O Hour, Charleston,SC

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ocean in my ear, drunks under my porch, while the Atlantic House sways to the music

Atlantic House & OTO Bar   Another great  Picture Donnie Smith Photography
    I awoke to the sound of a storm brewing outside the window of my bedroom, the feel of salt spray on my face as it whistled through the house that I was renting on Folly Beach. The grey clouds of  a summer squall on the horizon visible from the window above my head. Even though it was late august the temperature had dropped to a cool 60 degrees, a far cry from the normal 90 + days that are our constant companion  during a carolina summer. I knew the coming storm was going to be a big one.
    Working at Kiawah Island in the early 80's as their bike shop manager, I had managed to squirrel away  a little money, with which I decided to  burn  on the rent of an ocean front house for a month. The minute I walked in the door I knew I was home and a month became two which turned into five years. Unbelievably the rent back then was only $300.00 a month, and equally unbelievable was the fact that I had convinced two female recreation interns to be my roommates. Life was GOOD!!!
    The house itself sat at 303 West Arctic, right in front of the Atlantic House Restaurant  and the OTO (Over the Ocean) Bar. Between me and the Atlantic House was nothing but beach and a volleyball court.A two story house, I rented the second floor which was comprised of one large central room with sliding glass doors facing the sea, three bedrooms  and a large wrap around deck. It was a typical Folly beach house and the perfect place to entertain.  About once a month we would pay for a party and bonfire licence, turn the speakers to my pride and joy stereo toward the beach set up a keg, a table with mixers and three blenders on the beach around the roaring fire. The manager of the OTO would close on these nights,because no one was going to pay for what they could get for free. One thing about living on the beach, you suddenly have alot of friends.
    The storm had intensified as I made my way into the main room and began battering down the hatches in anticipation of the gale to come. As I closed the sliding glass doors I heard a noise from under my deck so I went to investigate. In the sand, under the semi-protection of the wood above I found four Urban Outdoorsmen,(homeless drunks) that had slept off the previous nights libations. Caught by the storm they had built their own little seawall and along with a blue plastic tarp  they had created what amounted to a fallout shelter. Twice I offered them a place inside only to have my invitation turned down. Having been raised with manners, I did what any host would do and offered my not so invited guest a drink, this they accepted. Passing down a gallon of Gallo burgundy, I moved back to my rocking chair  in the relative safety of the great room to watch the light show. By eleven the wind had sheared off the tops of the waves turning the ocean into an angry froth that pounded into the pilings that the Atlantic House was built on. Wind whistled down the elevated boardwalk and onto the coast,  each gust increasing in its desire to remove the only link from land to man made  island.
    In the restaurant I could see the fair sized lunch crowd begin to regret their choice of eatery as bright flashes of lightning landed so close you could feel the heat as they made the hair on your arms stand up.The immediate  concussion of thunder so intense that  you not so much heard, but felt it. Gently at first, the enormous structure began to sway from side to side, not a lot at first, but enough that the people inside soon abandoned any hope of shrimp and grits for the promise of safety and land. To the drunken jeers of the foursome under my deck they staggered down the ramp grasping the rail hand over hand like seasick sailors through the torrential downpour. Each comment  from the wondering wino's funnier and cruder than the last, evoking mixed looks of wet anger and confusion. At some point momentum took over as the degree of sway increased with every change of direction as the pillars began to creak and groan with each new teeter. Like a child who can't decide which candy to choose, the building headed first east then west in its dance with the storm.
    With the REO Speedwagon singing "Riding the Storm Out" I watched as the crew finally  gave the call to abandoned ship. Like a true capt. at sea,last to leave was the owner, who locked up and stumbled his way to his lifeboat of a car, to safety, to home. The "Porchmen" too had left sometime during the final fury. The tide finally driving them from their ocean front accommodations, wine bottle headed seaward in the tide.
   All that day and into the night we watched, and waited for what we thought would come. Thinking that each new move would be her last. I awoke the next morning early as fog covered Folly in a white cloud of soft white mist. Out of my window I could just make out her shape, like a ghost ship in the haze, the old girl was still standing. No summer squall would ever take her away. She was waiting for a special someone, she waited for  a man named Hugo  and when the music played she danced her last dance.

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