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A Summertime Town in Winter

November 9, 2019

Myrtle Beach is a summer paradise. It’s a fun town. There are about a dozen mini-golf courses, waterparks and amusement parks. There are many, many giant 2-story stores unlike anything I have ever seen in California selling summer supplies (t-shirts, beach towels, beach chairs, floaties). And of course, there is the long and perfect strand of beach itself.

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The road next to the beach is lined with hotels and condos large and small. Some are 20 stories, others shabby 2-story family-run motels built in the 1960s. In winter, they are practically empty. Signs advertise seaview rooms for $35 per night; $225  per week.

My Terror

Here’s a weird fact about me: I have a terror of empty swimming pools. The sight of a waterless pool – or worse, one partly filled with dark and dirty water – causes my stomach to drop and my head to spin. Yeah, I don’t know why either.

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You know where there are a lot of empty swimming pools? A beach town in winter. Everywhere I look. I have been practicing exposure therapy, forcing myself to at least glance sideways at the terrifying concrete pits while clinging to fences to keep from fainting. I’m not quite cured yet.

Even with that, I love to walk down the street with all the hotels. It’s quiet and a little eerie.

Walking and Talking

A Friendly’s restaurant is one of the few places still open on the strip. One night, a mom walked out of Friendly’s with her little boy. I was playing Pokémon Go on the opposite side of the street from them, and the boy was scampering around and exploring every cranny, so we were both making slow progress, walking parallel.

At one point, I got ahead and crossed the street. A little while later, the boy said behind me “Hey, you’re playing Pokemon Go!”

I turned. “Yes, I am! Do you play?”

“No,” he said. “My cousin does. How long have you been playing?”

“Three years, which is probably about half your life.”

“Mmm almost. I’m 7. I’m James, and I’m good at math!”

“That’s great!” I said. James was a skinny, shorts-wearing boy with big eyes and long gorgeous eyelashes that curved up on the ends.

“Yes, my teacher always says I am so good at it. I love math! I love to do math problems. I know my times tables, almost anyway. 3 times 7 is 21. 3 times 8 is…24.”

His mother had barely looked up at us. She was just dragging along. I realized that she was exhausted and that she probably worked in one of the hotels.

To give her a break, I kept walking with James. We chatted for the next few blocks. I learned that James was going to be a scientist and study the ocean, but also an engineer and build robots that would do everything for people.

“I want to build a robot so my mom doesn’t have to do so much,” he said. “I want her to say ‘Vacuum the floor’ and the robot will vacuum so she can sit down sometimes.”

His mother finally smiled. “That would be nice, son.”

We parted ways and walked on through the empty streets of a summer town in winter.

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