Lawson left Charleston and went from ocean to marshland to river to swamp to forest, and as far as that goes so did I: a week along the Intracoastal Waterway by canoe, a day up the Santee still by canoe, then a few days messing around in the cypress-tupelo swamps of the Francis Marion National Forest and the Wee Tee State Forest as the Santee traveled northwest towards its formation at the confluence of the Wateree and the Congaree, visiting the High Hills of Santee and the 150-foot tupelos and acres of cypress knees in the swamps of the Congaree National Park.
Then it was towns. I had cake and coffee in the tiny crossroads hamlet of Jamestown and slept in the church, visiting little Randolph's Landing, the spot at the end of the road where the government plonked Lake Marion, widely regarded one of the Army Corps of Engineers' worst mistakes in history, drowning an ecosystem and its culture and damaging not only the Santee River but the Cooper River Basin, where it ships some of its water in a wrongheaded attempt to improve Charleston Harbor.
From there I walked on to the tevolutionary town of Camden, where I was treated like a king and slept in the basement of the rebuilt Kershaw House, and from there to Lancaster, where I met not only the delightful people at USC-Lancaster but the Catawba Indians themselves, who treated me as well as they had treated Lawson three centuries ago, and then on up to Pineville, the last little stop before Charlotte.
And this time I walked into Charlotte. So I've gone ocean, marsh, river, swamp, hills, town, city, and now big city. The best surprise I had in Charlotte was the sidewalks. Throughout my walk I have complained, pretty
But then an astonishing thing happens. You find yourself on South Boulevard and ... there's sidewalk. And I'm here to tell you, that for the ten-or-so miles it takes you to get into Charlotte, you have sidewalk the whole way, and for that I could just weep with gratitude.
That was hardly the first thing I noticed about Charlotte. First, even as I approached Pineville, I left for the time being any semblance of rural land, as I discussed here. Before the Charlotte metro area, everywhere I went was plantations and forests and pine tree farming and meadows: South Carolina is rural. Starting to near Charlotte, instead of hitting large areas of land and seeing cows and trees and granite, I saw an endless parade of subdivisions -- of Glen Laurels and Clairemonts, of Fox Trails and Bridge Hamptons, Farringtons and Almond Glens. Those are all names of subdivisions I jotted down as I walked past. We've all heard the famous joke that a subdivision is named after the geographical feature they bulldozed and the wildlife they killed to make it, but once you've got to Parkway Crossing (real place!) you have to understand that they're just building them faster than they can name them. I mean what's next: Don't Walk Acres? The Glen at Traffic Circle?
Which brings us to Charlotte! Charlotte's origin story is that Trade and Tryon, the main downtown crossroads, has been a crossroads for time out of mind. Tryon is pretty much the Trading Path, which I've been following (and Lawson followed) since about Camden, SC. Trade was another path, running between the Cherokee settlements to the west and the coast. At the crossroads was a Catawba settlement, and that made a great place to hang out and wait for whatever was next.
In fact, at that point Lawson met someone he didn't expect. Lawson, like me, knew he was coming into the city: "This day, we pass'd through a great many Towns, and Settlements," he says. "About three in the Afternoon, we reach'd the Kadapau King's House, where we met with one John Stewart, a Scot, then an inhabitant of James-River in Virginia ." Stewart was one of the Indian traders from the Chesapeake who made their way up and down the Trading Path, bringing European goods and returning with deerskins and furs. Stewart was waiting around with the Catawbas because a Seneca raiding party was in the area and he didn't care to travel alone. Lawson mentions that Stewart had heard of the approach of Lawson's group nearly three weeks before and had waited for him, giving a little sense of how effective Indians communicated without any help from the Internet. Stewart joined Lawson's gang and they agreed to journey forward together.
But not before Lawson irritated his host by refusing to enjoy the services of "two or three trading Girls" the Catawba King kept around for visitors. When Lawson politely declined -- and even one of his his most ready companions, who had recently woken up to learn he had been robbed by a trading girl he had enjoyed for the night, declined as well -- the king didn't like it. "His Majesty flew into a violet Passion, to be thus slighted, telling the Englishmen they were good for nothing." Still, they hung around a couple days, baking bread and otherwise preparing for their journey, which at this point began to turn eastward back towards the coast.
Walking into Charlotte up South Boulevard is a delight, though. You walk past about a million self-storage places, which along with the limitless car lots lead a visitor to the conclusion that people in Charlotte -- and I suppose all modern people -- have cars only so they can fill them with stuff, which they then dump off in warehouses. I passed a little chemical plant after walking through neighborhoods easily identifiable through signs on restaurants and roadside stores: hispanic, asian, African-American. Then as I closed in manufacturing plants-turned-upscale-living-and-shopping started dominating, and by the time I could get glimpses of downtown I was in neighborhoods that took serious coin to inhabit -- off the main drag, you could see one or two of the old millhouses remained, but almost everything else was a teardown.
Once I got into downtown it was like the Peterson's Guide to the Ecosystems of the Big Cities. Sports stadium? Check (three! minor league baseball, pro football, and pro basketball!). Adorable minipark? Check: One with a literary theme and, for some reason, spitting fish. Then there was Trade and Tryon, and though no Catawba King greeted me, I had been well treated by the Catawbas already (more about that soon!). As for trading girls, I appear to have missed that neighborhood.