Monday, September 17, 2007

Heading into the heart of Dixie

In spite of the U.S. attorney general nomination, the to-do about the Bella Vista aldermanic race in which a candidate is said to admit she knew neither her constituents nor their problems and the arrest (again) of O.J. Simpson, I am keeping my promise and writing Part 3 of our travelogue.

The first two parts are at for readers who were referred to this post. Those who came here on their own must only hit the down button.

In the last episode, we had spent time in Rockville, Md., visiting relatives and availing ourselves of the great variety of kosher food available in the area, as well as the tourist destinations in Maryland and Washington, D.C., many of which are free and easily reached by Metro.

I will refer from time to time to kosher establishments because my wife and I keep the Jewish dietary laws, but many of these places, including the bed and breakfast we will reach in the next episode, are tops in anyone's league.

We had decided to spend the next Sabbath in Charleston, S.C., because it is a place my wife, Susan, and I had long wanted to visit and the bed and breakfast sounded just wonderful. So, we were in Maryland on Wednesday morning and needed to be in Charleston on Friday afternoon, so we scouted out an intermediate stop.

We thought about the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but feared that roads and weather might take too great a slice out of our time, so we put that off for another time. We wanted a place with a beach and kosher restaurants and were surprised to find both in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

It was a hike from Rockville, but we figured we could spend all day Wednesday driving, and then have all day Thursday and Friday morning for the beach and eating. So off we went.

Interstate 95 is a really boring road in Virginia and North Carolina, but it's the most direct route south, so we dealt with it for hours. The speed limit in North Carolina was 70 for the roads we took, so that was an advantage.

I may have said this before, but it bears repeating: Take along some kind of book on tape or CD. The radio in that area is not inspiring, despite NPR's best efforts. We took along two, and nearly played all 22 CDs during the trip.

We took I-40, which leaves I-95 about an hour south of Rocky Mount, N.C. We were tempted to stop in Rocky Mount, which is where New Haven police and a member of the Edgewood self-protection group went to learn about community policing, but were able to conquer the temptation.

I think we stopped for gas in Johnston County, N.C., at a country store that could have been right out of the Andy Griffith Show. The gas pumps were out of the 1970s, with rotating wheels showing the amount purchased and the gallons. I stood in line in back of three locals who seemed to have an overabundance of adrenaline and Gomer Pyle accents.

I-95 and I-40 in North Carolina didn't have any rest stops on the highway, but there were facilities at most exits. The exits were well-marked as to brands of gas or restaurant offered. We stopped at the first Starbucks sign we saw on I-40 and were rewarded with a large, clean truck stop with the advertised Starbucks as well as a large and well-run store carrying everything from candy bars and soda to more serious truckers' needs.

We found the farther south we went, the cheaper the gas became. We filled up for $2.49 a gallon in Charleston the third week of August, and could have saved a couple of cents a gallon if we searched further.

After couple of hours cruising along at 70-plus, we left I-40 near the Outer Banks and the USS North Carolina for the ubiquitous U.S. 17, which led us into North Myrtle Beach. Route 17 follows the coast from North Carolina all the way to Charleston and Savannah, Ga (it actually starts at the Maryland-Virginia border near Frederick. At times, it's a quick four-lane road devoid of traffic lights. The Business Route 17 is like the Boston Post Road, lined with all manner of businesses.

We reached our hotel, a Best Western in North Myrtle Beach, and found it to be as advertised and actually a bit cheaper than Orbitz had quoted. We're still trying to get that straightened out.

That night, we learned the difference between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach-- the hard way. They're two separate municipalities separated from each other by two other municipalities. They do, however, roads with the same names. You have to ask whether something is in North or regular. We were looking for a restaurant on 8th Avenue North, which was a couple of blocks from our hotel in North Myrtle Beach. We found only houses in the vicinity.

The restaurant was in Myrtle Beach, more than half-hour's drive away. We were glad to have LaBriute meals with us. We later walked on the beach, along with many others, and watched professionally handled fireworks miles away (legal) and the ones set off by kids a few feet away (also probably legal--this is South Carolina).

The next day, we sampled the wonderfully warm surf, the Lazy River and the pool at our hotel. We walked on the beach a lot and got the lay of the land. We headed for Myrtle Beach and Jerusalem Cafe, a kosher restaurant-store run by Israeli transplants. The falafel and hummas were really good...the rest so-so. The next day, we found the other kosher restaurant, Cafe M, where we had a good breakfast and got a quite good tuna and veggie wraps to take on the road.

Myrtle Beach is a mix of Cape Cod on steroids and Las Vegas, plus lots and lots of golf courses. People from the North come to plan golf most of the year, and there are courses catering to all levels of expertise. There are also enough bars to keep the golfers well oiled, including a few "gentlemen's clubs."

For those who play mini-golf, there are all kinds of those courses, too, from plain to extra fancy. If you love souvenir and T-shirt shops, just send in your change of address form. The place has one after another after another. You get the idea.

Myrtle Beach lived up to expectations, but that's enough for today. Next time, heading even farther south into Dixie as we get to Charleston, where the War Between the States began and hasn't yet ended.

Until next time...

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