My dear readers, I come to you this week searching for help with a problem. For the last several weeks, I have become increasingly convinced that I have slipped into an alternate universe. I believe the event began sometime last year and culminated when the City Paper published its Year-End Double Issue the week of Christmas. I hope you will bear with me as I explain, and, more importantly, I hope that you can reassure me that I am not freely floating through the multiverse as a displaced entity and that I am, more mundanely, just the slightest bit insane.
My slide into another realm can be traced back to a story in early December about the arrest of a rather dangerous criminal on North Market Street. The perp in question, a juvenile selling palmetto roses without a permit, was clearly a menace to the rather calm and orderly goings on in and around the City Market and therefore needed to be assaulted by a police officer and charged with a crime.
Never mind the fact, of course, that within three blocks in any direction of the market there are people standing on the streets hawking everything from carriage rides to hush puppies, those independent young con men selling palmetto roses are a threat so severe that they must be dealt with if they stray from the straight-and-narrow path of permits and permission. Still, I had not yet begun to suspect that my entire existence was about to shift out of what I had believed was the “real world.”
In fact, it was not until just after the beginning of the New Year that I understood what was going on. The City of Charleston — the calm, peaceful, beautiful, polite city that is a three-or-four-years running No. 1 City in the Entire Known Universe — was on the verge of losing its collective mind. Either that, or I had suddenly been thrust into some strange parallel dimension in which cab drivers and rickshaw operators were Public Enemy Nos. 1, the city’s nightlife had to be squelched, and a faux “reality” show about an increasingly irrelevant subset of society became the death knell of the Charleston Brand™.
Looking back it is easy to see how, slowly but surely, I was slipping out of reality. When the news broke of a sting operation aimed at taxi drivers overcharging for fares on the peninsula, I reacted with a shrug. To me, it did not seem to be a story worth the moderate amount of back-and-forth it engendered in online discussions. However, these ripples in public opinion over a vague and seemingly pointless story were just the beginning.
Scant weeks later, the City turned itself upside down over the passage of a series of new ordinances aimed at curtailing the burgeoning nightlife in certain neighborhoods. I even joined the fray, penning a column about the legislation. I still did not know the depth of what was going on around me, or how much deeper into the rabbit hole I would go.
Just last week, we learned that the Charleston Police ran another sting, this time on rickshaw drivers giving illegal tours in the city. Passions ran amok as the good people of Charleston took to their favorite online social networks and blasted one side or the other, all the while asking, “Is there nothing more important the police could be doing?”
And that’s when it struck me: there really isn’t anything more important for the police to be doing. Especially since it seems there’s a shadow police force operating in Charleston. CP‘s own Paul Bowers put a name to that force last week, Charleston Tourism Oriented Police Services. The City’s website does not list any such force among its eight “Special Activated Units,” so the implication is that this is a standing part of the police force — day in and day out, protecting and serving … tourists. Or possibly tour guides, one cannot be certain anymore.
Amidst all this madness came the devastating news that Southern Charm, Bravo TV’s reality show set in Charleston and featuring the South of Broad set (or one of them and a few telegenic transplants) received a premiere date. It’s no small wonder that some of the people who are concerned what this show will do to The Charleston Brand ™ have not yet reached out to the CPD TOPS (the name of the police unit spells out something in acronym form, heaven help us!) to make arrests of anyone assisting these people in their wanton destruction of the Charleston Myth.
As convinced as I am that I am no longer in the Charleston that I knew a year ago, I’ve seen enough Doctor Who to realize there must be others in this predicament. My hope, my greatest hope, is that we can find each other and then find a way back home.