Please don’t hate me. But . . . I’m not a big fan of Nag’s Head. I don’t hate the place, but it’s just not as great as a lot of people think.
Heresy! I hear some of you screaming. It’s the best beach on God’s sandy earth! It’s got wonderful seafood restaurants! Our families love it there! We love the buffets! It’s a great place to get away from it all! You suck, Wornom!
Meh. It’s a half-assed, rinky-dink theme park: overpriced, the restaurants are average at best, and there’s not much to do after 9 p.m.
During a summer in the dim dark seventies, I went with some high school buddies in one used car, stuffed in some coolers of beer and a stack of Penthouses, and we camped out at Nag’s somewhere there on Route 158. I think it cost us six bucks a night, the tent was hot as hell, we got sand burrs stuck in our feet, and not a single one of us scored. See, back then, there was absolutely nothing — and I mean that — nothing to do in Nag’s Head after dark. They didn’t even have a movie theater. Not even mini golf. No Putt Putt, no bars, no girls . . . no fun.
What I remember most was the boredom. All of us were bored out of our minds. And we were glad to get home a few sunburned days later.
Fast forward to the present. Nag’s Head has experienced a touristic and financial evolution. Families from D.C. to Virginia Beach scrimp and save for an annual vacation. People LOVE it down there.
And I don’t really know why.
I’ve had to drive there a couple of times the last few weeks on errands, so I’ve only had day runs instead of a vacation. But I think that’s enough. I mean . . . I don’t hate the place, but . . . it’s just not as great as a lot of people think.
Duck and Corolla were not the upscale areas in the ’70s and ’80s that they are today, and their rise into the prominence of vacation homing is a big, big reason The Outer Banks — we shall call the region OBX from now on, thanks to the ubiquitous, oval stickers in the back windows of cars and countless copper-colored SUVs — has become so popular with the middle class that has a lot of disposable income. The main drag of OBX, Nag’s Head and Kill Devil Hills are, in nature, very much the same as they were in the ’70s: shifting dunes, tall grasses sparsely spiking the sands with ochre slashes, sun- and sand-blasted beach houses on stilts, and people walking up and down Virginia Dare Trail half naked or in sweaty t-shirts. Duck and Corolla reflect our middle class, upscale desires. Nag’s, proper, is still pretty much the same. Kids on bikes, couples flapping their flip-flops, teens and twenty something’s racing their engines at the stop lights. And now they have a ten-show movie theater.
So now we have upscale Duck and Corolla where Olive Garden families can rent a three story house with a tiny pool right on the beach, and think they’re getting away from it all when every room has a plasma tv and every family member has brought their iPhones, their iPads, their laptops and their Wiis. There is a shitload of more shit the same as in every suburb in America: more stores, more restaurants, Wal-Marts, Harris Teeters, Ace Hardwares, and rustic places using plays on words such as cap’n, crabby, fisherman, surfside . . . and, yes, mini golf — so many more opportunities to lose your money . . . but one thing hasn’t changed.
There aren’t a lot of places for night life. Two, maybe three venues are there now, which is 200-300% more than in 1975. The restaurants serve only two kinds of fish: fried or broiled, and those few restaurants that are different or better than their mainstream counterparts don’t even get mentioned online by the OBXers that go there year after year.
The fact is, the OBXers like the crap. They like quantity, not quality. They don’t ask for more or better. And they’re happy — no, they’re fucking ecstatic — to have a vacation that really isn’t much different than staying at home for a week . . . except for the not working 9 to 5, and the pool, and the beach.
And the endless crappy seafood.
I dont get it. But, as my friend Roger said in a Facebook post, to each their own.
My kind of vacation is a little different . . .
Beach house, ok. Pool, definitely. But the area to which I’m going must have better and more things to do than where I already live. No exception. I don’t mean mini golf, either. I mean restaurants that are better than Chili’s or Olive Garden. Night clubs. Dancing. Comedy. Shopping for more than OBX tshirts, sandals and shells. And seafood that is sautéed with fresh, magical sauces; grilled exquisitely with compound butters and spices; steaks you can’t get at the fucking Sizzler. Dishes that are unique.
Here’s my one, overriding rule for vacations: wherever I go, I want to experience something new and better than I can at home. I hand over my wallet to the vacation gods and proclaim, “Do me! I’m yours for a week! Show me what you’ve got.”
And if their best is only poorly-cooked flounder, rubbery fried shrimp, or the Number 7 at Applebee’s, then that’s not a holiday. That’s a day in an upper level of vacation hell.
Rooftop restaurants and candlelight. Soft music. The smell of cocoa butter and pineapple on tanned skin. Local cuisine, cared for and prepared by chefs who give a damn. Exploring neighborhoods. Moonlight on the waves. Laughter and drinks, listening to a live rock and roll band . . . even better, a blues band. An extensive wine list . . . and North Carolina wines are not allowed. Playing, and learning, eating at places, having fun . . . doing things that are absolutely unique to that place, and completely different from the day in, day out.
And if a place isn’t unique, then why bother?
My cousin in Ohio posted this on Facebook, talking about the OBX, and I cannot fault her or her desires:
Have you been down the coast to Ocracoke, in the area of the national seashore? My favorite times were fall, winter and spring, where one could walk the beach and see only wildlife. Surreal–kind of earth before people. That’s the experience that was there, and still is in a few places. It was a country road, along an ocean. No rest stops, no grocery stores, very few gas stations. Sand, road, sun, ocean, wildlife. Mother Nature on a huge scale, minimal parts. Huge sun, huge sand, huge space, desert island. Does that help? I felt exactly the same way the first time I was out in the Arizona desert—told friends the desert was an ocean, too. Oh, and excuse me, the SOUND of the wind, waves, birds. How can I leave that out? Without the distractions of cars, folks and businesses, you can hear each of them ROAR. . . . . .
There’s nothing wrong with wanting that. Nothing at all. Sometimes we all need to get away.
But mostly, I get away through immersion instead of silence. Like the motto I quote up top of this blog: I cried for madder music, and for stronger wine.
I know, anonymous reader, I know . . . you probably love it down there.
Sorry. I just wish the OBX had more for me.