For the past several years we have begun our winter expedition to Hilton Head Island by staying in Kingston, Ontario on the first night of our departure.
This seemingly preposterous sojourn (being only two hours from our home) was originally prompted by the fear of an impending ice storm which we sought to escape by getting a head start. Lately however it is explained in two ways: first, as much as it has become a routine practice, we nevertheless fashion it as a maverick decision because it exhausts our feverish anticipation to get going; and second, it does in fact noticeably diminish the duration of the initial leg of the trip.
This year in Kingston we stayed at a different hotel, the Delta. It is located on the water overlooking the marina in the centre of the city across from the Town Hall. It is not a place I would have normally pined to investigate – looking rather like a factory from a distance – but it was considerably less expense than the place we previously stayed, the Marriott. I succeeded to locate a satisfactory parking space (always important to me) by which I mean sufficiently removed from high traffic areas and lending itself to as much removal as possible from other guests’ cars. The room – or “suite” as it was called – was on the large scale, a corner room with expansive windows overlooking the water. Otherwise it was of no particular attraction. We dined in the hotel’s dining room. There we discovered that our waiter (who recognized me) used to deliver clean rugs weekly to my exterior law office entrance. He was buoyant and efficient. It was over 12 years since I had last seen Marco; he had since honed and refined the irrefutably Italian features of his appearance. He had also married, had a child and was in the process of divorcing (though he insisted it was an amicable dissolution). Our sleep that night was disturbed by the chatter of two women in an adjoining room. They weren’t screaming at one another but the paper-thin walls didn’t dampen their endless nattering.
We left Kingston the next day not later than 8:00 am and didn’t stop for anything to eat until the noon hour when we stopped along the highway in a small town and had a Wendy’s hamburger, onion rings and milk. We parked next to a Sheriff’s vehicle. Two officers were seated inside sporting their traditional tent-like hats that never seem to fit properly. That evening we stayed at a Holiday Inn (another suite) in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Harrisburg). The accommodation was the least expensive of all the places we stayed, something like US$129 (which included breakfast). We dined at the Centre Street Grill where we have been several times before. The next morning (after a peaceful and refreshing sleep) we had breakfast in the hotel lobby, a very “confederate” meal – biscuit, sausage gravy, sausage patties and grits. There was also a choice of yoghurt, fruit and sticky buns.
Our drive that day took us over the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley, amazingly picturesque. The autumn colours were in full display. The highway was an undulating ribbon which seemingly descended perpetually.
As we drove further and further southward the ambient temperature rose commensurately. We decided the following day required a change of dress, swapping long pants for shorts, a Polo shirt instead of a long-sleeved Oxford and ditching the wool sweaters. By mid-afternoon on this beaming day we arrived in Tennessee at the Carnegie Hotel where we have stayed previously.
By coincidence we parked in the same parking space; and when we went for dinner that evening we were seated in the same booth as last year. Our waiter (Sam) was from North Carolina but was clearly a Democrat (not something we traditionally associate with North Carolina). He highlighted what is probably the secret to Donald Trump’s attraction; namely, he is white and a man. All the other suggestions that Mr. Trump is appealing to the disaffected and ignored uneducated populace or that there is some unique need for economic reform is apparently so much disguise for the simple truth about bigotry and male chauvinism which of course precisely captures Mr. Trump’s persona. Our sleep that night was disrupted by a drunken couple staying in the adjoining “Taft Suite”. Again the real problem was the structure itself not so much that they were shouting at one another though from our vantage they were. When we finally rose at 5:30 am the following morning I insured that the CNN news channel on the television was set at a high volume but I doubt it had any effect upon them in their sodden slumber. We left the hotel as soon as possible.
By 2:30 pm that afternoon we were on Hilton Head Island. The arrival stimulated me as always, the pristine appearance of the place, the boulevards, the palm trees, the marina and sea marshes. Our check-in with the estate agent was speedy and uneventful. We immediately thereafter went to our usual bicycle shop in Sea Pines only to discover that they were closed for business because they had been flooded during Hurricane Matthew in early October. As a result we went instead to Sea Pines Bicycles which is located nearby our condominium. The Manager of the shop agreed to give us the same “deal” we normally got at the other place. After getting our bikes adjusted to suit us we headed to the condominium to inspect it. All was well.
In the parking lot we briefly encountered a couple whom we met last year. We remembered that it was her birthday. He is still flying his plane here from their home in upstate New York. They leave today but return en famille for American Thanksgiving at the end of November. Then began the taxing business of unloading the car and unpacking our stuff. Afterwards we cycled to South Beach and dined in a place overlooking Braddock Cove. It was a very satisfactory meal, including the Key Lime pie, though we both agreed “the diet” had to start the following day.
This morning we stopped at Low Country Produce Market and Café for breakfast – fruit, biscuit and seafood omelet, black, strong coffee. We chatted with a woman whom we befriended last year, a sister of the owner. Our waitress informed us that she had lately lost 80 pounds so we had an enquiring conversation about how she had accomplished that. We bought a pound of their specialty coffee then directed ourselves to Harris Teeter where we got our groceries and household provisions. That project afterwards required a repeat effort to unload the car and unpack everything.
Of course we next had to go for a bicycle ride on the beach.
As we headed to Tower Beach we saw evidence of the hurricane. There are neat piles of wooded debris along almost every roadway in Sea Pines (which apparently got hit harder than most other areas of the Island). The air smells of pine as a result of the sawing of fallen trees. We also stopped along the way to brush our hands along the stems of wild Rosemary bushes which we discovered last year. Rosemary always reminds me of “egg-in-the-hole” that I prepared every morning when we were in Sardinia at the mountain top residence with Rosemary bushes growing outside the kitchen door.
The beach at Coligny Beach Park was unique in that it now suffered the appearance of a huge steel pipe which I am informed is used to extract sand from the Atlantic Ocean and redirect it onto the beach. The obstruction is patiently tolerated by the seaside visitors; and aside from its peculiarity it really does little to detract from the compelling view of the Ocean.
There are many homes along the beach which are now much closer to the sand dunes than we recall from previous years. But generally the Town is making obvious progress in restoring the Island to its former manicured state although the beach has an unmistakeable air of having been damaged. No doubt the wind, tides and sun will soon bestow its former patina. Meanwhile we enjoyed our ride along the beach, relishing the warmth of the sun (about 74℉), glad to be back. We have once again immersed ourselves in the place, blending in with the wallpaper. We’re now sipping coffee and listening to Tony Bennett, another American classic.