SHIFTING SANDS: My Much-needed Trip to Myrtle Beach Part 2

Isn’t it funny how much easier it to wake up wen one is planning to travel? Heck, I also find it hard to sleep, mostly because I am and will likely always be a big kid.

After Wednesday’s tire craziness, we had decided we would wake at 10 AM. I am up by 8. I make my way to my mancave, taking care to grab my hearing aid kit (if I forget it I could have a very long trip indeed as it dries out wax and other moisture) and start packing. I try to remember to get a little of everything, jeans, shors, button-down shirts. But the one thing I don’t get and should have is a long-sleeved shirt. Hey, I can’t remember everything.

Before hitting the road, we make a stop at that venerable Southern institution Bojangle’s. The sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit they give me is actually tender and well cooked, and I’ll admit that this can be hit or miss as sometimes they’re hard and not very fresh tasting. But my favorite, the seasoned fries, really hit the spot. I settle in and prepare for the roughly three hour trip.

A big reason I love travel is the ability to discover. I have three GPS apps, and they all give me slightly different information as we zip through small North Carolina towns. Good ol’ Ariadne, in addition to being the one that produces maps I can tour with my fingers, tells me the exact street addresses and even some of the neighborhoods, if they are labeled. BlindSquare makes it easy to see GPS coordinates and nearby restaurants. And the Goodmaps Explore app displays real-time information on changing points of interest as we move, to a degree that BlindSquare does not. It can almost be too much information, but it is also fascinating to really get a look at what we’re passing.

Not that we passed too much as we wound down I-40 and Johnston County, to I-95 and Cumberland and Robeson Counties. Just over the South Carolina line, after passing through a town called Taybor City (Columbus County) on the NC border, we kind of lose the direct, interstate route and are forced to navigate a series of backroads until we finally arrive at Myrtle Beach proper, in Hory County.

We arrive at the Sea Watch resort at nearly 1:30, having made good time. We enter the North Tower lobby and are jostled about by excited passersby as they to get ready to enjoy their journey. Seasoned traveler that I am, I have my credit and ID cards out and on the counter practically before the person checking us in asks for them. We are given room 712 in the South tower, which in itself is 16 stories.

I remember during our last trip out of North Carolina prior to this one, way back in January of 2020 (because of Covid) we walked through an endless hall in a Tampa boutique hotel called West Wing and had a ta-da experience upon entering an amazing, large room. This room, while fairly large, was… let’s just say a lot less ta-da-ish. My wife said it still appeared stuck in the 90s, with a dirty landline phone (ever seen one of those?) rusty hangers in the closet, and spaghetti sauce droppings in the kitchenette. The Sea Watch is really a collection of condos, or rooms that different people owned, so you get a lot of variability from property to property. But then as someone on my Facebook said “you ain’t going there for the room.” True enough, though of course one still likes to have a place that makes one feel safe and comfortable.

Anyhow, we shuck our “road clothes” and don waterwear, me putting on a pair of shorts for the first time this season. But we don’t remain oceanside too long, because even with our nice new beach chairs, snacks, and cold water, the heat soon wins. Well I am not really too hot, mostly because I’m never hot. But I knew my wife had to be getting toasty with the sun remaining out, and I know that even if I’m not feeling hot I still have to be careful of sunburn and heatstroke.

Our evening wraps up with what is now a regular pilgrimage to Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, this time joined by my cousin and his wife. A lot of fellowship is had, with conversation having been improved by the kind hostess who saw to it that we were seated in our own section to accommodate my cousin’s and my hearing difficulties. While we chat, I scarf down some delicious meatloaf, the best fried okra I’ve ever tasted, and macaroni and cheese that was pretty decent (I’m a harsh macaroni critic). Oh, and the biscuits that arrive before the family-style entrees get there can nearly fill you by themselves, so eat with care. I don’t even need dessert after this meal.

And that makes up my Thursday. It is very much the kind of day I need, as I fully emerge from Winter’s lingering effects. And there is more where that comes from on Friday.

SHIFTING SANDS: My Much-needed Trip to Myrtle Beach Part 1

We’d planned this vacation just after Christmas, as my mom, wife, my cousin, his wife, and I sat in our humble home on the southeast Raleigh. Full off of some delicious eating at Logans, a chain steakhouse, we enjoyed relative warmth inside, and contemplated where outside warmth might be had.

The idea was to take my always-hard-working mom down to the beach, as she doesn’t do a whole lot of traveling. We decided the first weekend of May, this weekend, would be a good one, as it is typically warm but the beach is not yet crowded. My cousin and his wife have a timeshare, so they booked in their property of choice, the Sea Watch Resort. I then booked a room for me and my wife in that same hotel. And I felt happier already, because having this trip to look forward to would make staying on the work grind easier. It’s always better when you feel you’re working toward something, right?

So time passed, and a week or so out my mom said she would be unable to make it due to something having come up. Also we had initially scheduled to remain out there from Thursday to Sunday, but my wife asked that I move our checkout day to Saturday so she could get us back in time to relax a little before returning to her teaching duties. This was all fine and good, and I was just happy we would get to go in some capacity.

well… sort of. Our story begins, inauspiciously, on Wednesday night with a nail. The first thing we needed to do was get the dog to my sister-in-law’s house so she could be looked after. The nice thing about our tiny Pomeranian, and I know I’ve written at least one entry about her but am assuming you won’t feel like trying to find it, is that she is easily taken care of. She only needs food and pee pads and she’s good to go, similar to a cat.

So we made the 30-minute ride across Wake County to drop our furry child off, chattering and feeling increasingly excited about the days of sun-splashed sprawling that awaited. Went inside and chatted, as the dog in residence, a biggermix of Pomeranian and some other breed, greeted our arrival. He’s older, but still hanging in there. Fortunately for us, we’d only stayed inside for about 20 minutes.

as I slid into the front seat and buckled in, my wife said she was hungry and we began the usual dance of trying to figure out where to get dinner. As she started the motor however, we heard the ominous beep that means the car is telling us something. Turns out the PSI in the back right tire was dropping fast. The other three held steady at 37, while that one had already plummeted to 25. Being the glass-half-empty person I am (I know I know, I’m really trying to work on that mentality) I feared the trip was gonna be swallowed before we even hit the highway. And worse, we were already inside of the 24-hours one has prior to arrival that the hotel reservation could be canceled. So I’d also be eating $200+. Great!

Off we went, slowly losing speed along the way as the pressure continued to drop. She swung by her dealership, already closed as it was 6:30. So she plugged in (ha, ha) a query for places to fix tires, and came across a Pep Boys that would stay open till just 8. Happily it was only a little over three miles away, so we practically limped over there as the pressure was down to 21 PSI.

“Can you help,” she asked the woman as we got there.

“We’ll take a look,” she replied (there are four cars ahead of you.”

So I collected my things and followed her inside, where the temperature was set to frigid and the air smelled so heavily of rubber that my head immediately hurt. I tried to read, found it hard to concentrate as we contemplated the possilibity that we’d be parting with a big chunk of change for new tires or significant repairs. 7 became 7:30 became 8:00, and the place emptied out. Finally, mercifully, they got to our ride. As luck would have it, we were the last customers to be seen, well after 8 as we had arrived early enough. They told us, a little before 9, that she had inded run over a rogue nail and the tire only required a patch. $25 and lot of relief, and we were good to go again! And with that, your friendly neighborhood pesimist learned a lesson again in how things can indeed work out in the end. More, hopefully, on the actual trip tomorrow. Or Monday? Sometime within the week!

The Last Great Battle?: A Primer on the Duke-UNC Rivalry

Welcome to the best rivalry in all of sports! And yes Yankees/Red Sox fans, this is true. For if you’ve ever spent time in Tar Heel Territory (because there is no Duke territory or if there is it’s in New Jersey somewhere) you know the bad blood that flows along Tobacco Road. And yes it’s done respectfully, mostly, because we’re still Southern after all, y’all.
Even with all those classic matchups, we have never had one this big. In fact, it surprises me to learn that the two teams hadn’t even met in the NCAA Tournament before. I guess either one or the other would go far in their days of greatness. And what do you know, in Coach K’s last season and Hubert Davis’s very first we finally get the epic matchup that will serve as his perfect career sendoff, because there’s no way they’re winning that game. Ok ok, I’d better not talk too much noise or I might end up eating my words on Saturday, but ah well. In any event, the week leading up to the game is going to be fun, as my wife and I stand on different sides of that line. We’ll both wear our shirts on the day of and try to cheer our teams on to victory.
I vaguely remember when I was introduced to this rivalry, sometime in the late 80s. I barely understood sports then. But my dad had me in his room, which was a den sort of area in the back of the house that he had equipped with a minifridge, a leather couch and a recliner. I rarely entered this room uninvited, but on occasion he would allow me to accompany him to listen to music or have some long conversation out of everyone else’s ear. Anyway, he turned on the game and told me, in his thick unusual accent, that “Naw-Calana” was playing.
“Naw-calana?” I asked.
“Yeah! The school in Chapel Hill,” he replied. Not that I even knew what that meant at the time. I thought maybe he was referring to some other state and just settled in as he tried to explain to me the vagaries of basketball.
In this area you tend to take on the fandom of your family, unless daring enough to march to your own beat. So, I did this once more able to comprehend what this all meant, watching Carolina games with a fervor starting in 1993. The games they play with Duke are something like a holiday: whether in Duke’s old and small Cameron Indoor Stadium or in UNC’s (relatively) newer Smith Center you can count on the intensity. And records don’t matter either, as both teams leave everything they have on the floor once that game gets going.
So to have this game set during the Final Four in the part of March Madness that actually occurs in April is going to be something special. I know the other two teams, the University of Kansas and Villanova University, are probably champing at the bit to get whomever is left though, as the Duke UNC winner is going to have a task getting up for the National Championship. We shall see what happens, but here’s hoping the right, CAROLINA blue will reign supreme by Saturday night’s end. Go Heels!

Road To Home Ownership: Signed, Sealed…

Now all we await is the delivery (e. g. construction). That’s right, this time about a week ago we were told to make our deposit so that the contract could be drawn up.
As soon as my wife noticed that she had received the message, somewhere around 2 PM on Tuesday prior, she zipped out of her workplace and got to work shoring up the dollars needed to complete the transaction. As she worked on the form from home at about 4:30, I sat on the bed across from her computer desk in the small room that occupies the top floor of this apartment feeling a range of emotions. I think even the Pomeranian sensed that major change was afoot as she bounced back and forth between me and the desk, getting me to pet her as her tail wagged hard enough to generate wind. Dogs really can feel what we’re going through better than most humans can.
After checking and double checking that everything was as correct as she could get it she whacked the “Submit” button, and a good piece of dough along with our hopes and dreams raced down the wire. Confirmation came that all had been done on our end, and we just twiddled our thumbs waiting for the contract which arrived on Thursday evening. In it we learned our address, on a road that does not actually exist just yet but will soon. We will also be required to inhabit the residence for at least two years, but after making a decision of this magnitude I would bet that we will remain there for a good deal longer. We are already over four years in our current apartment anyway, so that should be no problem. I do not think there were any major hold-ups therein, other than a noting of the amount of time the company was giving itself to have the house constructed before we could be released from the agreement. As I’ve said before, that’s going to be the biggest “fingers-crossed” portion of this, as of course some of it—weather, supply chain issues — is out of their control. Anyhow, we did all the fun electronic stuff to put both of our signatures on the contract, and now we basically are just awaiting that distant closing sometime towards the end of the year and hoping to secure enough funds to clear that final hurtle. I guess the best news here is that we do avoid all that due diligence and outbidding madness, and thus will experience a lot less stress.
Meanwhile, we’re doing a few trips by the area and really familiarizing ourselves with it. Google tells you a lot, but just driving around and taking a look says a lot more. (And yes, we are avoiding that pesky alarm by staying far enough away from the actual residence). I guess the only real challenge I see so far will be that my work commute time will nearly double. But I’m ok with this, more so in the morning than in the evening when I wish to just get home, but we’ll just see how everything plays out. Transportation should be no problem at least, since though we are on Raleigh’s fringes, almost in Garner, we are at least still within Raleigh city limits. It’s hard to find something affordable and yet close enough to my current employer, but I can live with that sacrifice. More podcasts, books and the like will just be taken in on the ride.
I do not know when the next installment of this series will be posted, but probably shortly after building commences. Oh and that’s another thing, the contract says we must meet with our builders 3 times to discuss how things are being laid out and whatever tweaks we wish to make. We’ll be bringing along someone who kind of knows what they’re looking at with regards to construction to help us with this. More once all that fun gets started. Till then, continue to wish us luck.

Road To Home Ownership: Against All Odds

We’ve been approved! Turns out we were number 12 on the waiting list for one of those new construction townhomes being built in Southeast Raleigh. There were four people sparring for two homes, and we were fortunate enough to snag one as some backed out. This is thrilling, and while there is still much to work out before out probably late-year move-in, we are cautiously optimistic.
First, of course, we have to pay the deposit and sign the contract. This will likely not be accomplished till the end of the month, but if we are able to do so it will lock in the property’s price even as the market continues to edge the area’s value upward. And yes I am somewhat conflicted, understanding that we are kind of taking advantage of urban gentrification, but I guess I justify it by noting that apartment rentals are becoming out of hand and we thus need something with a fixed rate. Heck, I would love it if everyone who desired to do so could actually own a home or at least stay in a place they could afford without having much of their income sucked into it.
Anyhow, once that’s done we’ll just sit back on our haunches and watch as construction progress is being made. This will largely be out of our control, and we’ll mostly have to hope that weather, labor, and supply issues don’t dog us throughout the process. Let us hope we are able to get to this and future steps!
In anticipation of obtaining the home, I accompanied my wife to check out a model today so that I could get a general feel for the place. And just as I had when entering our current residence, I immediately liked the sense of homeliness therein. There were things about the layout that I couldn’t fully understand until I had experienced them.
For instance, the downstairs is pretty much an open floor plan, with no walls to separate living room from dining room and kitchen. Before checking this out, I wondered what it would do to my spatial awareness and ability to navigate easily. But it doesn’t actually seem too challenging, especially once we have our furniture all in and arranged just so and I can use that for reference. The model had couches and tables inside, so that one could get a sense of what the space would feel like when occupied. The most interesting aspect is that we have a tall counter in the dining area that can be sat at with stools, and that the sink is an island completely unattached from the walls. That will probably take some getting used to. We’re to have a single sink, as even the person who was showing us around said she had a “personal vendetta” against double sinks since they make it harder to rinse and soak larger dishes. My wife is a big fan of the single sink concept as well.
We went out the back door, where there is just enough room to set up a couple of chairs. This is basically all I need. The front also contains a little porch area, so I’ll be able to scamper around to whichever portion is in sunshine at the moment, or shade if we are in the hottest parts of summer. The only drawback about being out back is that there is an AC unit right there on the porch, but I’m hearing that now on our apartment’s balcony on this beautiful 70-degree day, so that is a feature common to most homes. Why haven’t we made AC’s quieter yet?
We came back inside and made our way upstairs, finding the stairs built into the left-side wall about midway as seen from the front door. They were full of turns, and it’ll be good exercise going up and down. The master bathroom is a good size with a fiber glass shower, and the room is a little longer than our current one and will allow for a small sitting area. But I rather liked the one that would likely be my man cave, since I can picture my speaker sounding good in that slightly less echoey space than the one I have here. As we sat in comfortable chairs in that room, my wife lobbed impressive fastball questions at the salesperson, and she noted she should make a list of them. They also discovered that they both enjoy crafting. Shortly there after, we departed.
We tried to drive around to where our house would be constructed to see if we could take a picture out there, but apparently they have a security system rigged up. As the car idled in that spot, alarms began going off and messages saying we needed to leave flashed, so we hightailed it out of there. I still got to explore the neighborhood with my cadre of GPS apps, learning where some of the closest restaurants and grocery stores were.
So that’s what we’ve got going on now. It’s exciting to have suddenly come so close, even when things looked unlikely a short month ago. Amazing how quickly circumstances can change. I will be back to update more as this continues to unfold.

Road to Home Ownership: What’s New Is New Again

I begin by noting the start of ValDayVersary. As I’ve written before, this is our own personal holiday that starts on our wedding anniversary (1/27) and ends on the first Saturday after my wife’s birthday unless her birthday (2/18) is also on a Saturday. It of course encompasses Valentine’s Day as well. This year, as last, we are spending it relatively quietly with ordered dinners, flowers and other stuff for her, and the reflections that four years of marriage bring. Ah I miss those first two years when trips to Florida were involved, but for now I travel vicariously through books. I am doubtless aware that what we have is a beautiful thing, and I couldn’t be more fortunate, though we’re hoping maybe we’ll be able to get rockin’ and rollin’ again for Number 5. These blasted Covid variants will largely dictate that, though.
Along with, of course, whether or not we have decided to purchase a house by then. There have been some crazy occurrences in that department, not surprising given that the Raleigh market is the 3rd most in-demand in the country and, well, we are still learning how this whole process works.
First, a couple weeks ago we came close to getting an offer. It was going to be sight unseen, meaning that we hadn’t even walked into the property and had seen few pictures of it. We were going on assurances that things were new and updated, and that there were no serious structural problems. The issue was its price. The would-be seller wanted nearly 20% more than Zillow said the property was worth. If the appraiser said it was indeed worth a lot less, we would be on the hook for the difference immediately as our loan wouldn’t cover it. We were told that the seller would be willing to negotiate in the event of this happening, but with there being no telling if he would get anywhere near the appraised price we were not willing to assume such risk. It likely would have been a nice place, but I’m not sure any place is worth sticking one’s neck out to that extent. Truthfully though, you almost have to roll the die in such a way to get a spot up here, thus jumping the bidding line that will occur once the home is put on the market. Unless…
Now we’re considering purchasing a new townhome that hasn’t even been constructed yet. It would have 3 bedrooms and two baths, thus meeting our needs, and be well-located near the interstate in Southeast Raleigh. Projected move-in is September or October, giving us more time to stack some dough in preparation. But we had to place our names on a wait list and see if we get called about one being available, as I think determined through a lottery. We shall see if we are so fortunate. Till then or barring some other unexpected happening, we’ll likely just deal with this too-high rent for a little longer.

Road to Home Ownership: A Dream (Possibly) Deferred

Happy New Year, y’all! We made it through 2021, with its particular trials and tribulations, and it is my greatest hope that we will finally round some kind of corner and see happier, more prosperous times ahead. It is time to get that journey started, whatever it will look like for you. I certainly no longer bother making specific resolutions, but I know what kind of work I need to do to get there.
As discussed a couple of entries ago, we had hoped to accomplish a major life marker and land ourselves a house. But… reality is already starting to set in. The dream has not ended, but it might be put off for a while.
Between our first viewing and my second, which happened on January 1, my wife and her sisters had looked at a few other town and single-family homes. The thing that happens every time though is that someone is already ready to bid, and they can pay top dollar immediately. We are, after all, in a buyer’s market where there are tons of buyers but few sellers. So people rush any property that becomes available.
So on this Saturday, we had located a home that was excellently priced, but with the understanding that the new owner would make some mostly cosmetic but needed fixes. It was located in Durham, north of downtown, and because we had already made an unsuccessful run to a property just off Roxboro Road, an unfortunately distressed section, we were a little nervous going in. This place was also fairly close to Roxboro Road, but not on the same end. The neighborhood as we drove in looked like a nice place to live, with homes that clearly go for the top end of the price scale and groceries within a half mile. Stores are to me an important metric of how others view the area and its money-generating potential, a sad truth but one that is consistent in this society.
As we pulled up to the place around 10 AM, other would-be buyers and their realtors arrived as well. Our realtor was about 20 minutes late, so my wife and her sister cased the outside of the house, noting obvious issues that would need working on such as the deck and other parts made of wood. Shortly thereafter, we stepped inside.
First, I was blown away by the Southern-style front porch, a wooden structure that would make one feel great sitting on a rocking chair and reading way back in that quiet. (And that was sort of the only possible issue, it was a good ways back from the main thoroughfare which would make me wonder about the ease of getting transportation. I’m pretty sure that it could have been done though, as we were within a four-minute drive of the nearest bus stop).
Immediately past the front door and to the left is the Master bedroom. It was about the size of our current Master, which is to say not super large but big enough to fit our king-sized bed and two nightstands. It also contained a bathroom. My wife loves the idea of having that room on the bottom floor.
From there, we strolled through the ample living room, which contained a fireplace, and kitchen and up the stairs to the three rooms above. The only thing that would really need fixing other than said issues with the wood was the carpet, which was very deep but probably not that great looking. In our dreams at least, we would work on these projects, including a repainting of the walls, over time as we enjoyed living in this luxurious space.
Outdoors, there is a spacious two-car garage and the deck, which was rotting in some places. I loved again that one didn’t hear the constant roar of AC as we do in our current spot, or traffic as one might in many others. In short, this place was absolutely ideal for both of us given what we are really seeking in a home. And it’s a rare place these days that has character, not just feeling “cookie-cutter”.
But alas, it was not meant to be. Our realtor poured water on our dream as soon as we rolled out in the car, saying that if we were to acquire it, we would have to pay to repair the deck prior to closing as required by our loan. More than that though, and not surprising, the place had pretty much already been snapped up by a construction-type company that will renovate it and sell at a significant profit. Ah well, such is things with this. I guess what I will try and do now, especially as travel is largely off the table anyway, is to just try and keep the ol’ bank account rising and try to be prepared for all of what one must do to acquire a place. This experience has definitely been… educational. We shall see.

Road To Home Ownership: First Viewing

There are, in my opinion anyway, three major pillars of adulthood: marriage, childbirth, and buying a home. Any or all of these may or may not happen, but whenever they do they tend to be markers of memory as well as potential sources of stress and change.
We’ve done the first, will probably never do the second, and… we’re just beginning our journey toward the third. That’s right, my wife and I are considering purchasing a house! After a while, one realizes that apartment rental is less and less attractive as that charge rises exponentially every year, and there is no return on investment. More fundamentally though, of course, is that the place just isn’t ours. So it can’t be customize to our liking as much as otherwise.
The challenge, as we’re already seeing in real color, is the startup costs. Down payments, Earnest money (whatever that means,) due diligence fees, inspection, appraisal… we’re going to be slowly nickel and dimed until we run screaming, and it’s likely going to take longer than we wished to get it all sorted. As such, this post will be first in an ongoing series, the last of which I hope to write from wherever out new abode is.
Speaking of, we got to check out our first possibility today. Getting to that point has already been a process that has taken nearly a month (a month? Wow, that time has flown). Paperwork had to be gathered and income verified before our lenders determined the amount of mortgage for which we could be pre-approved. I’m surprised that many don’t do it this way, choosing to find a home first then see if they can get the money they need to purchase it. With our pre-approval in hand, we could get a sense of what would be realistic if indeed we ever do clear all these pesky startup costs.
Anyhow, we arrived at the Southeast Raleigh property at 11 AM Saturday, early but not too bad I suppose. Her sister came along for the viewing as well as our real estate agent, given to us by the Teacher Next Door program my wife is using to spearhead this process. We entered a two-story townhome that was freezing, because it was empty and had no power. The bottom floor is not carpeted, which my wife very much preferred. The main issues were a lack of adequate storage and kitchen space, and on the second floor a carpet that needs replacing and some knicks and knacks that made the place look less appealing. Also, the master bedroom is likely too small to fit our fairly sizable bedroom set. Finally we were concerned about possible flooding in back based on the shape of that land in a large storm.
So no, we will probably not be getting that property. It was informative to take a look though, and I found our agent to be very good at really assessing what is going on in a place and relying it to us in an easy-to-understand way. We’ll just see if and when this all plays out.

The Tidalist: …And I Run Up 2000 Stairs

Well that last is a hilarious exaggeration, but you’ll see what I mean in a bit. Yeah yeah yeah, it’s been a month since I last wrote in this thing. It has also been a month since that wonderful, relaxing trip. But I’m still going to capture the second half of it as best I feel like. After all, memory is fallible, maleable, and all-kinds-of-things-ible anyway, and all that really matters is the story.

If what I have of it serves, and even the bestselling author John Grisham confessed to being “too lazy” to go back and make sure his book series still fit together, I stopped on that Monday May 3. This was the only day we didn’t get in the pool, well other than that Thursday when it was far too cold to do so. What we did do on Monday evening was have some delicious spaghetti with homemade meatballs. This was the only non-breakfast meal they prepared in-house, because hey we’re on vacation!

Tuesday dawned as easy and relaxing as the rest, but it was the birthday woman’s big day. As it happened, it was also the day the temperature swelled well into the 80s. Did this stop me from going outside? Is water wet? So after happily warming myself on the porch, my wife and I made our way to the store to pick up some odds and ends for the night’s celebration. First, she moseyed along that crazy endless road of highway 12 that always makes me feel like we’re experiencing the kinds of space time dilation that the theory of relativity predicts. There wan’t a whole lot to see, though.

When it came time to cut the cake, one baked by her mom and re-frosted after the first frosting attempt had gone awry and tasted strangely for some unknown reason, we teleconferences with her sisters who were not able to attend. It was fun, and of course has become the norm during these pandemic times anyhow. Then those of us who were there had Sooey’s again, with me choosing their cheeseburger and somewhat bland fries (I wish I had tried the beer-battered onion rings). The burger was quite delicious, despite that.

After eating, we went back out and, after taking a casual stroll along the sea with our niece in tow, took another dip in the kiddie pool. This time, the water was near-scalding. It felt sauna-like for a while though, and even though by the time we exited I pretty much had to, I found myself feeling uncharacterstically chill.

This chill followed me into Wednesday, as I prepared for the day’s main event, a “discussion” about a possible position within my company. Sadly, kind of as I struggled to decide if it was the right move for me, that position has not worked out to date. But that’s ok, I still gained confidence from the smoothness of our conversation.

They had opted to rent a tent and have some company set it up by the ocean with chairs and the like, and while I had missed the morning’s fun prepping for the talk, my wife and I did have a picnic out there with “hotdogs by the sea”. It was pleasant just basking in the shade and listening to her describe the National Geographic-type scene of seabirds swooping down to pluck fish from the waves then soaring away with their still squirming prize.

And now we come to the stairs. I had already told her before we embarked that I wanted to climb the Currituck Lighthouse, because I couldn’t imagine what that would even feel like. The lighthouse has, I think, approximately 209 steps (remember that part I said about memory and fallibility?) But our 7-year-old niece, on seeing that, declared ‘I’m not going up those 2000 steps, y’all can do that on your own!” So my wife, brother-in law, two nephews and I went for the $10 climb, while her mom, sister and said niece stayed on the ground. Going up was the hard part, believe me! I was glad they were at least broken into sections of 7-10 steps apiece, and by that last landing I thought my heart would explode from my chest. We stepped out into a whipping wind after emerging from an indoor well, and after snapping a few queasy pictures and taking a look over the railing, my wife decided it was time to reverse course. I had worried about this part, but fortunately going down was a cynch.

A cool, rewarding hot fudge sundae from Dairy Queen and a Wendy’s burger that we had to drive 30 minutes to get made up the rest of that evening. If you do go out there, just be prepared for the near lack of name-brand restaurants.

And that basically made up the trip. Thursday was spent relaxing inside, as the temperature had dropped into the lower 60s and the drivers wanted to rest up for the long trek home the following day. I did take one last wind-chilled sit on a chez longer on the porch, gleaning what little sun I could and enjoying the roar of the ocean till I could take no more.

Hopefully more of those trips are in my future, and especially as we begin to crawl out of our shells again. The isolation had its pluses and minuses, but on the whole it was a very welcome experience.

On My Dad Mike, A Life

This has been, for my family and me, a tough day, one week before Father’s Day no less. The man who had been my father for 20+ years, Michael David Smith, has succumbed to cancer.

It’s funny, he had been a part of my life for so long that I’m a little fuzzy on when our first encounter occurred. 1995? 1996? I’m inclined to say the latter, because it was Fall and the beginning of football season, and the Panthers had already existed for a year. Mike, a child of the 60s long before North Carolina had a professional football team, was a Dallas Cowboys fan. I never missed a chance to give him grief over this, often saying “I will create a law that says you must pull for the team in your local area.” He sometimes quipped “then I guess we’ll be moving to Dallas.” (I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I had been a closet Cowboys fan before my beloved Cats took the field.

Anyhow, whenever Mike and I first met we immediately bonded. As I’ve written in my post about complex thoughts on fatherhood, I would often linger on the floor as his Atlanta Braves (MLB) played on the tv, and we would talk about anything and nothing for hours. Sometimes while watching basketball, he would tell me to stand up so that he could demonstrate a great play that had just occurred, often to comical and almost dangerous effect.

He would usually ask me to join him for grocery store runs during which he’d impart advice about finding and being with a good woman, at the end of which he would get me either my favorite candy or a can of Pringles, to which I was insanely addicted in those days. Then there were the innumerable Jeopardy shows and our friendly competitions, usually he was far better at pop culture and I knew my geography.

Not only did he embrace me wholeheartedly, but he took my cousins under his wing with ease and clear enjoyment. We had a stretch there from about 1997 to 2001 where our singing group, Off Da Top, fancied itself celebrities and performed in several talent shows. Along with my youngest sister, Mike would work with us on choreography and talk to us about his knowledge of the music business. He called himself our manager, and said we should change our group’s name to the Backseat Boys (long story for that name’s conception which you can read in an old Writing 101 post, but if we’d chosen it can you say lawsuit?)

I revel in these memories, and if anything I regret not having taken the time to make more of them. I hadn’t seen him too often, which is true of the rest of my family as well, in the last ten years. I hope that the rest of us can now start to rectify this, and am eternally grateful for my birthday dinner with him, my mom, and my in-laws that my wife organized, as it was the last time I saw him healthy. I remember the shock and sadness I felt when seeing him in the hospital bed this past November, as this last cruel journey began. I was overcome with depression, but I also prayed and hoped for the best. But as they say, death is a part of life and at some point we must all confront our mortality and that of those whom we love deeply.

To you, Mike: Thanks for letting me be your son and for your unconditional acceptance of me, even with the unusual package I present. I will always be grateful for your coaching and guiding me through my formative years and helping me to learn to be a good man to my wife and, I hope, a good human period. May you rest in peace.