Three passengers set sail that day for a one-hour tour ...
A one-hour tour.
OK, so on Wednesday, there were only two passengers (award-winning Post and Courier photographer/pal Leroy Burnell and myself) and one driver (Mayor Joe Riley) taking that one-hour tour.
And we didn't "set sail" in a boat.
We rode in His Honor's Toyota Prius hybrid.
What prompted the outing?
The mayor dared to question the conclusion of my Dec. 17 column ("In search of parking? Turn, turn, turn") that his city "lacks sufficient parking places."
In response, he graciously offered to take me for a ride so that he could demonstrate "how easy it is to conveniently park and shop" in downtown Charleston.
Here's where you can insert your own joke about Mayor Riley taking you for a ride.
Back to Wednesday's enlightening experience on wheels:
Riley, after picking us up on Columbus Street outside the newspaper office at 10:30 a.m., drove us down King Street, pointing out numerous parking options along the way, from curb sides to surface lots to garages.
We saw a few open metered spots on King before hanging a left on John Street, then a right into the Camden Station parking garage. As we took a short stroll past nearby Charleston Music Hall, the mayor said of that garage, "This one is so nice - I like the design," adding, "You're a few steps from King Street either by John or by Hutson Street."
He didn't have to fork over money when we left that garage. The mayor emphasized that the lack of a fee was due to the shortness of our stay, insisting, "I pay, I pay, I pay."
We resumed our southward driving course on King, which became quite congested, both in traffic lanes and on-street parking spots, between Calhoun and George. The mayor turned left, then right into the George Street surface lot between King and Meeting.
The gate failed to open and had to be manually manipulated by an attendant.
After finding another open spot, we ambled into the back entrance of a restaurant, through to King, then down to Society Street, where we walked back around to the surface lot.
Along the busy-pedestrian way, the mayor said, "This is so convenient, as you'll see, if you're shopping on middle King. You're right in the middle of stuff. You've got a two-block walk to probably 60 retail establishments."
He also bragged about "special early-morning pickup of garbage and trash every day on King Street."
After getting back in the car, the mayor, at my request, took us to Market Street by way of King. After seeing that the Market-Horlbeck Street surface lot was full, foiling his original intent to park there, he found a handy open space on South Market.
Riley quipped: "Now is this the luck of the Irish or what?"
A cynical sort might answer that "or what?" by speculating that the mayor could have ordered his police department to clear that space for us.
Yet when challenged with that theory, the mayor, before feeding the meter, fairly protested: "I didn't know we were coming here."
That quick stop facilitated my North Market shop purchase of two day-after-her-birthday trinkets for my wife.
We then proceeded to Broad Street by way of East Bay. The mayor hadn't known we were going there, either. That destination was another surprise request of mine aimed at exposing a parking-deficient hot spot.
But sure enough, another on-street space was opening up on Broad just past State Street as we rode from East Bay toward Meeting.
So maybe the mayor has a point about it maybe being easier to park downtown than some of us cranky old-timer natives assume.
Riley summed up his pitch for peninsula parking "convenience" - a word he used a lot on our voyage of parking-alternative discovery:
"It's really very easy."
He sounded particularly sold on one option, asserting:
"The thing is, the parking garages are numerous enough and strategically situated, so you can park a short distance from where you want to go. The garages are safe, they're clean and they're convenient. You don't have to worry about getting a ticket and you can stay as long as you want."
Then again, each new Charleston parking garage, no matter how attractively designed, inevitably clashes with our renowned local architectural charms of vintage steeples, single houses, grand homes, piazzas and courtyards.
And coming soon to your Post and Courier: Stunning news about the rising price of some private parking places on East Bay Street.
Still, we did see numerous "convenient" parking openings during Wednesday's one-hour tour.
And Mayor Riley can be a very persuasive fellow.
Especially when he's driving.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is email@example.com.
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