Sunday, September 1, 2013

Two South Carolinas

I had a business appointment in South Carolina over the weekend so Pam and I decided to make the most of it by driving down a day early and making a little getaway out of it. Amazing what a couple of days sitting around on a beach listening to the waves can do for your mood.  It was a wonderful 48 hours.

Not much planning went into this particular trip. I picked a hotel online just a couple of days before we left. I chose the Surfside Beach Resort because it was only 15 minutes from my client’s house and because it had the word “resort” in the name, leading me to believe that it wouldn’t be some dump out by the airport right across the street from a strip club. Well, it was on the beach, and there were no strip clubs to be seen, but to call this place a “resort” is sort of like calling the State Penitentiary “all-inclusive.” As we were checking into our room, the cleaning lady was exiting with a spray bottle of air freshener and a gas mask…not a good sign. For the first thirty minutes or so our room smelled like orange peel, desperately trying to hide something else more sinister. This is what happens to you when you start watching Breaking Bad.

But we didn’t come to Surfside Beach to lie around all afternoon in our room, so we hit the beach around 2 in the afternoon and suddenly realized that we had walked onto the set of Jersey Shore. Everywhere we looked there were heavily tattooed men and women, large people with loud mouths and stern rebukes that dripped from their lips at their children whose only sin seemed to be, wanting to have fun in the water. Cigarette butts littered the sand around us and more than once I found myself picking up empty Doritos bags that someone had thought too much of an inconvenience to throw in the trash. Mr. Thicke’s summer anthem belched from a boom box somewhere nearby. Pam and I looked at each other and realized that we weren’t in Hatteras anymore.

The second night we drove 20 minutes further south and had dinner at a Frank’s. It was then that we realized that our hotel was in the East End and Frank’s was in Short Pump. The parking lot told us everything we needed to know about the place. The total net worth of the vehicles parked there would be enough money to balance New Jersey’s budget. The atmosphere of this place was magical, complete with outdoor seating under 100 year old live oaks covered with Spanish moss and Christmas lights. Fans hung strategically from the tent roofs making every seat comfortable. A jazz singer whispered Ella Fitzgerald tunes quietly in the background as Pam and I enjoyed two delicious entrees and marveled at the well dressed, perfectly coifed southerners who filled the tables around us. After dinner we took a driving tour of the island where all of these people, no doubt were staying. Pawley’s Island, that arrogantly shabby enclave at the southern most end of the Grand Strand that stubbornly refuses to get with the commercial program of the rest of Horry county. There are no restaurants, no gas stations, and no stores of any kind anywhere on the island. Nothing but old homes with even older shrubbery nestled in between the Ocean to the east and a marsh to the west. Magical.

On the way home we passed through Conway South Carolina, the first half of which looked typically elegant with its beautiful homes and finely trimmed lawns. Then abruptly the appearance of a pawn shop announced that we were now entering the wrong side of town. Over the next three miles we counted no less than 17 signs advertising bail bonds, featuring towering billboards featuring the face of some very shifty looking attorney asking the question, “Made Bail?? Talk to Joe Axelrod Today!!”