• Prior to this trip, my knowledge of the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina was limited to a stay in Corolla for Thanksgiving and a stay in Duck at the invitation of my brother (both many years ago). Based on this, I had always mentally divided the Outer Banks in two, based on whether you made a left or a right after crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge, thinking that about half the Outer Banks was north and half was south. I must admit I was a little surprised when after turning right at the bridge, I was informed by Apple Maps that I still had an hour to go before reaching Waves, NC. After thirty minutes on North Carolina Highway 12 (NC 12), the movie Kingdom of Heaven came to mind. Specifically, the scene where the King of England asks the protagonist how to get to the Holy Land from France and is told “You go to where the men speak Italian, and then continue until they speak something else.“
• NC 12 is the Ho Chi Minh trail of the Outer Banks, bringing much-needed supplies and tourists south via an endless motorcade. If you do plan to walk on the adjacent sidewalk, of course, be on the lookout for bicycles as well as for cars that swerve onto side roads like bootleggers running from the revenuer. When walking, it reminded me of Houston, where the very few pedestrians are viewed as; at best non copos mentis and at worst, homeless.
Lodgings • Stayed in what must be the best house in all of the Outer Banks. Four houses in from the beach, 3 bd/2ba, outside shower, and hot tub. That and it was free, courtesy of the sister of a husband of a good friend of my wife. Thank you, sister, husband, good friend, and wife! (Not necessarily in that order). - Upon arrival, I was thankful that the house had not been given a god awful name like Margaritaville. Most of the beach houses are named as such, with naming in the Outer Banks broken down as follows:
1. The Pun: Dune R Thing, Tannour Phannies, Fealin' Nauti, Isle Be Sea'n You
2. The Succinct Pun: Suntana, Seaduction, Hi Tide
3. The Nihilist Pun: Nothin' Matteras
4. The Incomprehensible Pun: Eure Welcome
5. The Trite: Catchin' Waves, Treasure Chest, Bay Watch
6. The Alliterative: Tailor's Toy, Joe's Joint
7. The Definitive: Private Property No Trespassing
8. The Boring: Fore Shore
9. The Weird: Goering's Getaway¹
- For those who lack imagination or the ability to make a pun, there is this house name generator or this website that lists over 100 of the most uninspired beach house names ever created (Deja Blue, Beachy Keen?!)
Note: In the end though, if you've ever rented a house in the Outer Banks, you know every house is just a number.
- Going in I knew our place did not have wifi, and I was a little concerned, could I live without wifi for 20 days? Well, I could, focusing my intellectual efforts on scrabble, conversation, and reading² (though a four-bar T-Mobile signal also helped).
• Waves is also home to a number of RV parks. If you intend to partake, make sure you pack your Trump 2020 flag . . . so you can blend.
Restaurants with Sunset Views • Good Winds Restaurant: The inside and outside was so uninspiring that I found it impossible to drink there. • Waterman's Bar & Grill: Solid beach cuisine. Get the Blackened Mahi Mahi and the Portabella mushroom stuffed with crab, but go for lunch or a sunset beer as "once the sun sets, the bugs set". - Both establishments are quite serviceable and offer opportunities for great sunset photos, but lack any kind of charm, warmth, or eccentricity. Both are of quite recent construction, I’m sure meeting all hurricane codes (and then some), but does that require that all the charm, warmth, and eccentricity be excised? I’ve visited a number of Caribbean islands and while each has at least one recently built beach bar denuded of all charm, warmth, and eccentricity (resembling a beach bar version of TGI Fridays, and named something along the lines of Umbrella's Beach Bar), they all have a few that have some charm, warmth, and eccentricity: Nat's Place in Anguilla (a shack made out of 2x4s and plywood serving an authentic rum punch and conch chowder at the end of a dirt road), La Plywood in Grenada (the classic beach bar, ask for "under the counter" rum, trust me you will not be disappointed). Is there a bar in OBX like that? • Neptune's Kitchen And Dive Bar: As I drove up to this place, I thought "now we're getting into the beach bar spirit", a modest house with worn cedar shingles, a gravel parking lot, and a modest sign. Once inside though, it appeared I had entered an IHOP cum dive bar; well illuminated orange & blue walls, hanging plants, and meeting room chairs. The back deck though, is a little more authentic: lifeguard chairs, live music, and sunset views. Get the She-crab soup and the Spiced Peel and Eat Shrimp. The rest of the menu is standard beach cuisine, though if I were you I'd stay away from the Philly Cheese Steak.
- The service was a little quirky, which helps with the eccentricity quotient. Management changed about a year ago and the old management must have taken the charm and warmth with them (but unfortunately, not the hanging plants).
• The beach at Waves, NC (Mile Post 41) is a fine but narrow stretch of sand. Like most of the OBX beaches, there are two birds that flit up and down the beach just ahead of each wave, hunting for mole crabs, insects, and worms
-Sanderling: Small, dark on top, white below.
-Willet: The larger of the two. Gray on the top, and white below with a distinct white area above the lores (the region between the eyes and the nostrils) and around the eye.
• I tried to swim daily. Generally swimming out past the breakers so I could get into the relatively calm water beyond. I may have been a little far out as a young lady on a surfboard asked me if I wanted to rest by taking hold of her board, another time after exiting the water a guy informed me that he had kept an eye on me because I was so far out and even the lifeguard had a chat with me. While it was very nice that beachgoers were concerned about my safety, if you see an early 40ish lookin' guy in a blue surf shirt a little too far out, don't worry, he's doin' just fine. But it never hurts to be careful.
Besides the beach, there is not much to see in Waves, so you need to go either north or south to get some culture. • Wright Brothers National Memorial: Subscriber feedback was universal in needing to see this place.
- The Wright Brothers Monument on top of Kill Devil Hill does a fine job of honoring the good brothers. It's a 60 feet high art deco obelisk, with various inscriptions and a modest bust of each brother flanking the short stairway to the memorial. All and all pretty good stuff; simple and classic.
- The Visitor Center was one of the first in the National Park System (NPS) built in the Modern style (previous NPS structures used rustic architecture). It contains a hall that contains an exact replica of the 1903 Flyer (the original is housed in the Smithsonian), though the exterior orange trim makes the place look like a Howard Johnson's restaurant.
- There is also a reproduction of the very modest house the Wright brothers stayed in when visiting the Outer Banks. Btw, they did not name the place (though if they did, may I recommend The Wright Stuff ?).
- $10/person entrance fee⁴.
• Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum: The museum was built with exposed exterior timber frames, porthole windows, with part of the overhead supported by sail rigging, giving it a vaguely nautical feel. And from the outside, it looks quite large. For those readers who are not Doctor Who fans, a tardis is a building whose interior is or appears to be larger than its exterior suggests. Well, this place is an anti-tardis, as after walking through the front door I thought "Dude, where's my museum?!" There is a front hall, two adjacent exhibit halls, and a large gift shop, but I kept looking around corners trying to find the rest of the place.
- Some interesting exhibits on Billy Mitchell, the Cape Hatteras Light, and the Carrol A. Deering.
Food Waves and its northern neighbor Rodanthe have a paucity of grocery opportunities. • Dollar General: The most extensive and unique inventory I've ever seen in a dollar store permutation and your best option if you don't want to drive 20 minutes for essentials like half and half ($3.50), a dozen eggs ($1.95), and a 12 pack of Yuengling ($8.95).
You can use the AAR Must Load App GasBuddy to find cheap gas, but if you’d rather not than the Exxon station in Barco may have the lowest price (inbound it was 2.05 vs 2.15-2.20). Once you're in NC, other than the aforementioned Exxon, the prices in OBX aren’t any more expensive than the mainland.
Not So Required Watching
• Nights in Rodanthe: Wasn't planning to watch this "cinematic masterpiece" as I've come to be wary of any movie starring Richard Gere (and this one also had James Franco as a co-star). That, decidedly mixed reviews and $2.99 on Amazon would normally have doomed it, but then I, unfortunately, found a DVD at the house where we were staying. Possibly the worst movie I ever watched . . . and I've seen Showgirls!
- If you do watch, the B&B at the center of the movie is located just north of Waves, at 23289 East Beacon Road.
It's late summer in OBX, about 7:00 pm. The golden hour is nigh. It's too late for lemonade, too early for bourbon, it's Aperol Wave o'clock.
There are quite a number of homes under contract in the Outer Banks, so I needed to investigate further (Covid-19 flight to the country?). Met with the listing agent to look at this nearby house. Lost some interest when he talked more about his podiatrist appointment then the house. Completely lost interest when I realized that he incorrectly listed it at 2402 sq. ft. instead of 1402 sq. ft. (funny, he didn't seem that concerned). Later realized he was more interested in selling me any house other than the one he was selling.
• A piece of real estate located at 23047 G A Kohler Ct. also looked intriguing. Interested? Recommend you put in an offer before it's gone.
• I was quite traumatized by the flooding wrought by Hurricane Harvey when I lived in Houston in 2017 and therefore was predisposed against buying any kind of beach house. Any thoughts I may have still had were quickly forgotten when I came across this nearby "flood story pole":
Most visitors to the Outer Banks generally egress the same way they ingress. Not me, as like Robert DeNiro in Ronin, "I never walk into a place I don’t know how to walk out of”. So for future stays, I needed to find the backdoor to this place, just in case the shit hit the fan. The plan was to head south and take the Hatteras to Ocracoke ferry to Ocracoke Island and then the Ocracoke to Cedar Island ferry to the mainland.
• Hatteras to Ocracoke Ferry: You can't miss the ferry terminal in Hatteras, just take NC 12 south until the road is no more. It runs almost hourly. The 55 minute passage was a little rough with quite a bit of spray, but the blue pelican escort was comforting. Note: Don't leave your key in the ignition to run the windshield wipers, but forget to turn your headlights off, as the battery might go dead. Though if it does, don't sweat it, the ferry crew will jump you with an industrial jump starter. All hypothetical, of course.
• Ocracoke Island: Quaint but crowded, with more golf carts then Del Boca Vista Phase II.
• Ocracoke to Cedar Island Ferry: Was quite relieved when the car started at 6:30 am, but my euphoria was short-lived as 15 minutes later the ferryman informed me that today's ferry was canceled due to high winds (and it would be even windier tomorrow ). He also mentioned that the Ocracoke to Hatteras ferry was still running . . . for now, and that high surf may flood the road at Avon @ 10:00 am. So it was a race against time as we retraced our steps, taking the ferry back to Hatteras. With the theme to Starsky & Hutch playing in my mind, I headed north at a high rate of speed on the endless dune flanked NC 12 (ever see the movie Vanishing Point?), fording two ocean breaches until we reached the safety of Kill Devil Hills and then on to the mainland via the Virginia Dare Bridge.
Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details which while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.
¹ Goering's Getaway: I might not have remembered this correctly.
² The AAR Outer Banks Reading List:
- The Personal Memoirs of US Grant: Grant’s humble prose makes it quite readable (ohhhh have times changed). A Republican btw. Download the book from Project Gutenberg for free. - The Outer Banks of North Carolina: A history of the Outerbanks from the 1500s to the 1950s. The Banks used to be good for grazing cattle, no fences required. - Nature Guide to the Carolina Coast: Do you know that sharks don't get cancer?
³ Just after sunset from the back porch of Neptune's Kitchen & Dive Bar photo courtesy of Mrs. After Action Report.
⁴ The $10 entrance fee to the Wright Brothers National Memorial is one third the entrance fee for the Louvre, which seems kind of stiff. If it seems kind of stiff to you, then you may want to park at the adjacent Kill Devil Hills Town Hall and walk over. This is just a hypothetical, of course.