur Elli

 

GastHaus zur Elli:
If you're ever near Prosperity, South Carolina on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night, I encourage you to pull over and stop at GastHaus zur Elli, the closest thing to a bite of Bavaria this state has to offer. The tiny German restaurant sits on the even tinier Prosperity Main Street. It's kitsch as can be, carpeted, and cozy, but they have a 20-plus list of German beers (Paulener, Pinkser, Erdinger) and huge portions of schneitzel. Like a comforting hug from a buxom hausfraus, it was exactly what we needed.

 

Sure, it wasn't the gourmand Greenville experience I had planned, but it was warm and filling. And if I closed my eyes as I chewed my spaetzle and focused on the Oompah music real close, it was almost like I was on vacation.