Welcome to Mayberry
It was in 2008, our first family sailing trip, that we met a boat named Wandering Star. They had kids literally climbing the walls of their small monohull. And they were laid back, having been out for several years by then. Steve, the dad, told me another story, but that's off topic.
Lisa ran into the mom at the laundry and didn't return for a couple of hours, pumping her for information all the while. What was boat life really like? Was it really possible to maintain sanity in a confined space for long periods of time?
I talked to the Dad, Steve, as well. Time and again they kept bringing up this little town called Oriental, North Carolina. It sounded too perfect. Nice people, very sailor friendly, tons of little shops geared to sailing needs, simple, slow, etc. Too much to believe really, but it impressed me enough to look it up on Google Earth when we were finally back to Alaska winter a month later. It looked pretty small and off the beaten track, or freeway track, anyway.
So, when we pulled in and set the hook today (6/3/11), it was one of those things that you think has grown so large in our minds, that the only real potential is for disappointment.
We puttered over to the quaint little dinghy dock the city put in, complete with recycling and trash disposal bins. Nice start. We meandered towards a "General Store," appreciating the tidy home fronts in a classic mid-atlantic coastal style with neat little yards and a winding board walk along a grassy green stretch. Not bad.
The "General Store" would have been more aptly named "Tourist Trap", but the owner was friendly and helpful. When we asked how far it was to the nearest grocery, we were chagrined to find it was a full mile or more. Just not walkable with kids and returnable with the quantities of food they require in a week.
"Now what?" our crestfallen faces must have communicated in ways words can never do. Because the owner's next comment, took us by complete surprise,
"Here's my key, why don't you just take my car." The outstretched hand offered a electronic key with Honda logo. "It's the tan one, right out front" and he pointed to a nice mini-suv parked nearby. I was struck dumb. Had I heard this right?
Lisa was faster on her feet, "Are you sure?"
"Yes, yes" he countered and offered a token "just bring it back and, well, don't wreck it" to assure us.
Fifteen dizzying seconds later and I am sitting in the driver's seat of a brand new Honda SUV, with 5,413 miles on it to be precise, still shaking my head. I note the leather interior and premium sound options, not to mention floor mats and dual temperature controls. All new, all clean. We touch nothing, and quietly slip in, sitting as it were on an imaginary cushion of air.
You can't even rent a car this nice.
This guy didn't know our names, or even our eye color, hidden as they were behind ubiquitous sunglasses. We certainly didn't know his name, first or last. We could have just as easily been bond swindlers from New York as trust worthy Alaskans, given to flights of fancy. What was this guy thinking?
He had handed us the key to his $30,000 car and walked away, unprompted other than by our obvious disappointment.
A flick of the key and it purrs to life. We are off, incredulous. We could be headed to Nevada and what would he tell the baffled policeman who took down the report? "Ok, let me get this straight..."
We hit the Dollar General and then Town and Country for some staples. Nearly everyone waves, or says "good afternoon", most with a deep Carolina accent that is charming and disarming. The prices are incredibly cheap on some things, about the same on others.
In a flash of inspiration, I swing into a filling station and top up his tank with Premium fuel, which we never buy for our cars when we owned them. It ends up costing $32, more than we would ever sensibly pay for the use of a rental car for an hour and a half. But somehow, floating along in surreal silence, wrapped in creamy leather, this kind of every day frugal calculus just doesn't seem to compute.
Things always take more time, and it's well after 5:30 when we return. I walk up to the "General Store" only to find it locked and deadbolted. I am dumbfounded. Not only did this guy give us his car, he went home without it to boot. Now what? Another twist in an afternoon that is making less sense by the minute. I am just about to start looking for the vehicle registration card to, at the very least, find out the owner's name, when I see him walking towards me across the parking lot, cell phone slapped on one ear.
He finishes his conversation and then I thank him, re-stating that we are most grateful, and taken aback by his trust in a complete stranger.
"This is the kind of town we like to live in" he responds with quiet conviction, "it's like Mayberry, I suppose."
"Thanks", I reply and hand him back the key. So much for disappointment.