Americans are no strangers to random acts of kindness. And the smaller the town, the kinder they are.
Up in New York City where the whole world crowds together and the Senegalese guys tout bags in Chinatown while the Chinese sell cowboy hats, humanity is forgotten in the shuffle. Tiny square dog parks are fenced in concrete blocks, and Haitians crowd the dirty beaches of Coney Island behind the derelict buildings, on a Sunday morning, chanting to a long lost god. It all just goes by too fast.
So we’ve headed south. South, where “y’all” is a part of every sentence and the accents lilt and list in a syrupy dance of bendy words, as they enquire where in the world we could be from.
Apparently the south starts from the Carolinas. Or the ‘Carolaaaaahnas’, where everyone knows everyone in the tiny towns that line the ICW. And when our two crews of maritime squatters arrive, we are noticed and identified. “Y’all ain’t from around here!” is a statement far more than a question.
Everyone bends over backward to help. Whether we need a ride to the Piggly Wiggly a few miles away or a special engine oil, there’s a local with a car and a smile and an offer before we get all the words out.
Not everyone has a very big world view though, and when South Africa is mentioned by us, “Ebola?!” is sometimes the response. But curiosity wins over fear and we make friends anyway. So many towns, so many touching memories…
Towns like Belhaven, where half the crumbling houses are for sale for under $80k and fishermen and farmers can be found on a Friday evening, calloused elbows on the padded bar, pouring their worries into a Bud Light at the local pool hall. The place smells like urine and bleach and the concrete floors are chipped with years of working class feet. Through the clouds of cigarette smoke everyone inside welcomes us with warmth. We ask about smoking laws and the bartender exhales a mouthful of smoke, “technically this is a smoke free establishment, but this is Belhaven and no one cares a damn!”. She opens our beers and starts an evening of local banter with us, with all.
|The pool hall bar in Belhaven|
It’s the people. The people, who despite the obvious dismal economy, have a twinkle in their eyes, who are down to earth, honest, friendly, and will always bend over backward to help a stranger.
Towns like Oriental that boast a special blend of boating folks, artsy newcomer locals, and the old salt of the town. Where acting and origami as well as banjo playing each have a dedicated club and where everyone can be found at The Bean, the one coffee shop at some point in the day. If they overhear your foreign accent you can be sure they will have some advice, local knowledge to share or an offer of assistance. You will be invited to the parties and be given free bikes to see the town. You will leave with a feeling like you belong in as much as transients can.
|The famous Bean, Oriental NC|
Swansboro lines it’s main street with tea lights in white paper bags on an early November night, keeps all the knick knack shops and restaurants open and lets you drink wine in the streets! They light their Christmas tree and let you dance like no one’s watching in the town square to the live band.
|The townspeople of Swansboro enjoying the candlelight fest|
And the kindness of North Carolina extends to it’s nature. Just when you think that Fall in America means pumpkin pie spice lattes, you traverse a stretch of the ICW, a stretch of uninhabited tree lined bliss, where you will sniff the fresh autumn air and marvel at the reflection of yellow, red and brown trees on the glass still water.
The tranquility was broken only by the lolling drawl of some American cruisers chatting on the VHF radio.
“So, how far south you going?” the man asked.
“Well we’re gonna put a pat of butter on the bow, and we’re not gonna stop ‘til it melts!”
What lies ahead or below, however you see it, is hopefully warmer weather and more of the same beauty and warmth from the people who receive us.