Mom worried about taking me to the beach. I was 4 and didn’t know what a beach was.
Here in the hometown the beach means Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. During the old Chatham Mill vacation week, the third week in July, when the big mill where most folks worked shut down for a summer break, half of Elkin’s population would go to the beach. Maybe more.
At the time I thought my folks wanted to treat me to have a grand, new life experience. Only later, as an adult and after they were gone, did it dawn on me that more likely they just wanted to return to the site of their honeymoon six years prior.
Mom worried about my breakfast on the road. Certainly her little boy couldn’t miss breakfast, she thought, though I do it often enough now. She finally settled on lukewarm milk stored in an old Thermos bottle and a single-serving box of Rice Krispies that had perforations. You could cut into the box and its waxed-paper lining and have a makeshift cereal bowl.
Trips to the beach were such an adventure. In the days before interstate highways and fast-food joints every couple of miles, finding food and gas en route was capricious. One time Dad stopped in Salisbury in the middle of the night and bought about $1.50 in gas because he feared not finding another gas station open.
Two-lane roads most of the way made the trip six hours or more. That’s tough on a rambunctious little guy. It was hard enough on adults.
A popular pastime here back in the day was debating the best route to the beach.
Following the Fourth of July, as Elkin folks started thinking about the beach, you’d hear the questions around town. Do you take 601 in Boonville? Do you take 21 to Charlotte? And then there was Highway 9 through Bennettsville, S.C.
It mystified me that for a trip to Elkin folks’ second, summer home, there never was a direct route. Like in the old joke, you couldn’t get there from here.
Even after they started building interstate highways in the 1960s, why did they not build one to the beach?
The beach trip was too long and the traffic too slow, especially on Sunday afternoons when everybody was trying to get away from the beach at the same time and make it back home and to work Monday morning.
And it was July hot, cars then did not yet have air-conditioning, and kids like me who didn’t want to leave the beach anyway were crying to turn around and go back for just another day or two.
I felt I had outgrown Myrtle Beach in 1991 when they finally came up with a plan for an interstate to the beach: I-73/74. Finally, a direct shot to the beach, I thought. Good for the kids, they’ll have a quicker, safer and better ride than I had.
Now, 26 years later, we’re still waiting for an interstate to the beach.
North Carolina is doing its part, the easy way, mostly by turning existing, four-lane highways south of Winston-Salem and Greensboro into segments of I-74. But that interstate begins to peter out as you approach Rockingham and you must cut onto a two-lane country road as you approach South Carolina.
Down in South Carolina they say they don’t have the money for an interstate to Myrtle but are hoping they’ll get it from President Trump’s proposed $1 billion infrastructure spending plan.
That would be Uuuge, pardon my bad Trump impression.
In the meantime we’ll continue to suffer come vacation time with some out-of-date roads, long and hot trips, and confusing directions to the beach. I still like I-77 to Rock Hill, S.C., and crossing over. How about you?
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.