Sunday, July 7, 2013

Crossing State Lines

Beach log wrap-up.

Water temperature: gradually warmed up to 67 by the last day, but the much cooler-than-usual temps made for far less time in the ocean (sadly) other than walking along the edge every day.

Books read: "Over Here, Over There: The Andrews Sisters and the U.S.O" and "Remembered Laughter: The Life of Noel Coward."

Best random song heard: "Dare County Blues" sung by a local singer on the rooftop deck of the Rundown Cafe during sunset.

It was a fine Fourth, meaning hot dogs for lunch and the absolute best cheeseburgers for dinner, both meals savored on the screened-in porch while watching the endless parade of red, white and blue stars and striped bathing suits on everyone from babies to geezers.

The only saving grace? No patriotic Speedos seen.

We watched the fireworks from beach chairs facing the ocean, sipping celebratory Pommery champagne and twisting our heads back and forth like at a tennis match to catch the neighbors on either side setting off blasts, as well as the displays in Southern Shores and at the Avalon Pier.

The evening finished with neighbors releasing mini hot air balloons (wish lanterns, according to the in-the-know one in the group) and watching them drift on the ocean breezes until they were as small as a star.

It was a gloriously clear night for stargazing until the last of the faraway explosion sounds finally died away.

Friday we set off to have an adventure, ending up at the Bodie Island lighthouse where, to our amazement, they were selling tickets to walk up the 219 steps for the first time in 140 years.

When the park ranger told me that, I grabbed her arm in excitement, since we'd come looking for nothing more than a walk and some history.

Since the next few tours were already sold out, we bought tickets for the 2:50 tour and set off to Wanchese for lunch, ending up at the Fisherman's Wharf.

My first trip to the bathroom there resulted in my meeting a local and we discussed the difficulty of doing anything with hair at the beach (her recommendation: cut it off and give up) and the second trip yielded a familiar face.

Walking out of the stall I intended to walk into was a Richmond musician and teacher and I don't know which of us was more surprised to see the other.

"Karen, I see you everywhere, but never across state lines!" she laughed.

Back at our waterfront table, the owner's wife informed us that the kitchen was "a man down" and to expect delays, mollifying us with hushpuppies.

Nothing says relax like fried carbs.

With a non-stop view of trawlers and pleasure boats coming and going, we were in no hurry and eventually inquired of our server what libations were available.

"Oh, we don't have alcohol on this side of the island!" she exclaimed, all big blue eyes and gorgeous white teeth.

We tried to guess whether it was the preference of the Wanchesians (where a local church's sign proclaimed "Wanchese is Jesus") or if Manteo just sold enough booze to make up for the entire island.

In any case, the fried and steamed shrimp were tasty and plentiful and anyone can drink iced tea for one beach day lunch.

Back at the lighthouse, we endured a painful 10-minute lecture on escaping rip tides from the park ranger, despite the fact the chance of a rip current in the lighthouse seemed extremely remote.

There were nine or ten kids in our group of 22 and since all were wearing some form of flip-flops, our guide warned them to walk slowly and carefully so they wouldn't lose a flop down the spiral staircase.

Naturally, we didn't even make it to the second landing before one of the boys lost a flip-flop.

The mortification on his mother's face was classic.

Leaning over the railing through the grated steps, he leaned down and yelled, "I love you, Mom! I love you, Dad!"

It might have helped if he hadn't lost another one two flights up.

Ignoring the kids and the two women with height issues, we powered on, eager to reach the top and fresh air, since none of the windows inside the lighthouse were open.

I bet those windows were allowed to be open 140 years ago, is all I'm saying.

Up top, we had stellar views of a nearby (and private) duck hunting lodge, a public fishing pier and the long wooden walk that crossed the snake sanctuary I had no intention of going anywhere near.

Instead, we walked over to the little fishing pier afterwards, meeting fisherman headed back to their trucks with lines and buckets and a few still fishing away in the late afternoon sun.

I stuck my feet in the sound, finding it as warm as, well, piss, before waving adieu to the last of the fishermen and heading back up the coast.

It had been a fine afternoon's adventure, with me especially tickled after a lifetime of summers on the Outer Banks, to have finally been allowed to climb that lighthouse.

On one morning walk, we saw two excited little girls running down the beach with "Event Viewing" signs, piquing our curiosity about what the event might be.

Get this: It was the "Curtis Family body surfing championships," according to the sign.

There was even a white board with brackets of Curtises who'd qualified to scrape up their bellies in the ocean in pursuit of whatever bragging rights the championship might bring them.

Makes an ordinary beach group feel kind of lame just having happy hours and trying to beat each other at drunken Scrabble, doesn't it?

When we set out to have breakfast at the Nags Head pier, we weren't expecting a competition of our own, but that's exactly what we got.

After a 45-minute wait, we finally were seated in the back room (the one overlooking the ocean), but when our server, a familiar face due to her long-time service there, came to take our order, a clamor arose from the next table.

The eight-top of leathery. older people already on their second and third rounds of bloody Marys, began banging implements and shouting at out server that they'd been seated first.

Excusing herself and knowing we'd understand ("She can spot us for industry types," one in our group observed), she moved over a few feet and began taking their order.

Without missing a beat, once she'd taken theirs, she returned to us and sweetly asked what we wanted, hissing under her breath, "I'm not putting their order in until I take yours."

Well, I guess she'd made her point.

The politics of service aside, I was just happy to have a big plate of hotcakes and bacon in front of me.

One of us noted that his corned beef hash was straight out of a can, but, let's face it, no one goes to the pier for high-quality food.

The coffee drinker raved about how delightfully awful the Maxwell House coffee was, especially after extensive doctoring.

It's cheap, it's fast and it's a uniquely beach-y experience and that's the most you should expect from it.

After a perfect beach day of reading, napping and watching the parade of scantily-clad humanity, we had a dinner summit.

Last year, a local I'd met at Ocean Boulevard had told me that High Cotton had the best 'cue on the beach.

Locals are supposed to know these things.

Going on nothing but that (and the fact that it was a quarter mile walk away), we headed up the beach for some brisket and a rack of ribs.

Passing by the Rundown Cafe, we heard the dulcet tones of Hannah Buckley upstairs on the deck, which was enough of an enticement to lure us back once bones were sucked clean back on the porch.

It had been a couple of years since I'd been to Rundown, so I was pleasantly surprised that they'd enlarged their "tsunami deck" to now include a "hula deck," notable for its long, wooden banquette and colorful cushions.

We found a spot in front of one of the surfboard-topped tables and sat there listening to Hannah cover everything from Radiohead to Fiona Apple with a healthy smattering of original material in between.

In fact, at one point, she began a lovely original song about meeting a guy, singing sweetly of their compatibility and her affection for him and then, boom, he did her wrong.

My fellow vacationer looked at me and observed, "Never saw that coming."

Nope, sitting on a breezy deck with the sun sliding low in the western sky and a glass of wine in hand, who would have?

When Hannah finished, there was a rush of eager admirers (all male, of course), stuffing her tip jar and vying for her attention.

We exited stage right and head south looking for further entertainment.

"Let's find some place where we can make fun of people," someone said.

At Barefoor Bernie's, the sign promised live music Tue/Sat and there was a bridal shower group sitting out front in impossibly high heels (perfect for beach walking), looking bored and high maintenance at the same time.

Here was some fun we could sink our teeth into.

We killed some time waiting for the music to begin with bubbles and guacamole before a slacker-looking, 40-ish guy strolled out with his drink and a guitar.

From the first warbly notes, it was obvious this was not someone who should be singing in public.

Even better, his choice of cover songs was as trite as we could have hoped for, given our purpose.

John Mellencamp. Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden" with an off-key chorus of "gitchy-gitchy" that had our table in stitches. A surprisingly well-chosen but poorly executed "Cry Love."

And this was after he'd knocked his guitar neck into the low-hanging ceiling fan.

We had to laugh or, like everyone else in the room, we'd have had to leave.

Okay, we did after his first set.

Some people shouldn't quit their day jobs, if you know what I mean.

At least the last night of vacation had plenty of laughs.

On the drive home today, we stopped at Adams' Country Store for country ham sandwiches on white bread (the only option being mayo or mustard) and glass-bottled sodas.

Yes, sir, two Orange Crushes and an RC Cola, please.

While we stood there admiring the hog jowls, the whole hams and the dandoodles (assorted pig parts stuffed into a casing and looking like, um, guy parts), a man came in for his own sandwiches and struck up a conversation with me.

Inquiring where I was headed, he warned me of the endless backup on 95, a fact he knew because he drives up and down the east coast delivering fluids.

No problem, I assured him, since no part of my beach trip involves the soul-sucking 95.

"Maybe I should just give you my cartons to take to Richmond," he laughed,  but the other driver in our caravan informed him we had no extra room.

"It's just a couple of boxes of blood," he explained as if that would make a difference, smiling to show he had two teeth missing.

Thanks, no, I said, taking my Saran-wrapped sandwich and RC out to the stone table under the shade tree for lunch.

The country ham virgin in the group took one bite and said, "Wow, this is salty!"

Two more bites and that tune changed. "I love this ham!"

Who wouldn't with a sweet old-school soda to wash it down?

It's like a week at the beach when the ocean is colder than you'd hoped for.

You start out thinking you're not going to like it and next thing you know, you're having the best beach week imaginable.

Must have been that imaginary wish lantern I sent off.

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