Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
by Cassia Reynolds
My hometown is a place built upon tourist traps within tourist traps. We have it all: Ripley’s Believe It or Not’s, water parks and amusement parks, a Hard Rock Cafe shaped like a pyramid, a wax museum, multiple trashy clubs that serve alcoholic slushies in plastic cups with bendy straws, NASCAR speedpark, Medieval Times, a pirate-themed song-and-dance dinner show, and more putt putt golf courses than schools, hospitals, bars, police stations, YMCAs, and fire departments combined.
I usually steer clear of these so-called-attractions with the same level of desperate desire for self-perseverance as a 1350’s British native avoiding central London during the height of the the Black Death. I’m ingrained with that kind of grumpy cynicism that many a tourist-destination-native has, the “why-the-fuck-would-anyone-want-to-visit-this-place-and-spend-money-on-this-shit” kind. And the hordes of visitors that transform my simple, twenty-minute grocery trips into hour-and-a-half, frantic fights-to-the-death over the last batch of non-moldy strawberries, bewilder me.
But once in a while, mostly out of curiosity, I venture into the world of vacationing day drunks, screaming children, and hapless lost drivers. And the question I ask myself every time is one that sometimes feels as confounding as the classic “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
What is it that entices thousands of legally-sane Americans to visit Myrtle Beach every summer?
On this particular journey into the tacky wonderland of Myrtle Beach tourism, I was assisted by one of my childhood friends, a former employee of a beachfront water sports company. (Okay, so there are some perks to living in a tourist hub. The most relevant of which is that everyone works in attractions and you get a lot of free rides.) The two of us went sailing, jet skiing, and parasailing. I’d never taken part in any of these activities before, and I have to admit, it was all pretty freaking fun. At one point, I even found myself standing up on my jet ski, my hand twisted hard around the accelerator, “WOOHOO-ing” at the top of my lungs like one of those tourists I usually roll my eyes at.
The cheery captain of our parasailing boat was a South Carolina native; and had all the quirks of one, too. As his first mate clipped my friend and I into the strappy harnesses, he chain smoked and described his recent adoption of several miniature donkeys.
“I have three of ‘em and they’re all just up to waist high. Not as easy as taking care of rabbits, like I was ‘fore this.”
Before I could ask where the hell he’d even found a miniature donkey, my body was launched into the air. And as we rose up, my friend threw himself backwards so that he was hanging upside down. I followed suit.
And then there was nothing to block my perfect view of Myrtle Beach’s coastline and the blue-green depths of the sea below me. I laughed out of joy and fright, the beige sands and blocky hotels snaking across my vision, meeting foam capped waves in squiggly lines. I was so high up the tourists became nothing but skin-toned speckles on the shore. The wind whipped through my hair, and that whoosh was the only sound I could hear. Even with all the adrenaline pumping through my limbs, my fingers death-gripping the harness, a kind of peacefulness overtook me.
And so I just hung there, enjoying it. Circular blobs of blush-colored jellyfish bobbed to the surface. A neon blue sailboat cut across the water, leaving behind it a creamy trail. The ocean seemed much more mysterious and larger from up here, stretching out forever to the horizon. The sun’s intense rays had bleached the shoreline a dull beige, bringing out the deep hues of the grassy dunes behind it. And this faded quality caused any bright spots of color on the beach to practically glow: advertisements, umbrellas, bikini tops. When I took my gaze inland, I could see beyond the shore and behind the rows of pastel hotels and condos along the beach, to the gray streak of Highway 17, and then finally to the heavy green treetops of the nearby forest.
And that’s when the epiphany hit me, like a slap across the face. It took something as drastic as dangling upside down in the sky above my hometown to see it, but I did. I answered the question.
They just come for a change of scenery.