Changing face on the shifting shore

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 10, 2004

It’s amazing how much the Outer Banks has changed over the years, and yet so much remains the same.

Obviously, it’s been an on-going change – nothing overnight so to speak. But the changes have been extremely drastic when you think back just a short 25 or 30 years ago.

My parents allowed me to travel to Nags Head (and please keep in mind we referred to all of the Outer Banks in those days as Nags Head) the summer I first received my driver’s license.

It was 1976 and what is now the Outer Banks is far removed from what was then &uot;Nags Head.&uot;

Today, one can simply throw some clothes in a suitcase or overnight bag and head out to the beach with little worry as to survival. As long as they take plenty of money, there are no other worries.

Back in the mid-70s, there was quite a bit of preparation needed before striking out to those sandy shores.

First of all, you had to do some grocery shopping prior to leaving home.

As I recall in 1976, most stores along the beach from Kill Devil Hills down to Nags Head were mainly bait shops that served as convenient-type stores, stocking some essentials at twice the normal price.

Let’s face it, it costs them more to get the merchandise and if the customer had no other options, these local merchants could basically set the prices at whatever they wanted.

I also recall items on the shelves of these places looking like they had been there for many years as well.

One of the most purchased items along the coast back then, out side of fish bait, had to have been ice. And you can ask any of my comrades who were with me in 1977, most of these places were willing to trade their ice for your fish. On this particular situation, I felt I had done us all a favor by trading about 60 pounds of fish for one small bag of ice – my friends saw it differently… but the guy had no teeth, talked with an accent that I could hardly understand, and we needed ice… what can I say. However, that’s another story for another day.

As to the vast changes along the Outer Banks, in the mid-70s there were no fast food restaurants and eating was something one had to consider before leaving home.

Therefore, as you did your grocery shopping you had to stock up on bread and peanut butter and several packs of that processed sandwich ham. And if you recall, this was in the days before the package could be re-sealed so water from the melting ice always made its way inside and turned your ham from a nice pink to a soggy brown… not too appetizing after about the second day.

You didn’t need a lot of spending money back in those days. First of all, you brought every thing from home and secondly, there was very little to do – especially if you were under 18 years of age. The only nightlife, besides putt-putt, was the old Foosball Palace.

This legendary place was a teenagers dream come true, providing many pool tables, foosball tables, air hockey and countless pinball games.

A 16-year old could easily spend $10 in quarters in a single night if you were not careful. The Foosball Palace also held dances on one side, though I do not recall ever going in that side.

Other than that, there was no reason to spend money once you crossed the bridge.

I can remember, just for entertainment, riding around the &uot;block&uot; which consisted of what is now the Beach road to Whalebone Junction and back to the Duck turn off by way of the bypass. Yes sir, 15 miles one way and it would keep you entertained for several hours.

Ironically, local folks here made money off people going to the beach back then. Today, you start spending money the moment you cross the bridge and it doesn’t seem to stop until you get ready to head back across the bridge to come home.

I spent an entire week at the beach for $100 when I was a sophomore in high school. That included a place to stay and gas to get there and back. Today, you can’t hardly stay at the beach a day with no more than $100… unless you are just driving there and turning around and coming straight back – and with gas prices the way there are, it’ll darn near take that just to get you there and back.

But in comparison to then and now, when it comes to &uot;graduation week,&uot; there’s notable change.

Back then, we stayed in cheesy little motels with bad or no air conditioning, no television and where you shared a bathroom with the adjoining room.

We took our own stereo systems to play tapes because there were no radio stations to pick up except K-94 (93.7), which, at that time, was located in Moyock.

We spent most of our days on the beach and most of our nights sitting around talking and just having fun.

Now, you have monster cottages to rent, color televisions with DVD and surround sound, bathrooms in every bedroom, private swimming pools and hot tubs and a smorgasbord of radio and television stations to choose from.

There are several nightspots for teenagers and there’s a wealth of waterslides, batting gages, golf courses and other family-oriented types of entertainment.

There is also a large selection of fast food joints and one need not ever have to buy a loaf of bread or packaged ham again if they so chose.

However, on this last excursion to the beach with this fine group of teenagers, I realized one thing that truly amused me… there’s still nothing to do at the beach.

You still spend your day on the beach and your nights sitting around talking and just having fun.

I suppose it’s wonderful to have the conveniences of grocery stores and shopping establishments on the island, but for me, I’d still just as soon spend my money here where it does me more good in the long run.

The changes are good, don’t get me wrong, but I for one believe they’re there for the two hundred thousand million tourists than for us Carolinians.

Give me the old Nags Head without the commercialism. I believe I had just as much fun, if not more.