58: Southern Hospitality

58: Southern Hospitality

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

Southern Hospitality

Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.

~Charles Schulz

Hurrying to meet my sister Heidi at her gate, I had to grin. The airport may have been smaller than many Manhattan subway stations, but nearly everyone was smiling. Gone was the New York City “time is money” frenetic walking pace. Here folks meandered as if they had all the time in the world. The attentive car rental employee gave us a complimentary upgrade to a convertible. When he said, “Enjoy your trip!” he looked me directly in the eye. His sincere tone lingered long after we’d left the rental counter. Had we stumbled onto a movie set?

Off we went in the direction of the condo we’d rented for the long weekend in Charleston, South Carolina. I like driving. I really like driving fast. And that car begged to be driven quickly. The pothole-free freeway tempted me, but I held back from racing until I became more accustomed to the different freeways and local driving habits.

After wandering off to get the keys from the building manager, we received another surprise. On the kitchen counter the owners had left a nice bottle of wine and a box of chocolates with a “Happy Birthday!” note. How thoughtful. I had only mentioned in passing that Heidi and I were there to celebrate her birthday. Being a Sagittarius, she gets ripped off, her birthday lost in the hoopla of Christmas celebration. We’d decided to change that this year and enjoy her big day in late November instead. So far, so good.

On the coffee table in the living room, underneath a cute “Please smoke outside” sign, was a black binder stuffed with helpful information, complete with menus. Wanting nothing more than to curl up on the comfortable couch and watch movies, we agreed to go out the next night and ordered a pizza. Heidi didn’t need their tutorial on how to work their plasma television and we chose a film.

The beaming pizza delivery guy was college student age. Our un-Southern accents said that we were visiting, so he welcomed us and said to have fun.

“Goll-eee!” he exclaimed when I gave him the customary twenty percent New York City tip. “That is mighteeee generous. Thank yew.”

We were so thrilled to have a hot veggie pizza with extra sauce that I’d have gladly given him more. I didn’t tell him that the pizza cost as much as a draft beer in my local bar.

The next morning we went to a local coffee shop, taking time to savor our delicious homemade chocolate chip pancakes, while noticing that all the patrons were genuinely pleasant. Touring the plantation homes was informative. I learned more Southern history, something the Northern school systems tend to teach differently. At least both sides agree it’s a dark chapter of American history. Our walking tour gave us an even greater appreciation of Charleston. People on the streets sold handmade baskets, treats and souvenirs. How would we ever squeeze in a round of golf on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course on Kiawah Island?

Time passed too quickly. Regrettably we handed back the keys to the convertible and checked in for our flights home. Such a great birthday celebration. I wanted to return. As the old adage warns, “Be careful what you ask for.”

A week later I received an early Christmas gift in the mail. After opening the envelope, I cursed my invitation asking me to kindly come back... and appear in court. One of those hidden cameras had caught me in the rental car going way too fast.

“What?” I took another look at the dollar amount of the speeding ticket. What a costly mistake, even by the standards of North America’s most expensive city. I sat down and wrote a polite letter to the judge. Starting with how much I had thoroughly enjoyed my visit to his charming town, I shared highlights of our trip. Because of our incredible time, I was more than willing to come back down and visit Charleston again.

Unfortunately the court appearance scheduled in two weeks didn’t give me enough time to get days off from work and book a reasonably-priced plane ticket, reminding him the holidays made fares exorbitant. If he’d please move the court date further into the future, I’d happily return. I admitted that I was speeding, but only “slightly above” the limit, not a “reckless” number of miles over. Alternatively, if he’d reduce the fine, I’d pay it and we could call it even. I ended with, “Please let me know what action you’d like to take. Enjoy your fabulous city for me. I love Charleston.”

A week later, my hands quivered when I saw his reply had arrived. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and had to read it again. My face broke into a huge smile. Written by hand were the words, “Your ticket has been forgiven. Merry Christmas!”

Now, regardless of the time of year, whenever anyone mentions Southern hospitality, I think of that very kind judge and smile all over again.

~JC Sullivan

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