THE GREAT CAPE HATTERAS FINANCIAL DISASTER
From the lighthouse I was sorely tempted to take a walk right the way down to the end of the beach regardless of the time it was going to take me, but it was round about here that I suddenly realised that I didn't have wallet with me, nor my credit cards, nor my money.
I died a thousand deaths here on this spot, as you can imagine. I don't have to tell you of all of the bad ideas and thoughts and horrible situations that running through my head. This was definitely a "if the bottom has just dropped out of your world, take syrup of figs and let the world drop out of your bottom" moment.
First thing I had to do was to retrace my steps all the way back to the car to see if my wallet had fallen out of my pocket on the way down here. And nevertheless, despite the preoccupations I was having at the time, I couldn't resist taking a photograph of this sign, probably the most pointless sign in the whole wide world.
Having said all that, Alan Crook from the Open University did tell me that he did once see a sign that said "do not throw stones at this sign".
And I have subesequently seen a sign that announced to the world "this sign has sharp edges"
So having searched all my way back to the car and not having found my wallet, next thing I did was to search the car. But it wasn't there of course, so I searched it again and again and again. And as you would expect, I still didn't find any trace of my wallet. And then I wondered what on earth I was going to do. This was an extremely serious situation.
What I did was to retrace all my steps thoughout the day very carefully, searching everywhere where I'd been out of the car. The lunch stop at Pea Island and walk over as close as I could to the abandoned building included. Eventually I arrived back at the Food Lion at Kill Devil Hills where earlier that morning I'd bought my food for the day, and there, the manageress handed me my wallet that I had left at the checkout while I had packed away my purchases.
Relief was not the word, I can assure you. It was very very kind of the customers and staff to have discovered my wallet and handed it over for safe keeping, and you have no idea how much I appreciated this. They refused to take a donation for the employees canteen fund, which I quite willingly offered.
Now this has taught me a couple of lessons about travelling, anyway. And when you think of all the travelling I've done and how long I've been doing it, and the circumstances in which I've been doing it, all those miles on the open road behind the Iron Curtain in all those Cold-War hysterical days, you wouldn't have thought I'd have needed any lesons about this.
Now whenever I go anywhere important or for a long period, I always travel with two credit cards and two Maestro cash cards, just in case I lose one or the other. So why on earth do I have them all in the same wallet? That's a pretty stupid idea to start with. When I draw cash out at the bank, I keep most of it in the car and just keep on going back for 50-dollar lumps every time I run out in my wallet. So why not do something like that with my cards? Split them up?
At least, when I thought I had lost my wallet I still had the comforting thought that there was still 100 dollars or so in the car, which would have seen me all right somehow while I got something sorted out. Yes, I really ought to keep at least one of my credit cards and cash cards in the car.
HOW STUPID CAN YOU GET?
Now, on my way back south again, with my wallet safely tucked away in its usual place about my person, and driving through the pouring rain - yet again (oh what a surprise), I was listening to the radio again. NPR, or National Public Radio. They were talking about a new firearms law in Florida that had just been passed.
Most burglars, thieves and other petty criminals are addicts of one sort or another, and they steal to fund their addictions. These addictions are usually stronger than their willpower so there isn't going to be any deterrent you can think of that is ever going to stop them. Even in prison, they have pretty much free access to some sort of drugs or other
Your safest course of action when confronted by a petty criminal is headlong flight. Drop twenty bucks on the floor and then run. Criminals are more interested in your property than they are in you. Some people I know carry a spare wallet with an out-of date credit card with them. They hand it over and they are off down the road like snot off a stick and have usually covered 400 yards before the criminal has worked out what has happened.
Now under the old law, if you were aggressed by anyone for any reason, your action would be to take flight. If you could no longer run or couldn't escape, you were permitted to stand and shoot. Now that is already a weird situation before you start. This simply makes burglars, thieves and other petty criminals carry arms so that they are prepared to shoot back if anyone starts shooting at them.
Under this new law, however, you can now shoot first without making any attempt to run away. What the results of this new law are going to be are that burglars, thieves and other petty criminals are simply going to shoot first before their victims shoot them. It's not going to prevent crime, but escalate it, and the number of murders is simply going to rise.
Criminals will have a choice of shooting and running, with the chance of getting away and the possibility of life imprisonment if they are caught, or being shot to a rather permanent death by their potential victims. Which one do you think they are going to prefer?
And it's not usually the weapon that's the crucial factor - it's the intent behind it. Pulling a gun out is one thing - being prepared to kill someone in cold blood is quite another. Most criminals already have the evil intent but most civilians do not. An addiction-fuelled criminal has very few scruples whenever somehting comes between him and his fix. Once people start waving firearms around, there is usually only one outcome. That is that some one is killed. And the survivor is usually the person with the evil intent, whether he starts off with the firearm or not. A person of my acquaintance was beaten to death with a frozen chicken wielded with the appropriate intent.
This law is no deterrent whatsoever and is just going to make things even worse.
The reverse side of the coin is, however, even more depressing. As the "Trayvon Martin" shooting has now proved, white middle-class America can now legally gun down poor poverty-stricken Black America, no matter that poor poverty-stricken Black America is unarmed, simply because poor poverty-stricken Black America looks threatening.
I'd be interested to see what verdict the courts would reach if ever poor poverty-stricken Black America starts to gun down white middle-class America for the same reasons. In Arthur Schlesinger's beaten ignorant white south there wouldn't be a whitey left alive.
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
But by now it was getting dark, and getting late to boot. Nearly 9:00 and we all know what happens at 9:00 in the evening in rural USA, don't we? Yes, I'd yet to find anywhere to eat and after all my trials and tribulations, I was getting fed up (but, rather surprisingly, not clinically depressed. This was a major change. The quack must be right - I must be getting better), but only in the theoretical sense. I needed to be fed up in the literal sense. I'd also blown the ferry over to Ocracoke Island and that was probably even worse.
By the time I arrived back at the lighthouse, it was well dark. No motel, no food, no nothing. All I could do was carry on and hope that something would sort itself out. As indeed it did.
Maybe a mile past the lighthouse I came upon a restaurant on the left hand side of the road, that advertised pizzas. Five minutes to nine so I dived straight in. And I was in luck. The ovens were still switched on. I had to wait a while for them to cook me something, and to ease the pain they even made me a complimentary coffee. I was well away in here.
It gave me an opportunity to listen to some of the local gossip. Most of it was quite boring, but there was something of interest going on. I joined in on a discussion with a small group, one of whom was a local voluteer fireman. He was talking about someone on the island whose house was badly damaged in a recent hurricane and who had been quoted $10,000 to have it demolished. Instead of this, however, he had given it to the local fire brigade who were going to burn it down for free for a bit of practice.
Now he reckoned that this was a piece of astute business, although my opinion was thatit would have probably been more astute to have paid some property insurance that would have covered the charges.
So after what seemed like an interminable wait, my pizza finally arrived. The very pleasant lady in charge said "I'll see you again", to which I replied "not unless you have a very long telescope". But having said that, I was having such a good time on here, and bearing in mind how much I liked the area and how much of it I hadn't been able to see, there was every chance that she just might. And sooner than she thinks, as well.
Next stop was the town of Hatteras, a couple of miles further on. I noted with some small relief that there were two motels here (but not large relief - they did not have their prices on display and that is always an ominous sign, if you ask me) but I wasn't going to stop at one of them quite yet. I knew that there was a ferry from Ocracoke to the mainland early in the morning and I needed to be on it. I needed to know what time I needed to be on the ferry from here over to Ocracoke to make the connection.
Down to Hatteras Harbour and check the ferry times. No problem. The man on guard told me that the 7:30 ferry would leave me plenty of time to make the journey.
So that was the Seagull Motel, that was. And it has to be said that to the best of my knowledge and belief, that was the most expensive night I've ever spent in the entire continent of North America. Eighty dollars plus tax. And they wouldn't negotiate on the price, either. And it goes without saying that this was the cheaper of the two motels, too. The other one, whose name I forget was even more expensive. But needs must when the devil drives, and beggars can't be choosers.
But all of this notwithstanding, I have to admit that anyone would certainly get their money's worth here. This was the nicest place I had ever stayed in, and that includes European 5-star hotels during my spell in the Diplomatic Service. Absolutely worth every penny of the money I spent to stay here.
The only complaint I had was that I couldn't really afford it. As you know (or at least you ought to by now, if you've been paying attention) I'm a budget traveller, and this place is simply out of my budget.
I had heard the crash of the surf on the sand as I climbed up the steps to my room. You can imagine the surprise I had when I looked out of my door next morning to see that the motel was actually built on the beach. I bet this is an interesting, if not exciting place to be when there's a hurricane blowing.
I'd have been happy just to have had an hour to have sat in the chair on the balcony outside my room to listen to the waves, read a good book, and soak up the sun. No chance of any of that, though, this morning. Good job I never have a passenger when I'm on my travels. You need to be fit to keep up with me.
Just look at the room that I had that night.This was absolutely beautiful. Even down to the small kitchenette at the back. I can certainly see the attractions of this motel and why they would want to charge such a price to stay here. Not only that, I had an absolutely excellent night's sleep there. A long time since I had slept anywhere so comfortable.
Now if I'd have known that I was going to have a kitchenette like this, I wouldn't have bothered with my pizza. Yes, talking about my pizza, I told you that I had had to wait a fair while for it. Well, the wait was worth every minute. It was effing hot, effing delicious, and effing enormous. It made me quite regret the large chocolate flavoured corn oil biscuit or cookie or whatever I had also bought at the restaurant. And it was all washed down with a delicious can of root beer. That was a feast fit for a king.
Now next morning, I was up and about and ready to leave at 6.45. It was hot, clammy and sticky. I could feel the damp and I thought we were going to be in for a good thunderstorm later on today. I had to head for the ferry, but I also had to take a photo of the method one uses to transport one's fishing tackle. This is something that I've never seen in Europe, that's for sure.
After all, I'm not into fishing in any sense of the word. To me, most men go fishing for the same reason that they go to the allotment or go to the garden shed, and that is to get some peace and quiet away from the wife. Although I did hear a story about a man who took his wife with him on one occasion, and he vowed never to do it again. She did everything wrong. She talked too loudly, made too much noise, used the wrong bait, cast in the wrong fashion, caught the biggest fish ....
My own experience is that fishing is rather like sex. You get your rod out and you never know quite what you are going to catch
Just on the corner down the street a short distance from the motel was a general store, where they sold most things, amongst the most important of which at this time of the morning was coffee. This definitely meant that I had to stop. And on the way out, two things caught my eye. The first was here on the left.
This was a Pontiac Bonneville, believe it or not. Now they say that you can have plastic wings and the like on cars and they never rust, which means that you never have to replace them. Maybe they don't under those circumstances, but lots of other things can happen to them too.
Now do you remember that we were talking a couple of days ago about the technical control or safety inspection in North Carolina? And what did I say about it? Wasn't I proved right?
The second thing that I saw was across the road from the general store, and it so surprised me that I had to take a photograph of it, and you can see it here on the left.
This is the local police station, and parked in the back are a number of army trucks. Now I find this disturbing. The idea of a civilian force of law and order is that it is at the will of a democratically elected group of politicians backed by a mandate from the civilians it represents. The ultimate power rests with the people.
The military has a different role to play. Its aim is to defend the country from attack by a force of foreign aggressors, and power is to a certain extent devolved to its generals to defend the country and its population by the best means possible. This in certain circumstances can bring it into conflict with the civilian population, as we have seen in totalitarian countries such as the United Kingdom, where soldiers disguised as policemen took to the roads around Gleneagles for the purpose of intimidating and assaulting the protestors during the recent economic summit.
There is no place for the army and the police to collaborate, and it fills me with the deepest of suspicions whenever I hear that there are plans for them to work together. Given the current situation in the United States, I should not have been so surprised to see the police and the military to cosy up like this.
It's not the intention of the American military to "comply with the law or whatever the courts have expected of us" so why are they cosying up to the local police, whose job it is to uphold the law? No wonder American citizens carry guns when the military treats them so publicly with contempt and they no longer trust the police to defend them.
It doesn't bode well for the citizens of the USA. One day they will wake up and see it.
Now the town of Hatteras certainly had the air of looking really quite nice, that's for sure. It's true to say that there wasn't really anything of all that much interest to photograph along the main street, yet I would have loved to have had the free time to hang here for awhile and undertake a major exploration of the area. I'm sure that I would have unearthed a thing or two. It was a real shame that I was so pushed for time because of my ferry connections back to the mainland.
My impressions of this area were quite favourable, as you can tell, but before you all flock out here in droves, you need to take note of one very important thing. Which is that if you want a budget holiday out here, then keep away from the southern end of the island. The Seagull Motel was the cheapest accommodation I could find, at eighty dollars plus tax per night, and this was outside the tourist season. As far as I could see, everywhere around here was like that.
E- me if you know where all the cheap motels and the good deals are around here.
And by the way, while we are on the subject, I wish you Americans would stop going on about the amount of purchase tax you are paying. If I remember correctly, it's about 9 per cent over here. In Europe we're paying more than twice that. In Belgium, for example, it's 21 per cent.
And I reckon if you would stop buying all these arms that you are using to blow all these unfortunate Iraqi civilians into atoms, you'd probably be paying a darm sight less than 9 per cent as well. You have to make up your minds what you want, particularly as it's cost you all so far over 3000 of your soldiers killed, for the result of nothing at all.
Before the invasion of Iraq, the oil for food programme was producing about 2 and a half million barrels of oil. Three years on, the output is ... er ... less than 2 million and you're having to destroy one of the last vestiges of Artic wildlife in your desperate search for oil. This ought to be telling you something.
Have you ever asked yourself ... if you are using up all the oil, what are your kids going to run around on?
THE HATTERAS - OCRACOKE FERRY
Just for a change, I wasn't last on the ferry, I was first on it. And it was just as well. I'm glad I didn't hang about looking around the town because the ferry simply pulled in, loaded up the half-a-dozen cars that were waiting here and peed off again into the ocean. I'm absolutely certain it was a long way before 7.30 when he pulled out. I sat there open-mouthed at this.
Well, in actual fact a subsequent synchronisation of timepieces revealed that it was in fact 7.30 to the very second that the boat pulled out of the quay. I'm just off to eat some humble pie. Do you want some?
A quick look around the harbour before we sailed too far away revealed that there was a total of 6 ferry boats anchored here including this one. This must be quite a frequent service in midsummer, with all of the traffic and tourists that that brings. That was rather a frightening thought. Where would they all stay in Hatteras?
This ferry took me completely by surprise. It is the first of the North Carolina ferries that I have been on that actually reversed itself out of its dock into the harbour and turned round, before sailing off into the sunrise, and I settled down to enjoy the view.
A short way out, we crossed the "Cape Point" heading in to Hatteras. She is a "Hatteras" class of ferry of 275 tons, with a length of 150 feet, breadth of 42 feet, and draft of ... er ... four feet (I'm glad I only found that out after I returned to Europe). She takes a maximum of 30 cars and 149 passengers. The one I'm on isn't any bigger, I'm certain of that. I shall have to find out its name.
Ahh yes, I am on board the "Frisco" - built in Pensacola, Florida in 1989. No prizes for guessing that it is also a "Hatteras" class of ferry of exactly the same dimensions. This makes me quite relieved that I fixed myself up with a coffee before I boarded the ferry because there is no way to get any refreshments on here. Imagine that - a 40-minute sail across an open stretch of ocean in an area renowned for its storms on a ship of this size and nowhere to buy any coffee.
It's not just bad planning, this lack of refreshments. It's a commercial opportunity completely missed. Apparently this is a 40-minute sail, with a boat every 30 minutes, so I was told by a member of the crew. Here they are with a captive audience for a whole 40 minutes and they don't have anything to offer them in order to persuade them to part with some of their money. Who says Americans are good, instinctive businessmen?
With nothing better to do, I settled down to enjoy the crossing.