Noticing my way to Charleston

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By Jack Sparacino
Like a lot of people, I’ve become a “selective noticer” over the years.  There are whole categories of things I tend to gloss over, minimize, or just ignore.  My wife used to say that I could practically trip over a dead body coming home from work and it would barely register.  Other things really do get my undivided attention, like exactly where my line is and how fast it’s moving when I’m fishing for sea trout.  And some stuff falls in between, subject to a “cursory perusal,” as a fellow student once put it right before we all burst out laughing.  But as a result of reading the riveting Jack Reacher series by mystery writer extraordinaire Lee Child, I’ve been trying to hone my noticing skills.  Sort of a thinly veiled, early New Year’s resolution.
Not that I can quickly absorb, Reacher-like, every micro detail in a new situation, and assess every threat or opportunity.  Far from it.  But I’m working on getting just a little better.  Several recent drives to MUSC in Charleston helped put my new objective to the test. Here are a few things I managed to notice without swerving off the road (or even slowing down).
1. Not that all dirt HAS to be brown or sandy, but we sure do have expansive stretches of downright red earth.  It looks like crushed bricks or copper dust.  Makes me wonder whether you can grow anything in it.  How about red potatoes?  Red beets?  Red cabbage?  How about good old rhubarb?
2. There are more roadside fireworks stores to choose from than exist in maybe all of New England.  I wonder if the owners know each other. Do they have special sales from time to time?  Can you get written instructions on how to use their products safely? Is it OK to leave them locked in your car on a hot day?
3. Good golly Miss Molly, there ARE Indian restaurants within a two hour radius of Beaufort!  How nice to see one right on Route 17.  You can practically smell the tandoori chicken and those great curry sauces from your car. Hey, what time is my appointment? Did they say it was OK to come in with a full stomach?
4. You’ve got to love the sign that warns that “bridge freezes before road.”  The first time I noticed this sign, my temperature gage showed it was 95 degrees outside. The forecast called for more of the same relentless heat, pretty much indefinitely.  Wonder if the bridge also melts before the road does.
5. Passing a company whose sign indicated “specialty products” really sparked my interest. Countless companies make just plain regular products, but how many make specialty ones?  It just prompts one’s imagination to run wild.  Finally, a place to buy spare parts for my time machine — maybe a special gamma ray deflecting, titanium alloy rear view mirror to really trick it out.  Or how about a hand held device with “specialty” apps for detecting creatures from other planets?  OK, back down to Earth. Maybe just a cordless vacuum cleaner. Or how about a five gallon bucket with a cushioned bottom so you could sit on it more comfortably?
6. Who knew there were motels that charged as little as $24 a day?  So THAT’s why they had the word “budget” on their sign. Of course, you could hold out for a seriously higher rate at luxury palaces like The Charleston Place, a terrific hotel with all kinds of amenities, but what’s not to like about $24 bucks? That’s only about the price of a shirt. I’m assuming you get air conditioning and a TV.  Hopefully crisp sheets and a working shower with those little soaps. Maybe free coffee and a newspaper, or is that pushing things?
7. As you begin to get near the Ashley River Memorial Bridge that takes you into downtown Charleston, you see lots of brick houses lining both sides of Route 17. Smaller ones on the right, larger homes on the left.  This is a happy sight insofar as brick houses suggest strength and stability.  I’m guessing they are relatively resistant to storm damage, maybe even provide better insulation against temperature extremes. In any case, they’re sure nice to look at.
The Lowcountry is just a great place to live, and for a lot of reasons. This includes our relative proximity to Charleston, one of the most charming small cities in the country. While I can think of more entertaining things to do up there than undergo various medical tests and procedures at MUSC, the drive itself can be a welcome distraction.  Especially if you’re trying to focus on focusing.  And many of the journeys we all take in life are truly more important than our destinations.  Or so I’m noticing.