The ladies who have sat at the same table at Red’s Grill every Tuesday for 20 years demanded to know what kind of dumb question they were being asked: Who wins between South Carolina and North Carolina in Thursday’s football season opener for both schools?
Just like everything at Red’s, the question was overheard.
“Are ya slow?” asked somebody from the counter about the dumb guy asking the dumb question. “Where are ya?”
“Carolina!” said another guy. “What was the question?”
Back at the counter, guy #1 continued: “Only one Carolina. She ain’t wearing baby blue.”
He walked out like a king, which he surely was, leaving behind a $5 tip for a $5 check.
“South Carolina,” said Randy Burton with his name over his heart on a workshirt. His forearms looked like Virginia hams. Nobody argued.
Around the table it went for the ladies, though, as the question was theirs.
“South Carolina,” said Frankie Lowder.
“South Carolina,” said Connie Therrell.
She bit her tongue on having spent time in North Carolina. Didn’t want anybody to chop it off with a steak knife.
“South Carolina,” said Shirley Rochester.
“South Carolina,” said Shirley Feiner.
“South Carolina,” said Sandra Tedder.
“South Carolina,” said Elaine Montgomery.
The teams start the college football season Thursday in Charlotte, which everybody knows was stolen from South Carolina by bankers who eat fancy cheese for $16 a pound and is home to a craze over something called “craft beer.”
Beer used to be Bud or Miller, and was for drinking, not tasting. It still is in South Carolina.
The ladies sat under the sign that reads “Carolina Drive” – for South Carolina – and a Gamecocks schedule, Gamecocks pennant and more. The cook called out she didn’t know who would win, but she sure liked football players in tight football pants.
Finally, one guy stood aside and muttered, “North Carolina.” His name was Arthur Hunt, and everyone looked at him as if he had just admitted he had slept in instead of going to church on Sunday. He was given a wide berth.
At a booth sat Max Phillips Jr. with a son that graduated North Carolina and two grandchildren at South Carolina.
“Football, South Carolina; basketball North Carolina,” he said. “I’ll take Carolina both ways.”
At the next table, a regular from the Evans car repair shop broke out into song with Max Phillips Sr., 93, who had leaped up from breakfast with his son and started leading the hymn, “Sweet Victory in Jesus,” as he does so many days. Everybody in the place joined in.
For 93 years he has pulled for South Carolina, and he’s not about to change that – this week or ever.
“Be bad luck for South Carolina if I changed,” he said.
The hymns shifted to “Amazing Grace,” and still more sang. The group stopped to say grace over the early morning food, and the whole place went quiet. Friends and strangers, at tables and booths and the counter, held hands and prayed. It was not about football.
It was about loyalty and love and how you can have a good rivalry and still hold hands.
But, eventually, it all came right back to football. Good-natured understanding was thrown about that North Carolina, well, it exists, but so does Congress – and people in South Carolina have the good sense to dislike them, too.
Around the table she goes.
“South Carolina,” said George Evans.
His brother, Willie, chose “Carolina – North Carolina.”
Brothers never agree.
“South Carolina,” said Jerry Dunham.
“North Carolina,” said Robert Pickett. Ditto for his brother, Yake Pickett.
Wait. How can you sit at Red’s Grill – in Rock Hill since 1948 – and pick North Carolina?
Robert “Top” Pickett, a Vietnam War veteran for whom “Top” means top sergeant, smiled and said because he says so.
Waitress Dawn Morgan picked South Carolina. The UNC fans tipped her well – just like the USC fans – because this is Red’s Grill.
All around the place, everybody was asked and all had an opinion. In the back booth a guy named Roger Faulkenberry explained that he has pulled for South Carolina all his life.
“I backed plenty of teams that weren’t very good,” he said, “but I am for South Carolina – and that just is.”
He sat with a woman who whispered. Terry Davis, looking over her shoulder, admitted something quietly, so nobody could hear:
“I root for Clemson.”