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Friday, June 12, 2009

Vacation Is a 40 Hour a Week Job

Who knew? Here all this time I thought I was going on vacation to relax and get away from it all. Instead, I brought it all with me. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. There were a few bumps along the way, figurative and literally. Overall, it was a good vacation. My wife is usually a barometer of stress. The fact that she did not miss home and did not want to leave was a good indication that the vacation was a resounding success. Here are the notes I made while at the beach during the week.

End of Day 1 Saturday May 30
I’m finally ready to settle in for a much needed night’s sleep. We had wanted to take a evening swim but decided that it was getting late. I had called a couple of weeks ago to request that the pool be heated. Being the beginning of June, the air was still cool even though the forecast put the temps into the 80’s. With my In Laws and my daughter, I finally agreed to wife’s demands for the pool to be heated to the tune of $275. Hopefully, by tomorrow, the pool will be like bathwater. However, right now, I am starving.

The beer run took a lot longer than expected so, when everyone finally made it back to our house, we decided to just order pizza and watch Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals. If the Penguins wouldn’t have been in the running, I wouldn’t have bothered. We actually thought that we would be watching Game Seven of the Conference Playoffs between Pittsburgh and the Carolina Hurricanes but the Penguins finished off Carolina and had gone back to Detroit in a rematch of last year’s Cup Finals. With Marion Hossa making his comments about wanting to play on a team that could win the cup, I hope Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, and the rest of the crew make him eat his words.

Unfortunately, the delicious pizza was chased with a bitter pill by a loss to Detroit. The Red Wings are a good team and I hope tomorrow proves better for our Black and Gold squad. For now, I am winding down. I’ve checked emails, did a little farming and checked on my CaféPress store for any sales trying to exhaust what little caffeine I still have in my system so I can sleep. Tomorrow is a big day. This will be the first time, my daughter sees the beach. It will either be a sight to behold, or a disaster.

Day 2 Sunday May 31
I was woken up to the sound of crackling bacon. What a wonderful sound and smell for that matter. After finally falling asleep around 1 AM, I was out of bed by 9:30 AM. For some reason the beach sets my internal clock to wake me up around the same time every day. I remembered this from our last trip to the Outer Banks in 2005.

After breakfast we gathered up all our beach belongings and loaded them into the car. We rented an umbrella and two beach chairs from Ocean Atlantic Rentals which serves the Outer Banks for a lot of items. For $105 we got the chairs, umbrella, and our crib for the whole week. That’s not too bad and they deliver the items to your rental property and pick them up as well. Along with the chairs and umbrella, we had to load a cooler, all of our daughter’s beach toys, diaper bag, blanket, and towels.

We didn’t have direct beach access without walking through people’s yards. That’s why I loaded up the van. A few yards from our cul-de-sac was a public access path. We parked the van and unloaded. It was about 100 yards along a wooden planked walkway and then up a set of steps. I carried the chairs and cooler. My wife carried the backpack and towels. My Mother-in-Law walked with the little one and my Father-in-Law carried the umbrella. I believed that the shore was right on the other side of the steps.

We topped the steps and were in for a surprise. There was another dune and no walkway, just a sand path up to and over the dune. I could feel it in my gut. This was going to be hard. My F-I-L has an artificial hip and is 70 years old. My M-I-L is recovering from blood clots in her lungs and is 66. The sand is hard to walk on in good physical condition. It’s also hot. Add their physical stature, age, and relevant speed and we’re looking at a bad combination.

Once over the dune, there was another 50 yards to a suitable spot to place our stuff. I had not been to this particular area but there was an unusual amount of shells all over the sand. I’m talking ones as big as your hand and crushed ones everywhere. It didn’t even look like there was sand going into the ocean.

Little One enjoying the water. See the shells in the background.

We dropped our stuff off and I made an initial attempt at going into the water. It was freezing. The shells just didn’t end at the beach, they went on into the water up to my waist. I doubt anyone would want to get in with this kind of pain inducing surface underneath their feet.

The little one enjoyed the water and got knocked over a few times. I held onto her hand tightly and kept her upright. Everyone else stuck close to the umbrella and eventually we called it a day in favor of the pool. It was cold, too, but it didn’t hurt your feet when walking on the bottom. Still haven’t found the heater yet.

Dinner was at Dirty Dick’s Crab House in Avon. Now, I cannot be sure but I think that the new housing development between Dirty Dick’s and the road where my Sister-in-Law is staying used to be the site of the Castaway’s Inn. This was the site of the Apocalyptic Pool Hall At the End of the Outer Banks. We had been looking for it since we arrived as a sort of moment of silence and validation of sorts about our claims that we made about the place to our friends and family. If this isn’t it, it has to be close by because the Food Lion and Chinese Take Out place just up the road coordinate with our location and these are places I remember being close to when we came down in 2002. Also, the Subway shop near Dirty Dick’s is another location I remember because we looked for an open eatery for almost an hour that night back then.

The evening dealt another blow to my spirits as Pittsburgh lost to the Red Wings, again, in Game Two. Hopefully a day off and change in venue back to Pittsburgh will help.

Day 3 Monday June 1
Today, my wife and I have to drive with her sister and fiancé up to Manteo Courthouse to get their marriage license filled out. Wednesday is the wedding and the weather looks to hold out for a few more days.

It was a break from a new wrinkle we noticed at the house. The air conditioning on the top floor does not seem to be working properly. It was up to 73 degrees when we left. There are two units on the house. One regulates the temperature for the first and second floor and the other for the top floor. Both thermostats are set to 72 degrees. I called about the unit and they were going to send a tech out while we were gone. I wanted to put a sense of urgency on it since we used the stove in the mornings which heats up the room more.

With the license in order, we returned to a sweat box. I was actually looking forward to the cold pool for relief. The temp was up to 80 degrees and the report from my In Laws was that there was a break in the line between the copper and aluminum piping. It had actually frozen over from the escaping gas. The realty company expressed their sympathies and were planning to bring out some window units to help with the heat. They never showed up. Something is apparently up here because I just now noticed the sign at the front of the driveway that said For Sale. It was there when we pulled in on Saturday but I paid it no mind.

For dinner we went to a little restaurant up the road called The Dolphin Den. It was pretty good. They have great hush puppies and corn bread. Of course, I was in full CaféPress gear to promote the store wherever I go and our waiter laughed at my Moods of the Living Dead t-shirt. His brother is a soldier over in Iraq and is a big fan of zombie pop culture. I gave him the website address and wished his brother luck overseas. Perhaps I’ll see a sale come from Iraq in my reports soon. That would be cool.

Day 4 Tuesday June 2
The heat is becoming a little unbearable. It’s up to 82 degrees on the third floor. We refrained from cooking breakfast and opted for donuts. A call into the realty company reveals that they had to get approval from the owners of the house to replace the faulty unit. By 11 am they were at the house and working. Soon the temp began to fall and we were down under 80 degrees by 1pm. We decided to keep cool at the pool and discussed options for going back to the beach. Do we look for a handicap accessible location down the road or do we head over to my S-I-L’s house and use their access.

It’s also my S-I-L birthday and we decided to have a cookout to go along with our swimming party. I manned the grill with her fiancé and we discussed cooking deer meat and he noticed the heat pump for the pool. That had to be it. Besides the fact that it a fan on it like a heater, it said Pool Heat Pump on the side. The lights appeared to be on but it didn’t look to be running. Perhaps it was at the proper temperature and there was a lock out mode to keep people from messing with it. There was a definite display for temperature but no numbers appeared in the window. I might do some searching on the Internet to find out if that’s the case.

Regardless, I wasn’t going to fool with it now as the Penguins were about to play Detroit at Mellon Arena in Game 3.

Day 4 Wednesday June 3
The big wedding day has arrived. We had a little more spring in our step as the Penguins finally beat the Red Wings last night. We all went to bed exhausted from the drama and tension of the game. We had to meet the preacher at 10:30 AM in Nags Head so we needed to leave by 9:30 AM. It wasn’t fun getting the little one up as she usually sleeps a lot longer and tends to be cranky otherwise.

We met up with the preacher and headed to the beach for the wedding. He suggested not doing it down on the sand. It was close to 11:00 AM and the sun was beating down on us. It was also a little crowded and wouldn’t be very romantic as you say the vows while a wayward beach ball rolls by you. The ceremony was quick and sweet, although my wife missed the whole thing. The little one became a bit unruly and with me working the camera she had to regulate. She wandered down the board walk with our daughter while my S-I-L and her fiancé exchanged their vows, both crying during the ceremony.

On the way back we stopped at Western Sizzlin for lunch. How’s that for a reception? We also stopped at Bodie Island Light. Unfortunately, you couldn’t climb the Lighthouse but I got some decent pictures.

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Stairs Inside Bodie Light

We returned to the house and I was determined to figure this pool thing out. My new B-I-L made a startling discovery. Next to the pump on the base of the house was a black box. It appeared to be the breaker box. There was another on the wall next to the hot tub and also inside the pump house. The only difference with this box was that it was missing a breaker. My B-I-L figured it out. The pool hadn’t been heated since we’ve been here. It was never on and we were paying for heat. I walked over to the hot tub and grabbed its breaker and placed it inside the box for the heat pump. Lights started blinking and everything began to work on the once dormant heat pump. I was distraught, angry, and bedazzled. Did the rental company know this? Was this a scam? Was it an honest mistake? What does this button do?

After playing around for a few seconds, I was able to kick the heater on and raised the temperature to 82 degrees. It was currently 79 degrees in the pool and that was after being in the sun all day. We checked the jets and they were spouting warm water. I couldn’t believe it. By now, business hours were over but I am going to send an email first thing tomorrow about this.

My wife and I took a trip down to her sister’s beach area with her niece to check out the landscape. It was dark but the moon was near full giving us plenty of light to see. Again, there were two dunes to climb but at least here there was a boardwalk providing access.

The sand was cool and soft underneath my feet. We managed to find a working flashlight and I kept an eye out for ghost crabs. We had seen a couple peeking out of holes in the sand the last day we came down to the beach but at night, they are nearly invisible without extra light. A few times I noticed something moving across the sand and I knew what it was.

Get Ghost Crab Hunters on a shirt
Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! the store.

We came down to the water and I just stood there with the water rushing over my feet. It was cold but it was the kind of cold you don’t mind. I looked up at the cloudless sky taking in all the stars. My breathing matched the rise and fall of tide. The wind blew along the shore and I simply existed, connected to everything on the Earth.

It’s those moments that give you perspective in your life. The right ingredients come together and bring you a little closer to the source of life on the planet. You don’t feel alone because you can imagine your feet in the water being connected through a string of water molecules across the ocean to another country where someone else is standing in the ocean as well.

We made our way back to the house and contemplated going to bed. After putting the little one down, we decided to enjoy a midnight swim in our now heated pool. Before we went in, I put the breaker back in the hot tub as to not disrupt the pH of the hot tub water. I don’t know if that does anything but I didn’t want to break something else.

Day 5 Thursday June 4
What a wonderful day… he said with sarcasm…
I emailed the rental company and told them what we found. I didn’t want to play my entire hand so I said, “Something was wrong with the heater.” They sent out a tech. I was worried that the temperature would give something away but the fact that the breaker was missing put us on the side of right.

I hurried down to the pool and the guy was already pulling into the driveway. I crept around the side of the house in time to see him put a breaker into the box. The heat pump sprang into life. I sprang into action. He immediately greeted me and began talking about the fact that it was working fine. I said, “Oh. That’s good considering there was no breaker in there.” He said it was all working fine and that he bumped the temp up a couple of degrees and then quickly left. I was furious. He outright lied to me.

By the time I made it into the house, I already had an email from the rental place. He told them everything was fine. I explained how I knew that was wrong and she informed me that there was no way the pool could have kept the temperature it had unless it was running all night. My wife quickly called and was pretty much called a liar over the phone. She explained everything that we did and spoke to the manager since she was not getting any satisfaction. I then got on the phone and explained to the manager our position. The plot surrounding the house thickened. Apparently, the group used to maintain and service the pools are an independent entity hired by the owner of the house. Our house was in the process of being sold. That’s why it took so long to get back to us on the A/C before. Now we were being told that the tech coming out to the house would be a charge to the owner for a service call. I said, well I’d be more worried about what they’re paying them upfront because they don’t even maintain the pools. In the end he said he would get back to me. I pretty much conceded that I would be paying $275 for two full days of heated pool and resigned myself to just enjoy it while I had it. Worse yet, it rained part of the day.

We did take time and go back to the beach down by my S-I-L’s. This was the same spot as our night trip and it was a lot easier to get to but the loose sand made it difficult to go down to the water. My F-I-L decided to stay behind and keep cool but my M-I-L braved nature.

The sand in and out of the water was much better. No shells in sight. My wife talked to a couple down by our place before and they said that they had been coming here for years and never saw that type of beach condition. We thought maybe the storm that was off the coast last week brought all that inland.

The little one enjoyed playing in the sand and the water. She’s quite a smart cookie. She’s almost two and has three more words in her vocabulary thanks to this trip. Beach, Swimming, and Lighthouse.

That night I decided to crank the heat in the pool up in protest and we enjoyed another late night swim in 85 degree water.

The biggest highlight of the day was seeing Pittsburgh beat Detroit in Game 4. They head back to Detroit on Saturday. We probably won’t catch the game on the radio until after we emerge from the Allegheny tunnel on the turnpike. By then, the game will be pretty much over.

Day 6 Friday June 4
This is our last day at the OBX. We have a pretty full day. We had been dying to get some frozen custard, so we took a drive down towards the end of Hatteras last night. As you drive down Rte 12 towards Buxton, the Hatteras Light zips by on its trip around the island. It’s a very eerie sight as if some unknown stranger is sitting out in the darkness shining a light around. I immediately conjured up visions of Sauron’s Eye searching Mordor for the One Ring, except in a circle. Since we knew it wasn’t that far to the lighthouse we decided to use our last day to catch a trip up the steps and then down to the end of the island to visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. The fateful trip in 2002 sparked my wife’s curiosity as signs for the yet to be built museum were seen along the highway as we drove home. Now she could actually go to it as it was open.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The winds were clocked at 35-40 mph so the balcony was closed on the Hatteras Light. I still wanted to climb that sucker. My wife and I bought the tickets and made our way up to the top. 248 steps separated us from the base to the lamp. There were eight landings between the ground and the balcony. The windows were open so we took advantage of the breeze. Every landing opened on an opposite side of the tower and we could see our party standing there looking up at the lighthouse as if they were waiting to see us emerge from the top. Unfortunately, the balcony opened on the ocean side and we were still quite a ways from the top.

Once we reached the top of the lighthouse we were allowed to step out onto the balcony in front of the door. We were not allowed to circle around the back as the winds were too high. Wussies. In any case, I got to say I climbed the Cape Hatteras Light. When we were here in 05 we didn’t venture down to the light because we were in Corolla which would have been an hour and a half trip to the park. In 03, you weren’t allowed to climb the light. It was only four years after they moved the lighthouse down the beach and there were some structural issues that closed the tower.

We left the lighthouse and headed down to the museum. It’s just beyond the ferry over to Ocracoke island and of course, we had to travel the only road there during the time when school busses were taking kids home. The museum kind of looks like a wrecked ship hull and that’s about it. There was really nothing to it and served as pretty much a glorified gift shop. I guess in years to come they will have more exhibits but with a history as rich as the Outer Banks has with shipwrecks they could have put together a lot more by now.

Our trip back clocked in at just under 25 minutes so we planned on taking the ferry over to Ocracoke Island for our last supper. I was dying to have some crab legs and there was a seafood buffet over there that was calling my name. Unfortunately, we didn’t get started until after 7 PM. We missed the 7:30 PM ferry and would have to take the next one. The ride over to Ocracoke would take approximately 45 minutes and that would have us to close to closing time for Jimmy’s Buffet. We went to Howard’s Pub instead.

Howard’s Pub was kind of like a bayou cabin, in a good way. It was pretty big and pretty open. The windows all had screens in them and the walls, beams, and ceilings were littered with license plates, school pennants, and other sporting paraphernalia.

A pound of crab legs for $19.99? I had to do it. They were excellent. Now, I’ve been eating crab legs for twenty years now and while I don’t know much I know a good crab leg. You can tell the age and health of the crab by looking at the shell. If they have a lot of spots on them, like barnacles on a ship, you know the meat won’t be as sweet. Another tell tale sign, for me anyway, is the color. If they are deep red, it tells me they’re good. Pink and light red make me think they are older and not as good. Finally, the ability to crack open a leg and pull the entire meat out in one lump, without breaking, is a great sign. Swishing that around in drawn butter and downing it is pure decadence.

After dinner we had to get moving. It was already 10:00 PM and even though the ferry ran for another hour and a half, we had a lot to do tonight before bedtime. We headed down Rte 12 and saw a bunch of flashing lights ahead of us. Immediately, I thought someone got stuck in the sand as we had seen three police cruisers respond to such a call earlier in the week. Unfortunately, we began to realize what this was, a DUI Checkpoint.

It was quite smart really. There is only one road to go back to Hatteras Island on and that is at the other end of Ocracoke. Cops sitting just down the road on Rte 12 can catch a lot of people leaving the bars. Hatteras Island only allows the sale of beer and wine at bars. Everyone uses the free of charge ferry to go to Ocracoke for well drinks and other assorted spirits. While I had been drinking only soda, my B-I-L had two beers. I was asked for my license and he was asked to step out of the car. We had visions of him being hauled away and one of us being forced to drive their car back. His wife was also drinking and her daughter was only 12. I couldn’t drive a stick, my wife couldn’t drive a stick, my F-I-L had been drinking, and that meant that my M-I-L would have to be pulled out of the back of the van to drive the Elantra back to Avon.

Get Ocracoke Island DUI Task Force on a shirt
Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! the store.

Fortunately, he passed and we were allowed to leave. We missed the ferry and had to wait ten minutes for the next one. Directly in front of us in line was a truck with three gents and a cooler sitting on the tailgate, drinking. They asked us if we came through the checkpoint. I said “Yeah.” One guy yelled out, “We won a ticket!” Now, I’m not sure if they got cited for drinking and driving, open container or the fact that there were three drunk guys hanging off the tailgate but they were pretty loaded, regardless. We pulled in right behind them on the ferry and you could just feel them staring into the car at you. The one who looked like Kenny Rogers waved and winked at us. “Lock the doors!” My wife called out. I took another look and saw something familiar. They were wearing Pittsburgh sports gear. One had a Pens shirt on and the other had a Super Bowl XLIII shirt on. Now, it was entirely conceivable that they were fans from another city, however I had to find out for sure. I left the car and approached. I asked if they were from PA and they gave the obligatory answer anyone gives when they are from PA, “Pittsburgh.” Knowing that only a native Pennsylvanian would know that they were not in fact from Pittsburgh proper asked, “And…” That cued them to say, “Butler!” I said “Irwin!” which is what someone from my town would say because no one would know the place I live. We all cheered and they raised their beers high.

The ferry ride back was much quicker. The waves weren’t as choppy and we navigated back with ease. The moonlight caused the end of Hatteras Island to show up as a silhouette against the horizon. I wondered how long it would take for someone to swim to shore if they fell off the boat. As a parent, you start to look at every environment as an enemy and being at the beach for the first time with our daughter made me question every rock and leaf. We didn’t let go of her hands as we walked along the deck towards the sides. Still, I had that thought in my head of what would I do if I or her fell overboard.

You ever get that strong feeling of impulsiveness to do something horrible and completely out of character? It’s almost like a kind of Tourette’s for your brain. It’s the kind that makes you feel compelled to just want to swerve the car off the road and over a cliff. I don’t have any latent suicidal tendencies but I had this very strong urge to just run and dive off the back of the ship to see if I could survive. I could actually envision myself emptying my pockets, slipping off my shoes and socks and making like a salmon off the back of the ferry.

Once we reached Hatteras Island we watched as the Drunk Guys From Butler continued their drive with passengers sitting on the tailgate onto Rte 12. Thankfully, they turned a few streets up the road and we were free to get our asses back to Avon.

We bathed the baby, put her down, and started packing. We had to be out of the house by 10 AM and I wanted to get as much packing and loading done tonight. Around 1 AM, we finished with what we could load now. We kept a few bags out for showering and clothes. My M-I-L and I shared the last of the frozen custard we brought back from Uncle Eddy’s in Buxton. I asked her if she had a good time and she said she did. I asked her if she understood why people did all this work for a week’s worth of beach time and she said, “No.” I laughed and agreed with her. I don’t know why either. I guess it’s the inner Griswold in us all that needs to come out and wreak havoc once in awhile. I was glad she enjoyed herself and she indicated that she would do this again if the opportunity arose. I took that as a sign that she isn’t finished fighting cancer yet, which is good. I just wish cancer was finished fighting with her.

Tomorrow will be another marathon day for this Griswold family as we head for home. For now, I need to get some real sleep. Once last stop down to the pool to dip my feet in and I’m done. Oh, and I better reset the temperature since it was still 85 degrees in there. Oh yeah, the manager never called me back. I guess I will have to bring that up when I check out.

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