Author: Courtney Hampson
Earlier this year, Hilton Head Island was ranked among the top 10 destinations in the nation by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. That’s kind of a big deal. But, no surprise to those of us who live here, many of whom were visitors before we decided to make this place home.
I visited Hilton Head and Bluffton only twice before I decided to move here. It was on my second trip that I bought a new home and rushed back north to sell my house. Two months later, I lived here. So I understand the euphoric feeling of being on vacation, falling in love with the place, and losing your mind. For this reason, I felt it only fair to provide our visitors (two million a year to Hilton Head/ Bluffton) with some loose rules to help make their stay in paradise a little easier—for all of us.
Hey you. Yes you waving the Cheetos in the air, hoping to attract some sea gulls. Stop! These dirty birds are strutting confidently within inches of your beach blanket for a small taste of your mid-afternoon meal, and you like it? Gulls are very opportunistic and adaptive feeders and will forage on anything from your lunch, to someone else’s leftovers found in the garbage can, to fish, to chicks of other bird species or their own. Yes, they eat their young, so what’s to stop them from taking a bite out of yours?
Listen, it isn’t up to me to tell you whom to invite over for lunch or dinner or to eat your kids. But it is important to note that sea gulls aren’t the cleanest birds in the ol’ food chain. They tend to carry avian tuberculosis and internal parasites; salmonella and botulism are often the cause of their demise, and they like to play host to fleas and ticks. I’m no scientist, but why exactly do folks insist on sharing a meal with them? I feel it is my duty to also point out that, as with all living creatures, when you eat, you poop. Unfortunately, the sea gull’s defecation reaction is almost instantaneous. Sea gulls don’t follow the “don’t $hit where you eat” mantra. The bottom line is, if they are eating off of your beach towel, they will probably be pooping there too (and maybe on mine!). Just saying. (Now that you are aware of the TB tidbit above, please pay it forward. I implore you.)
Now friends, I know that getting to the beach, with six adults and 10 children is a challenge in itself. (I tackled this task with my sister, cousins and their collective six kids, a few weeks ago, and my impatience barometer was at an all-time high, so I certainly tip my hat to you.) By the time you finally load the car, apply sunblock to everyone, run back into the rental house to grab what you forgot, strap in, drive to the beach, and eventually reach your destination, you are exhausted. But, I still need you to focus. You have a parking meter to pay, and for some this causes quite the conundrum. I know for a fact that there are parking meters in other states, so I know you can do it. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why some folks can’t seem to slip some coins in a simple slot.
Let me invite you into my world for just a moment. I’m ten people deep in the meter line and the situation goes a little something like this. “How much does it cost? Do you know how much it costs? No, I don’t know how much it costs. Yes, I’ve been here before, but I don’t know. (Or, I don’t know, I’ve never been here before!) What space are we in? I said what space are we in? Well go back and check, we have to enter in what space we were in. Yes, I’m serious. I know it’s hot, just go get the space number. It doesn’t take debit cards? What do you mean it doesn’t take debit cards? Do you have cash? How much does it cost? Do you know how much it costs? I put in $5. That gets us 10 hours.” Perfect. You should be nice and crispy in 10 hours. I hope the sunblock is packed.
Are you traveling via rental car this week? If so, opt for the GPS. I still have to train my brain that there are two ways to get to one place here on Hilton Head, and then I still have to call my hubby to ask if I should take the toll road (yup, that’s what I call it because I can never remember Cross Island Expressway) or not. Before you get stuck behind someone attempting to master the science behind parking meters, you don’t want to have to experience the pure panic of switching lanes back and forth for a few miles while you tried to determine if you should be taking the Cross Island. But fear not. You can still get where you are headed whether you pick the right side of the road or not. Your GPS will re-set; you’ll spend an extra few minutes in the car, navigate a circle or two (more on that in just a bit), and have valuable time to concentrate on focusing on how to pay the meter.
Ah, the traffic circle. Created to help traffic patterns move swifter than an intersection might allow. A brilliant idea before two million peeps started hitting the Hilton Head and Bluffton area annually. (There is a reason the Jersey Shore no longer has circles and has entered the era of the jug-handle.) So, we may need to modify original expectations or offer a training course at exit 8 (I’m just spit balling here…). The traffic circle is all about the yield. You don’t stop, you don’t gun it, you slowly, yet deliberately and albeit cautiously weave your way into moving traffic, use your signals and carry on. Be confident. Look like you know what you’re doing and no one gets hurt.
Ok, so you took the “toll road” and navigated the circle because you had to double-back to mid-island. Don’t fret. Unload, pull your Ziploc of pre-counted quarters from your beach bag, pay the meter in under 30 seconds (you’re the meter master!), and sink your toes in the sand. Just don’t sit right next to me.
Let me clarify. I understand the need to squeeze in tight at low tide, as beach-front property is at a premium. But, please check the tides. If it’s going out, get as close to the water as possible, and keep following that line out for the next six hours (remember you have 10 hours on the meter). Spread out. Enjoy your personal space.
Allow me to set-up another potential scenario. Say I am sitting solo minding my own business and engaging in some private reflection (dodgeball fans laugh here), with a 20 foot radius of space around me. You don’t have to erect your tent within 12 inches of my chair. More specifically, when you have to move my flip flops (why are you even touching my flip flops?), to pound in your tent stakes, you are a little close. When I am now in the shade of your tent, you are definitely too close for my comfort. I brought sunblock; I don’t need shade.
I go on vacation to relax. And I am so lucky that also live in a vacationland, so I can vacation every weekend if I’d like. But sometimes it is so hard to relax and close my eyes what with the plethora of people-watching before me. I mean now that the meter-illiterate family has settled on the beach with their two tents, four coolers, and folding chairs from an era when Bo Derek was actually a 10, it’s picture time. This is when the patriarch of the family insists that the entire family gather in front of the ocean for a family portrait. Well that’s nice, you may think. Let’s capture this magical moment for Facebook—unless you happen to be the unsuspecting local who is asked to take the picture. You oblige, and wait the 90 seconds while the family decides who should stand where. Papa passed off the camera to you, but not before clearly illustrating how to take the picture. Because the button you press hasn’t been on the top right of the camera for oh say, 100 years. Listen. Pick the person you like the least (maybe your son’s friend who you let tag along so you didn’t have to look at a puss on his face all week) and let him take the picture.
Ay yi yi…all this entertainment for only 50 cents an hour? Maybe we should take debit cards and crank up the cost?
But, I say all this in jest. It took me a while to learn the rules of the Lowcountry roads. And, as a Yankee, I probably get a tad more agitated than a Southern gal might (bless my heart). So, bottom line, enjoy your stay! Who knows? You may soon be a convert, too, and we can chuckle about Cheetos together.