Friday, March 27, 2015

To eat or not to eat at the calabash


At first, I wanted to try a restaurant in Myrtle Beach where tourists weren’t going to be.  I didn’t want to be obvious. I wanted to fit in. I went ahead and researched fine dining, but found no luck, except chain restaurants.
But, if you've ever visited that part of South Caroline,  you'll realize that all the people there are only tourists.
I'm not quite sure where the Aborigines Myrtle Beach live.
Trying to not be a tourist was a theme years ago when I went to Germany -- not me, though. Like, at 17, how does one not be a tourist in a foreign country?
One afternoon, while walking the brick  streets of Nuremberg, a friend was getting fed up with all the Americans we were with (a.k.a, fellow teens from our high school). They were all acting like tourists, and it was obvious. She didn’t want to be seen with them anymore.
She was above that, as she walked around in her Hofbrauhaus sweatshirt from Munich, the very sweatshirt no other German was wearing.  
I told her we were tourists. Instead of getting bogged down with her attitude, I set myself free and became the tourist I was.
And it felt ah-mazing.
I got out my camera and took picture after picture (only later realizing I wasn’t loading my camera right, and all eight rolls of my film came back with nothing on them).
Back in Myrtle Beach, the condo we stayed in didn’t have any wireless available, and I couldn’t leech off of some unsuspecting retiree, so we had to visit the McDonald’s where the wi-fi cost less than $2 to research an interesting place to eat out for our one big splurge.
Before we left, we asked the ladies that worked at the front desk at our condo unit if they knew any place that was unique. They were nice to give us a few options, but at this point in our lives, we weren't really able to splurge. What if we went into the place and it was crazy expensive?  
We've done that We-Can’t-Afford-It dance once before.
Last summer, Steph and I went up to Michigan City for our anniversary, walked into a “burger” restaurant, got our glasses of water, opened the menus and saw the cheapest menu item started at $15 for burgers. We looked awkwardly around as we got up and left.
"Don't look at us," we screamed. "We're not leaving!"
When we talked about going out to dinner, the one place I was adamant about not going to was a seafood buffet.
They were everywhere.
They were decorated with all the tchotckes from the high seas. Pirates danced outside, flipping signs that said "eat here and get crabs!" Bright-neon talking starfishes and lighthouses reaching into the stratosphere beckoned like the Bat Signal.
After debating between a couple of places, we decided that one of the Original Benjamin’s Awesome Amazing Calabashes would actually be the best bet. I put away any pretentiousness I had about being a tourist. It's not like we were going to a show at the Dixie Stampede.
My motto that night became “go big or go home.” When we got there, I took the Mardi Gras beads they handed me, posed with the pirate and grabbed a plate and piled on the crab legs. We decided it would be well worth our money to hit up a buffet and eat its worth, instead of a super-nice restaurant where the serving sizes filled a thimble.
To gorge is cost effective.
The thing about buffets (and the only ones we normally eat at are Chinese food ones) is how you could very well eat only main courses and skip out on the sides. I almost did. But to make myself more rounded, I had some mashed potatoes with my salmon, crab, shrimp and more crab.
And more crab.
After I ate the crab, I had a side of crab, next to the crab, layered with crab.
The restaurant was as expansive as the set for "The Game of Thrones." While walking to go to the bathroom, the scary thought of getting lost got my eye twitching.
With 170-plus items, workers wearing sailor shirts, and long wood-paneled hallways, all the halls looked the same. I pictured us trying  to leave, and as a sailor would say, “just down this hall,” I would turn down the hall and be surrounded by more food, more sailor shirts.
The Joseph's Amazing Technicolored Calabash would become a labyrinth of bored workers and pirate ship wood work, and I could never leave.
After returning from the bathroom, I pulled myself out of the nightmare and dipped all the crab in the drawn butter.
We have been to that calabash quite a few times, now. It's the only one we'll ever go to.
Being a tourist shouldn't be looked down on. Now, I won’t walk around with a Hawaiian shirt on, white socks under my Velcro-brown sandals and a safari hat. Being a tourist and being obvious are two very different things.
But, sometimes, you’ve got to do what every other non-local does, because if you didn't, it wouldn't be a vacation.

It'd just be another regular day.