HUSHPUPPIES

On a warm October day shortly after Martin retired, we headed for North Carolina on Martin’s Kawasaki Versys. Wearing our usual cycling gear of leather jackets, boots, gloves and full-coverage helmets, we sailed along through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to Shelby, NC. There, we stopped for lunch at Bridges Barbecue. A little diner serving up southern style barbecue with a vinegar based sauce and all the fixin’s, Bridges is one of those places where cyclists like to stop for the casual, friendly atmosphere as well as the good food. When we pull off our helmets and people see our graying hair, there’s sometimes a look of surprise. We’re not what most people expect under all that leather. But, everyone is always friendly and that day was no different.

We made our way inside and through the little diner to the only empty table and chairs, hauling jackets and helmets with us. A server took our orders as the booth next to us emptied out and was quickly filled by two women who looked a little younger than me. They were both dressed very nicely as if for work in an office. As Martin went to make a pit stop, one of the women leaned across the aisle, pointing at my helmet, and asked, “Are you going to or coming from someplace?” One thing led to another and by the time Martin returned to our table, I was talking about cycling, gardening, grandkids and living in South Carolina with my two new friends.

Unlike most people contemplating retirement and where they will live, we had the good fortune of discovering one of the most livable areas of the country long before we reached this juncture. One sunny Michigan day about fifteen years ago Martin called me and said, “How would you feel about moving to Greenville, South Carolina?” “Where?” I asked. We’d been to Hilton Head on vacation and loved it but I’d never heard of Greenville. In order to decide if we would make the transfer Martin’s employer was offering, the following Friday we flew down on a look-see. We found warm weather, friendly people and a lively downtown featuring a Main Street jazz concert on Friday nights. By Sunday, we were hooked! The South Carolina slogan of “Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places” described the upstate…well…beautifully. Since then, we’ve discovered it also describes the other Carolina to the north as well.

So, it was no surprise when we encountered such friendliness during our lunch in Shelby. One of the women asked if we’d ever had the hushpuppies at Bridges. “Well, no.” I answered. “Oh, then, you must try some. They’re simply the best.” With that, she offered up a bread basket full of long, brown fingers of crisply cooked dough. When I hesitated, she said with a big smile, “Oh, I insist. You must try these.” Shortly, we were trading french fries and hush puppies and talking some more. This time, them telling me about how the Reverend Billy Graham used to bring his family here for lunch when his kids were young. As we finished our lunch and said our goodbyes, I thought about what a great place the Carolinas are for retirees.

There are websites like AARP.org, moneyrates.com and CNN.Money.com teeming with suggestions to assist those contemplating retirement. You can find the best and worst states to retire, the cities with the lowest or highest cost of living, the states with the most sunshine, the states with the best or worst tax treatment for retirees, the cities with the most affordable housing, least crime, best jobs for retirees or some combination of all the above. Where you live is a very personal decision, which will affect the quality of your retirement. So, taking the time to explore the possibilities is time well spent. Even if you are happy where you live now and think you’ll just stay there, you may owe it to yourself to do a little exploring. We love living in South Carolina but we did a little reading, thinking and looking around just to be sure there wasn’t someplace even better for us. In the process, we discovered many places in this country, which we plan to visit in our retirement journey.

Taking a look around the country verified, for us, the Upstate of South Carolina is one of the best places to live. For the warm climate including lots of sunshine. For the cultural activities in three cities within an easy driving distance. For the outdoor recreation and beautiful vistas in both North and South Carolina. For all the fabulous eateries. For the favorable tax treatment of retirees. For the up to the minute health care facilities with a teaching hospital within 25 minutes of our house. For the affordable housing with relatively low property taxes. For the colleges where we can take courses tuition-free. For the vibrant economy fueled by BMW, Michelin and many other companies big and small. For the friendly, smiling faces.

And, the hushpuppies? Well, they’re simply the best!

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