Our latest travels have convinced me that biscuits and gravy are probably the best breakfast creation ever to land on my plate. Until now, I thought I could only enjoy breakfast when it was jam packed in a tortilla and spiced to the point that I could no longer recognize it as breakfast. This opinion of “my most important meal of the day” completely changed when, on our latest adventure, I smothered warm biscuits in an overly fattening and creamy sausage filled gravy. Glorious I tell you…glorious. Until I returned home and bragged about my new edible love to my mother-in-law and she said it was no good for my hips. I never said it was healthy Rene…I just said it was good.
President’s Day weekend 2011 was spent in the warm, sunny, and welcoming state of South Carolina, the home to incredible breakfast combinations and my husband’s beloved alma mater, the University of South Carolina. As a Christmas gift, I planned this journey down south to give my amazing and loving husband the opportunity to reminisce his college days and show his new girl around. So, after 25 years, Paul finally returned to his “home away from home” and I became an official honorary Gamecock (although Sammy Seagull from Salisbury might not be happy to hear that)
Our travel itinerary consisted of a flight into Charlotte, NC in which we would pick up another not so sporty yet reliable Ford Focus (this time in a much more conservative maroon color). From there we would drive to the nearest Bojangles for the famous “dirty rice” that Paul swore got him through college, and then on to Columbia, South Carolina to check in at the Inn at USC, a hotel situated right on campus. Yes, we were going to do this trip right.
We arrived in Newark fairly early for our 6:25pm flight to Charlotte. Unfortunately, as our luck would have it, our flight was delayed two hours. In addition to the delay, our airline was experiencing an identity crisis. I booked a Continental Airlines flight, only to find out it was a Continental Express flight, which later resulted in a United Express plane. Continental and United merged and no, they’re still not sure who they really are yet.
After waiting for two hours in the worst Newark terminal ever (obviously us “express” people don’t deserve the good stuff), we boarded our plane and sat at the gate for another half hour while we waited for the mechanic to come and figure out just why the back door wouldn’t close. Now, if you follow our blog or know anything about me, I absolutely hate to fly. It scares me to the point that the anxiety literally exhausts me and, as I’ve mentioned before, makes one or sometimes both of my legs shake uncontrollably. So, you can imagine what the words “the door won’t close” and “we need a mechanic” did for my nerves. It didn’t help the situation. In fact, it made it much worse. To the point that the flight attendant had to console me during the landing and reassure me that yes, despite all that bumping around, we were indeed going to make it. It is important to note that I do have an incredibly tolerant husband. If I were him, I’d pretend not to know me while in flight. In fact, I wouldn’t even want to sit next to me. But, he completely owns up to being mine, and well, that’s just love right there.
We arrived in Charlotte at quarter to 11, much later than our planned 8:30 arrival time. After picking up the rental and gearing up the GPS, we headed towards Columbia, keeping our eye out for our first sign of a Bojangles. We found one right away. Determined to indulge in a late night grease fest, I pulled that Ford Focus right up the drive through only to be let down with the “we don’t serve anything but coleslaw after 11pm” line. Who wants coleslaw at midnight? I wanted fried chicken, biscuits, and dirty rice. Wouldn’t you?
Back on the road again, I realized just how lonely it is on a South Carolina highway at midnight. Without any Bojangles to console us, it was going to be a long and not so scenic drive to USC. I was driving and tired after the physical and mental exhaustion of flying, so I felt it was the appropriate time to find myself a good country station to blare and sing a long to. Once again, Paul found it necessary to disagree, but he kept his comments to a minimum.
We arrived at the Inn at USC around 1:15 am. What a beautiful place with such southern charm! The lobby offered several enormous glass jugs of iced tea readily available at all hours of the day. I immediately filled a cup with lots of ice and tea and had my first taste of South Carolina sweet tea. Then I filled another cup with just as much ice and unsweetened tea and chose that instead. Sweet tea is, well, sweet. Too sweet for my liking. While I was doing all of this iced tea research, Paul was checking in, only to find out that we were upgraded to one of the three suites in the hotel. They must have thought we weren’t coming and filled all of their rooms to capacity and put us in the suite, never thinking this couple would roll up in their Ford Focus after the midnight hour. Well…we did and the suite was ours! I took my two cups of tea right up to the most amazing hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. This room exceeded the Borgata suite upgrade that I gushed about a few years ago. It was like staying in a million dollar mansion’s master bedroom. It even had a fireplace! Sweet tea and a sweet suite. Alright!
The next morning we set out to explore campus and spend a few hundred dollars at the bookstore. You can’t be an honorary Gamecock without the right gear. Paul showed me every nook and cranny of his college stomping grounds, from his old dorm to the Domino’s pizza location that’s still standing and delivering after all of these years. It warmed my heart to watch him rediscover it all.
Before lunch we drove out to the enormous football stadium so I could see just how big football stadiums are at Division I schools. Let’s just say, the football stadium at my school closely resembled Manasquan High School’s football field. My jaw literally dropped when I saw the USC stadium. Seriously? I can only imagine the intensity and pure fun of being a student there and going to a game. It almost made me a little envious that I didn’t go to a school of that size, but our choices and our paths in life, I believe, are ours for a reason. Salisbury was my school, and though its miniature compared to my husbands, it was my story.
For lunch we dined at Yesterdays, a place Paul remembered for its outstanding nachos. You really can’t miss Yesterdays, just look for the big cowboy in the bathtub. Yes, you read that right. The nachos were not as great as Paul remembered, but when you are in college, you think anything outside the dining hall is 5 star dining. In addition to the nachos, Paul had a burger and I had a meatloaf sandwich with a side of collard greens. By the way, I LOVE collard greens, but I knew that before this trip. After stuffing ourselves beyond capacity, we headed to the USC baseball game at their new stadium.
Once again, I was given the chance to see a Division I stadium. The Gamecocks were the 2010 College World Series Champions so not only do they have a really luxurious place to play, but a serious trophy to welcome you with.
After the game, we headed back to the Inn at USC with only one goal in mind. To sit on the front porch and spend the early evening hours enjoying the warm weather side by side in rocking chairs. It was so quiet and peaceful. We talked and talked about Paul and his college years while sipping iced tea. It made me think about life and fate and just how amazing it all can be. Who would have ever thought that the two of us would be here, together, after all of these years? And probably, just at that moment, my camera that was sitting on my lap started to slip off and in my attempt to catch it, my iced tea went flying up and splashed all over my face and hair. It was one of those moments where you laugh so hard it hurts your face. And there we were, two adorably happy people, one doused in iced tea, laughing and rocking in our chairs. It was perfect. It is perfect, I should say.
We ended the evening with dinner at Hunter Gatherer, a restaurant that closely resembled a barn. Paul had a shrimp po’boy and I had a lamb gyro. The food was good and the atmosphere was different, just how we like it. We ate and headed back to the hotel. We both needed some serious sleep after all of that walking. Plus, we had Charleston, S.C. ahead of us.
The next morning we set out for our next destination, a three-hour ride to Charleston. The only disappointment I had with Charleston was that we could only stay one day. What a beautiful place! I’d love to explore it more and try out the bounty of restaurants.
We stayed at The Charleston Place, a fabulous hotel in the center of town that afforded us the ability to walk to wherever we needed. We took the opportunity to meet up with Paul’s hometown friend Bob, who lives just outside of Charleston. Bob and Paul not only grew up in NJ together, but also went to college together. We had a lovely seafood dinner right on the water while Paul and Bob reminisced their college days.
Like it always does when you are having fun, vacation came to an end quickly and we were back in the Focus heading back to the airport. It was quite a drive from Charleston to Charlotte, but since I still hadn’t had my Bojangles, I had my destination in mind. Prior to getting in the car, I made good use of my new Ipad and googled a map of the inside of the Charleston airport. I knew we would be arriving at the airport circa lunchtime and I would need to know the most direct route to the nearest Bojangles. The map told me to head right to Terminal B and that is exactly what we did. Paul was right, the dirty rice is really tasty and the chicken and biscuits weren’t too bad either.
Although we were offered an earlier flight back to Newark, we declined and chose to wait. The flight home was much better, despite the cold weather we returned to.
College is an interesting thing when you turn and look back at it. You spend four years of your life immersed in a place that’s never really yours. You do everything you can to enjoy it, live it, survive it even, but you don’t really cherish it until it’s over. Until its someone else’s. And that someone else knows nothing about you, the memories you made or the struggles you faced.
So, if you are still in college, enjoy it. Wear your school colors, take lots of pictures, be good to your friends, and study hard….because you never know when you might be back, walking hand in hand with your wife, just reminiscing…