Sunday, June 15, 2008

Myrtle Beach Days

Myrtle Beach Days

When last we chatted here on these pages, I was nostalging about the simpler summertimes of my youth.

Ahhhhh, the Good Ol’ Days!

The last note in that column mentioned a common-denominator of all baby boomers from the Sandlapper State: Myrtle Beach.

Since we’re now in the heat of June, it’s inevitable that we’ll each do at least a little daydreaming about Myrtle Beach. Once upon a time, in our “Leave It To Beaver” baby boomer worlds, we all vacationed there. If you grew up in South Carolina, you went to Myrtle Beach.

And we all have our own Myrtle Beach memories!

Here are a few of mine…

Driving from Columbia to the beach, there was no interstate highway, meaning we all drove via Highway 378 – which to an eight year old kid was very cool because we went by Shaw Air Force Base and got to see jets taking off and landing.

The Shealy family – five of us at that time – would be piled into the family station wagon, with enough luggage to keep us clothed for a week -- or to provision many small armies for a year. We had a luggage rack on top of the wagon… not the sleek chrome ones that come standard nowadays, but the industrial strength steel ones that clamped on to the side of car, with a sheet of plywood firmly attached. We supplemented the luggage rack with the tailgate, which folded down, allowing us to strap another eight or ten pieces of luggage to it. The scene was not unlike our family’s favorite TV show of the era: The Beverly Hillbillies!

When we made it to Turbeville, we were at the halfway mark of the journey, so we always stopped for a snack at the “Chat and Rest”… or was it the “Eat and Run”.

Reaching Conway meant we were in sight: only a few more mile to go. From there on, we were at a fever pitch, hyped up in anticipation of that first glimpse. For the last 10 miles, there were bright shiny billboards every few hundred yards, tempting us with new and exciting things to do during our week at the beach. If the billboards had been advertising the Seven Wonders of the World, they couldn’t have been any more wondrous and amazing to us!

And then…. there it was!!! The Pavilion!!!! The center of the Myrtle Beach Universe, which was also exactly where the road from Columbia merged into the beach.

The Pavilion was like the State Fair, the Circus, and a High School Football Halftime Show rolled into one. You just couldn’t ask for any more excitement. It rivaled Christmas.

I don’t know if motel “reservations” actually existed back then. (Maybe not, since there was no internet, and a reservation would have required a long-distance telephone call, which was used very sparingly to avoid the gigantic fees.) But I do know the Shealy family never had reservations. We spent the first couple of hours of our vacation at the beach shopping for our motel.

We’d pull in to a great little 22-unit motel with a name like “The Summer Breeze” or “Miss Betty’s Place” or “The Sand Shovel”, and spend a few minutes checking it out to see if we liked it, complete with room inspections for cleanliness. (There had to be a paper-strap around the toilet seat with the words “Sanitized for your Protection”.)

It was not unusual at all to visit and inspect six or eight places before deciding on the right one.
After the choice was made, Mom would go to work negotiating the rate. Being a super-salesman, she was clever at it, always starting with, “Well, I don’t know… the room looks a little small”, so as not to appear too eager. Back then, the posted rate was maybe $5 per night… which meant Mom usually negotiated down to about $3.50.

The room rate was only the first way to keep the Shealy family vacation affordable. Next came the food: we brought it with us from home… unless, of course, that box happened to be one of the ones that blew off of the “luggage rack”.

Breakfast was Sugar Frosted Flakes, just like at home. (Who can argue with Tony, the Tiger?)

And lunch was perhaps the greatest money-saving invention of the 20th century… Vienna sausages!!! Open a can, squirt some mustard on a slice of bread, and you’re feeding a family of five for mere pennies!

And then there was the beach, which was the main event (except for the Pavilion.)

We grabbed our inner tubes and hopped barefoot across that hot pavement to reach the dunes. Eleventy-kabillion people were already there, laying out in the sun.

We didn’t have sun-block, we had suntan lotion. I’m not sure if it didn’t work, or if I forgot to put it on… but I got sunburned every single time I went to the beach, from the time I was five years old until I started wearing long sleeves and pants a few years back.

For excitement, we rode our bikes along the edge of the water: Old fashioned bikes with big fat tires that we had strapped onto the front of our Beverly Hillbillies- mobile: three of ‘em, one for each kid!

Frankly, when I daydream about the beach, there are just too many memories to capture:

--Transistor radios on the beach, because there weren’t any CD’s or tape-players;

--Tee shirt and towel shops Рnot the bawdy ones of today Рbut the old fashioned ones where the most risqu̩ image you could find was the Coppertone Girl;

--Foot-long hot dogs! Back then, the beach was the only place you could find foot-long hotdogs.

--Cruising along the boulevard… the whole family, like all the other families did. Traffic was slow, so Mom and Dad let us sit on the front hood as we creeped along. I always got the middle – straddling the hood ornament – because I called it first.

--Some years, we’d rent a beach house with a screened in porch. There was no air-conditioning, so the screen porch was great.

--In the later years, we’d hold out for those rare motels that had SWIMMING POOLS!!! That way, we could SWIM during the week. For some reason, it never quite clicked that, 200 yards away, there was an OCEAN!!!

--The airplanes pulling banners was a novelty. We’d wake people sleeping on the beach so they could read the message.

Of course, we all know the Pavilion is gone now. Last year was its final year, and I fear that perhaps the Myrtle Beach we all knew is a thing of the past.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to daydream.

I’d like to hear some of your Myrtle Beach daydreams. Send them to me by email:

Enjoy your summer!

1 comment:

Sherry Martschink said...

That's hilarious. The place where we stopped to eat in Turbeville was the "Chat 'n Chew."
Motels may have allowed reservations back then, but our family certainly never had 'em. We sat out in the hot car while Mom tried to get the best bargain possible.
Your elder sister, Sherry