- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

Today, dear readers, I wanted to tell you to stay calm, use common sense and remember that “we’ve weathered worse,” as a friend says. However, you may have to tune out the television to turn off your personal panic button.

Then I thought about asking you to send cold, hard cash to the Red Cross that’s gone broke responding to disaster on top of disaster.

No doubt I’ll get around to ragging on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s dumb decision to shut down the public transit system, in turn, forcing the public work force to stay home.

Last week I suggested that you “be prepared.” Who knew that a few short days later, you wouldn’t be able to find batteries or bottled water with the advent of Hurricane Isabel? I would implore you to be courteous and considerate of others as you grab for scarce supplies, but also look out for the fast-buck boys like that guy selling “Ten for $10” sandbags along Richmond Highway in southern Fairfax County.

Like you, we were ready. Hey, I even cooked a pot of chicken and rice for the watch ‘n’ wait. Trust me, that last preparation alone tells you just how seriously but sensibly I’m taking all this hurricane hoopla. Yet the one thing that’s mesmerized my mind as the television tirades whip up more wind than Isabel, is the simple “OBX” sticker affixed to my car bumper.

I know, I know it sounds stupid, but what I wouldn’t give to be in the Outer Banks, in the eye of the storm.

I’m certain I’m not alone. Throughout the Washington area, it is rare that you sit in a traffic jam without spotting those big, black-block “OBX” letters affixed to some manner of motor vehicle.

Those of us who make at least one annual pilgrimage to North Carolina’s coast proudly wear our trademark “OBX” gear — on our cars, on our clothes, on all kinds of small souvenirs as if to signal our select membership in a secret seaside society.

We may actually reside close to the Inner or Outer Loop of the Beltway, but we are Outer Bankers — heart, body and soul. We’d rather be cruising up two-lane Duck Road any day, gazing upon the cranes in Albemarle Sound to the left and the pelicans skimming the Atlantic Ocean to the right.

While we hunker down to protect people and property in the Washington area, we also watched with bated breath to discern what’s happening to our beloved barrier islands. Of course, we OBXers are deeply concerned what happens in our own back yards. However, we also care if our Twiddy, B&B; or Sun Realty homes away from home will be swallowed up in the surfside surge.

Not surprisingly, as we watch the line of cars crossing the familiar causeway headed toward the Currituck County mainland, we are first thankful for folks reaching safety before we long for one more junket to those low-key, family-friendly OBX shores.

You won’t find a busy boardwalk or any high-rise condos and hotels here. As breathless television reporters marvel at the “crashing waves,” we OBXers snicker, getting a glimpse of the feisty seascape we know so well. Storms and balmy breezes are no strangers to Outer Bankers. After all, they are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first powered flight at Kitty Hawk this year. The brothers chose this area particularly for its high sand dunes, such as Jockey’s Ridge, and its constant breezes to experiment with their flying machines.

Here too history was made, according to books, “Light on the Beach” and “Sink or Swim” by Carole Boston Weatherford, when Pea Island keeper Richard Etheridge led the only black U.S. Lifesaving Service crew in saving the survivors of the E.S. Newman, wrecked during a hurricane in 1896. No wonder the turbulent Outer Banks waters are known as “the graveyard of the Atlantic.” While I’ve been fortunate to miss a hurricane evacuation during my visits, I’ve been caught in more than my fair share of high-wind nor’easters.

Less than a month ago I was in the Outer Banks when it rained, it rained and it rained some more. Still, the surf and sky, the lightning with its natural fireworks show, were spectacular. As a friend joked, “A rainy day at the beach beats a sunny day at work.” Especially if that beach includes a panoramic view of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse or the Kitty Hawk pier. If you’ve never traveled to the Outer Banks, it’s hard to describe the beauty of the 75-mile stretch of pristine barrier islands. Sadly, some stretches are being overdeveloped, to our old-timers’ tastes.

On my last trip, when someone stopped me at the Wee Winks convenience store to ask where they could find food, and I rattled off a few mouthwatering possibilities, one of the locals remarked, “You should be an Outer Banks tour guide.” In my next incarnation, perhaps. I enjoy watching OBX newcomers fall in love at first sight. Few fail to return, and only because they do not want to drive the distance.

My favorite OBX destination is the northern beach community surrounding the Corolla Village, with its recently renovated Whalehead Club, the whitewashed lighthouse keepers’ homes and churches, and the wild ponies (now corralled). Shrimp and grits at the Roadside Grill in Duck are a must, followed by fresh homemade pie from Tommy’s Market. Want some real OBX flavor? Try “chicken night” at the Kitty Hawk fishing pier or steamed crabs at Webb’s Crab Shack in Nags Head.

Want to know what the locals really think of the “tourons?” Engage the friendly young dockworkers at Oregon Inlet Fishing Center in a little “we’re lovin’ life” chitchat. Want to be awe-struck? Stand near raging surf at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, or catch the ferry to unspoiled Ocracoke.

You’ve heard so much about the Outer Banks in recent days that I thought I’d give you just a little taste of it. And after Isabel blows over and we’ve helped each other with the inevitable cleanup, guess where you’ll find me?

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