Monday, March 30, 2015

Driving on the 501



"Let's drive overnight to Myrtle Beach," we said.
"Let's leave at 11 p.m. and drive through the mountains in the dark," we said.
As an adult, I've never traveled overnight.
"I'll take the first shift!" I cried, and for the next four hours or so, I had coffee in my hands, my 80-song playlist on my iPod, and the world at my feet!
But after fog and road construction that had us at a stand-still for at least 45 minutes, we drove through the mountains as the sun rose to a gloomy, mist-filled Sunday morning. If I hadn't stapled my eyes opened, it would've been beautiful.
We still had five or so hours more of driving left. We felt defeated. We battled out the overnight drive, and the overnight drive won.
After losing all concept of time, space and physical place (as well as feeling nauseous), I just wanted to get to our destination.
At this point, we had entered and been driving across South Carolina (the entire diameter of the state, mind you) and we had switched positions for the last time, making me the co-complainer -- I mean pilot.
We were finally on the last stretch of highway that took us to our destination. As we drove down 501, we passed run-down town after run-down town, filled with flea markets, small shops and wave after wave of bright yellow Myrtle Beach visitors centers clamoring how they had Starbucks coffee, “so please, please visit us!”
One building practically called out: “Pay no attention to the corpse over there! Look over here! We’re a bright, yellow building! Wee!”
These visitor centers threw me off course because they didn’t belong. They were Cape Cod estates surrounded by slums. They also threw me off because it made it seem like the beach was much closer than it actually was.
I said aloud, “I don’t want to stay here” as we passed a million more ram-shackle areas. Tumbleweeds rolled across the road. The sun started to become eclipsed by the moon. I started to see red eyes glow in the trees over there.
Big, black birds hunched over, vulture-like, reading the obituaries.
I thought to myself, “If the car breaks down, there is no where to run to.”
We could’ve run there – to the bog that festered with human remains of the last tourists that suffered a similar fate, or we could go over there – where the bird just squatted and pooped.
Yes, if the car broke down, we would never go back home to our puppies, and we would be prisoners of an ill-fate: harvesting pig organs in the back barn behind the beautiful yellow visitors’ center.
Then my phone rang, and I screamed.
“Are you there yet?”
It was my dad.
“We’re driving on 501,” I gasped.
“The long stretch before you get there?”
The longest stretch? The one where a future season of "American Horror Story" will take place?
"Yes."
And since we were not close, I was not in a good mood, and there was still the threat of breaking down,and becoming slaves to a legless, goat farmer.
To think we had to do this all over again, in one-fell-swoop, made the pit of my stomach push up fresh bile, and I urped up nervous gasses and swallowed heartburn, fearing the trip back.
When we did get to our condo, safe from the legless goat farmer, we grabbed our beach chairs and ran to the ocean.
The trip back, not driving overnight, but still driving 15-hours straight, terrified me.
My dad called again to see if we were finally there, and I started to cry. "I can't do it," I said. "I can't go back in one trip. The goat farmer!"
With that, he graciously allowed us to use his Holiday Inn points to grab a hotel and split our trip back into two days.
After that conversation, it finally felt like a vacation.
After a great week, we got to spend the final day at the beach hours before we left for home, and we got to stay in a hotel six hours into part one of our trip home.
Sun-kissed, with the visions of a hotel bed in our future, the drive back through 501 was completely different. I didn’t have my sunglasses tinted with desperation and exhaustion, and the area looked poor, but it wasn’t merely as scary as it looked when I was the exhausted co-pilot. The legless goat farmer was merely the top-half of a mannequin. The red eyes in the woods were blooms on southern trees. There weren't 15 visitor centers all begging us to stop in for coffee so they could kill us.
There were only two.