22 March 2015

We once were lost...

...but now we are found. That was the story of the trip back to North Carolina from Virginia Beach yesterday.

When I say Virginia Beach, what images pop into your mind? In mine, it was a small resort town by the sea, with narrow streets, maybe some sand dunes, a few restaurants, and a lot of picturesque houses. The reality was fairly different from that. Do you know how many people live in Virginia Beach? No? Well, I'll tell you. I just learned all about it. The population of Virginia Beach is 500,000. That's right — half a million people. It's the most populous city in a metropolitan area with a population of 1.7 million.

Road signs in North Carolina

Instead of narrow lanes and pretty houses, the whole place — all 500 square miles (1,295 sq. kms) of it — seemed to be wide boulevards with three or four lanes of heavy traffic moving at a brisk clip in each direction. There were vast intersections with many turning lanes and a tangle of traffic signals. I saw no pedestrians. Some of the roads were elevated. Those at ground level were lined with shopping center after shopping center, and huge complexes of multi-story apartment a.k.a. condominium buildings. Neighborhoods of single-family homes, including not a few "gated communities," were tucked in here and there.

 The bridge across Albemarle Sound in northeastern North Carolina

It was certainly another world compared to Carteret County in North Carolina, where I'm wrapping up a two-week visit with my mother, sister, and other relatives. Carteret Country also covers 500 sq. miles but it has a population of 60,000. Yes, that's not much more than 10 percent of the population of Virginia Beach. And get this: Carteret County has 500 sq. miles of dry land! Virginia Beach's 500 sq. miles of territory includes 250 sq. miles of water! So the density of population and cars and houses and shopping centers and parking lots is double what you think it might be.

We had lunch on Friday in this soda shop in downtown Edenton, N.C.

Oh well. Live and learn. We had a good time visiting our friend there. And then we left this morning to drive back to N.C. and we I promptly got lost. I stopped in at least four 7/11-type shops along the road and tried to buy a map of Virginia. No dice. So I just kept driving south. I crossed the border into N.C. and I kept on heading south. Suddenly I was driving through a quite extensive salt marsh. Then I found myself on an island: Knotts Island, N.C., snug up against the Virginia state line.

 A lighthouse on the Roanoke River in Plymouth, North Carolina

Suddenly the road ended at a ferry landing. It was exactly noon by my watch. And the ferry was just pulling away from the dock. If we had arrived five minutes earlier, we and the car would have been on it, and in a few minutes we would have been on the N.C. mainland and on roads that are clearly marked on our North Carolina road map. Instead, we had to turn around and drive 20 miles back to Virginia. The next ferry was in two hours, and we didn't want to wait.

Back in the town of Creeds, Va., I stopped in another shop (a convenience store/sandwich bar) and tried again to buy a map of Virginia. There were none to be had. I guess everybody but me has a GPS device in his car. I asked the store clerk if she could give me directions from Creeds to the road that leads to Elizabeth City, N.C. She looked confused and then asked the customer in line behind me if he could help. He was a plump young man in coveralls who looked as if he had just finished his shift sweeping chimneys. His face and hands were covered in smut. Or maybe it was grease.

He was very helpful, however, and he asked me if I wanted him to write down the directions, which were fairly complicated. I thanked him and said yes. On the left is the piece of paper he handed me. He talked me through it as he wrote it down. And he really knew the area, because the directions were perfect. Within 20 minutes we were on the right highway headed south. His help saved us an hour or so of driving back into that city to the north of half a million people, and I think as many cars, where we would have been able to find the route back toward home.

The northeastern corner of North Carolina is rural and almost lost in time. Salt marshes and ferries, broad flat fields, and flocks of migrating birds are the scenery. The southeastern corner of neighboring Virginia is a megalopolis. It's mind-boggling.

27 comments:

wcs said...

"...covered in smut." Maybe you mean "soot?" ;)

Onevikinggirl said...

Great story and mind boggling directions! Left, right, left, rght, left, right is zig-zaggging through the neighbourhood in a straight line.

Tim said...

Wowzer Ken... in some ways you'll be glad to be back in St. Aignan...
but, as you say... the contrasts are amazing.

I presume that there is a lot of industry in that corner to occupy all those people....
apart, that is, from those people who run "shoppe"s and other services for 1.5 million peepilz!

Ken Broadhurst said...

'Soot' might have been a better term, but Merriam-Webster's says for "smut":

1 : matter that soils or blackens; specifically : a particle of soot

Mine might be an old N.C. usage that popped into my head.

chm said...

Right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left ... that's sounds exactly like the directions from my place in Northern Virginia to my friends in WAshington, D.C. !

Virginia is a very backwards state and hasn't been for all lovers until recently!

I went to Virginia beach years ago with Frank for a concert of the Arlingtones Barbershoppers of which he was a member in good standing. I don't remember the town being that big.

Ken Broadhurst said...

The population of Virginia Beach has exploded and development has overtaken all the farmland around it. The population of Va. Beach surpassed that of the older big city in the area, Norfolk, 25 years ago. Va. Beach is now the biggest city in Virginia, according to what I've read. It is almost but not quite as big as Charlotte, NC. My word for what I saw and felt while in Va. Beach would be: ahurissant. Worse than Silicon Valley...

Ken Broadhurst said...

We would never have found our way without that's man's good directions, especially since we couldn't buy a map anywhere.

Ken Broadhurst said...

There are several huge military bases in the Va. Beach area, including the largest U.S. Navy base anywhere. I think a lot of the people there live off the largess of the Federal military infrastructure, either as military or civilian employees of the government.

The "soda shoppe" is in the pretty little town of Edenton (pop. 5,000) in NE North Carolina. I didn't take any other photos there. It's difficult to be the photographer and the driver on trips like this one. Here are photos of Edenton here.

NotesFromAbroad said...

LOL,
So you got your directions from a dirty porn actor ? :)

Andrew said...

What a kind thing to do for you. You don't have google maps on your phone? Carteret County sounds much nicer than Virginia Beach.

melinda said...

yea the Norfolk Va Beach area is a nightmare.....we avoided heading that way at all costs when we lived in richmond....speaking of Edenton, my Dad lived there for a few yrs so I went to visit many times with the kids....they especially liked that they could walk to town on their own and get lunch at the counter of the drugstore.....grilled cheese & a vanilla coke ...it is a pretty little town...I sympathize about the map thing...I dont have gps either ....actually had to order a couple of maps from AAA for my trip to NO last yr

Gosia k said...

Your road signs are different from Polisjh ones..

chrissoup said...

What a traveler's tale! Glad you found your way out of the maze.
Maps are now only found in bookstores, except there aren't any bookstores.

Seine Judeet (Judith) said...

Ahhhhhhhh, this exchange is priceless :) and, I didn't even catch it, myself, but now I've learned a new definition :)

Ken Broadhurst said...

My mother says that people over here always described things as "black as smut" so that's the expression that came to me. I remember that Walt and I once had a discussion about the word "sleazy" too. It describes cloth that is thin and kind of slippery. The dictionary says "lacking in firmness of texture, flimsy"...

Stuart said...

Not exactly Mr Toad's Wild Ride, but looks quite interesting nonetheless. If I were you I'd stay in Carteret Co. We loved it.

Ken Broadhurst said...

LOL, Chris.

Ken Broadhurst said...

They are different from French road signs too.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I like Carteret County too. Knotts Island was nice but but very sparsely populated. Edenton is a very nice town, as is New Bern.

Ellen said...

I know how you feel about maps. When we were kids they were free give aways at gas stations. For my recent foray in Florida (by the way, my cousin lines just off route 17.) I would pull up a map on my tablet and take a screenshot to consult if I felt lost. That's not bad because you can have a map of your whole trip and another zoom in on your arrival point. I found the house my sister in law's group was renting with no problem.

NotesFromAbroad said...

Maybe I should go check out Edenton .. I grew up in Charlotte, NC. then I left and never went back.
Maybe I will appreciate it more now .. at least they don't get several feet of snow every winter. And I still speak the language ( lol - my husband used to pretend he couldn't understand me when we first met and my Southern accent was strong )

Evelyn said...

I visited VA beach forty years ago. I won't go again. Your NC beaches are perfect for me. Sorry for the map problem, they are relics now lol.

Evelyn said...

Oh, forgot to say, in KY it's "as black as coal" since we are a mining state. I've heard of soot, but not smut for black.

Margaret said...

A few years ago Glenn and I spent some time in NE NC in several locations including Elizabeth City And the Great Dismal Swamp. Glenn was searching for ancestors. They were Quakers who participated in the Underground Railroad. I had never been to that part of the state, except for attending a Tri Hi Y conference in Edenton.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I'm glad to see all the good comments, but I'm too busy getting packed and ready to go that I don't have time to answer them all. I'll be flying out tomorrow and I'll be back in Saint-Aignan Tuesday afternoon (morning Eastern time).

Ohiofarmgirl said...

at least he didnt' say "turn left about a mile before Old Man Shaylor's barn used to be." i get that one sometimes. that barn has been gone for 20 years.

the perspective on that bridge pic is magnificent. great work.

Ken Broadhurst said...

I took that bridge photo thru the windshield as I was driving. As you can see, traffic was not an issue.