I view beaches much in the same way I do wine: I’ll take anything I’m offered and accept it with gratitude, but I definitely have strong preferences.
I like a beach that isn’t overly commercial and doesn’t have a boardwalk. And I want it to have real, pounding surf that doesn’t care what it looks like when it lands, not those tidy little waves that are so prissy and timid they practically ask for permission to come ashore.
I owe my taste in beaches to my family’s summer vacations in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We spent a week there every summer when I was a kid, starting when I was five or six. In those days, the Banks were pretty darned rustic. The beach provided our entertainment, and it was more than enough.
During the day, we rode the waves in inner tubes, bodysurfed, and made sand castles. At night, we strolled the sand with a flashlight and a net to catch the crabs that sometimes rolled in with the tide. And we’d go to bed to the sound of those messy, roaring waves. We loved it there, and it’s always felt like home to me.
When I decided to go away to write this weekend, I headed straight for the Banks.
For maximum inspirational effect, I splurged and booked an oceanfront room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kitty Hawk. That felt a little strange to me because, when I was a kid, Kitty Hawk didn’t even have a chain hotel, much less a five-story one. Not that we’d ever have stayed in a place like that, anyway. A friend of my father’s owned a beach house in the Outer Banks and that’s where we tended to spend our vacations.
Actually, let me back up, because “house” is a bit of an overstatement.
The Beach Baby, as the house was known, began her life as a two-car garage that belonged to the home next door. Cars, like people, were skinnier back then, so this garage wasn’t one of those 22 foot-wide jobs that you see today. Nor did it have extra space for bikes, or woodworking, or any other garage frivolities. It was built for one purpose: to house two cars.
Eventually, someone whose real estate vision was at least 20/20 came along and saw that it would make great sense to convert the oceanfront garage into an oceanfront house. This person understood that some changes would be needed to make the structure habitable, seeing as how people’s and cars’ needs for indoor plumbing sometimes differ.
He started by adding a full bathroom. That’s also where he stopped, because there was no need to go off on some crazy square footage binge.
Into the two-car garage with a bathroom, the visionary then packed a fridge, a small counter and four-burner stove, a table and chairs, a set of bunk beds, two twin beds, a full bed, and a dresser.
If you’re trying to picture the sleeping configuration and asking yourself how in the world all five beds fit into the space of a one-car garage, the answer is: they didn’t. The full bed was in the kitchen.
This offered a certain convenience, especially for the kind of person who wakes up at 2 a.m. craving yesterday’s potato salad but doesn’t feel like leaving the bed to get it.
The full bed also boasted a short commute to the bathroom, though you couldn’t get there just by sitting up. You had to walk up a couple of steps near the foot of the bed. Those steps weren’t placed there for aesthetic effect, they were a necessity so the bathroom door could be opened without smacking into the kitchen bed.
(Before you get too impressed by the way the Beach Baby raised the efficiency concept to new heights, I have to tell you she was a real inefficiency, time-wise. With six people and only one bathroom, someone had to be showering at every waking moment if we had any hopes of going out to dinner before midnight. The people-to-bathroom ratio also meant that bodily functions weren’t mandates so much as requests that you did your best to honor, assuming you could find a four-minute window when someone wasn’t in the shower.)
What the Beach Baby lacked in amenities she made up for with location: she sat right smack dab on the beach. If you stepped out the back door, you were standing on sand, and high tide was never more than a few yards away.
We weren’t the only ones who loved the Beach Baby’s location. Mother Nature did, too. She’s quite the real estate visionary herself, and she had big plans for the Beach Baby.
When hurricane season was in full swing one year in the mid-eighties, Mother Nature took the garage-turned-house and turned it into a fully furnished raft. Though technically gone, the Beach Baby still lives on in our memories…and who knows where else.