Ten Best: Things about the beach

by Jordan Green

Watching the surfers at Wrightsville Beach

Aside from the fact that the surfers monopolize the prime waves, the best thing about being at Wrightsville Beach is watching the them paddle in ahead of an arriving water mass, rise to their feet as it surges beneath, perform a poetic slalom along its advancing line, turn 180s or take the express towards the shoreline before collapsing in the surf. Wrightsville Beach is the most accessible piece of beachfront from the Triad, and my lady and I took pleasure in crouching in the shallows at dusk and then again the next morning to watch the performance.

Soft air, water and at either end of the day

An overcast sky in the early evening before the first fat droplets descend. The calm promise of a hot day at 8 a.m. in the morning before the temperature soars. These are the perfect times to be in the ocean, we discovered. The water is cold and bracing at first, and then comfortably refreshing. The air is like a warm bath, and the light plays gently across the sand without the harsh intensity of midday. No need to do anything but take it.

Rocking George Michael on Interstate 40

A friend has supplied a burned CD copy of a George Michael compilation. For anyone born between 1960 and 1980, there’s an inherent nostalgia factor with Michael, the more talented half of Wham! Let’s face it: There’s something campy about the artist, from the sly elision of religion and sexuality in his best work to the pretension of his political album Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 and the comic elements of the Beverly Hills incident in which he exposed himself to an undercover vice cop in a public restroom. In any case, “Jesus to a Child,” “Father Figure,” “Careless Whisper” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” make a perfect soundtrack for zipping down Interstate 40.

Cape Fear Museum

My question about the 1898 Wilmington massacre elicits an apologetic explanation at the front desk about how the museum can’t possibly fit everything in, and this seminal event in North Carolina history is limited to a single panel, but the Cape Fear Museum is still pretty cool. We agree that the highlights would have to be a replica of the skeleton of Wilmington’s giant ground sloth, a diorama of the fall of Fort Fisher in 1865, a scale model of the Civil War-era Wilmington riverfront containing intriguing details about blockade running and the jukebox that plays songs linked to the Cape Fear area at the drop of a museum-issued coin.

Spanish moss

We have plenty of kudzu in the Triad, but Spanish moss is a gothic horticultural feature that retains a measure of novelty for out-of-town visitors to Wilmington. Hanging in chain links from the live oaks inside the median on Market Street in conjunction with the city’s antebellum architecture, it gives Wilmington a slightly decadent feel, much like Savannah and New Orleans.

Cameron Art Museum

The admission fee was a little steep and admiring line drawings and wood sculpture was not our first order of business, but since we came to Wilmington without a map or Mapquest directions to our hotel, Cameron Art Museum turned out to be a fortuitous first stop. We stumbled on some kind of film shoot and wireless internet promotion and, more importantly, secured a map orienting us to both downtown and the beach. For the nitty gritty, visit

Listening to free music at the Wilmington river walk

A crowd and a noisy spectacle attract people like bugs to light. Sophistication and originality are hardly requirements for a good draw. Searching out food and historic atmosphere in old Wilmington, we stumbled on the city’s weekly Downtown Sundown concert. As we followed the sound and threaded through the crowd, we came upon the banstand. The local talent was covering Van Halen… covering the Kinks specifically the proto-metal gem, “You Really Got Me.” Raunchy guitar, operatic hard-rock vocal squeals, the visual and aural feast summoned Sunset Strip circa 1978 more than Swinging London circa 1964. Then we resumed our culinary mission, treated to a fading serenade of Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.”

River-front dining

Which brings us to dinner on the deck alongside the Cape Fear River. After passing a furious woman screaming at a treacherous man, we found our spot at Elijah’s. My companion ordered a catfish sandwich and a scrumptious appetizer of shrimp covered in globs of jack cheese on horizontal slices of French bread, and I had scallops, oysters, catfish, shrimp and coleslaw. There’s nothing quite like the combination of deep-fried seafood, the sound of the river lapping against the supporting posts and light dancing across lines of tables on the floating deck.

Free wireless service at the Red Roof Inn

The best lodging deal on a Friday night proved to be the Red Roof Inn, a roadside establishment set like practically all of them on Market Street midway between the beach and historic Wilmington. As an added bonus, our motel offered free long-distance calls, continental breakfast and free wireless internet. We undertook a plan to lie in bed and watch a Japanese soap opera. The Red Roof Inn’s signal was rather weak and we lost some time trying to connect. Luckily, the wireless signal from the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts was running strong, and we were able to avail ourselves of this transnational cultural experience.

Encountering recurrent punk-rock hitchhikers

Departing from Wilmington, we ran across two celluloid-perfect, punk-rock boys on the roadside thumbing for a ride west toward the Triangle, one of them wearing a Misfits T-shirt. Selfishly perhaps, we passed them by. Then, after stopping for gas, we passed them again about a half-mile down the road. We had to traverse some two-lane back roads before we found our way to Interstate 40. A couple exits to the west, we encountered them again. This time the guy wearing the Misfits shirt was grinning ear to ear. What kind of highway-thumb magic they possessed we never learned, but we considered abandoning the car on the side of the road, and throwing our lot in with theirs.