Outer Banks in winter

I can’t seem to get the Outer Banks–the present version–out of my mind. My friend and I went down there last weekend for girls’ weekend (check out my post entitled “Wacky Weather Inspires the Writer”) and our experience is still kind of haunting me. As you can probably deduce from the title of my last post, the weather was cold and windy and generally unpleasant, although the ocean was terribly gorgeous in a Medusa-like, fatal-if-you-stare-too-long-at-it sort of way. And I love it when the beach is vacant, with just a few dog-walkers to distract you from nature’s awesome bounty.

But from the moment we got down there, everything seemed a little off. First of all, I forgot the good bottles of wine and my Kashi cereal and boxes of yummy crackers at home. Crackers and cereal, I could understand forgetting, but the wine?? Even though we had to pee (for the second time in a three-hour car ride), we were obliged to stop at the local Outer Banks wine store for more red. Then Eliza realized she’d forgotten the Stilton cheese we’d been salivating over during the car ride down! The way we were talking, Stilton cheese could cure all of the world’s ills. Penn State scandal, Hermain Cain allegations–just throw some Stilton at them and it all goes away. But after carefully unpacking her cooler and going over and over the items, we sadly realized the Stilton’s absence. What was happening to us?? we wondered. Were we already losing our memories, at the tender age of 40? YES!

Then came another sad realization: I don’t know how to use the gas fireplace in the beach house. I never learned, and never cared to, since I usually come down in the summers anyway. Plus, my parents knew how to light it, and so does my husband and brother-in-law, so I never had to learn myself. (If you want to learn a little something about me, I hate fire, no matter how small its form is. Even though I love candles, I am still a bit wary of matches and lighters, so using one to light a gas flame is particularly scary for me.) And I am sort of spoiled–our gas fireplaces at home are remote-operated. And even then, I get annoyed at the slowness of it sometimes. You can probably see how historical fiction appeals to me! It always amazes me how much work went into just getting a fire going in the morning. It’s amazing that people even got up in the morning.

But lucky for me, my friend Eliza knows how to light a gas fireplace, but she didn’t know how to get our gas turned on. I had to text my brother-in-law (he told us how to do it last time but we’d forgotten!). We hadn’t heard from him for a little while, so we opened a bottle of red and got out some cheese and crackers and plopped down on the sofa. But then it seemed that all we really wanted was a nice cozy fire in the fireplace. A cozy fire would make everything perfect, wouldn’t you agree? We started looking around for the mysterious “valve” on the outside deck, then on the decks outside, using our powerful engineering and physics intuitions to follow the copper gas lines in and out of the house.

As Eliza opened the door to the downstairs deck for further investigation, however, a wild bird flew into the house and flapped crazily around one of the downstairs bedrooms.  In my estimation, this phenonemon might even be scarier than matches and lighters. It puts one in mind of “The Birds,” believing that the evil thing has a hankering for human flesh, overprocessed hair for its nest. All we wanted to do was run upstairs, back to our wine and cheese, and forget that there was a wild bird possibly crapping all over Eliza’s very nice things. But we stood in the hallway, cowering with a broom (what we planned to do with it still remains a mystery!). The bird fortunately had the good sense to see it was outmatched by two manic women with fire on their minds, and flew back out the open door from whence it came. Yikes! We didn’t want to admit it, but that bird seemed a bad omen for our beach weekend. We debated even going out that night.

But we were determined to have a good time, despite the missing Stilton, the wild bird and the stupid gas fireplace! It turns out that the “valve” is in the back of the fireplace itself. Trust me, we will never forget that little bit of trivia again!

Out on the local’s scene that evening (the cab was very late, another bad sign) we tried to relax a little. Things were going alright until the female bartender, engaged in an extended conversation with another bartender) rolled her eyes at me when I signalled for another drink (I waved my arm at her–is this obnoxious? You can tell me, it won’t hurt my feelings more than having a bartender roll her eyes at me). Flash-forward through socializing with bar-goers and a listening to a great band…at the end of the night, I tried to ask who I thought was the hostess if she could call a cab for Eliza and me, but she mocked me, telling me that she didn’t work there and walking off! But she’d been standing at the hostess station, talking on the phone and writing things down. I was very confused. And growing a bit bitter about my locals experience. My husband and I eat at this very same restaurant in the summers and never have anything but great times there. Was I being treated this way because I was with another female, instead of very tall man? Eliza and I pondered this, and thought very well that that might be the case. We nobly quoted our mothers: “Treat others the way you would like to be treated”! Is that asking too much these days?

I love the local’s scene on the OBX. It’s one of the reasons Eliza and I like going down there in the off-season. Great music, good people, total relaxation.  But the experience at the restaurant made me think, as you can tell, about my Outer Banks feelings. See, I have this idea of the Outer Banks in my mind now. It’s based on many collective experiences, both as a child and as an adult, and involves many people, family and Outer Banks residents included.

But it also includes what I know of the history of the Outer Banks. Even in the early 19th century, the fragile barrier islands were a tourist destination. The people on the Banks learned to adapt to outsiders encroaching on their turf–and the Bankers sold the vacationers things they needed during their visits, provided them with hotels and other accomodations, served as guides for their hunting expeditions. And not much has changed. The Outer Banks are still in the tourist-pleasing business, as they always will be. And I can see how it gets old, catering to people and their needs. My characters Eliza and Ben are Bankers, are still assessing their interactions with completely different outsiders. In the sequel, Eliza grows to adjust to it, although she’ll always want her independence from the outsiders. Ben chooses to marry an outsider, but then takes a job that has nothing to do with them, a job that honors the nature of the Outer Banks itself.

I find that enjoy writing about the dynamic between Bankers and vacationers. But I find that I don’t care for it so much when I’m the one involved in the drama! Yet through this lens of history I now have, I can feel something like sympathy for that rude bartender. I imagine that it gets tiring, filling glasses all night and watching folks you don’t know get loopy. And yet, people will always descend on the Banks, they will always have their needs, even in the off-season! I’ll return to that restaurant, hoping for a better experience.

In hindsight, I thought that maybe Eliza and I should have listened to that wild bird’s message and stayed out of places where we didn’t belong. But the thing is, I feel I do belong on the Outer Banks, even if I don’t live there. Even without wine, Stilton and a working fireplace, I will always have it in my heart.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply