The loud sucking sound coming from my checkbook
By B.J. OELSCHLEGEL
view from a plane ride over the Outer Banks is like a work of art. The
colors of the water, the lush green shapes created by the marsh, and
the expansiveness of the sky each produce so much pleasure for the eye.
I always enjoy the peacefulness of those flights. The narrowness of the
ribbon of sand that we call home is so much more apparent from the air.
I am always struck by the fragility the islands.
I feel that this picture from the plane is a metaphor for the nature of
our existence on the Outer Banks. Our Highway 12 lifeline is obviously
vulnerable to Mother Nature. Two hurricanes by the names of Isabelle
and Irene will never be forgotten.
Likewise, one car wreck involving an electric pole in Nags Head could
mean a power loss as far south as Ocracoke. A dredge drifting into the
Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet can cause havoc to the access to the
Outer Bankers and the folks who now call the area home show a
resourcefulness and resilience that is necessary to make it through
these hard times. It may be a situation of survival of the fittest or
an environment that weeds out the weak of spirit, but if you’re still
here you’ve learned it.
When these tests of our fragile existence show themselves, the pain is
always the same.
In preparation for a hurricane, there is the deliriously tiring and hot
labor of battening down the hatches before the storm. After the storm
passes and you begin to take stock of the damages, you find yourself in
a massive funk of “not-knowing.”
Should I put everything back in place before I know what this next
tropical wave off the coast of Africa has planned for us? Should I
bother opening up my business before officials allow the tourists back
on the island? Just how much product was lost during the storm? (I
don’t even want to know.)
The pure physical investment of re-entry coupled with the
emotional/psychological malaise can be debilitating. You can become
This is before you have even begun to investigate the economic loss.
For a few days, you set aside the financial reality. You are checking
the physical property. You know it is going to be bad. How could it not
At the point of evacuation, we had the strong pace of a good summer
season on Ocracoke. Right smack in the middle, between the evacuation
and the return of the tourists, we missed Labor Day, the big finale of
the season. This holiday not only proves to be the last hoorah
financially, but it also marks the point in the season when you begin
cutting business and staff hours, along with ordering fewer supplies.
By the time, we got back on the island, we were there in the
When we were able to open up again, we were experiencing “late fall”
types of crowds. We had missed the pinnacle and now had a slow trickle
to replace it. This was the worst part of the storm for us. We have
“late season” income with “high season” bills, which produced the loud
sucking sound emanating from my checkbook.
One shop owner made the mistake of checking the bank account this time
last year -- the difference was 50 percent. It is downright scary! My
acorns, set aside for the winter, will have to be used for the fall
while I scramble to find another solution.
I would like to say now that I am thankful to have a home to come back
to. I know where I can find my shoes as I run out the door to a place
of work. I have some resources on which to fall back. The hurdles for
Ocracoke are speed bumps compared to the mountains of turmoil in the
My heart goes out to the tri-village area of Rodanthe, Waves, and
Salvo. In the “ripple effect,” they are the center where the pebble was
dropped. They deserve the focus of the recovery. Each of the concentric
rings carries with it a degree of pain and it seems like these rings
can travel very far from the center. Roads, homes, and businesses were
washed away. Tourists are not allowed re-entry. Businesses don’t open.
Income is lost. Payroll is not made. Mortgages don’t get paid. People
have to start over.
And yet, the resilience and resourcefulness of the people will shine
through. It takes time. It is not easy. Things change. Times are tough.
People help each other. Communities band together. Lessons are learned.
The pain subsides. Everything will move from disorder to order, again.
(B.J. Oelschlegel has lived on Ocracoke Island for more than 30 years
and has worked in the real estate business for 26 years. She
broker with Ocracoke’s Lightship Realty and a real estate columnist for
The Ocracoke Observer. You can reach her by e-mail at [email protected])