Island Living: In defense of a
world without Walmart
By JOY CRIST
summer is here, and with it comes sunny beach days, blue ocean views,
and a never ending swarm of freeloading friends who descend on our
guest bedroom, our couch, and all the contents of our refrigerator like
a tornado of beach bum locusts.
Not that I mind.
Truthfully, summer is the one time I can actually catch up with my
out-of-town friends whom I rarely get to see. Am I going to make an
eight-hour trip inland to some small town with bad Chinese food and a
second-rate Food Lion when a few long phone conversations will do in
lieu of a visit? Probably not. But will my old buddies travel eight
hours to play tourist on one of the world’s most pristine beaches?
Yeah, they do, and by the dozens.
But when these reunions arrive, amidst all the happy hoopla and
catching up and wondering how on earth one person drank an entire case
of beer that was carefully hidden in the back of the refrigerator, one
thing keeps bothering me.
My friends honestly believe that I live in the North Carolina
equivalent of a third world country.
It’s strange, because without their honest input -- probably brought on
by mass quantities of beer that I, not them, paid for --, I never would
have noticed that I was living without.
Don’t get me wrong. When I go on vacation off the island, I am
genuinely impressed by what the outside world has to offer, and my trip
becomes a whirlwind of fast food and shopping that leaves my wallet and
my senses in an irreparable state of overly excessive activity. But
when I’m just living here, day to day, and leaving the island maybe
once a month to “do important errands,” (i.e., go bowling), it doesn’t
occur to me that anything normal in my little island world is actually
But these wandering friends who show up for a makeshift beach vacation
have, occasionally, led me to believe that this is incorrect.
Let me share an example.
My dear college friend Otis is a successful engineer living in the DC
area who just purchased a high-rise condominium and works on submarine
radar equipment in Newport, Hawaii and South Korea. (For the record, I
am a struggling journalist in Avon. Judge away.)
It should also be mentioned that he has won five Krispy Kreme eating
contests, which I find equally admirable.
Anyway, he came down to visit last summer, and apparently sometime
between admiring his stunning view of the Washington Monument and
hopping aboard a submarine destined for the Virgin or Galapagos
islands, he forgot to pack his underwear.
Not a big deal, naturally, and once he realized his mistake, he asked
me where he could buy some. I thought for a good five minutes before I
could actually come up with an answer.
“Fine. Where’s it at?”
“Uh…. Kitty Hawk.”
“OK. How far away is Kitty Hawk?”
“Uh…. Oh dear. About an hour and a half.”
And this is the part where Otis gives me an eyebrow raising that is
simply unparalleled. Seriously, I think it permanently shifted his
“Are you kidding me?”
What ensued was a two-hour, island-wide hunt for underwear, spanning
five villages and ending, mercifully, at the Ace Hardware Store in Avon.
Yep, you heard it here first. You can buy britches at Ace. Last I
checked, they were located in between the swimming pool supplies and
electrical tools, which I suppose makes sense in a way because if you
use electrical tools in the pool, you probably will end up needing new
Regardless, for the rest of his trip, Otis pondered the fact that all
the little conveniences that normal people enjoy are more or less
completely out of reach here on Hatteras Island.
Walmart, Target, Golden Corral, Taco Bell, Burger King, and of course,
the illustrious Krispy Kreme -- how on earth did one live without these
every day amenities? And he was even more shocked when I told him that
it was nothing compared to the wintertime, when what limited outposts
we had were pretty much closed.
(And, yes, I helped fuel the fire of shocking him by using words like
“outpost,” “general stores,” and “ma and pop eatin’ huts.” But, come
on, that’s pretty funny.)
Really, what local hasn’t heard, at least once from some beer-stealing
friend or relative, “I love Hatteras Island, but I could never live
And for many reasons, they’re right.
In my past seven winters on this island, without the availability of
local outposts or eatin’ huts, I have taken up the following hobbies
just to stay entertained -- shelling, paint-by-number, knitting,
needlepoint, painting, applying to grad schools, applying to clown
colleges, poker, online poker, online gambling, online gambling
rehabilitation, and pinochle.
But obsessive compulsive crafting and gambling addictions aside, why
wouldn’t I want a world in which, once I ignore that fact that having a
Walmart around the corner is actually pretty convenient and cool, I
realize that I get to live in a tremendously tranquil and beautiful
This scenario reminds me of one of my father’s favorite jokes.
Guy 1 is continuously and aggressively banging his head against the
wall. Guy 2 notices.
Guy 2: “Why are you doing that?”
Guy 1: “Because it feels really good when I stop.”
Indeed, once the winter blahs are out of my system and I’m done
lamenting the fact that I have to drive an hour for underwear (or at
least a wider variety of underwear that hasn’t been in contact with
electrical tools), I can stop and smell the Russian olives and Hatteras
Island does start to feel really good.
Who needs non-hardware store panties when I have sunsets over the water
seven days a week? Who needs chain restaurants when I can walk into my
favorite local establishment (or eatin’ hut), and have a glass of
sangria waiting before I hit the bar stool? And who needs Taco Bell
when… um… actually, I take that one back. I’d love a local Taco Bell.
But I suppose when it comes down to it, there are people who get it (or
at least people who are crazy enough to tolerate it), and people who
don’t, and that’s fine.
I’m sacrificing my right to worldly underwear variety, Walmart, and all
the other conveniences of modern commerce to enjoy the most beautiful
place I’ve seen with a few other weather-worn, full-time beach bums who
love it as much as I do.
And besides, situations such as this one is the whole reason the good
Lord invented online shopping.