Gee it's cold here in Myrtle Beach. "The radio said it might snow," said the clerk at my hotel. Snow? I came all the way to the Sunny South for snow? Not! But then I went up to my hotel room and wrote a story on American politics and economics and that made me happy. Having something to write about makes me happy. And do you know what else makes me happy? Being well-fed and warm!
My hotel room was cold and the only available food was a vending machine full of unhealthy stuff on the 11th floor but I took a hot bath, bought some Fritos and was happy again for a while. Until I started to get really hungry again.
"Is there any place around here that I can walk to and buy a sandwich," I asked the hotel clerk. She looked at me like I was nuts. "Walk somewhere? This is strip-mall country, lady. Get over it. It's 9:30 at night and it's cold and it's raining. Either pay for a taxi or order out." Or words to that effect. And then she handed me a menu for Domino's Pizza. No thanks.
So I decided to walk around in the rain and check out my options. And the hotel clerk was right. There was nothing. I have been told that Myrtle Beach during the spring and summer is a jamming place full of people and action but during the off-season, it's dead. And it was dark and cold outside. You couldn't see the ocean and I was getting all rained on and soaked.
So in the cold, in the night, with my wool scarf pulled over my head, I crossed the street back to the hotel. But then suddenly a new-model gray car pulled up beside me, driven by a middle-aged man who rolled down his window and asked, "Do you want a ride?" I nodded my head and, without thinking, jumped into the car.
And as soon as I had done that -- what was I THINKING! -- it dawned on me that in the rain, in the dark, this man had taken me for a prostitute! Crossing the road at night, with my scarf over my head, he hadn't been able to tell that he was dealing with the 65-year-old grandmother of a one-month-old child. The guy had taken me for a streetwalker. But he was a Southern gentleman and, like Rhett Butler, masked his disappointment well -- that I was obviously no Scarlett, er, lady.
"Hi. I'm Jane. I just got into town to cover the Democratic presidential primary debate and I'm looking for something to eat. Know any restaurants around here?" And then Rhett Butler took me on a two-hour tour of the streets of Myrtle Beach. Did you know that in January, Taco Bell and Subway close at 10 pm but Dennys and KFC stay open until midnight? Word.
"You know," stated Rhett, "there are lots of prostitutes in Myrtle Beach." Nope. I didn't know that. I had assumed that, judging from all the church buildings I'd seen so far, that this was a clean, evangelical town. But that sentence was a great conversation-opener. "Some men drive all up and down Ocean Blvd. looking for them." But not you?
"No, not me. When I get restless and can't sleep at night, I just drive around."
"So. Who are you going to vote for in the primary?"
"No one. I'm an independent." That surprised me.
"And what do you like about Myrtle Beach?" The whores?
"The golf courses. I'm a golfer. There are 100 golf courses in Myrtle Beach. Even if you golfed twice a week, it would still take you six months to play all of them. My handicap used to be 11 but then my back went out. I've been playing golf since I was a kid." Then we passed another bunch of churches and he got back to talking about his other favorite sport.
"A lot of the prostitutes around here are on drugs. They work to pay for their drug habits. They'll earn $40 for a trick and spend 30 of it on drugs."
How much of what Rhett told me do you really want to know? He read me the full menu of prices and services but I'll try to clean it up a little bit. After all, this is an evangelical town.
"A BJ is $40. Done right in the car while driving around." Isn't that a bit of a traffic hazard? "If you want the full service, it's $120. For two minutes. During the high season, a girl can clear $1,300 a night." Two minutes? Two minutes?