Thursday, October 25, 2012

thank youuuuuuuuuu!

(Photos by Mars)

Last month while watching a rerun episode of “The Closer” I learned that when a southern woman says, “thank youuuuuuuuuu!” (with the “u” sound rising and falling until it plummets cloyingly into a saccharine puddle at the speaker’s feet) she does not necessarily mean “thanks”  – and could in fact intend something incredibly snarky and (if I may) even unladylike.
For the past two weeks Mars and I have been vacationing in coastal North Carolina where we learned that other southern things might also not be exactly what you think they are.
We have been making this southward trek intermittently for the past thirty years or so – initially staying a potential retirement property near the inland waterway owned by a local friend and then, when his long-term plans changed, at a rental condo on Emerald Isle beach.  We have always gotten there by driving through the Delmarva Peninsula on a series of “blue highways” (such as routes 13 and 17) that pass through small rural towns.  When we first began our pilgrimages most of these roads were two lanes.  Now many of them are double that, or have bypasses, with a corresponding increase in speed limits – while still retaining the occasional speed traps.
The land alongside these thoroughfares is in use ninety percent of the time – mostly with housing; sometimes by small farms or businesses such as grain storage or "deer dressing"; and occasionally by “town centers” with mostly unlabeled shops that looked like they were abandoned a few days before they opened for business.  The speed through the centers of town is usually 35 mph and 45 – 55 mph in the residential. 
There apparently are no zoning regulations, so doublewide trailer homes sit next to square brick houses sit next to mini McMansions with landscaping among the three styles of abodes as might be expected.  Drainage ditches form the roadside boundary for most of these properties.
From time to time a person appears.  But this have never, ever happened in the part of Suffolk, Virginia that we have passed through on Route 13 for all these many years. All the outward signs of life are there – cars in the driveway or on the front lawn or on blocks; toys left in the yard; permanent tag sales; unattended lawn mowers – but no people.  At first it seemed a coincidence.  Then we began to joke that it must be a secret military installation intended either to fool an enemy terrorist or train us good guys.  Now we are convinced it is the “Area 51” of the Delmarva.
Now and then there are food stops – but not many and mostly not chains.

On Route 13 South
“Great Machipongo Crab Shack”
is haute cuisine.
It is a fourteen-hour drive and we spent the first night in Pocomoke City Md. – a small town with actual neighborhoods (once you get off Rte. 13) that lead to a small riverfront (The Pocomoke River) with a short nature walk through pines and oaks, and a restaurant with al fresco dining, local Maryland beer, and crab cakes made entirely with crab (not mostly filler like we northerners are used to).  The next morning it was back on the rural road again.
All of this changed in New Bern North Carolina where we chose to spend Friday night at a B&B before checking into our condo the next day.  New Bern (founded in 1710 by Swiss immigrants and named accordingly) was the state’s first capitol city (Tryon Palace Historical Site); the place where Pepsi Cola was invented (by Caleb Bradham in his pharmacy); was captured and occupied by Union forces until the end of the Civil War in 1865 (and thus left in tact unlike e.g. Atlanta); and now thanks the new retirement demographic is a small southern town with a northern accent (many belonging to “half-backs” who initially moved to Florida from the northeast and then 50% of the way back up the coast.)
After a king-size sleep (the first B), a gourmet omelet (the second) and a brief stroll through the down town area where a blessing of the animals coincidentally was happening we headed off to the beach.
One reason that we like the “off-season” at Emerald Isle is that it really is an “off season”.  Beaches are largely empty.  Golf courses are largely empty.  Stores and restaurants are largely empty.  Even the Columbus Day weekend with abnormally warm temperatures was largely empty.
We visited the Aquarium on the island and on its walking trail met a transplanted couple from New Jersey who told us that the brown, apparently lifeless plant clinging to an overhead pine was in fact a “Resurrection Fern” which would rise from the dead with lush green leaves when moist conditions returned.  They also showed us the “red patch bark lichen” (a phrase worthy of Zippy the Pinhead) that covered many of the tree trunks around us.
Each morning Mars and I walked the 1/4 mile to the newspaper machine to get our daily “News & Observer” – “It ain’t much but it’s the best that we got”, said the guy in front of us in line.  On our trek we were serenaded by the sounds of cardinals, robins, and other songbirds – none of which we ever saw.  Then we figured it out.

Sweet trill of nature
was nothing but Mockingbirds
messing with our heads.
We never did however ascertain the source of the sweet floral aromas that engulfed us every time we passed through the (to our northern eyes) non-fragrant landscape.  It definitely was not the prickly pear cactus – a New Mexican high desert favorite of ours that, for whatever reason, flourishes in the drippingly humid atmosphere of North Carolina.
I have to mention golf – for two reasons.  (1) Strangely we played better than normal (birdies, pars) on a course much more difficult (water, sand, distance) than the one we normally frequent – an ill-maintained public course in the middle of a heavily used urban public park (raucous picnics, dogs on the fairways, people fishing at the water hazards).  (2) Because of the proximity of the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Lejeune to our vacation golf course there is the frequent sound of gunfire in the background.  This did not bother us at all because of our training on our home course.
That’s about it.  Thanks for reading this.  No seriously, I’m a northern guy.  I really mean it - thank youuuuuuuuuu!

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