August 5, 2014

Island Living: Guilty Pleasures 


My former-fiancÚ-turned-hubby and I just returned from our long overdue and much anticipated weekend vacation on Hatteras Island. (And now that we’re married, I suppose I can finally disclose his name. It’s John Smith. I am not making this up. In fact, I asked to see his ID on our first date.)

Anyway, I realized both during our trip and upon our return that every “vacation” back home to the Outer Banks is, well, a little different. When I’m on Hatteras Island, I’m relaxed, more carefree, and more inclined to take part in actions that I know are bad, but that feel so incredibly good that it’s easy to give in.

I thought this was just a side effect of the “Vacation Brain” ailment – the same ailment that made me eat a pound of gourmet macaroni and cheese during our honeymoon.

But, upon reflection, I think that it’s actually because of Hatteras Island in general. This little corner of the world happens to boast some of the most accepting, un-judgmental, and altogether fun individuals I have ever met, and in a society like that, why not let your hair down and be the foolish irresponsible little cretin that you really are?

In that vein, I comprised a list of some of my favorite “guilty pleasures” that, for whatever reason, I seem to indulge in only when I’m home on Hatteras Island.

Now, I feel like a “This should not be tried at home” disclaimer should be applied beforehand, because, obviously, I’m not suggesting that anyone should do or enjoy any of these things. Not by any means.

But if you do, goodness gracious, you’re going to have a grand old time.

So let’s get started with one of my favorite guilty pleasures of a Hatteras Island “vacation.”


When I was young, I worked at a fabulously busy Hatteras Island restaurant that always had karaoke as late-night entertainment, and, as a result, it is a personal belief that every person should have at least one go-to Karaoke song to belt out when he or she has had just enough beers to feel like the best undiscovered singer in the history of the universe.

My personal go-to was always “Lola” by The Kinks, but every singer’s deep-seated musical love can easily shine through -- and connect with dozens of other music fans -- on a good, boozy karaoke night.

In my karaoke career, I have heard some fantastic Johnny Cash renditions, heart-felt “I Will Survive” performances, and a Frank Sinatra “My Way” cover that gave me goose bumps. In fact, my hubby initially stoked the flames of eternal love by doing a fantastic rendition of “Super Freak” by the illustrious and uncompromised Rick James.

Karaoke is a guilty pleasure, for sure, but there are some basic ground rules.

Your token song can’t be a downer, and country music only works if it’s a song that everyone in the bar knows, such as “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places.”

Also, if you are not a great singer and / or are smashed, please, for the love of all that is good, do NOT sing “American Pie.” Actually, just don’t sing it under any circumstances, period. That song is three hours long, and the bar will be closed by the time you’ve finished.


I try to avoid drinks with calories, sticking to unsweetened tea and water instead, as I don’t want to waste my daily caloric intake on something as stupid as a White Russian or a Coke when Ben & Jerry’s exists. With that being said, I believe that calories consumed in a different area code do not affect your diet, and, ergo, when I’m at the beach -- especially in the winter when it’s cold -- I love to indulge in beer.

Specifically, I like to indulge in good, rich, dark beer that has the consistency of pudding, and that has names like “Chocolate Stout,” “Milk Stout,” “Oatmeal Lager,” and “Deep Fried Twinkie Porter.” Yes, these frothy concoctions most likely have the calorie equivalent of five Big Macs, but these extra calories can be easily avoided simply by not Googling the nutritional information beforehand.

Dark beer is a wonderful thing. And, in fact, this guilty pleasure actually increases both the likelihood and the overall enjoyment of the next three guilty pleasures on this list.


I love swimming at night. My new hubby won’t ever join me because he swears that this is prime shark-feeding time. He’s probably right, but for whatever reason, he also doesn’t swim during the annual “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel -- which is a quirk that after five years I have yet to understand -- so, ergo, I take his shark-swimming advice with a hefty grain of sea salt.

Anyhow, swimming at night, and preferably under a full moon, for some reason seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. (It’s on my dad’s list, and he’s in his late 60s.)

And, honestly, it should be. It’s a little fun, supposedly more than a little dangerous -- according to my clearly shark-expert husband -- and is the ultimate way to enjoy a stretch of Hatteras Island, literally, all to yourself.

Besides, as my dad explained to me once, it would be way more impressive to have “John Doe passed away during a midnight, full-moon shark attack” than “John Doe passed away in his sleep” in your inevitable obituary.


What’s better than swimming at night? Swimming at night naked!

To be honest, like many of my “guilty pleasures,” this is an activity I have not participated in for a sadly long amount of time – we’re talking years here. But it’s spectacularly fun nonetheless, and even more fun if you have friends who are just as spectacularly stupid and reckless as you are. And, to be perfectly frank, while skinny dipping is fun, in my experience it’s not nearly as fun as the next guilty pleasure.


What’s better than swimming at night naked? Stealing someone else’s clothes who is also swimming at night naked!

Granted, I haven’t done this in 15 years, but the last time I did, I found it hysterical and actually enjoyed little to no retribution. (My victims stole my clothes in return a couple weeks later, but unfortunately for them, at that age I had no shame and didn’t care all that much.) Now that I think about it, in fact, I am long overdue for a good clothes-stealing.

So consider this a head’s up and a ridiculously fair warning for you poor unsuspecting night-swimming skinny dippers. I’m coming for your clothes.


Like the majority of items on this list, this is something you should never, ever do. Ever.

But with that being said, you know how in the summer there is always a mile-long line of cars? And sometimes you just have to get past them because you’re late for work, or have just a few minutes to catch a soundfront sunset, or perhaps because the lead car is going 35? (35! And in that stretch of the highway 12 between Avon and Salvo, no less, where the road is literally the straightest, flattest, easiest road in the entire state of North Carolina!)

Well, that is when this guilty pleasure comes into play. It is the most enjoyable experience on Highway 12 ever and boils down to trying to see how many cars you can pass before you have to get into the right lane because of oncoming traffic, or because you’ve been going 80 mph for several miles and that seems very wrong.

Really, trying to see how many cars you can pass at once is the source of the fun. It’s essentially the every-man equivalent of Evil Knievel jumping over an ever-increasing number of buses on a motorcycle.

Again, most of the time, drivers should certainly just relax and be on island time. After all, there’s really no hurry on Hatteras Island, where the beaches will always be gorgeous, regardless of time or tide.

But, just in case this little guilty pleasure comes into play, it should be known that my record is six cars at once.

Good luck trying to beat it.


No “guilty pleasures” list is complete without ice cream, and I have a favorite destination for this unoriginal sin.

There’s a little ice cream shop near my former home that doesn’t blink an eye when I add M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, hot fudge, and Gummy Bears to my order of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and as a bonus, they play “family-friendly” movies outside.

As a result, I have spent several nights loading up on sugar while watching "Beauty and the Beast." And, all the while, I was making sure my back was turned to the passing Highway 12 traffic, lest one of my passing colleagues see me with a hot-fudge covered mouth, and tears in my eyes because all those stupid villagers started attacking the Beast’s castle because they didn’t understand him. Gets me every time.


With all that dark beer and ice cream in my system, you might think that I am inherently a lazy person. You’d be right.

And one of my favorite wintertime guilty pleasures has always been stopping by Red Drum for an early Saturday morning coffee, taking the Jeep to Cape Point, and then driving all the way to the Frisco four-wheel-drive ramp in an adventure that I called “drive-by shelling.”

The beauty of drive-by shelling is that there is minimal physical exertion involved. Basically, you follow the shoreline, pop out when you see a good shell, put it in your truck, and keep on going. This makes me feel guilty, sure, because the best shells should, for some reason, be obtained after a dedicated hunt of some sort, which involves a long beach walk or a bitter battle with a local pelican. But, still, if I can scoop up a helmet shell without missing a beat of “The Kinks Greatest Hits” on my Jeep’s CD player, I’m going to consider that a good day.


This is an action I shamefully do on a regular basis, especially on a summer weekend. I know this is wrong, and especially wrong when I have a semi-full shopping cart, but I swear that sometimes the Food Lion is so scary in the summertime, that as soon as I step into the store, my immediate and frantic goal becomes getting out as soon as humanly possible.


There’s a good story to accompany this guilty pleasure.

When I was in college, I was dear friends with a guy named Al.

Al was one of those folks who was just awesome at life. He was an exceptional computer engineering major, was super at athletics, had a sparkling Land Rover that even had an underwater snorkel contraption, and was so genuinely nice that he was impossible to hate.

Basically, Al was that guy that you were secretly and seethingly jealous of because he was just so much more inherently awesome than you were. We all have an Al in our lives, and we love them because of said awesome-ness, so no big deal.

Then one college weekend, Al decided to visit, and he took his Land Rover with him to drive on the beach. I tried in my most un-patronizing voice -- which, admittedly, is still pretty patronizing -- to tell him that he needed to let air out of his tires, but he gave me a genuine, million-watt smile and said it was fine, as he was cruising in a Land Rover, and as such, he would never get stuck.

Then he went into the soft sand just off of Ramp 38. And he got stuck.

I graciously pulled him out, of course, and gave no slight verbal hint that “I told you so!” was constantly brimming at the back of my brain.

However, I must guiltily admit that I pulled him out only after doing about five laps around his stuck Land Lover in my beat-up and neon-blue Geo Tracker, while honking the horn the entire time.

Hey, I was young, and, honestly, being subtle and gracious has never been my strong suit.

But since that first time that I pulled a dude out -- and since I upgraded from a Geo Tracker to a real-life Jeep -- I have a weird little satisfaction whenever I pull other people’s vehicles out of the sand. In fact, I have a tow rope, shovel, and two plywood boards in my Jeep at all times, courtesy of my father, just so I can rise to the occasion when needed.

It kinda makes me feel like a superhero, but a superhero who can take a leisurely break from saving the world in order to pull an Outback away from an encroaching tide on South Beach.

I promise, I am no longer obnoxious when this happens, and I genuinely believe that nobody cares if I’m a woman or a man or a monkey – so long as I have a tow rope handy. When I’ve gotten stuck before, and I have, many times, I didn’t notice who was doing the pulling. My concern was solely focused on if there was anybody nearby who actually knew me and if they were taking pictures and uploading them to Facebook.

But I still consider it a guilty pleasure because after the tow, I get to go home and relay to Mr. Smith in detail how awesome I am at driving at the beach. (Amazingly enough, after five years of hearing this, Mr. Smith still married me. Good for him.)

Now, if we’re being honest, the guilty pleasures list is just the icing on the multi-tiered cake of the guilty pleasures that are readily available on Hatteras Island. I haven’t even touched on the joys of eating yourself silly, playing outside during a storm, or walking nonchalantly down the middle of Highway 12 in January with no worry of oncoming traffic.

But I think the beauty of Hatteras Island is that these surprising little experiences will surely just keep coming, and will give folks like me a world of stories to share with the future generations of little Smiths and Hatteras Island lovers everywhere. But not until they are adults, of course.

And when a good guilty pleasure-related story does occur, I adore that I can share the experience, without shame, with my fellow debauchery-loving island friends, preferably over a grossly bad-for-you dark beer or Cookie Dough sundae.

In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying my idle mountain living, and my constant dreaming of my next Hatteras Island “vacation,” which, unfortunately for you readers, now includes ingenious new places where I can hide your skinny-dipping discarded clothes.

Remember, you have been warned.

(Joy Crist and John Smith are living on their newly purchased property in the mountains of North Carolina, though she insists she will be back on Hatteras one of these days to enjoy her guilty pleasures full time. Meanwhile, she may occasionally write about island life from her new perspective.)

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