A friend ducks into an out-of-way restaurant in Santa Monica.
The one in California. At the end of Route 66. Home of movie stars with swimming pools.
And what should they bring to the table in addition to a bottle of red wine?
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Yes, in a place the waitress was expected to bring a complimentary yoga mat came a steaming bowl of Lowcountry. How shocking to see the official state snack food that hits all three legs of the South Carolina Food Pyramid: Foods that don't require teeth, foods that you can spit, and foods with enough salt to harden arteries on the spot.
At first, I wondered what gave my Southern friend away. Did he ask for a table with a spittoon? Did they overhear him saying, "If this place ain't highfalutin, grits ain't groceries."
But, no. It doesn't take a double-naught spy to see what's really going on here.
While the boiled peanut may be a slippery slope for California, it's one more nibble of proof that in the Lowcountry, we is somebody, thank you very much, and always have been.
Our only problem is that it takes somebody from off to see the delicacies of Lowcountry life.
We grew up thinking it was normal for a man named Doctor Buzzard to sit in a courtroom in purple sunglasses working a root on the jury.
Can't everybody massage canvas with vivid colors and change the world like Jonathan Green?
Don't they all go where they're afraid to go with a pen and yellow pad like Pat Conroy?
For too long, we've looked at the world through a glass-bottomed boat, if you will.
As Jonathan Daniels, who co-founded The Island Packet after a career as a leading Southern editor and North Carolina author, put it long ago: "Some native Southerners still operate on the theory that a Yankee is worth more than a bale of cotton and twice as easy to pick."
And we tried to pick them with Stuckey's and South of the Border and Colonel Sanders, but a hole-in-the-wall in Santa Monica can hack through the clutter to see our true glory.
Cane syrup, pickled creek shrimp, Bluffton oysters and hushpuppies we call lip gloss. Isn't this stuff common as rain?
The squawk of a marsh hen, chirp of an osprey, leap of a tree frog, stare of an eagle. It's all ordinary as okra and tomatoes over rice. Isn't it?
Spirituals and shouts. Dock diving and sand bars. Frogmore stew and shad roe. Diamondbacks and surf scoters. Camellias and moss. Fighter pilots and Reverend Ike. Tootie Fruity in the parade, unknown soldiers in the grave. MLK at Penn Center, Marian Anderson at Robert Smalls. Handmade stained glass at Tabernacle Baptist, Revolutionary renegades in the St. Helena churchyard.
Pecans and B'rer Rabbit. Shrimp and brown gravy. River camps and Liberty Oaks. Trout holes and lighthouses. Bay Street and traffic circles. Liveaboards and john boats, mullet and flounder, Candice Glover and Smokin' Joe Frazier. Parris Island and Sea Pines. River baptisms in white robes. Our fabric is like any other.
Or is that why they serve boiled peanuts in Santa Monica?