Monday, July 13, 2009

Eastern North Carolina 30.7.9: The Outer Banks and Decline and Fall

After Edenton, we went to the Outer Banks. If Edenton was decline, the Outer Banks are fall. Once one crosses the sound going to Edenton, one begins to leave North Carolina behind.

E.g., our b and b. at Edenton. We stayed in a “restored” 18th-century cottage behind the house of a couple. Who they were and what they do, we don’t know, for we both introduced ourselves to them, and neither volunteered even their names. All was a sort of too precious and artificial olde Englishness—and they were the olde English and we the crass American tourists. She sounded middle-states urban—Philadelphia, Baltimore—and he mountain South. But all was righto and no time to talk doncha know—as if Englishness is encapsulated by frosty rudeness, a reduction that fits nicely with yuppie superiority and money grubbing, but hardly with my experience of most English folks.

No, I didn’t like Edenton, and the Outer Banks were even worse. Picture it: we drive up to a Days Inn in Kill Devil Hills. One comes off the highway running the length of the island, where cars sporting NJ and NY and Conn. License plates are chock-a-bloc, and where the air is thick with sea moisture and automobile exhaust.

One comes off the highway, I say, seeking refuge from the screaming signs with their cutesy promises and threats—Last Stop for Real Rebel Artifacts—from the endless shopping malls and pizza and spaghetti and bagel purveyors and the rude drivers, seeking refuge from the storm. A little inn by the sea, washed by gentle ocean breezes, bright against the mellow sky.

One finds Days Inn at Kill Devil instead. In one walks. Young Northeastern boy at desk refuses to acknowledge one’s presence while equally rude desk partner—fat, pale-faced, greasy sandy hair and colorless eyes—talks on the phone and fails to alert the boy to the fact that one’s standing there.

When boy looks up in a way that communicates he knew one was standing waiting and intended one to do so, he says, “Hang on,” and walks away. This is the last discernible thing he says, for when he returns it’s “Mumble—mumble, mumble?” and “Mumble, sir!” This is North Carolina? Southern hospitality and the welcome mat?

We quickly found our greeting at Days Inn was but prelude to a day of rubbing shoulders with the grossest sort of our fell citizens: mean all duded up in tight shorts, muscle shirts, and baseball caps, competing with their over-fed and under-taught children for attention; women dowdy with tight frizzed hair and watching, counting, but oh so sad abused eyes—knowing life with these men would always be playing mama to a little boy whom society won’t challenge to maturity, will indeed even encourage to remain immature, irresponsible. R-v vans full of them, station wagons sporting stickers, “Mom’s Taxi,” full of them, jeeps full of them—all vehicles crammed with towels, deck chairs, bicycles, coolers, every appurtenance of suburbia one could want for comfort as one roughs it in the wilds of the Outer Banks. Where one touches the same virgin soil Raleigh touches, where one walks into the quaint antique olde English fishing village past, where one communes with the same nature our sainted forebears communed with.

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