Sunday, March 11, 2018

Folly Dollies

If I'm going to spend six hours in a car, I want a reward at the end.

Few rewards can match a walk on the beach after so much sitting. That it is January and only 52 degrees in no way detracts from my pleasure in getting to stretch my legs, inhale salty air and absorb the sounds of the surf.

Mac and I - ever the optimists - hit the road at 8 a.m., leaving 38-degree Richmond as a snow shower wound down and hoping for better at the other end of the road. By the time South Carolina's palm trees began showing up, we were cruising under brilliant blue skies and a new attitude.

Bypassing Charleston, our ultimate goal, we parked in Folly Beach to begin our getaway with sand under our feet. The ocean was a deep blue with the winter beach littered in seashells, mostly empty except for us and a few dog walkers, all of whom made a bee line for us (the dogs, not the walkers) as we made our way toward the pier a mile and a half away, past surfers willing to brave the winter waters.

By the time we finished un-kinking our legs, a big, fat moon was starting to rise in the sky and we felt like equilibrium had been restored. Such is the power of climbing over sea walls, and talking to a local (his hat read: Citadel Class of 1963) out collecting wood and shells and more than willing to chat with female visitors.

When we told him we were thinking of Bowen's Island for dinner, he rhapsodized about he and his college buddies getting drunk and eating oysters there until they were sick, but qualified that by saying he and the wife had gone back 6 or 7 years ago and been disappointed with the service. His suggestion was the Lost Dog Café and he used a board he'd found to draw a map in the sand of how to get there.

Best sand map ever.

Much as we both enjoyed our conversation with him, we thanked him for the tips, got in the car parked under a palm tree and drove directly to Bowen's Island, a sprawling wooden  building on the Folly River.

It was an old school seafood place where you order at the counter, find a table with a view and wait for your food to arrive. Unless, that is, you order a bucket of cluster oysters, in which case, you're given a bucket and sent downstairs where your oysters are steamed to order by a guy with a sense of humor and two wisecracking buddies keeping him company.

Curious about Bowen's Island, we ask and he tells us it was built in 1946, burned down back in 2006 or 2007 and then rebuilt, all except for the three stone walls nearby which survived the blaze. Even more interesting is that back in the day, the owner insisted that people eating oysters eat them down there while people eating off the rest of the menu - shrimp, crabcakes, frogmore stew, fish - eat upstairs, even if it meant parties being split up.

Asking him if we have to eat oysters downstairs, he says no. When did that change, I wonder. "When the owner died back in the '90s, I guess," he says with a chuckle. Still, a dozen or so tables sit at the ready, all of them with a hole in the center for tossing oyster shells.

Back upstairs, we use our oyster knives to open bivalves from the river we can see through the screened windows next to our table. They're brinier than we expect, but only because we hadn't bothered to consider how close to the ocean this river is. We follow them with everything else on the menu that comes from the sea. Plus hushpuppies.

Next to us, a couple who look to be in their '80s are eating and chatting non-stop in low voices. "I'll trade you an oyster for a shrimp," he offers and she's willing. I'm tempted to ask if they're regulars, how long they've been together, what their story is, but I refrain.

Maybe it's a date and I don't want to interfere.

Our beachcombing friend's opinion aside, Mac and I have landed at exactly the right place for a seafood feast and a sunset view over the river at the end of a long travel day that involved far too many Doobie Brothers' songs.

By the time we finish eating, an enormous moon is hanging over the ocean, accompanying us as we drive into Charleston for a few days of R & R. Expansive beach to quaintly urban, what a difference eleven miles makes.

Hello, Charleston, whatcha got good?

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