Things didn’t look good from the beginning, when we needed a jump start even to inaugurate the trip to the Outer Banks. The Prius battery was so iffy that we drove the five hours all the way down without ever shutting off the car — not when getting gas, not when getting coffee, not when pulling into the rest stop. And when we got down to the rental house — too early to get in — we shut it off and it was dead again.
We were, for a few hours, homeless on the beach. So we changed in the car, went down to the water for a while and eventually walked up to the shopping area. We may have been among the first people to walk through the Brew Through because of a dead car.
But at least we got some sun that day. Because soon enough, a tropical depression would approach and stall and drop rain for several days running.
Sure, we could sit in the beach house and read, or pull out puzzle or try to find consensus on TV. But we come to the beach to go to the beach. So at every break we’d run down to the sand and get our time in.
We got enough, eventually, for everybody to get some burn. Usually on spots that were absent-mindedly forgotten. An arm, a shoulder, a lot of the tops of feet. But amid the rain and clouds those burns were hard-won scars of summer: Proof that above all, we had been in the sun.
The car had to get a new battery, and though the garage was 30 miles away, at least we only needed the 12 volt kind that costs hundreds and not the big one under the back seat that costs thousands.
We worried that it was too early to go to the beach; we usually go later in August, giving the ocean a chance to heat up. And while the water was refreshingly brisk when we got in, it wasn’t frigid, as it can be in New England. It was 60 degrees according to the lifeguard station.
Better yet, it was relatively free of the high season crush. So the traffic mostly moved there and back, and up Highway 12 that can crawl through the town of Duck. The beach seemed to have a lot of space. Restaurants had tables. And the pre-season rental prices were nice as well (the real season, we were told, didn’t start till mid June when school in these parts get out).
I was thrown for a loop a bit by the dystopian tenor to my diversions: Daniel Clowes’ time traveling new graphic novel “Patience,” Don Delillo’s cryogenic musings, “Zero K”; and the sci-fi movie “Lucy” that all seemed to blend in my brain. We also made the whole family watch as much of “Giant” as they could take. The 1956 epic with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean showed the shortcomings in both aging makeup and race relations, but fit in well with the era of Trump (whose “great again” America is depicted in racist Texas).
A disturbing new trend on the beach is that noise is back. Following a pleasantly noise-free era after the decline of the boom box and the rise of earbuds, when one could hear just the ocean, children squealing and muffled conversation, suddenly there was music again to the right of us, blasting, and an indistinct baseball game to the left of us, droning on amid commercials.
These were those bluetooth-powered speakers that blast whatever is on your phone and people were anxious to try them out.
It wasn’t so many years ago that people were afraid to take their phones to the beach, worried that sand would get in under the glass or something. Now hardly anyone is away from them, checking them, or reading in greater numbers those pads and Kindles that carry book pages but keep the titles discreet.
Nobody by now was worried about using any such devices at the beach any more, despite the sand, despite the threatening rain and despite battery life worries.
Still: It was nice to get away.