Every year around the first week in September, my sister and I take a short trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Her birthday is September 1st, and it’s a “girls weekend” birthday celebration. We’ve always managed to dodge hurricanes. And since that is hurricane season I’d say we’ve been fortunate.
This year as we prepared for our trip we learned that Hurricane Florence was bearing down on the Carolinas. Reports categorized it as a massive and dangerous storm, but it wasn’t due to hit until the weekend after our scheduled departure from the beach. So we packed up the rental car and headed south.
As we journeyed along, listening to my odd selection of music, we considered the possibility the storm could hit early. But, as I said, we’ve always been lucky.
It was still daylight when we arrived, but we were both pretty tired, so we ordered a pizza and a Greek salad from a local spot. Then we broke open our Strawberry Margaritas and proceeded to begin our little party. With an ocean front room on a high floor and a lovely balcony, we had a terrific view of the beach and the ocean beyond. The sky was clear, the ocean calm and welcoming.
The weather forecast warned of possible showers the following day. However, the resort had indoor and outdoor pools, a lazy river, and the ubiquitous hot tub, so we decided to play it by ear.
This particular trip also required us to devote some time to “work.” We had business to attend to for our new publishing business, and I had some research to do for a book I am planning. We intended to spend part of our first full day at the resort working, then wander down to whatever watering hole we might discover. We have a couple of favorites but are always open to new adventures.
In the end, we became so invested in our work we never got out of the room. No big deal. We had two more days to enjoy the beach and the weather report for the next day wasn’t too bad. It would be clear early in the day.
Since the room was complete with a full kitchen, Kathy decided to prepare one of our favorite Mediterranean pasta dishes, and we had a few more margaritas. According to reports, Florence was looming closer to the coast, but landfall was still expected four days later.
We woke early the next morning, donned out swimsuits and headed for the beach. The resort was eerily quiet, and we speculated some people might be leaving out of concern for the upcoming storm. But, we are hardy ladies and had a couple of more days to enjoy. Heck, the smaller crowds would make our beach stay even better!
Stepping out into the bright sunlight, we were surprised to find there were no lounge chairs around the pool. Looking further down to the beach, we saw there were no chairs there either.
Apparently, the hotel decided to begin preparing for the hurricane early. So we went back inside where there were a couple of chairs near the indoor pool. Joy of joys, the pool was empty and inviting. No excited kids splashing around, no sexy young ladies in tiny bikinis to intimidate our older less svelte forms, and no leering old men staring at thong clad teens.
Kathy started a swim, and I made my way to the far side of the pool to check out the hot tub. Standing on my tip toes, I saw it was empty. Not a drop of bubbling water met my hopeful gaze. Kathy and I exchanged puzzled looks. Suddenly, feeling not a little silly, we decided we’d have a quick breakfast and go exploring. A couple of hotel workers passed through the pool area without a glance in our direction.
When we approached the door to the lobby, Kathy grabbed my arm. A bright yellow notice was taped to the glass.
DUE TO IMPENDING HURRICANE FLORENCE, THE HOTEL MUST BE EVACUATED BY 11:00 AM ON TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 11th. ALL GUESTS MUST CHECK OUT BEFORE THIS TIME.
We read it twice. It was Tuesday, September 12th. And it was about 10:00 AM! No wonder it was so quiet. Most of the guests had already packed up and headed out!
The mad dash that followed could have been an episode of “Seinfeld”. Two senior out of shape ladies, scrambling to the elevator. Tearing off wet swimsuits (not an easy feat), skipping a shower, not a lick of make-up applied, clothes flying from the closet and the dresser, toiletries shoved into overnight bags, computers and Kindles quickly packed, and one rushing back downstairs to snag a trolley to transport our belongings to the car. The last minute packing of snacks and booze (oh a margarita would have been wonderful), an unopened bottle of wine placed into the cooler, and off we went. Kathy packed the car while I checked out.
Everything was in the car, we strapped on our seat belts, and I started the car. Damn! There was only a quarter of a tank of gas. One of the chores we had planned was to fill up the car. Never mind! We’d hit the first gas station we saw.
There is something very creepy about what is usually a bustling beach town when it is empty. No tourists bouncing along the sidewalks, no cars on the road, no sounds of laughter. Part of me thought the whole thing was silly. The storm wasn’t due to hit until the weekend, and we were dashing off as though the clouds were already gathering overhead. No. It was sunny and hot; it was a perfect day to lay on the beach and check out the lifeguards. Instead, I was racing through the empty streets of Myrtle Beach in search of a gas station!
When we finally reached the main road that led to the highway, I was even more annoyed. There were very few cars moving along. Granted they were all headed out of town. It occurred to me that most people might have already fled. How silly!
We hadn’t passed a gas station as we followed the GPS directions to the highway. No problem. The rental car got forty miles to the gallon, and we were moving along at a great clip. Until we reached the highway and everything ground to a halt. There had been reports that traffic on the incoming lanes would be reversed but, that had not happened yet. We were packed in with the other evacuees. I watched the needle on the gas gauge slowly dropping closer to that formidable red line.
Then I began to wonder if the gas stations would still be open. Would they have gas or would these other cars have sucked the pumps dry leaving us stranded in hurricane territory? Those margaritas in the cooler began to sound even better.
Kathy used her GPS to locate the nearest filling station. There were three coming up shortly. We might make it if the traffic continued to move. And then we were there! And every pump was blocked by a car draining gas I desperately needed. But, no! There was an an empty pump. We fed the car, and I succumbed to a Vanilla Coke and a couple of extra strength headache tablets. Kathy began munching on the popcorn we’d brought for snacking. I settled for a sugar powdered mini donut. Sugar and caffeine are two of my great weaknesses when under stress.
Driving along, we passed police cars and the National Guard. I am sixty-five years old, and I had never seen the National Guard in action. They may not have been lifeguards in trim trunks, but they were strapping young men in uniform. Eye candy is eye candy at my age.
Then we heard the sirens. What now? Was it an accident? Had some overeager escapee rammed into another frantic departee? In what should have been the lanes leading to the beach we watched a line of police cars speeding along at the head of two lines of cars on their way to safety. Traffic had been reversed! While those cars zipped by, we bumbled along in the crowded lanes. Not fair!
Usually, Kathy and I like to stop at a souvenir destination called Sparky’s. Did we dare? I thought of the variety of flavored nuts, the jars of jams and jellies of all flavors, the hot sauces and pickles, olives and relishes, candies and fudge, and other tasty treats. The silly collectibles we didn’t need but had to have! There it was! Sparky’s! And not a parking spot in sight. We drove past, casting wistful glances in the mirrors as the bright yellow edifice faded away.
You can see some bizarre things on a highway crowded with people who have to depart a holiday spot unexpectedly. Cars zipped in and out of lanes with abandon. I swore. Nothing new there. I always swear at irresponsible drivers. There were simply more than usual, so I had to dig down deep into my repertoire of curses. Kathy is more mild-mannered than I am. One car passed us with a drivers foot hanging shoeless out of his window. A fantastic collection of arms and hands also extended from car windows, as though the drivers and passengers were desperately trying to get a little of the sun they had to leave behind. Cars with rear windows wholly blocked by swim rafts, beach balls, and a variety of boards used to float or surf weaved in and out of lanes. As eager as they had been to reach the beach, they now urgently sought escape.
But it was still bright and sunny! Why did they panic? All I wanted was a Starbucks. A venti cold brew to gratify the gnawing craving for caffeine that cola could not satisfy. Miles flew past, but alas, no Starbucks. Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme, McDonald’s by the dozens, but no green sign with the welcoming wavy lines of coffee.
Then suddenly when I thought I would just settle for a plain old coffee from the next place we passed, I saw it. It beckoned to me, seductively whispering, “Here I am. Come and consume me!”
“I have to get off,” I muttered as I began to move across lanes of traffic.
“What’s wrong?” Kathy asked in a panic.
“I have to get off,” I repeated urgently, dodging cars, breaking my own rule about cutting people off.
“Why? What happened?” Kathy’s eyes fluttered from the dash to my face, to the surrounding cars.
“I have to…” and I was free of the highway on some unknown exit to cold brew heaven.
There is something delightful about fulfilling an unreasonable need. I waited while Kathy visited the facilities. I could have gone into the cool interior of the store and ordered my chosen beverage. But I wanted that drive-thru experience. That moment when the voice of some teenaged barista would crackle through the speaker welcoming me and asking what I would like. I would take a moment to savor the menu even though I knew precisely what I wanted. Choosing was half the pleasure. Then I would place my order and pulling up to the window, I would extend my hand to accept the Vanilla Cold Brew, venti-sized. The exchange of money for this gift would take place, and I would slowly take that first sweet, icy sip of caffeine-filled ecstasy. Gone were thoughts of margaritas, sunny beaches, sexy lifeguards. I was on familiar ground. Hyper and hopped up I could drive to the ends of the earth now.
There is a section of the interstate I love because it is curvy and windy and makes me feel as though I am a racecar driver. Between Asheville, North Carolina and the Tennessee border, the road twists and turns and all trucks must stay in the right lane. With Cold Brew pumping through my bloodstream and the highway before me I was Mario Andretti.
Soon the mountains of North Carolina, Grandfather Smoke, the Great Smoky Mountains loomed before me. Wisps of fog curled around Carolina pines, and I was almost home. I love Tennessee, but something about the North Carolina side of the Smokies stirs something in my blood I can’t identify. Maybe it’s my Cherokee heritage. Maybe it’s because I am almost home. As I drove, a new story wove its way into my mind, and I thought about a new book to write. I always seem to find a new tale to tell when I travel through the Smokies.
Anyway, we arrived home safely. And I have a couple of story ideas. And two senior ladies had an experience that will keep them laughing for years to come. “Remember the time…?”