It was summer in the mid 1980’s, Ronald Reagan was President and Morning in America was just beginning. The family was spending our summer vacation in a condo on Emerald Isle NC and my brother Tom and I decided a bit of a road trip was in order.
We got up early, piled into my 2 door battleship gray 1978 Ford Granada and took off. Our plan was to drive the Outer Banks, which is what we did, but it was a more challenging drive than either of us ever imagined.
It’s not a difficult route, from Emerald Island you drive north, cross over to the mainland, turn right on US 70 and take it to the end and Cedar Island. I missed a turn and we wound up way in the middle of nowhere, Merrimon perhaps.
So we turned around and eventually got to the Cedar Island ferry terminal, and of course we had missed our scheduled ferry and had to wait for the next one. Now this was summer in North Carolina, so it was hot, plus we had spent quite a lot of time on the beach the day before and I had a pretty nasty sunburn, so this wasn’t a very comfortable wait, but our time came and we got on the ferry.
The only place on the ferry that was air conditioned was the lounge, and in those days you could still smoke on the ferries, but the only place you could smoke was the lounge, so the air was really thick. As I recall we pretty much stayed outside, yes it was hot but riding on those ferries is pretty cool and worth doing, never mind the destination.
A little over 2 hours later we docked at Ocracoke, and it was time for lunch. I wish I remembered the name of the place but we found a restaurant right on Silver Lake (the name of Ocracoke’s harbor), which had a deck built out over the harbor and the extra added advantage of being next to a dock where fishing boats would unload their catch. I think we had hot dogs and a couple of beers each, but it was such a neat place I could have spent all afternoon there. While even then I was totally burned out on the restaurant business that was the sort of restaurant I would have loved to have owned. Right on the water, with an apartment up over it. The commute to work would consist of going down the stairs, and Ocracoke would be a cool place to live.
But we finally got going again, took the ferry over to Hatteras, then on up NC 12. As we were approaching Salvo traffic came to a complete stop, and there was no traffic at all coming from the other direction. Not good… people were starting to get out of their cars and look around, so we did too. It turned out there was a restaurant up the road in Salvo that was getting its LP gas tank refilled, and something went wrong. Fortunately there was no fire, but they had to keep the road closed until everything was cleared up. Being that this was NC 12 on the Outer Banks there was Pamlico Sound on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, so there was no other way to go, and we were stuck.
A fair number of cars passed us in the left lane heading up the wrong side of the road, and I was interested (and pleased) to notice that the Highway Patrol made them all pull into a parking lot near the front of the jam, and much later once traffic started moving again the Patrol made them wait until everyone else had gone past. Good job!
Finally we got going again, a bit later in the afternoon we got to the Bodie Island Lighthouse, stopped, wandered around a bit and took some pictures. One turned out especially well, it showed the light glowing against a backdrop of some
impressive dark clouds. We would see a lot more of those clouds later.
On we went, to the edge of Nags Head and then turning left onto US 64. (This is the beginning of US 64, the western end is 2300 miles away at a place called “Teec Nos Pos”, in Apache County, Arizona).
Leaving Manito we crossed the William B. Umstead Bridge and those dark clouds we’d seen earlier were ominously hanging over the mainland on the other side of the bridge. For reasons that made sense at the time we took US 264 instead of the main highway, and around dark the sky opened up.
It was an impressive storm, a good, rip roaring coastal thunderstorm, with a LOT of thunder, lightening, and heavy rain. At times I could hardly see past the Granada’s hood ornament. It really wasn’t safe to keep going, but there were ditches and marsh on both sides of the road and there wasn’t anyplace to stop safely. At one point we found a little side road and pulled over, but after we sat there a short while I realized not only was the water rapidly rising in the ditches (and would shortly be flowing over where we were sitting, but there was a power line directly over us, so we continued on. We found out later that along that same stretch of road that same night some poor guy in a VW went off the road and landed in the ditch upside down, he didn’t make it. We might have driven right past him and not even known it.
Finally the storm slacked off, we came to some civilization (little Washington), and had a bite to eat at a Hardies. The rest of the trip back was pretty much without incident, except after the long day and all the sun I’d gotten the day before I was really tired, and of course Tom was no help at all in keeping me alert, he was fast asleep.
But it was a fun adventure, and while I did pretty much the same drive recently (except starting from Garner instead of Emerald Island) it wasn’t nearly as exciting!