Saturday, April 19, 2014

Contraptions, Caches, and Good Companions

The contraption you see there is an old cotton press, very near nowhere, South Carolina, which one passes when traveling Highway 38 between Hamlet, NC, and the junction of US Highway 501, in our case on the way to Myrtle Beach, SC. Of course there is a geocache here (GC47CA4), and Ms. B. and I actually ran into another couple of cachers here on their way home from the beach. It's been some years since we've been able to get to the coast, but our friends Joe and Suzy Albanese, and their son Sam and friends, were in Myrtle for a few days and had a place with enough room in the crawlspace for us to crash, so we decided to inflict ourselves upon them. Ms. B. and I got down there Thursday evening and returned today — unfortunately, in a pretty good downpour most of the way home. Fortunately, while we were there the weather was chilly but mostly clear. I was surprised by the number of folk — mostly young, of course — who were actually out swimming in the ocean or otherwise dressed for summer weather. That water had to be damn near polar plunge frigid.

For the years between 1977 and 2000, my folks owned a timeshare condominium at Regency Towers on the south end of Myrtle Beach, and Ocean Lakes campground, where we were staying on this trip, is only a couple of miles from there. How nice it was to find that a geocache resides right at Regency Towers — along the wall where I used to regularly sit, playing my guitar and frightening the beachcombers. Kimberly and I headed over there straightaway yesterday morning, found the cache, and walked up the beach toward another cache nearly a mile to the north. Chilly but nice, and it was kind of bittersweet to be out on such a familiar and yet very changed stretch of oceanfront properties.
Regency Towers; my family used to have a time-share here. No longer, but there is a geocache nearby.
Being that many kids are out for spring break, Myrtle was very crowded, almost as crowded as when we used to go during the prime weeks of summer. Ocean Lakes is basically a community unto itself, enclosed and relatively serene; for us, buzzing around the premises in the Albaneses' golf cart was kind of a highlight, especially on Thursday night, when just about everyone there paraded the streets in their carts, some decorated and illuminated in fun ways. The young children that abounded were clearly enjoying it all no end, and for at least that evening, I actually felt an uncharacteristic lack of hostility toward the younger set. Now that, I tell you, is the old man at his most mellow.
A fishy feeding frenzy at Broadway at the Beach

Yesterday afternoon, we visited Broadway at the Beach, which is kind of a souped-up replacement for the old pavilion that was once the big bright tourist spot in Myrtle. There's a winery there — The Boardwalk Winery — but we're not talking any kind of fancy or sophisticated stuff here; they specialize in wines that are sweet to semi-dry, and they even feature novelties such as wine slushies (in non-alcoholic varieties for the youngsters). Their dry reds — Syrah, Sangiovese, Merlot, and a blend — are described as "young," and as to their quality, I'll elaborate no further. The highlight of this Mecca for tourists, apart from a couple of caches, is the Pepper Palace, a fairly extensive hot sauce shop that offers lots of free samples. As tempting as it was, I didn't buy them out, but after several samples, I left with sufficient inner fire to brace me against the chilly evening wind.

Dinner last night was in Murrell's Inlet, at Russell's Seafood Grill and Raw Bar, a place I had been once before, several years ago, but I remembered little about the quality of the place. Mercy, but last night I loved this restaurant; I think we all did. I ordered a peck of fresh, local oysters, and I've gotta tell you, a peck of steamed shellfish is nothing to sneeze at. It's a huge freaking pot of the best oysters I think I've ever tasted, with plenty of melted butter, cocktail sauce, tabasco sauce, and horseradish to accompany. In fact, though I'm rarely fond of naked oysters, these guys were delicious straight out of the shell, dipped in nothing. To finish them, I did need some help from Joe and Suzy (Kimberly is not a connoisseur of shellfish) but at the end of the evening, that pot was empty. Kimberly and the Albaneses all enjoyed their dinners; between us, we sampled a pretty fair portion of the menu. Service was excellent from top to bottom — the owner greets you at the door; the lady bartender was as professional, amiable, and efficient as any I've ever seen (she made a damn fine gin martini); and our server was friendly, prompt, and conscientious. We did have to wait almost an hour for a table, since everyone in South Carolina was dining in Murrells Inlet last night, but we didn't mind a bit, as the company, drinks, and ambiance were better than fine. The restaurant's interior has the quintessential "beach tavern" atmosphere, and they do have a balcony with outdoor seating, though the weather allowed for none of that last night. I'd say dinner at Russell's was beyond satisfactory, and all for less-than-extortionate prices.

Today, it was a rainy drive home, with only a few caches on the menu — though, amusingly, ten minutes after I found a cache just outside of Myrtle Beach, I received a call from local cachers c3 and Norah, who had just claimed the same cache on their way to the beach and retrieved the geocoin I had just left there. Too bad our paths didn't actually cross. That would have been just plain decent.

Back in my teenage years, and even some thereafter, going to Myrtle Beach was something of a dream vacation. The place has grown so much over the years, and the dense traffic and endless stoplights become outright stressful, so for me personally, Myrtle doesn't hold the kind of charm it used to. But this trip was so enjoyable and filled with such good company that it was kind of like a return to youth. I just loved it, and I hope Ms. B. and the Albaneses can say the same thing.

Be good to each other.
Left: The Albanese, not necessarily scary; Right: Ms. B. and Old Rodan, pretty scary.
Nincompooper! Is upside down!
A pretty heavenly spread at The Pepper Palace
Old Rodan might be a little afeared of that peck of steamed oysters on the table.

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