I have never seen anything like this place in my life, this beachfront tenement of vacation homes fashioned out of campers and kits, acres and acres of them, with sites for RVs filling the land as it slopes toward the ocean.
They call it Pirate Land, in Myrtle Beach, SC, a place predicated on family fun, seaside mirth and the pleasures of the outdoors: swimming pools, paddle boats, golf carts, all of it.
I’m writing underneath an ancient shelter, bleached from years of sun and sagging under the weight of good times and heavy use. It is, I believe, the very first time I’ve ever written my column outdoors.
And I like it. I like it very much. I’ve got a cigar going, and the coffee’s on inside my in-laws’ RV — which, incidentally, is larger and nicer inside than the first apartment I had to myself. I can hear the surf crashing on the shore just a hundred or so yards away, see the palmettos rustle lazily under the influence of a soft, offshore breeze.
Yesterday I spent my 42nd birthday here in this off-season paradise, surrounded by the people I love, and it is to my discredit that I voiced several complaints about the nature of this trip.
Understand that I was pretty sure I didn’t like camping, that I was more of a casinos-and-spa-packages guy, that I would rather crap in my own hand than spend the night in a tent on the ground, and that Myrtle Beach was, most assuredly, not my kind of town.
I have been camping perhaps three times in my life, though “camping” is a generous term for what turned out to be episodes of ill-equipped, alcohol-fueled fraternity. With tents.
This is much different. Rest assured that amends have been acknowledged and made.
Turns out that I love it out here among the camperati, with wet beach towels hanging from the shelters and the faint smells of diesel and septus dissipated by the wind blowing off the ocean.
But then, the beach has always been a part of me. I grew up on an island, could swim through the ocean like a water rat before I could ride a two-wheeler, dissemble and ingest a boiled lobster in less time than it takes to melt the butter.
When I awoke this morning, it was to the familiar sound of rushing waves, the comforting saline scent of the sea. We took a run on the beach this morning, my wife and I, in the hard-packed sand of the intertidal zone, leaving footprints among clamshells, wisps of seaweed and stranded jellyfish, as fine a way to start the next year of my life as anything else I could dream up.
I’ve developed a fondness, too, for Myrtle Beach over the last few days. I’ve avoided this place for the last 12 years, the entirety of my time in North Carolina, leery of drunken rednecks and drunken college kids and drunken golfers and drunken party girls screeching, “Wooo!” from open car windows. But I took my first walk down the Grand Strand today, and though I did see examples of every single thing I feared about this place, I also saw so much more.
I love the mix of old-school neon motels nestled amid gleaming, modern hotel towers; the storefront arcades, where an afternoon of skeeball might earn you a couple bucks worth of trinketry; the coaster and Ferris wheels celebrating the carnivalesque; the living embodiment of the axiom that not everyone was meant to wear a bikini, but that some should never wear anything else.
I am also impressed with the breadth and scope of the miniaturegolf industry here, the Vegas-like ambition of the courses, the seemingly endless throngs interested in the game. Surely Myrtle Beach has more putt-putt courses per square mile than any other place on this earth. And tonight I’ll try my hand at one of them. It seems to be the thing to do.
But first a swim in the heated, indoor pool, a round of video games with the kids, a meal cooked in the RV’s surprisingly accommodating kitchen with the people who brought me here, who remind me that I am a part of something larger than myself… if, that is, I stop and take the time to notice.
If there is a theme to this vacation — and every good vacation, I believe, has a compelling theme — it is that sometimes we don’t know what we want, that there is no room in life for disdain without investigation, that it is the people, and not the place, that make a trip special — though it doesn’t hurt to be out here on the beach, where land meets sea and sky, where I’ll always feel at ease.