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Noble Column: 5 Ways to Improve Education in S.C. for Little or No Cost

Phil Noble

Phil Noble

By Phil Noble

When politicians in South Carolina start to talk about education, almost immediately it becomes an argument about money. By focusing on money, they are taking the ‘cheap’ way out – refusing to talk about improving education and instead resorting to the false choice argument of  ‘spend less – spend more.’

Before we as a state wade into this political swamp of ‘spend more – spend less’ we should first focus on things that we can do to improve education that cost little or no money. This won’t fix our big education problems long term…but it’s at least a constructive positive step forward while the partisan politicians bicker among themselves.

If legislators really wanted to do something … they could take at least one of these five ideas, do the policy legwork and be ready to move on this when the legislature reconvenes in January.

  1. Extend child support payments as long as children are in school. Today, the parent paying child support, usually the fathers, can stop paying when the child becomes 18 years old. Almost all do. This is precisely when the financial burden escalates if the child wants to go to technical school, college or university. The single moms are hit with a double punch: they lose the child support payments at precisely the time when they need additional money to help their child continue their education and achieve their dream. It would cost the state very little money to continue the child enforcement process for a few years and it will be more than covered by the increased tax revenues from the students who will earn more with their enhanced education.
  1. Revoke the driver’s license for students that drop out of school before they graduate or reach 19 years of age. About the most un-cool thing that can happen to a 16 or 17-year-old is to lose their driver’s license or not to be able to get one at all. We continue to try a number of drop out prevention programs, many of which are relatively expensive, but this would cost virtually nothing to implement. Certain exceptions could be allowed for hardship cases and a number of states, especially Georgia, provide a good and effective model.
  1. Give parents online access to their child’s school records in real time. Most schools in South Carolina have a computerized system for centrally tracking students’ records – attendance, test scores, teachers’ comments, etc. Parents should be given real time, online access to these records to help them better understand what is happening with their child in school. Teachers understand how important forging a partnership with parents is to helping children learn. I have seen this work first hand with my own children in their school and seen how this sharing of record and trading information via email can go a long way in building a real parent-teacher cooperative partnership. The cost would be minimal as it would only require providing access for information that is already being collected.
  1. Increase usage of online courses and expand the offering for adult learning and lifelong learning. Online learning is a no brainer, and fortunately we in South Carolina are doing better in this area than most states. There is no one size fits all program as there are lots of options and models, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The models range from individual courses offered online to entire schools online to even online school districts that are almost totally online. With virtually all of the models, the cost is lower per student as the usage increases thus the state would benefit from economies of scale if we moved on this on a statewide basis. Also, this is just the first step toward the goal of a customized individualized learning plan that fits the individual needs of each student.
  1. Provide an educational laptop or other digital learning tools for every child. Unless you have been living under a rock, it is self-evident to you that mastering the tools of the digital age are as vital to education as is reading, writing and arithmetic. Several years ago, I led a group of people that created One Laptop Per Child / South Carolina with the bold goal of making South Carolina the first state to provide every child with an educational laptop or some other digital learning device. We raised over $1 million from private sources and put almost 3,500 in 15 pilot projects in schools across the state. An independent evaluation found that “dollar for dollar it is the single most cost effective we can make to improve education in our state.” Many districts are already implementing this 1 to 1 strategy (1 student 1 device) and it could be implemented statewide for less than 2% of what we are now spending on education. It’s time for the Governor and the legislature to step up and finish the job.

We are all tired of our state’s politicians stuck in simplistic arguments over more or less money as the key to improving education. More isn’t better, less isn’t better…better is better.

These are five good ideas that could be implemented in January of next year. Send this column to your legislator and tell them to get to work.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform.  phil@philnoble.com

“My son is safe or not” by Stuart Neiman

"My son is safe or not" by Stuart Neiman

“My son is safe or not” by Stuart Neiman

“Why a Cop” from The Times and Democrat

"Why a Cop" from The Times and Democrat

“Why a Cop” from The Times and Democrat

“Fear Factor” from The Times and Democrat

"Fear Factor" from The Times and Democrat

“Fear Factor” from The Times and Democrat

My Brain on NASCAR: Junior Go

Cathy Elliott

Cathy Elliott

Pikachu

Pikachu

By Cathy Elliott

Pikachu, where are you?

This question is on the minds of millions of obviously-bored Americans who downloaded Nintendo’s new Pokémon Go smartphone app after it launched on July 6, obsessed with the little yellow critter who is the public face of this hugely popular game.

Something similar is on the minds of millions of Americans who are currently beginning to worry about NASCAR’s most popular driver.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., where are you?

If you’re unfamiliar with Pokémon Go, you haven’t been watching the morning news shows lately. The popular card-trading game from the 1990s may be all grown up, but the same cannot be said of the game-playing adults wandering all over town, eyes glued to their cell phones (imagine that!), in search of virtual balls which they can then use to score points in imaginary goals and earn in-game rewards.

Talk about taking the term “jumping through hoops” to a whole new level.

What we basically have here is a bunch of rational adults running around in circles in various geographical locations trying to beat one another and earn more points than their competitors, i.e. win the game.

You may call that Pokémon Go, but I call it a NASCAR race.

The who-knows-how-many-millions of Earnhardt fans out there are getting jumpy, and for good reason. With only eight races left until the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Junior is getting dangerously close to missing the championship field. A month has passed without a top-10 finish, he has dropped to 13th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, and he has yet to win a race.

“What am I going to do?” he asked after the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway. “We’re running as good as we can. It’s either going to be good enough or won’t be enough. I’m not really going to lose any sleep over it, at least at this moment. When we miss the Chase, it’ll be frustrating and disappointing, but we’re going to plan on not doing that. We’re going to plan on making it.”

Am I the only one who noticed the term “when we miss the Chase” rather than “if we miss the Chase?” Uh-oh.

With Junior ranked 14th in points coming out of Kentucky (the top 16 drivers at the end of the regular season make the Chase field), all was not lost. He ranked third among drivers who are in the top 16, but haven’t won a race this season. Bristol, Pocono, Michigan and Richmond are among the eight races remaining, and he has won at all four of those tracks. It’s too soon to freak out, right?

Wrong. Things got bad … and then they got worse.

On July 14, Hendrick Motorsports issued a press release stating that, “Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not complete in the July 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after experiencing concussion-like symptoms.”

The release went on to quote Junior as saying he wasn’t feeling great headed into Kentucky, but thought it was allergies. He saw a family doctor and was treated for allergies and a sinus infection.

“When that didn’t help, I decided to dig a little deeper,” he said. “Because of my symptoms and my history with concussions, and after my recent wrecks at Michigan and Daytona, I … met with a neurological specialist. After further evaluation, they felt it was best for me to sit out … I’m looking forward to treatment with the goal of getting back in the race car when the doctors say I’m ready.”

Then, the release delivered the kick in the gut: “A timetable for Earnhardt’s return has not been established,” followed by a promise that the team will provide an update next week regarding Junior’s status for The Crown Royal 400 at the Brickyard on July 24.

This is bad. We have talked about safety more than once this year, and despite NASCAR’s Herculean efforts to make the sport as safe as possible, involvement in repeated wrecks at high speeds can’t be good for a guy.

Also, the implications of a Junior-less Chase are not so good for NASCAR. As sports fans, most of us know that when your favorite team is gone, your interest goes with it.

For the good of all concerned, I sincerely hope that in true NASCAR style, Earnhardt has the ‘speediest’ of recoveries and goes on to prove himself a top contender in the game we’ll now call Junior, Go!

Pikachu who?

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the book Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. 

Philando Castile’s Gun Permit Might Have Gotten Him Killed. I’m White. My Own Permit Gets Me Out of Traffic Fines.

Corey Hutchins

Corey Hutchins

By Corey Hutchins

Occasionally we have guest writers for this space and this week’s column is by Corey Hutchins who was SCPA Journalist of the Year in 2011 and 2012. He now lives in Colorado and writes for the Colorado Independent. – Phil Noble

Philando Castile, a black man in Minnesota who was shot and killed by a 28-year-old police officer named Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop, was about my age. We might have had plenty in common, or not much at all.

But when details of his killing emerged, I learned of one potential similarity between us that also set us a world apart: Like Castile, I have a permit to carry a gun.

I, too, have been pulled over by police. The difference is that Castile was black and I am white. When he got pulled over with his gun permit, he was shot and killed. When I’m pulled over and show my permit, it gets me out of traffic fines.

According to Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who posted a live video to Facebook of her boyfriend bleeding in the driver’s seat while the officer’s gun is still drawn, Castile had a permit to carry a weapon. She says he told the officer he had a firearm and was reaching for his ID when the officer shot and killed him.

“He had a permit to carry,” Castile’s mother said on CNN.

In discussing the killing, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has pointed to Castile’s race as a factor.

“Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white?” the governor asked. “I don’t think it would have.”

This is not abstract for me.

I have been pulled over with my own gun permit several times, but I’m a white guy driving a Volkswagen. And since I got my concealed carry permit, I’ve been treated very differently by officers each time they’ve pulled me over. Instead of tickets that lead to fines, I’ve gotten off with warnings. The permit has saved me hundreds of dollars since I got it.

Why? The answer is an anecdote I used to tell at parties. I don’t feel so hot about it now.

In 2009, as a journalist in South Carolina, I took a weekend class and got a concealed weapons permit for a story about the rise in permit applications and firearms sales following the election of Democratic President Barack Obama.

My instructor was a liberal New York transplant who previously taught college English. At the end of our two-day training, he told us— all of us white— about one of the perks of having a concealed weapons permit: We would likely never get another traffic ticket again.

The next time you get pulled over, our instructor said, hand over your permit with your license and insurance card. Tell the officer whether you are armed and if there’s a gun in the car. When the officer sees the permit, the instructor said, his “whole demeanor will change.” We will likely get off with just a warning.

The instructor was right. For me, anyway.

Since I got my permit in 2009, I’ve been pulled over by police multiple times. I have yet to get a ticket.

The first time was in a small South Carolina town where I was clocked at 16 miles over the limit. The officer chided me for not having a gun on me at the time. Getting a written warning, he said, doesn’t happen much in this town, as he handed me one that saved me around $200.

The next time was more egregious. It came in the early morning hours at a DUI checkpoint on a major road in a mid-sized city. My destination was just before the checkpoint, on a side street, and when I turned onto that street two officers chased me down on foot and pounded on my car, yelling for me to stop. They might have thought I was trying to evade the checkpoint. It sure looked that way.

When I handed over my license, gun permit and insurance card, I’ll never forget what the officer said. “All right, brother, concealed weapons permit, you’re good.”

The officer did not ask me— a guy in his 20s who just made a left turn immediately before a flashing DUI checkpoint after midnight— if I had been drinking. Just, “All right, brother, concealed weapons permit, you’re good.” That was it.

The last time I got pulled over was about a year and a half ago in Colorado after making a U-turn in an intersection. I didn’t see the officer in an SUV in a nearby parking lot, but he saw me. I handed him my license, my permit and my insurance card, and thought this is the time I finally get a ticket. The officer let me off with a warning.

There are a few reasons why this happens, my weapons instructor explained seven years ago.

For one, to get a concealed weapons permit, you have to pass a background check, which means if you have a permit you have no serious priors. Your fingerprints are on file, you’re already in the system, you have no outstanding warrants for your arrest.

Another reason is that in some states, if you rack up enough traffic violations, you can lose your gun permit. An officer might appreciate having more well-trained civilians carrying concealed weapons in their communities, and so you might get a warning instead of a ticket that could lead to losing your permit.

But there’s another aspect that went unsaid, perhaps made more clear in light of Castile’s death: It probably helps if you look like me.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent group strated by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big cnage and real reform. phil@philnoble.com

Silver Screen Tailgate Party

Nostalgia Combines With Modern Touches to Keep SC’s Surviving Drive-In Theaters in the Picture

By Chris Trainor, Free Times

It is possible to be nostalgic for an era in which you did not live, and yearn for a connection to experiences that were not your own.

They are feelings that come alive on a muggy summer night at The Big Mo Drive-In theater in Monetta, a tiny town split between Aiken and Saluda counties about 40 miles southwest of downtown Columbia.

To watch The Big Mo come to life on June 17, during the opening weekend of the animated smash Finding Dory, is like stepping into a time machine and hurtling back to an era in which the drive-in was king.

Hundreds of cars poured into the three-screen outdoor theater. The theater’s main field, which was showing a double feature of Dory and the Johnny Depp-starring Alice Through the Looking Glass, was sold out, and there were solid crowds on the other fields, with teenagers piling into the back of pickup trucks and couples sitting side-by-side in tailgating chairs to get a look at Central Intelligence or The Conjuring 2.

Gazing across the fields of The Big Mo, seeing SUVs, vans, pickups and gleaming hot rods lined up side-by-side, spying the impossibly long lines at the concession and sno-cone stands, and watching children climb all over the playground on the main field like so many ants, one might imagine that the drive-in movie business is going strong across the country.

Alas, it’s a mirage. In 21st century America, The Big Mo is an exception, not the rule.

The heyday of the drive-in theater — once an institution in the United States — has long since passed. According to an essay written by Rick Cohen on drive-ins.com, the definitive database of drive-in theaters on the web, the world’s first drive-in was opened in Camden, New Jersey in 1933. The idea of watching a movie in your car quickly caught on, then exploded in popularity after World War II. By 1958, there were about 4,000 drive-in theaters in the United States and Canada.

However, the numbers soon began a decades-long period of decline.

Air-conditioning became more common in indoor theaters. Creeping development in many towns surrounded and eventually swallowed up drive-ins. In the 1970s and 1980s, the proliferation of cable TV and VCRs created fierce competition. Studios proved troublesome, often declining to send their top films to play at drive-ins, many of which charged lower admission prices than their indoor competitors.

In more recent years, the studios strong-armed drive-ins into making the costly switch from 35mm film to digital projection at a price of $60,000 to $80,000 per projector.

Today, about 320 drive-in movie theaters remain in the United States. What once was an indelible piece of American culture has nearly faded into memory.

Despite it all, a few drive-ins are still alive and thriving.

Three of them are in South Carolina — the nearby Big Mo, Greenwood’s Auto Drive-In and Beaufort’s Highway 21 Drive-In. The geographic locations of the theaters — one each in the Upstate, Midlands and Lowcountry — puts a nostalgic evening out within easy driving distance for most folks in the state.

All three of South Carolina’s drive-ins are family-owned, and are the very definition of mom-and-pop businesses, with husbands and wives and children all pitching in to keep the operations going.

They also have updated the drive-in experience to lure viewers from the multiplex.

Digital projectors have cut down on the blurriness of images shown on the big outdoor screens in the old days and provide a clearer picture like those watched indoors.

Drive-in owners now are serving more restaurant-style food to customers expecting more snacking options when they head out of the house.

And the theaters cater to families by holding special events, installing playgrounds and suggesting patrons not use the time in the car to think they are on Lovers’ Lane.

It’s tough to say whether owners of South Carolina’s surviving drive-ins have simply found a unique niche market, or whether they might actually be part of a movement that sees drive-ins regain some of what they lost across this country.

Either way, with late nights and hard work, a sense of adventure and just a hint of a carnival barker’s charm, the owners of the Palmetto State’s drive-ins are giving a new generation — and some old timers, too — a peek into America’s past.

A Gem in Peach Country

Richard Boaz sort of leads a double life.

During the business day, he works his “normal” job as a law librarian in downtown Columbia.

But on weekend nights from March until late November, he’s part of a completely different world. For the last 17 years, Boaz and his wife, Lisa, have owned The Big Mo Drive-In in Monetta.

Somehow, just off a country road in a little town in the middle of peach country in rural South Carolina, they’ve made the drive-in movie business work for nearly two decades.

On a recent Saturday night at the drive-in, Richard Boaz sweats in his Mickey Mouse T-shirt and Big Mo ball cap as he sells tickets at the main gate, jovially directing moviegoers to the proper fields as he makes change. The walkie-talkie clipped to his belt squawks constantly as employees talk back and forth about trying to squeeze every last car onto the main field where Finding Dory is playing.

While he has a wealth of challenges to deal with — weather, facilities maintenance and the ever-shrinking window between when a film is released theatrically and when it hits home video are but a few — Boaz says running the drive-in remains a passion, one that makes him feel as if he is doing something consequential.

“In my day job, I’m basically shuffling papers, for the most part,” Boaz says. “It’s not anything that is going to outlive my time here. Whereas, out [at The Big Mo], as corny as it may sound, you are doing something where you are creating memories that these people will hold for the rest of their lives.”

The Big Mo first opened in 1951 and operated mostly continuously until closing in 1986. Boaz says the property was a “drive-in ghost” when he and his wife bought it in 1998. They went to work on rehabbing it and reopened the theater in 1999. The first movie they showed was The Wizard of Oz.

The Big Mo had only one screen when Boaz purchased it. He added a second screen in 2005 and a third in 2011.

Other members of the Boaz family also help out on busy nights. On June 17, Richard and Lisa’s daughter Tamsen Boaz sold tickets and directed traffic on one of The Big Mo’s smaller fields. The 19-year-old Midlands Tech student says being part of the family that owns the area’s only drive-in is always a conversation starter.

“Whenever I meet someone new and they find out that we own the drive-in they are like ‘What? That’s crazy! We love the drive-in!’” she says. “Kind of makes you feel like a celebrity.”

“It’s All About the Movies”

Carolyn McCutcheon will always remember the night in 2009 when she and husband Tommy reopened the Auto Drive-in in Greenwood after the theater had been closed for many years.

They showed Steve Martin’s The Pink Panther 2 on what was, at the time, the drive-in’s lone screen.

Five cars showed up for the movie.

But times have changed. McCutcheon says she has invested $800,000 in the drive-in. They’ve added two more screens, made the costly transition to digital projectors and expanded the patio area outside the theater’s restaurant.

When Free Times visited on June 18, hundreds of cars wheeled onto the property, with a sellout on the main field (where they were showing, you guessed it, Finding Dory) and respectable crowds on the other two fields, which were showing films including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and X-Men: Apocalypse.

McCutcheon says the drive-in has soared far beyond where she initially envisioned. She says the key is booking first-run movies, especially animated films and superhero flicks, which sell tickets like crazy in the summer.

“We try to have these family movies here, where everyone can come together and meet up,” she says. “It’s all about the movies. If you get movies in, you can get the people in.”

The idea of family movies at the drive-in is a departure from the scene of the 1970s and early 1980s, when the outdoor theaters became synonymous with sci-fi and horror B-movies and even porno films.

Obviously, that has changed, with drive-ins now showing big budget, first-run studio pictures. That doesn’t come without a cost, however, as the studios get a healthy cut of the ticket price.

“Out of the sale of that ticket, we pay the studios, we have to pay a man a weekly fee for booking our movies, transportation to get the films here and back,” McCutcheon says. “There are so many handling fees that come out of that money. [Ticket] money is money that we don’t even really get. It doesn’t get into our pockets to re-invest.”

Joe Barth, who owns the Highway 21 Drive-In in Beaufort, says dealing with the studios is just part of doing business.

“Honestly, I don’t mind giving the studios money,” Barth says. “They made the movie. They spent the money to make the movie. All I’m doing is putting it on the screen for people to watch. … If you don’t have product to sell, you’re not going to make money.”

With studios getting their share of the ticket money, concessions are the lifeblood for drive-in owners. While South Carolina’s drive-ins offer many of the treats you might find in an indoor theater — popcorn, candy, ice cream bars, sodas — they also have what are essentially full restaurants on-site.

The Big Mo will make you a large pizza, or any number of burgers and sandwiches. The Auto also has a variety of burgers, along with specialty items like fried pickles and fried macaroni and cheese. Highway 21’s menu features, among other things, Angus beef burgers, Philly steak wraps and funnel cake sundaes.

Whether customers take their food back to their cars, or enjoy it on a covered patio like the one at Highway 21, the very existence of drive-ins depends on customers queuing up at their restaurants.

“You want the best movies, so you pay [the studios] more for those movies, that way you can sell more tickets and more concessions,” Barth says.

This Isn’t the Cineplex

Simply put, attending a drive-in movie is nothing like seeing a film at an indoor theater.

Show up at any of South Carolina’s three drive-ins on a Saturday night in the summer and you will quickly see that you’ve stepped into a tailgate party, of sorts.

For one thing, people get there early. Really early. It’s not uncommon for cars to start pouring into the drive-in at 7 p.m., even though movies don’t start until dusk, which is usually at about 9 p.m. this time of year.

In another major departure, drive-ins offer a double feature for one ticket price. For instance, at The Big Mo an adult could pay $8 for two first-run movies like The Purge: Election Year and The Shallows.

Drive-ins have also solved some of the presentation issues they were hampered by years ago. For instance, you no longer have to endure those little speaker boxes to hear the film. Now you can listen to the movie on your car stereo, via an FM radio signal.

The transition to digital projection also has its upsides. While 35mm film still has its fans (director Quentin Tarantino is one), those prints tended to get scratched and worn during the course of a movie’s run. That won’t happen with digital.

Barth says the conversion to digital projection represents a commitment to the business, and also puts to rest the argument some made in years past that the picture on a drive-in screen wasn’t as crisp and bright as what they could see at an indoor theater.

“The conversion to digital, I believe it is going to attract more visitors to the drive-in,” he says.

On June 17, Elizabeth Gabbard hosted her daughter’s 17th birthday party at The Big Mo, with more than 60 people. Partygoers tossed footballs, played games and ate watermelon as they waited on the movies to begin.

Gabbard, who says her family and friends come to The Big Mo once or twice a month, thinks the drive-in culture offers her an opportunity to connect with her kids in a way that other forms of entertainment don’t.

“It gets people together,” the Pelion resident says. “It gets the kids off their cellphones. We play volleyball while we’re here, we throw football. … It’s a place we can park and play and enjoy games and our friends. Then when the movie starts, we all sit together and enjoy it together.”

In Greenwood on June 18, Greenville’s Bob Glaser leaned against his car as his grandkids played nearby. They made the hour-plus drive down U.S. 25 just to go to the Auto.

For Glaser, it was his first trip to a drive-in movie theater since 1976. (The movie he saw that night in 1976? Squirm, a horror flick about flesh-eating earthworms. Now, that was a 1970s drive-in movie.)

Glaser, who is originally from the Cleveland area, says going to a drive-in decades ago could be a rowdy time. That was back in the days when admission was pay-by-car.

“It was different,” he says, with a chuckle. “It was fun. There was a lot of drinking. You would sneak as many guys in the trunk of the car as you could. We had a lot of fun doing it. We would put five or six guys in the trunk of a car and unload them and have a great time.”

Now, Glaser seems content sharing a more kid-friendly drive-in experience with his grandsons.

“Look, it’s all family,” he says, pointing at moviegoers all around him. “That’s the key. That’s why we’re here. We will probably be regulars now. We’ll drive 50 miles to get here.”

On June 24, Mitchell Murray and his wife sat in a white pickup truck and listened to a bit of country music as they waited on Independence Day: Resurgence to begin at Beaufort’s Highway 21 Drive-In.

A retired Marine and a self-described “movie buff,” Murray says he went to the Beaufort theater because he didn’t want to be confined to an indoor auditorium with opening night crowds.

“You can move around and you’re just free,” the Walterboro resident says of the drive-in experience. “There’s fresh air. Everybody’s got their own environment.”

Chance for a Sequel?

South Carolina’s three operating drive-ins appear to be doing a good job drawing moviegoers. At least on the nights that Free Times recently visited them, business was brisk in the middle of the hectic summer movie season.

Could drive-ins make a nationwide comeback?

Richard Boaz is skeptical.

“I can’t see a huge corporate interest in it,” Boaz says. “I still see it as being kind of a mom-and-pop sort of endeavor. There are two obstacles. One is the basic one of getting enough money to get over the hurdle to actually build and equip the thing. The second thing is the time suck that it is. It is every weekend.”

Carolyn McCutcheon, of Greenwood’s Auto Drive-in, is a touch more optimistic, noting there are drive-ins in other parts of the country that have been built in the last decade, and that a number of existing drive-ins have added screens.

And then there’s Joe Barth. He has owned the theater in Beaufort since 2004, and wanted to open a drive-in on Old Dunbar Road in West Columbia in 2014.

That plan floundered after Barth and Lexington County and the state Department of Transportation couldn’t agree on various permitting details. Barth has shelved the West Columbia plan and is now looking into opening a drive-in in Oklahoma.

Barth believes drive-in theaters “are going to become relevant again.” He says the drive-in allows people to tap into the nostalgia of a bygone era, and rekindle memories once forgotten.

“There’s millions of stories about the drive-in,” Barth says “All you have to do is ask. People remember certain aspects, like the movie they saw. Or they might not remember the movie they saw, but they’ll remember who they were with, or how good the nachos were. It just takes you back to a simpler way of life.”

Despite what the future may hold, drive-ins here are attracting residents who seem to cherish them as a modern twist on a fixture from years gone by.

Joey Walls, who says he used to go to a now-closed drive-in in Greenville when he was younger, took his kids and grandkids to the Auto in Greenwood on June 18.

Walls relished the evening, as it was the first drive-in visit for the youngsters.

“None of them have ever been to a drive-in movie,” Walls says, looking on as others in his group took pre-show selfies. “We’re trying to show them what it’s like.

“I wish the drive-ins would come back more, I really do.”

Read the rest of this entry »

“Senseless” by Stuart Neiman

"Senseless" by Stuart Neiman

“Senseless” by Stuart Neiman

“Closet Bound” from The Times and Democrat

"Closet Bound" from The Times and Democrat

“Closet Bound” from The Times and Democrat

“Brush Off” from The Times and Democrat

"Brush Off" from The Times and Democrat

“Brush Off” from The Times and Democrat

My Brain on NASCAR: Enough Already!

Cathy Elliott

Cathy Elliott

By Cathy Elliott

I was talking with Darlington (S.C.) County Treasurer Belinda Copeland last week and we were having a bit of fun over some of the topics I have recently addressed in this column, and how some of my comments may have come across as being a bit negative. The word “harsh” may have come up.

Belinda is that rare type of person who believes everyone is entitled to their opinion – and this, remember, is an opinion column – and she offered me some much-needed and greatly appreciated words of encouragement: “Just say what you think!”

I thanked her and told her half-jokingly that I was planning to try to redeem myself a little bit this week by writing a warm-and-fuzzy piece on the subject of Mr. Tony Stewart, and I really meant it at the time. Honestly, I did.

Then, the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway happened. After lurking at the back of the field in the early stages of the race, Stewart surged to the top five, only to crash out with 12 laps remaining when his car got loose, sending him into the wall and the infield care center rather than to Victory Lane. This mishap followed an earlier crash that took 22 cars out of the race … and no one batted an eye.

Which brings us to one of my most troubling NASCAR soapboxes. Restrictor plate racing and the heart-stopping incidents it creates has made one burning question stand out in my mind over the years: Are we race fans, or wreck fans?

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I feel that restrictor plate races are starting to resemble bad traffic accidents on the Interstate. You don’t want to watch, but you just can’t seem to help yourself, and it’s really starting to get on my nerves.

We’ve even given these horrific things a name – “the Big One,” a huge chain reaction accident that generally takes out about half the field and yields a few fights and plenty of choice words from drivers. There are injuries; sometimes bad ones. I feel safe in saying that the majority of fans who watch these races expect to see a wreck of this type, and are actually disappointed if at least one car doesn’t go airborne.

It was after one of these events back in 2011, remember, that Tony Stewart wryly shared his “disappointment” at the low attrition rate. “I’m upset that we didn’t crash more cars,” the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion said convincingly. “That’s what we’re here for. I feel bad if I don’t spend at least $150,000 in torn-up race cars going back to the shop. We’ve definitely got to do a better job at that.”

Maybe it’s because I recently binge-watched Season 6 of Game of Thrones or have read one too many Philippa Gregory novels, but I have come to feel that the atmosphere surrounding restrictor plate races has become almost medieval. Barbaric, even.

In Tudor England and Westeros alike, those poor souls who were ratted out for saying something that might have been construed as disloyal to the crown – AKA treason – were the stars of a show that droves of people turned out to watch, with kids and picnic lunches in tow. It was a real spectacle. The day generally involved an ax man, a basket and a foregone conclusion, but hey, the viewer market share was outstanding. It was gruesome and terrifying … and the spectators loved it.

Beloved fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., known for his skill at restrictor plate racing, has been famously quoted as calling it “bloodthirsty. If this was how we raced every week, I’d find another job … I don’t even want to go to Daytona and Talladega, but I ain’t got much choice,” he said. “If that’s what people want, that’s ridiculous.”

I’m with Junior on this one. When did we as a nation embrace voyeurism at its worst, becoming excited at the prospect of potential damage to both man and machine? When did we become willing to actually PAY for it? How much farther are we willing to go?

On second thought, don’t answer that. I just don’t want to know.

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the book Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. 

Noble Column: Hey Y’all, E Pluribus Unum

Phil Noble

Phil Noble

By Phil Noble

E Pluribus Unum or out of many, one.

This 13 letter phrase became an official part of the Seal of the Unites States by an Act of Congress in 1782. It was the de facto motto of the United States until Congress officially made In God We Trust the national motto in 1956.

But beyond being simply our unofficial motto, since even before 1782, E Pluribus Unum embodied the very spirit of us as a new country. This simple but profound idea is that we are all many – many different people of different origins, different histories, different religions, different colors, and different races – but all one, the People of the United States.

If you think about how things have been over the last few thousand years, E Pluribus Unum is a pretty radical concept. For most of human history, we have been dividing people into two groups – us or them – and to have a country that recognizes that all of the “thems” are all part of “us,” well, that’s a big idea.

Various religions, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. all recognize some sense of ‘one in the spirit’ as the old hymn says, but E Pluribus Unum is about secular institutions – a government and a county – and that’s a fundamentally different thing.

These types of musings about our national origins and aspirations always seem to obligatorily come forth in newspaper columns such as this one around every July 4th holidays but there have been several things in the news of late that add poignancy.

So, this week when so many of us are relaxing at the beach or on the lake or by the pool, eating and drinking all the appropriate patriotic food items – and as Old Glory gently waves nearby in the breeze – here are a few thing to ponder.

There are some new Pluribus in South Carolina these days. There is a new study out this week about who are the new people moving to South Carolina and the results might surprise you. The fastest growing group of New South Carolinians is Asians.

Though in absolutely numbers they are still small and only make up 2% of our state’s population, in the last five years the number of Asians in the Palmetto State has grown to over 20,000 – an increase over this period of 26%. The largest group of Asians came from India. By comparison, Hispanic growth has been 14%, American Indians 10%, whites 6% and blacks 4.4%.

It’s worth noting that Gov. Nikki Haley comes from an Indian immigrant family.

E Pluribus Unum has never been easy; there have always been tensions between new and old South Carolinians. Beginning in 1670 and for the next 100 years or so, the white folks who settled in South Carolina were largely similar. The Colony was founded from the Atlantic coast and the original white settlers were mostly from England, Episcopal, and the families of second (or third or fourth) sons of aristocratic families.

The first sons inherited the manor house and estate, the title and the seat in the House of Lords. Many younger sons came to the New World because their opportunities were limited in the Old.

When the Upcountry was founded beginning in the mid-1700, it was largely by Scots-Irish who came overland down through the Shenandoah Valley and tension grew almost immediately. These new Pluribus were hard scrabble, small farmers and Presbyterians. A prominent newspaper in Charleston called these Scots-Irish ‘the scum of two nations.’

E Pluribus Unum has always been about an aspiration of our greatest hopes over our darkest fears and from our earliest history (see S.C. and Scots-Irish above) there have always been politicians such as Donald Trump fanning the flames of suspicion, paranoia and fear.

It is nothing new in South Carolina, U.S. or even global history. Throughout U.S. history we have had politicians who scorned the Germans, Irish, Poles, Jews, Chinese, and Mexicans, and every other ‘fill in the blank’ immigrant group. These voices blame all of ‘our’ problems on ‘them’ and preach that if it we could go back to how it ‘was’ – then everything would be OK again. (Make our Colonies Great Again.)

It’s ironic that a nation of immigrants would be so susceptible to periodic convulsions of anti- immigrant prejudice … but we are.

This campaign season – both in the U.S. with Trump and in the UK with the anti-immigration hysteria that led to a vote to leave the EU – there is legitimate reason for concern about the rising fears over hopes.

But, although the fears never totally go away, the hopes do seem to usually win out. Somehow we always seem to be able to rise above our deepest fears and listen to our better angles – at least up until now.

In his short-lived presidential campaign, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley had perhaps the best line of the year when he said, “The enduring symbol of America is not the barbed wire fence, it’s the Statue of Liberty.”

And indeed it is.

O’Malley said it in 16 words; our forefathers said it in 13 letters – E Pluribus Unum.

We as a people, South Carolinians and Americans, must never forget this – nor forsake this.

 

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the S.C. New Democrats, an independent reform group strated by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform.  phil@philnoble.com

“Gift Wrapped” by Stuart Neiman

"Gift Wrapped" by Stuart Neiman

“Gift Wrapped” by Stuart Neiman

“Ticket Quotas” from The Times and Democrat

"Ticket Quotas" from The Times and Democrat

“Ticket Quotas” from The Times and Democrat

“Everything For a Reason” from The Times and Democrat

"Everything For a Reason" from The Times and Democrat

“Everything For a Reason” from The Times and Democrat

My Brain on NASCAR: The commander

Cathy Elliott

Cathy Elliott

By Cathy Elliott

I’m trying to figure out why anyone would want to be the president of anything.

Take the United States, for example. When election time rolls around, the winner – and I use that term loosely – is tasked with smoothing the ruffled feathers and balancing the checkbook of a diverse nation which has now become so cynical that the “Show me what you’ve got” attitude has replaced “We’re so glad you’re here” in the collective conversation.

When Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012, his platform was based on a plan to run the country like a business. Not only did he vow to make America great again, but he explained exactly how he was going to do it.

I liked that concept (although the majority of American voters did not), but realistically, it must be awfully difficult to become the president of something overnight, kind of like moving into someone else’s house and trying to figure out where they keep the Doritos, and how to cook with gas rather than electricity. Imagine Bill Gates walking into the corporate offices of Apple and saying “Hey, y’all, here I am.” Chaos.

Long story short, “top dog” turnovers can be stressful, from the Oval Office to – you knew it was coming – the president’s office at a legendary NASCAR speedway.

In case you missed it, Darlington Raceway has a new president. The track “Too Tough To Tame” announced on June 29 that Kerry Tharp would be taking over the seat vacated by Chip Wile, who was recently named president of Daytona International Speedway. Tharp will be Darlington’s fifth president since 2000, following in the racing grooves of Jim Hunter, Andrew Gurtis, Chris Browning, and Wile.

At this point you might be thinking that Darlington Raceway is beginning to sound a little bit like Elizabeth Taylor in the marriage department, but I have to tell you, I think this one might stick around for a while.

Tharp has an impressive sports resume, having worked at the University of Tennessee and the University of Oklahoma, but Gamecock fans will probably best remember him as the associate athletic director for media relations at the University of South Carolina, a position he held for 20 years before being snatched up by NASCAR, where he was the senior director of racing communications.

“I am deeply humbled and honored to have this opportunity,” Tharp said. “I love the state of South Carolina and its people. I know how special Darlington Raceway is to this state and to the sport of NASCAR. The track’s rich tradition, history, and popularity resonate with the competitors, partners, media and most importantly, the fans. I look forward to working with our team to help keep Darlington as one of our sport’s crown jewels.”

This is a guy with staying power.

This is also a guy tasked with overseeing one of NASCAR’s most successful marketing initiatives in recent memory, the hugely popular and award-winning “throwback” campaign. Daunting? A little bit, but if you’re looking for a guy who doesn’t back down from a challenge, you’ve found one. There is a reason, after all, why Tharp is affectionately referred to throughout NASCAR as “Commander.”

Darlington Raceway has been busy since 2000: Regrouping and reorganizing with a new president every three to five years. Losing one of her two annual race weekends. Losing the Labor Day weekend race, the most historic weekend in NASCAR history. Being given a Mother’s Day weekend event, formerly known in the industry as the “unsellable date” (Darlington sold it out). Branding the Mother’s Day race as a beloved family event, then losing it. Bringing the legendary Southern 500 back to Labor Day, and making it one of the must-see events of the year. It’s enough to make a girl break down and cry, and it has. More than once.

It takes a strong and experienced hand to navigate such a complicated ship. Fortunately, the “Lady in Black” has been given a strong and experienced commander to take on the task, allowing me to say with complete confidence that Darlington’s 1.366-mile egg-shaped Oval Office is in very good hands indeed.

 

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the book Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame.

“Brexit Vote” by Stuart Neiman

“Brexit Vote” by Stuart Neiman

“Brexit Vote” by Stuart Neiman

“Dem Sit In” from The Times and Democrat

EC2629

“Ship Sailed” from The Times and Democrat

“Ship Sailed” from The Times and Democrat

“Ship Sailed” from The Times and Democrat

NOBLE COLUMN: Brexit: What it Means to S.C. and You

Phil Noble

Phil Noble

By Phil Noble

Brexit = Britain Exit

#1 What it is?

Brexit was the vote last week by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. While this one sentence is true, it’s a little like saying “the South lost the Civil War” – true, but there is a whole lot more to the story.

Let me explain. Culminating with World War II, for the past few hundred years the countries of Europe periodically chose up sides and killed each other with frightening regularity. After 70 million people died in World War II, the politicians of Europe decided that they did not want to do this again and they began a long process of tying the counties of Europe together with even increasing economic, social and political agreements. Over time, these agreements created the European Union or EU.

The theory was that if the countries were so closely connected, then another war would be impossible. This process continued and expanded until today the European Union is made up of 28 countries with a population of over 500 million. They essentially have open borders, free trade and exchange of good and (with the exception of UK and eight other countries) a common currency called the Euro.

#2 What happened?

Over the years, many people in Europe (and especially in the UK) became increasingly resentful of the political elites and the EU government in Brussels “telling us what to do.” Think about all the bad things that Donald Trump says about Washington and substitute the word “Brussels” and that pretty much sums up how lots of people feel about the EU.

In time this gave rise to a new political party, the UK Independence Party (or UKIP for short) who fiercely opposed immigration and most everything that the EU did. UKIP largely drew their support from segments of the Conservative Party (think Republican Party) voters who were white, older, non-urban, lower education and lower income (think Trump voters). Supporters of the “stay” campaign were more racially diverse, young, urban, well educated, higher income voters.

Although he personally supported the EU membership and led the campaign to stay, UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party has been deeply divided on the EU issue for years. So, in 2013 in hopes of placating the right wing of his party and stopping the defections of his party’s voters to UKIP, Cameron promised an up or down national referendum on staying in the EU.

In the last year or so came the immigration crisis that swamped Europe (sound familiar) and increasingly people became fed up and said it’s time to leave the EU. Last week all these anti-EU chickens came home to roost, and by a margin of 52%, UK voters decided to leave. To most observers, it was a shock.

 #3 Why it matters?

Well, let’s start with what happened the day after the vote – stock markets in the U.S. and pretty much everywhere else in the world, took a huge nose dive. No, not a nose dive, they fell off a cliff. The Dow dropped 610 points or 3.4% and the other markets in the U.S. and around the world were about the same or worse. In the first few days after the vote, over $2 trillion in wealth evaporated in the global stock markets.

If there is one thing that businesses, from global corporations to the corner store, dislike it’s uncertainty and right now everything is uncertain. The question everyone is asking is “what now?” and the truth is that no one knows.

In the short terms at least, most of what is being discussed is mostly bad. Not “board up the house get your gun and head for the hills” bad but, still not good. What we will have to do is all that we can do – wait and see.

 #4 Why it matters to S.C.?

It matters a lot to South Carolina; arguably it matters more to South Carolina than to any other state.

Yes, really. South Carolina has more direct foreign investment per capita than any other state and of the eight countries with the most investment in South Carolina six of them are in the EU. It’s about the 1,200+ facilities of international business that are located in our state and the tens of thousands of jobs of South Carolinians who work in these places.

Does this mean that lots of these folks will immediately lose their jobs? No, probably not, but the Brexit vote will have an impact. Don’t expect to see any UK or EU companies announce any new large investments or expansions in South Carolina any time soon i.e. see business uncertainty above.

 #5 Why it matters to YOU?

Well first, check your 401k or stock account today and see how far it dropped — and it did drop, the only question is by how much and for how long. The same thing applies to your pension fund at your company and the state retirement fund that covers 200,000 South Carolinians.

If you work at any of the 1,200 foreign owned facilities – talk with your boss. Some will try and tell you otherwise, but no one really knows what the short, medium or long term impact will be — but I’m pretty sure ‘no impact’ is not the right answers.

#5 What can you do?

In one sense, there is not a lot any of us can do on the individual level. The global forces at work are beyond any of our individual control. This sense of helplessness against “them” is a big part of the frustration that fueled the anti-EU (and Trump) vote.

These feelings – on the part of UKIP and Trump voters – are real, justified and valid and critics should not dismiss them as otherwise. People are afraid, uncertain and have much to worry about.

But, there is something that we can do: we cannot give in to the voices of those demagogic politicians that blindly rant against “them” – the immigrants, the Muslims, the media and the political establishment. Yes, there is a lot to be frustrated about (with Washington, Columbia or Brussels) but the answer is not to be found in simplistic sound bites and appeals to our fears and prejudices.

The American writer H.L. Mencken famously said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” And so it is.

We need political leaders – in Washington, Columbia and elsewhere – who understand this, people who understand that the world is complex and that there are many big issues involved and the answers are not clear, simple or easy.

We need leaders that have the honesty and integrity to tell us these straight truths.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform.  phil@philnoble.com