February 27, 2014

Island Living:
A ‘locust’ homecoming -- or how a former
local wound up being a real jerk of a tourist

By JOY CRIST

My favorite moniker for non-native residents like me was always “locust.”

A sparingly-used hybrid of “local” and “tourist” that was popular when I first moved to Hatteras Island many years ago, I always found the term quite appropriate.  After all, we locusts pretty much descended on the islands in droves and arguably changed the landscape with our demanding need for restaurants that were open past 8 p.m. and a better and more varied selection of Yankee beers.

Without disclosing my actual age – let’s just say that I am somewhere between 29 and death – I can proudly admit that I spent about half of my life on Hatteras Island with no intention of ever leaving my little paradise that eventually had summertime pizza delivery service until 10 p.m. and ample local establishments with Samuel Adams on tap.

This all changed, naturally, when I met my better half, and soon realized that a tall gentleman with big blue eyes and a fabulous sense of humor can apparently talk an otherwise independent lady into just about anything. Case in point, I live in the North Carolina mountains now.

But regardless of my location, I always assumed that despite the distance, I would nevertheless retain my free-spirited, worry-free attitude towards Hatteras Island. After all, when you live in a place for [mumble, mumble] years, you don’t lose that carefree attitude that made you fit into the community to begin with, right?

Wrong.

Perhaps it is my current proximity to fast food, interstates, and a dozen microbreweries, all of which I have shamefully taken full advantage of, but somehow, living off island for over a year now has transformed me into a big honking jerk when I return home.

This is a fact I realized when we visited Hatteras Island this past winter for the first time in months and enjoyed a long weekend of being complete and total tourists. And, granted, while the majority of tourists are fabulous, fun-loving folks who love the island as much as the locals do, there are a few of us who fall into the “touron” category, which is a hybrid of – actually, I imagine everyone can figure that term out.

I used to be a locust. Now I am admittedly a touron. And this unexpected transformation is a gosh darn shame.

The silver lining, if there is one, is that I have recognized this fact and am able to share my newfound wisdom in the hopes that former-locusts-turned-vacationers will not repeat my mistakes, but instead get back into that groovy grind that made us tolerable residents to begin with.

Let’s just get to the list of things former residents need to remember about their past life and their past attitudes that are worth keeping in mind regardless of residency status.

1. Highway 12 is not an interstate.

I have been completely spoiled in the interstate department.

As a longtime Hatteras islander, I had totally forgotten until I moved out west that the rest of the state of North Carolina is made up of miles and miles of four- to 26-lane roads where 80 mph is the norm and turn signals are considered exceptionally and unnecessarily polite gestures.

But regardless of a current need for speed, Highway 12 has, in fact, not changed the speed limit to coincide with my personal newfound appreciation of interstates, and therefore it is important to understand that going 60 in a 55 mph zone is perfectly reasonable -- and, amazingly, is also technically against the law.

Also, just because there are two lanes in a road does not mean you need to use both of them, multiple times.

2. 11 p.m. really isn’t an appropriate time to go out to eat.

Because hole-in-the-wall restaurants on mainland North Carolina tend to stay open late and upscale favorites like the illustrious Taco Bell are open 24 hours a day, it’s pretty easy for the dinner hour for former Hatteras Island residents to shift after landing in a new, more populated area.

At first, this was a slow progression for us, as we used to eat at 6 p.m., which for Hatteras Island and most of the civilized world, is a perfectly reasonably time for an evening meal.

Then after a few months it changed to 7 p.m. as I did a little writing after work, then 8 p.m. as I did a few chores too, like clean the cat boxes, and then 9 p.m. as I gradually realized that cleaning the cat boxes is a totally unappetizing thing to do before eating.

I realized this was a problem when I told my blue-eyed buddy that we should go get some cheesy hash browns at Waffle House at 1 a.m. because I was awake for some reason and kind of bored. Yikes.

And when I went to Hatteras Island in the off-season, I somehow forgot that –gasp! – restaurants do not, in fact, stay open in the dead of winter on the off-chance that my longstanding craving for starches and cheese might kick in during the wee hours of the morning. (I swear, with my history of perpetual, random food cravings, I’ve most likely been pregnant for several years now.)

So because of this inconsideration, I had to make do with the hundreds of dollars in groceries that we purchased at Conner’s to sustain us for two whole days. Perish the thought.

Of course, now that I am rehashing this injustice, I recognize what a rhymes-with-(witch) that I was and how ridiculous it is to simply expect hash browns to be readily available, prepared, and served at all hours of the day and night, simply to appease my perpetually knocked-up appetite. I had somehow forgotten the most important aspect of island living, an aspect which was so completely obvious when I was an Avon resident:

You live on an island. Your backyard is a beach. Who gives a flying food truck about anything else?

3. A symphony performance on the beach would be inconvenient and stupid.

Apparently, within months of moving to the real world, you develop an almost tick-like habit of throwing around the word “culture.” Appreciating and admiring “culture,” as it turns out, is how you let other mainlanders know that you are smart despite your grungy physical appearance and weird extensive collection of board shorts that are leftover from your island days.

Since moving, I have dragged my poor significant other to multiple concerts, musicals, and art gallery exhibits all across the western portion of the state, and he has done his very best to feign interest and maintain tolerance of this new cultural aspect of our lives. (Apparently, my big old blue eyes and eyelash-batting techniques have some persuasion powers of their own.)

I’ve realized during these cultural pursuits that I can stare for long periods at abstract blotchy paintings and wax poetic about their subtle statements about humanity with the best of them, but for me, “culture” doesn’t get any better than a cool Kinnakeet watercolor by a local island artist, or even a front yard display of stacked crab pots that have been strategically positioned to resemble a Christmas tree or other object d’ art.

When I first returned to Hatteras Island, I admittedly had an initial inkling to remark about the lack of cultivated and refined culture, such as grand galas, symphony performances, or concerts, but luckily I soon realized that this was stupid.

Of course Hatteras Island has a “cultural scene,” and it revolves around fishing, shelling, beaching, bird watching, surfing, and all-around island living. And honestly, if that doesn’t fill up my newfound need for “culture,” then I might as well go back to my off-island pursuits of staring at blotchy paintings.

4. If you don’t ultimately get on island time, there’s clearly something wrong with you.

I am completely ashamed to admit that at one point during an otherwise relaxing hike through the soundside of Little Kinnakeet, I had a momentary mild freak-out because I didn’t have cell reception and was worried I would get “stuck” and would be stranded, technically, miles away from civilization.

I know, I know. I am shaking my head in disapproval too.

And now, weeks after that incident, I remember an era when an early-20-something version of myself with equally foolish early-20-something friends, would tromp off into the wilderness with a ratty tent, a banged up four-wheel-drive Geo Tracker, and a barely irritating fear of having a potentially illegal campfire in the middle of nowhere discovered by the local authorities – a fear that was quickly dissolved with a couple of the aforementioned Sam Adams.

When I was young, (and this is how you can tell I’m old – because I start sentences with “When I was young” now), I used to love the opportunity to get lost in Buxton Woods or the miles of untreaded terrain in between Avon and Salvo. After all, this was how I initially discovered those big sand dunes in the middle of Frisco Woods, the 1800s-era grave sites just north of Little Kinnakeet Station, and some of the best, most glorious undiscovered shelling beaches on the island. (My sincere apologies, but I am not prepared to disclose those whereabouts without a hefty sum of cash and/or Taco Bell gift certificates upfront.)

Granted, now that I am at the ripe old age of [mumble mumble], getting lost in the woods with buddies and beer doesn’t sound nearly as entertaining as an order of chalupas and a “Dance Moms” marathon.

Sad, I know.

But the fact that I freaked out for a few minutes because I did not have cell phone service and that all my attention was diverted to this fact alone instead of the incredible soundfront scenery that was panoramically before me, is what really made me stop and wonder what the heck happened.

I could blame my Smartphone for this, and I did for a while, but why on earth did I need to check my e-mail and Facebook newsfeed when I was at the very edge of the continent, overlooking miles of saltwater, in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful locales I have ever, or will ever, see in my lifetime?

Perhaps the most noticeable and identifiable attribute of a touron is not the smug discounting of the local speed limits or the aggravation with the lack of chain restaurants and all-night conveniences on Hatteras Island, but the total ignorance of the wildly gorgeous and enthralling natural backdrop that is everywhere you go.

The odd thing is that I never took this for granted when I lived full-time on Hatteras Island, so it’s funny that a year in the world of flashy attractions and 24-hour tacos and hash browns would inevitably lead me, even for a moment, to think differently.

Now this skewed view might change, without conscious assistance, when I decide on my own to get back to “normal” island living, or when my better half uses his crazy-hypnotic-blue-eyed powers to lead us back to the coastline and once again resume our beachside lifestyle.

But until then, every time I go back to Hatteras Island, I am simply going to make a concentrated effort to ignore my Smartphone, my late-night fast food cravings, and all of my newfound tastes for the “modern conveniences” of the real world, and return to the younger-ish woman who could have an incredible time with nothing more than a few friends, brews, and a good view.

That’s what made me a bona fide locust to begin with, and a reasonably tolerable member of our awesome island community.

And while returning to this status and state of mind may seem like a weird little goal for most people, (and to be perfectly honest, yeah, it genuinely is a really weird goal), I’m nonetheless going to make a dedicated effort to once again become, and remain, the best little formerly-local locust I can be.

(Joy Crist and her fiancÚ are spending time at their newly purchased property in the mountains of North Carolina, though she insists she will be back on Hatteras one of these days. Meanwhile, she may occasionally write about island life from her new perspective.)


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