Having grown up in the greater Ohio Valley of the northeast, I always believed that heavy cloud cover on the verge of rain was the normal weather forecast. Daily weather ranging from 'partly cloudy' to 'mostly cloudy' with the 'possibility of thunder showers' was as predictable as sunshine in Southern California. It was not until I began to travel that I became aware that such gloomy weather was not the norm for most of the nation. Because of the coloration projected by the sun when it did penetrate the clouds, I began to refer to the dark cloud conditions as 'The Grey'. A look skyward would be met by a mass of more or less angry clouds that gave the sky a grey cast. After visiting more distant areas of the U.S.A., I came to realize that 'the grey' was not universal and that sunshine through a clear blue sky with occasional puffs of fluffy white clouds was more the norm. After my final release from the slave ship of employment, my next focus became escaping 'the grey'.
Inertia being what it is, it took a while to locate some likely candidates. Mrs. Randall, being a 'snow queen' from northwestern PA where they get about twelve feet of snow per year, quickly let it be known that coastal areas are too hot and humid for her, and any place vulnerable to hurricanes was instantly out. For as much as that threw water on my dream, the reality was that we could neither afford decent housing in a coastal area nor the insurance coverage such a house would require. But that did not mean we had to be hundreds of miles from the beach. After extensive research, we began to look seriously at the Charleston, South Carolina area.
During the first week of December, 2014, we made the trip to Summerville, SC to look at houses. Immediately we were taken by the area, primarily that it was 55 degrees with a perfect blue sky. We laughed at the locals who were bundled up in heavy jackets while we were comfortable in short sleeved shirts. The area appeared lush with abundant landscaping and some plants still blooming. Lawns were green and free of snow and ice, a far cry from back home where nothing would grow for another four months. And there were palm trees! A wide variety of palm trees in yards, parks, shopping centers, parking lots, and just lining streets and roads about the area. There is something magical about palm trees to me. They represent sun and warmth, and a more relaxed lifestyle free of heavy clothing and absent that deep chill that penetrates into your body until your joints feel stiff and painful. It was as if heavy chains had been removed from my spirit.
During that week, the evenings were filled with searching the real estate listings for potential homes, then days were spent visiting those houses. Some looked good in photographs but were disasters in reality. Some were so bad that we did not even get out of the car, instead choosing to drive by and off to the next house. Others were nice houses but located in questionable areas. Our real estate agent was a great help, getting us into houses that we wanted to see more closely. Soon all the houses we saw started to blend together making it hard to remember which we liked and which we did not. As it grew near our time to return north, we began to feel as if another trip south would be required before we would find a house. Then suddenly it appeared! A brand new listing in a neighborhood we liked. Three bedrooms, two car garage, new roof, newer heating and cooling system, everything but a partridge in a pear tree. And it had Mrs. Randall's dream refrigerator; a French-doored monster with lots of cubic feet and the freezer on the bottom. Once she saw that, the rest of the house could have been a burned-out meth lab so long as she got that refrigerator. The price was higher than we had intended but was still comfortably below the phenomenal amount for which we had pre-qualified. We were hooked.
Our offer (including the demand for the refrigerator) was accepted and suddenly we were homeowners. The emotions that go along with that status were a bit of whiplash by themselves. Whereas we had been focused upon finding a house, almost instantly we had to become focused upon the process of selling the existing house, moving all of our belongings, and the financial and logistical requirements that went with it. Immediately we were mentally numb wondering what kind of a monster we had just unleashed.
We found the answer to be "one step at a time". With the target date for closing set, we started by contacting a real estate agent to list the northern house and assembling all of the paperwork required. That was followed shortly by contacting a moving company where we had the pleasant surprise that they would take both motorcycles for a modest sum in addition to that of moving our 'stuff'. That alone solved a serious problem for us that could have included driving motorcycles 600 miles in February, a frightening prospect. The next step was to sort through what 'stuff' would make the trip south and what would go to Goodwill, recycling, or garbage. Then started the packing, a spiraling process that allowed unused things to be packed immediately, followed, in turn, by things as they became no longer needed for daily use. Eventually that left us with boxes and plastic totes stacked floor to ceiling, and virtually empty closets, drawers, etc. The last of the packing took place the evening before the movers were due to pack glassware, dishes, and the more fragile things that we did not trust ourselves to pack. As hand truck after hand truck of boxes and totes went out to the huge truck to join our furniture and other belongings, the house became increasing empty until the 'OMG factor' began to kick in. Areas of walls and floor that had not seen light in generations were exposed along with their accumulated dust. We spent our last evening in that house cleaning walls and floors while marveling at the emptiness of it all. The next day was spent in a 10 hour drive.
The closing was well managed by an experienced attorney who made the boring process feel lively and personal. After a couple of trips to utility offices, we unlocked and opened the door to our new (very empty) house, taking in the few belongings we could take in a packed car. Sleeping on the floor on an inflatable bed might be cool as a kid but it was very trying as an adult. Our furniture could not arrive soon enough.
Days were spent cleaning and painting while evenings were largely a 'crash and burn' situation. We did explore a bit, discovering our new surroundings and confirming that the intense traffic we had encountered during previous visits was the rule rather than the exception. Part of the price of escaping the grey was the large number of others who were there to do the same.
Once our furniture arrived and was in place, our house began to feel like a home. After several days on the floor, sleeping in a real bed was blissful. It was SO nice to roll out and put legs DOWN onto the floor rather than struggling to get UP from the floor. With our furniture came our motorcycles, and the opportunity to explore. There we were wearing jeans, tee shirts, and vests cruising happily while the locals bundled up against the "chilling" 50 degree temperatures. And the sky was BLUE! A beautiful powder blue with a few fluffy white clouds as far as the eye could see. It actually took a while to get over the mindset that we would soon have to return to 'the grey', but gradually we adapted to the comfort of mild temperatures and having a sky that looked as a sky should.
Among the many discoveries we have made was a REAL beach town. Charleston has many miles of beautiful beach, but the majority has been gobbled up by developers who build hotels and private homes that lock away large tracts of beach, reserving it for the wealthy and those with enough money to rent a beach house by the week. The remainder of us, the great unwashed, can purchase yearly passes to use a few small county beach parks, hoping we can get there early enough to beat to rush and bringing sufficient coins to feed the ever-hungry parking meters. To say this was a disappointment would be a huge understatement. But, with research and exploration, we found a beach town less than an hour away. By and large it has resisted the curse of moneyed yuppies and remains a small beach town with no big hotels, no chain restaurants, free parking, and a casual lifestyle reminiscent of years gone by. Several days a week the shrimp boats go out to trawl just offshore. They return with catches of shrimp, part of which go to the local bars and restaurants to be served in a mind boggling number of dishes where they are steamed, deep fried, broiled, baked, sautéed, flambéed, and, for the adventurous, served raw. Shrimp are a culinary building block upon which much of the local cuisine is built. Along with flounder, the local ocean fish, seafood is a sizeable chunk of the menu. Add to that local barbeque in pork, beef, or chicken and some creative burgers, and a trip to a seaside restaurant becomes an adventure.
Recognizing that there is no 'free lunch', the best beach access is through a state park where, yes, we did have to pay for an annual pass. But the amount is nominal and gains us abundant free parking, rest rooms, and a changing area, all of which are cleaned regularly and well-maintained. Blessing of blessings, the water is warm. Usually mid 80's and very easy to get into and remain as long as desired. At first glance I was reminded of a trip to Maine where we introduced our children to the Atlantic Ocean. The water was bone-chilling cold and even the most enthusiastic child was soon dashing out of the water with chattering teeth and a blue hue. Fortunately, after one plunge, we discovered that this was NOT Maine.