Monday, August 23, 2010

Myrtle Beach Part 1: Why I Hate an Entire State

My car just hit 100,000 miles, shortly before the weekend getaway to Myrtle Beach (or the mini-break, as I like to call it, since I’m so very Bridget Jones). I love my car. I bought it at a really, really stressful and awful time in my life, and it was a completely stupid purchase that I never once regretted.

Early in the summer of 2003 I was contacted by a recruiter, looking for someone to overhaul a customer service department for a children’s supply company. I was working for a struggling cardiovascular diagnostic group, which was great experience (can you picture me, with my English degree, talking to doctors about Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy technology?), but they had recently added some management and made some changes I didn’t agree with, plus didn’t pay very well and refused to give me the title that matched the work I was doing, so I was ripe for the picking. That sounds kind of gross. Anyhow. Basically I jumped at the offer, which included a salary increase, a chance to do something different, and relocation. Relocation to the happy, sunny, oceanside town of Beaufort, South Carolina.

Much like the rest of the world I had never heard of, or been to, Beaufort. It’s close to Hilton Head but nowhere near as fashionable. Their claim to fame is mostly ‘military establishments’ and antebellum historic homes, which sounds fancy but means the town looks very pretty, but is totally a craphole.
They have to use mini-bottles in their bars, so no drink can be more than 2 oz. As IF?!

I listed my house on the market and rented a lower-level furnished apartment in a small block of concrete where the A/C never got colder than about 82 degrees and made so much noise you could hear it from the parking lot, and started my new role attempting to institute a series of exciting department changes for surly, despondent military wives who had been doing the same thing in the same way for 20 years. My boss, Beecher Hoogenboom (TOTALLY SERIOUS), looked exactly like Christopher Lloyd only more crazy, lived in the house ‘The Big Chill’ was filmed in, and offered helpful suggestions for managing the team like ‘lie to them’.

As you can guess, things went badly from day one. I thought living at the beach in the summer would be the most awesome thing ever, but I was so homesick and lonely and just plain damn hot that the experience was miserable. My boyfriend at the time, who I was pretty sure was The One, had commitment issues that were exacerbated by my unhappiness and longing to be rescued from a bad situation. So there were constant fights, and long drives back and forth between Raleigh and Beaufort as I tried to sell my house, and lots of tears on Sunday nights when I had to drive back. And humidity. The A/C in my car, a used Cavalier, died sometime around July. I was sweaty and sad before I even walked in the door of my ‘office building’, a warehouse crammed with cubicles in the middle of the swamp. My employees resented me, especially the one who had been promised my job, and the only friends I had were a girl who talked non-stop about the awesomeness of Virginia Tech, and a binge-drinking bulimic who thought it was funny to write notes on napkins to strangers in bars and say they were from me. I took a couple drives to the beach and tried to cheer myself up with roadside crab claw and shrimp purchases, but that just resulted in a decidedly foul stench in my soggy trunk (*not* a euphemism). I joined a local gym but gained 17 lbs because all I cooked for dinner were fries with cheese and bacon. Friends who took pity on me came for visits. You know it was bad because even The Ta, who despises all things cramped and humid and only 2 oz, and has a fear of driving over water (of which there is PLENTY in SC) came for a weekend, despite a dangerous single-bed pullout that cut my cousin Jim.

She's so pretty when she sleeps.

Eventually I admitted to myself it just wasn’t the right thing for me, packed my little hot mess Cavalier with as much stuff as I could and threw out the rest (this is why I don't own a Swiffer), and drove back to what was truly home. Thankfully the house hadn’t sold and I had a home to return to. The day I gave my 2-week notice I went and test-drove the Pontiac Vibe, a short-lived line of cars that were brilliantly designed (household outlet in the dash!) and looked like they would be easy to get a carseat in and out of, since I was already thinking Jellybean thoughts at that time. People could not believe I would buy a brand-new car with no job, but I could not begin to deal with the idea of driving around to job interviews IN AUGUST in the South with no air. It’s the only time I’ve quit a job without another already lined up, and it’s the only new car I ever bought. Luckily I did what I needed to do to make it through (took a day job as a receptionist, and a night job at a market research call center, aka ‘where hope goes to die’), and had good friends that were an incredible emotional (and financial) support. The boyfriend and I broke up shortly thereafter, which I am only now finally getting over, and I decided I HATED SOUTH CAROLINA, which was partially to blame. No one was allowed to mention what was henceforth referred to as The Bad Place to me ever again. April through August of 2003 just did not happen.

So. That being said.

I love Myrtle Beach. LOVE. Despite the fact that I still get slightly sick to my stomach and panicky when I see the ‘Welcome to SC’ sign, there is something about Myrtle Beach that speaks to me. It’s touristy. It’s brash. Days are slow and sleepy, and nights are neon and fast. I first visited with my family and high-school boyfriend when I was what, 17? Although I live so darn close (a mere 3-hour drive, it turns out), I’ve only ever been back a handful of times. Once with my sister N for a girl's weekend. Once with Loud and Quiet for a wedding. Once with my family for an ill-conceived Christmas holiday. Once for New Year’s with my friend Traci, where a dude in a bar with fish swimming under the dance floor shoved a handful of lettuce down the front of my dress and told me I was about to become an all-you-can-eat salad bar.

When Jelly and I go to the lake I like to tell myself that it’s almost as good. Maybe better, because the water isn’t salty and there aren’t annoying waves or people from Texas shaking cigarette ash off their hotel balcony into the pool water. But then I get to the beach, and it’s the ocean. It roars, and Jenny runs out into the waves and roars back, and shakes her fat little fists at it, then laughs hysterically and races on pudgy little legs back to the safety of the shoreline, where she gathers seashells and digs at wet sand and marvels at the planes with their advertising banners. We go eat crab legs, and I can’t keep up with her, and she hides from the pirate and rings the bell in the play area, and then back at the hotel later there is night swimming in the dark with lights on all the trees and it’s like magic. I sing Catch a Falling Star even though I only know those two lines, and Jelly is in love with all of it and sleeps til 8:30 in the morning and I think, yes, this is the best place in the whole world.

To be continued...


Barb said...

can't wait for part 2.

Stephanie said...

Dude. May I just say--this was a truly excellent piece of prose.

For serious.