[Sorry in advance for all of the grey photos in this post; overcast sky all day today]
My official point-to-point drive doesn’t start until tomorrow, when I will drive the last few miles up to the beginning (end?) of Highway 12 and start to make my way down the coast, but I thought it might be worth posting something about Day 0 — my first day on the road — which is actually the longest drive I will take this week.
I am pretty sure that I have not been north of Kitty Hawk in many, many years (decades), so my turn north up to Corolla today after crossing Wright Memorial Bridge should have been like going somewhere new. Unfortunately, at first, what I experienced was all too familiar.
Coastal residents sometimes refer to Saturday and Sunday not as “the weekend” but as “turnover days” — the days when the tourists from the past week change places with the tourists for the week ahead. For many years, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic waiting either to get on to or off of a barrier island has been a time-honored tradition at North Carolina’s more populous beaches. It is with more than a tiny bit of pride that frequenters of our state’s more remote beaches will note that such jarring bookends to their beach weeks are largely unheard of.
I have vague memories of the road from Corolla to Kitty Hawk being one of those stretches that used to be free of that harsh reminder of the daily commute awaiting many of us after our week off. Highway 12 down to Kitty Hawk allowed for a more relaxed transition out of beach mode and back into the patterns of non-coastal living.
Today’s drive left me wondering if that kind of transition is even possible on a weekday any more, much less a weekend, or if perhaps no place remains on our coast that is separate and distinct from our inland ways of life. Not only was the traffic to and from Corolla bumper-to-bumper, but so, too, was the traffic as far inland as Elizabeth City.
The collective tension shared by a highway full of drivers, coupled with an overcast sky, initially dampened my hopes for a chance this week of getting a sense of what the North Carolina coast as a whole is all about, separate and apart from what those of us who do not live here full time bring with us when we arrive for our week in the sun.
But as soon as I finally reached my stopover for the night (an evening with my cousins in a house by the ocean), I remembered that the outside world that can so quickly impose its will on the coast in the form of a traffic jam just as quickly loses its power as soon as one turns off the highway. Within minutes of parking my truck (and for those of you who have known me a while, yes, it is the same 1994 Ford Ranger), I was in the ocean, with nothing in front of me but an unbroken horizon and with the low pulse of the waves the only sound in my ears. When I later settled into a chair on the deck at the house to read (I’m starting with Martin Amis’s The Zone of Interest), that highway — only a few hundred yards away — could not have seemed more distant.
Had I been more mindful on my drive today and less intent on just getting to my destination, I would have been aware of a number of reminders that the idea of an individual Sense of Place still has meaning in North Carolina as soon as we leave the highway behind, no matter how much sameness we experience on the road itself. When I stopped in Edenton for gas and for lunch (Chicken Kitchen, of course), for instance, I was immediately surrounded by sights and sounds — a football team preparing for the start of the season, a small town park by the river, a clever phrase on a church announcements sign — that quietly made this point.
Looking forward to getting started tomorrow and to being as aware of the subtle signs all around me as I have been of the overt ones.