It is Tuesday and we’re in Kure Beach, N.C. I’m sitting on the balcony at the Seven Seas Motel — a perch that gives me an unimpeded view of the long, gray rollers breaking just off the narrow beach. Earlier this morning I swam, in the semi-darkness, waiting for the sun to make its North Carolina appearance.
It is hard to swim in the Atlantic. At first one tries the crawl stroke putting your head down, mostly under the surface, and that pretty much wrecks the view. So one settles for a head-raised-up breaststroke; permitting one to dive under the just-about-to-break waves. It’s not efficient movement, but when the sun raises itself out of the Atlantic it is magic.
As I did my ocean-modified laps, my thoughts took me to a movie called, “Two For the Road.” I first saw this film with my then girlfriend, Susan, who is now sleeping in the room ($178 plus tax) behind me. The plot involved trips taken through France by a couple at different times during their lives.
One early scene involves a sudden downpour where the backpacking couple seek shelter in a large, unburied drainpipe conveniently left on the side of the road. These two attractive people — elated that they have escaped the rain — fall into each other’s young arms and then fall asleep.
When they wake and look out of their pipe the outside world appears to be in motion. Then they realize that the pipe has been picked-up, put on a flatbed truck, and now they are moving at 60 mph across France on their way to a beach in Provence. It’s a bit of excitement and a small victory — a moment that this fictional couple will never, even in their old age, forget.
“Two For the Road” is a good movie, not a great movie, because Mark (played by Albert Finney) simply cannot compete with Joanne (Audrey Hepburn) in the emotion and empathy departments. Mark comes across as self-centered, ambitious and in a great hurry to be successful. Joanna has the eyes, the smile and the vulnerability to make us care about her happiness. Mark does not.
All of which leads me me to an encounter, yesterday, as Susan and I raced up U.S. 17 on our way to the Southport Ferry.
We got a late start, were distracted, and I was worried because I wanted to catch the 3:15 ferry that transports one from Southport, N.C. across the Cape Fear River to Fort Fisher, N.C. We didn’t depart Beaufort until 10:30, and I knew it was going to be a close thing.
Unlike South Carolina, North Carolina operates ferryboats connecting it’s long Atlantic Coast and what are called the Outer Banks. Small, white-painted ferries run between Cedar Island and Ocracoke ($15); Swan Quarter and Ocracoke ($15); Currituck and Knotts; Cherry Branch and Minnesott Beach, and, finally, between Southport and Ft. Fisher ($7).
These trips are cheap and come with bathrooms and elevated decks providing a breathtaking panorama. The only thing lacking is a wine bar or a small trattoria where one might buy melon wrapped in thinly sliced prosciutto. And, importantly, only the Ocracoke crossings take reservations.
As we drove north, I remembered this was a small boat, perhaps 40 cars at most, and it was first come, first served. I knew, as we drove through the architectural detritus of Myrtle Beach, that there was a good chance there wouldn’t be a space for us on the 3:15 ferry.
When we reached the embarkation gate at Southport, the young female attendant said, “Stop, I think the boat is full. I’m going to check and see if there is any room.”
“Its a Honda Accord,” she said into the radio connecting her with the crewman in charge of loading. I tried to tell her we were driving a Honda Fit — a model that is smaller than the Accord — but she was listening to the crewman who was apparently measuring the remaining deck area.
There was two, maybe three minutes of conversation and then I heard, “Send them on down.” We, of course, let out a 75-year-old “Yes!” and I maneuvered the Fit into a golf cart-sized spot on the stern.
I know that we felt the same exhilaration that Mark and Joanna felt as they looked out from the drainage pipe. They were together, their romance would continue, and they were in motion.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at email@example.com.