The Tower

Atlantic Beach Travelogue

By Michael J. Legeros

               "I assure you my adventures are true..."
                                    - John Neville,
                The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

This was our plan for the Fourth of July:  drive to Morehead in the
morning, spend the day at the beach, watch fireworks after dark, and
then try to find a hotel room, yeah right, somewhere between, oh,
Havelock and Goldsboro.  We had a full tank of gas, half a pack of
CornNuts, it was light, and we were wearing sunglasses when we hit
it around 8:30 a.m., early but still much later than intended as,
for this trip, we were traveling sans Freon.  (The Elvismobile's A/C
had left the building sometime back in March.)  So there we sweat,
heading east into the sun, into the beginning of a day where both
temperature and humidity were forecast for the nineties.  Our first
stop was Selma, for breakfast.  Our second stop was an abandoned
fire tower, just down the road.

You've seen 'em-- small, gray, windowed boxes that dot the tree
lines of various North Carolina counties.  This tower was approx-
imately 160 feet high, by my traveling companion's estimate, but it
didn't look it from the ground.  (Stand at the base and you think,
oh, that's nothing.)  We pulled off the highway for a closer look,
and, perhaps, a climb.  Lo and behold and unlike the tower in Ral-
eigh-- on Howard Road, off of Creedmoor-- this one appeared avail-
able for trespassing.  (Were we breaking the law breaking the law?
We didn't think so.  An aging sign disclaimed "climb at your own
risk and all children must be accompanied by an adult.")  So up *I*
went, careful steps on weathered wood, crunching crispy pine straw
under my beach-bound flip flops.  I ascended a full two flights of
that shaky staircase, about 50 feet, before the pit in my stomach
summoned a stop.  (How many aerial ladders had I climbed in my day?)
I took a deep breath and continued to climb and managed another few
feet before returning to Earth, defeated.

As temperatures climbed, the next hour of driving was an exercise in
keeping cool.  We'd try the vents, until the forced air began to
bake.  We'd open the windows and shout at each other and close the
windows and suffer in silence.  We'd stop to drink fluids and stop
to pee and stop to drink more fluids and even stopped at a Wal-Mart,
outside of Kinston, just to enjoy the air-conditioning.  And buy
beach towels.  For the final leg of the trip, we opted for the
scenic route, via NC.58 to Trenton to Maysville to NC.24 to Cape
Carteret.  I vaguely remembered which country roads went where and,
since the heat was making yours truly very sleepy, the more twisty
roads that we could take, the better to keep the driver awake.  The
tall trees were a relief, providing occasional shade.  And there
were enough amusing sights-- old homes, new tractors, a crop duster
making practice runs-- to keep our minds off of the swelter.  We did
detour once, down Old Fire Tower Road in Carteret County, but, alas,
never spotted said structure.  I'd have to wait until tomorrow to
redeem myself.

Our day at the beach included bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Emer-
ald Isle bridge, an Emergency Bat Turn five miles and fifteen min-
utes later, a pit stop at the corner for waste, water, and submarine
sandwiches, arriving in Atlantic Beach around 12:30 p.m., swimming,
sunning, and a beach-side snooze on Pine Knoll Shores (Mother has a
condo on the sound side), making a double dozen phone calls to var-
ious hotels, air hockey on the A.B. Strip, rejecting a trio of eat-
eries (one on the Waterfront and two in Beaufort), consuming a late
dinner at Hardee's in Morehead, watching fireworks from a private
dock, and concluding the evening at the Diary Queen, where we tried
to eat ice cream cones faster than they melted.  (I had success; my
companion wore most of hers.)  The lighting of a giant sparkler con-
cluded our celebration.  With sparks flying, D.Q. dripping, and
emergency vehicles racing by-- to a vehicle fire somewhere downtown
and I bet *those* guys could climb a fire tower-- I sang a chorus of
"Yankee Doodle Dandy" to an audience of one.

Last on our list was lodging.  Morehead was out, Havelock had no
hair, but New Bern might be gravy.  (What can I say?  There's just
*no* adventure in making reservations and knowing ahead of time
where you're going to stay.)  Less than an hour later, we struck
gold at a small inn with one, count 'em one room left.  ($45/night,
with cable T.V. and working A/C.  And it was non-smoking!)  The kind
office manager gave us the wrong room number at first, which led to
a brief encounter with a young man in boxers.  ("This is my room,
bud.")  A slightly cooler morning saw us back on the road by 10:30
a.m.  Not nearly early enough to be completely comfortable, but it
was a start and we were driving away from the sun.  Our destination
was Raleigh, by way of Selma, by way of the Cracker Barrel and the
outlet mall.  And, of course, the tower.  That damn tower.

I had changed into running shoes that morning and, thus, was ready
to rumble when we pulled into the lot.  (In addition to a tower, the
ranger station contained an equipment shed, a maintenance pit, and a
condemned house with a crushed roof.)  I snapped a few shots at the
base, handed the camera over, and started on up.  Breath in.  Breath
out.  Focus only on the steps in front of you.  Two flights.  Then
three.  Then four.  50 feet.  60 feet.  70 feet.  The stairs are
shaking again.  80 feet.  90 feet.  100 feet.  Such a thin railing!
110 feet.  120 feet.  130 feet.  The staircase is growing shorter.
140 feet.  150 feet.  And then, the end.  And no door, just boards.
I braved an ass-puckering look around and could clearly see over the
trees to Selma and beyond.  I yelled below, waved for a picture,
took one more look, and that was that.  Down I started, smiling and
laughing and watching where I walked and, look, there's a missing
step that I climbed right over!  Isn't that always the case?  You
never notice what's waiting to get you, until you're working your
way back down.

Copyright 1997 by Michael J. Legeros


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