Thursday, July 25, 2013

No worry, no hurry

I never wanted to be famous.
A good thing, too, as the chances of that seem about as likely as me miraculously becoming tall, smart or handsome.
But a whole bunch of us laid-back beachbum-types came close a few weeks ago, when USA Today listed their 10 Best uncrowded beaches on the east coast, and included Topsail Island, the skinny strip of sand and sun where we've spent about half our time the past three years.
"Seashells and sea breezes await at Topsail Beach, one of the more family-friendly and uncrowded stretches of sand along the coast of North Carolina. The 26-mile long barrier island is home to three small towns, all with a laid-back vibe, and all four beaches tend to stay quiet, even in the heart of summer."
As far as Topsail goes, they're just about spot-on with terms like "laid-back," "family-friendly" and "uncrowded."
Like many areas near oceans, lakes, rivers, forests, mountains and other natural wonders, Topsail Island has a kind of symbiotic, love/hate relationship with the tourists who come there. In short, the locals need to see those out-of-towners with the dollars they spend on food, lodging and ugly t-shirts every year. But they also really can't wait for them to go home.  Most of the time, the tourist trade on our end of the island is pretty limited, since there are no hotels, motels, miniature golf courses, go-kart tracks, fast food joints, water parks or other attractions to keep hyperactive families busy and happy. This is not, by the way, because of any particular sense of simplicity, good taste or exclusivity. It's just that there has been an unfortunate tendency for hurricanes to roll in and wipe this end of the island clean from time to time, a happenstance that tends to discourage planners, investors, and the rich and  famous.
We had never ventured to the island on the July Fourth holiday in the time we've been making this place our part-time home.  The lure of Galva, its famous Freedom Fest, the fabulous fireworks, and the friends that we spend the day with have always been more than enough to keep us home. But this year, busy summertime work schedules dictated that the grandma-lady and I head back in time to help with the not-so-tough task of keeping our young grandsons happy and entertained on this balmy beach. We weren't quite sure what to expect, thinking the beach that fronts our house might be towel-to-towel with crowds of people, instead of the bare, beautiful spot it usually is. And while it was a little more packed than usual, it was still a lot less crowded than the beach scenes I remember from Florida vacations and the iconic Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon films of my storied youth.
The big difference was the traffic.
Driving around these parts is already somewhat complicated a bit by the fact that our 26-mile-long island is connected to the mainland by just two bridges, which tends to slow things down a little when you're trying to get from Point A to Point B. That's generally no big deal to me, as I really don't see any good reason to be in a hurry on and around this island paradise anyway. But I'm often in the minority when faced with the on-road antics of my fellow travelers, like the home-grown drivers who are devotees of a tricky little traffic move we call "the Carolina cuf-off," a headlong merging technique which is, apparently, performed with eyes tightly shut, and intended to test the nerves, reflexes and brakes of the other folks attempting to share the road.  Another often-exciting element of our local road trips is the presence of a zillion or so young, macho members of the United States Marine Corps, who travel to and from nearby Camp Lejeune. While a little more predictable than their Carolina cousins, these road warriors still make things interesting due to a marked preference for fast cars and daring, high speed maneuvers that bring to mind the slightly-altered USMC motto that goes something like this:
"The few, the proud, the freaking nuts."
Now, we're used to both the locals and the Leathernecks, so we mostly stay out of trouble. But add a few out-of-towners to the mix, and things start to get interesting, because, believe it or not, these folks from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey don't intuitively know that the guy at the next intersection is just biding his time before pulling out in front of them, while that hot rod coming up from behind is merely waiting for the next winding hill to pull out and pass. The tourists, of course, are in a big hurry themselves to get to the supermarket and buy a week's worth of groceries and a year's worth of beer before heading for the beach and a date with the first serious sunburn of the season.
Ergo, worlds--and cars--tend to collide sometimes. And even if they don't, Saturday afternoon traffic patterns on holiday weekends almost guarantee that some poor schmo from Indiana will jackknife his Airstream right smack dab in the middle of the one intersection you absolutely have to go through if you want to get anywhere.
In fact, maybe that's why the beaches weren't all that crowded. Everybody was stuck in the Food Lion parking lot. But in any case, the holiday weekend is over, only to be replaced by a long, hot, sunny summer filled with weekends and weekdays that are all holidays of a sort. After all, we're at the beach. What other kind of day could it be?
Meanwhile, out on the road the Carolinians continue to cut in, and the Marines are still going everywhere fast.
Lucky for me, I'm in no hurry.

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