Peter Greenberg is right.
In his recently released book, Don’t Go There: The Travel Detective’s Essential Guide to the Must-miss Places of the World, Greenberg advises Lowcountry visitors to bypass North Charleston. According to the travel writer — who cites figures from the FBI and claims to have talked to North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt — the working-class burg of North Chuck is more or less a family-fun park for criminals and their brood.
Some call it the 10th most dangerous city in America. I call it Six Six Six Flags over Charleston, and it’s a place where murders, shootings, stabbings, and rapes are A-ticket amusements, and aggravated assaults, robberies, and motor-vehicle thefts are as commonplace as funnel cakes and commemorative cups.
I know this because I live there. And each workday, simply getting to the City Paper offices in downtown Charleston is as dangerous as navigating the Amazon River in a banana hammock. There are piranha all around, and they love to bite.
You doubt me? Well, let me tell you about my typical Monday morning.
It starts when I wake to the sound of gunfire, a common enough occurrence that I never have to set my alarm clock.
After I roll out of bed, I open the closet and pull out a bullet-proof vest. Then I go out and get the morning paper, taser a few muggers, dodge a drunk driver or two, head back inside, and sit down for a cup of piping hot Joe. It’s soothing.
Eventually, I make my way to the shower. In case you’re wondering, the bullet-proof vest stays on. You never know when a home invasion might occur. Generally, it happens around 8:15 in the morning on Thursday, right before the garbage man gets here, but sometimes it comes earlier.
Once I’ve cleaned up, I feed the pits, the Rotts, and the Dobermans out back, stroll on over to the work shed, and make sure the illegal aliens I hired to run my meth lab are doing alright. I ask them if they need me to pick up anything when I’m in town. They want the latest Us Weekly and a bag of Snickers.
Then it’s back to the house to set the alarms. With that out of the way, I head out the front door, lock the locks, put up barricades, string up a barbed wire fence, sacrifice a chicken, and spread its blood around the mailbox. That usually keeps any intruders out, but just in case, I put up a sign that says, “Warning: This house is protected by AIDS.”
Over the next hour or so, I spend my time driving down I-26, a post-apocalyptic stretch of road where mohawked mutants in ass-less chaps careen and crash into compacts and SUVs alike, sending the innocents over guardrails and into the trees, which are covered in broken taillights and turn signals. At night it looks like Christmas.
Finally, I pull into the parking lot of the City Paper. I breathe a sigh of relief as I get out of the car and survey the wonders around me. The junkyard across the road turns scrap metal into gold. The government high-rise up the street sparkles like the Taj Mahal dipped in Elmer’s glue and sequins. The people living in the projects down the block are so well off they spend their days relaxing on the front porch and chatting with their equally-contented neighbors. They greet everyone they meet with a handshake and a gold-grill smile. They spread the wealth.
And because I have time to spare before the workday starts, I hail a horse-drawn carriage for a morning jaunt across the peninsula.
We travel in a comfortable, diamond-encrusted ride and chat about the pleasures of bicycle riding — a hobby enjoyed by nearly every single downtown resident, thanks to the city’s free bike program. Tipping back one mimosa after another, we marvel at the delightfully dilapidated works of residential art that line the streets. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about a caved-in roof that stirs my soul.
Oh, Charleston, there’s a reason they call you the Holy City. You’re simply divine.