Just a couple of blocks from the Winthrop University campus – where three Democratic candidates for president will speak Friday to a wild crowd of people who root for Democrats – sits the Varsity Restaurant.
It has been there so long, a tree once grew inside the building. There is a rumor a Democrat went in there once, but, like the tree, that Democrat is long gone.
Brenda Hemphill, 59, not “a cook,” but “the cook,” which means she works on her feet all day almost every day, said Thursday she is not a political person. Still, she “would definitely like to meet Hillary Clinton.”
Of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator running a distant second to Clinton in national polls: “I don’t know him.”
Asked if she had ever heard of Martin O’Malley, the third candidate set to appear at the forum, Hemphill replied politely, “Ah, no” – because in her world, if you can’t say something nice you don’t say anything.
Waitress Crystal Croxton was asked if she is excited to see the candidates.
“No,” she said, “I like Donald Trump.”
Customer Tony Lee, 65, a retired accountant who admits he leans Democratic, put it plainly: “This is definitely a Republican area – and probably always will be.”
Lee will watch the televised forum on MSNBC because he is worried about Social Security and immigration and gives all candidates from both parties “a fair shake.”
“Everybody,” he said.
But Lee is not the rule in York County. Democrats, generally, do one thing in York County outside of a few city races and in safe legislative districts.
That’s when they can field a candidate.
From 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, MSNBC will show a Winthrop campus wild with excitement for Democrats and voting and that is generally true. The students will show off a great place of learning and vibrancy and sharp minds.
But Varsity owner Roy Russell would tell you what the rest of York County is largely about.
“Conservative place around here,” he said.
Russell, who has known politics all his life, was asked who he would vote for Friday if he had to choose between Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley.
“I’d probably stay home,” he said.
Students at the campus Starbucks on Thursday spoke about how big a deal the presidential forum is, and many talked of Clinton and Sanders as strong candidates out to help the regular guy.
But on the other side of town is Red’s Grill, a Rock Hill landmark like the Varsity. There is no free-trade roast, like you see at the $7 coffee places. There is regular and decaf, and the decaf sits on the warmer like a Democrat – alone.
Customer James Ard, 75, said he will pull for Donald Trump at the forum. Told that Trump is in the other party and won’t be there, Ard said that means he will not be watching.
Dishwasher Damion Strong said he is not going to the forum, will not watch it on television, and is not following the candidates.
Electing a president is important, he said, and he cares about the presidential race and his country. But he was busy washing dishes and collecting plates. He has bills to pay.
Melissa Wommer, 26, the world’s greatest waitress, helped collect dishes and took orders and ran around, plans to watch the forum on television. She is still undecided.
“I just want to watch,” she said.
By the time the forum starts at 8 p.m. she will have worked a full shift and some extra – and Saturday morning work will beckon, too.
Wommer knows Clinton because Clinton has been in public life since before Wommer was born.
At a nearby booth, the words the Hillary Clinton campaign wants to hear most were spoken: “She’s a woman; I’ll vote for her.”
That was customer Trevais McCoy, who came in after working the third shift.
Customer Bobby Hunter said Clinton has experience and would make a good president. Nobody at Red’s seconded his endorsement.
Dean Arnold, the cook and the law at Red’s Grill, whose day starts the earliest, was asked what she will be doing at 8 p.m. when the forum starts.
“I’ll be asleep.”
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065; firstname.lastname@example.org