they're baaaack

Fun in the sun at Surfside Beach, SC by Robert S. Donovan via flickr

In case you’re emerging from a coma over the last couple of months and somehow missed the change, it’s the tourist season again. The signs are everywhere – but, alas, mostly here at the beach.

Gone are the days, for a while at least, when I could walk on the beach with my dog ’Dro (short for Pedro) and meet up with no one but myself.

Good place for doing that.

The late, great Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard wrote memorably that on a back road in Georgia at night, you could ask yourself a question and get an honest answer.

In South Carolina, a beach walk on a winter’s day is your best bet. Ranks right up there with truth serum.

But my next solitary beach walk of any season will have to wait. The beaches are thronged with tourists from all over, and ’Dro is not particular about where he cocks a leg. Good citizen that I am, I carry a plastic bag for his other business, but even No. 2 is best conducted without an audience, especially of strangers. So, for the time being, Dro and I are constrained to walk near the beach, not on it.

But that’s not to say that our alternative routes are without their compensations. For instance, all those license plates in parking lots along the strand: Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Georgia, West Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, Alabama, Connecticut, Michigan, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Illinois, District of Columbia, Indiana, Colorado, New York, Florida, Utah, Japan — just kidding on that last one, but I did see Ontario.)

By my count, that’s nearly half of the 50 states in the union! And I probably missed a few. (Dro is nodding his head yes as I write this, but I have apologized again and again for forgetting to bring his treats on our walk.)

Besides the various states, there’s all that other stuff we put on our vehicles, identifiers of all kinds. The owners of these cars obviously love their alma mater (Auburn, William & Mary, Washington and Lee, Wake Forest, Southeastern University, NYU, etc.), their school teams (Tar Heels, Bulldogs, Buckeyes, Crimson Tide, Wildcats, Vols, Longhorns, Cavaliers, Gators, Tigers, Spartans, to name a few), their country (the U.S. of A., of course), their children (“Young genius on board”), their grandchildren (“Ask me about my grandkids”), their occupation (nurse, engineer, Marine, you-name-it), their causes…

Wait a minute; Dro is petitioning for my attention. Yes, Dro, of course, they love their pets! And, no, I won’t ever again forget the treats. Promise.

I realize that Dro and I are seeing only one slice of Americana, the segment of the population that can: 1) afford a beach vacation, and 2) chose the beach instead of, say, skiing in Vermont. So the artifacts here are decidedly middle class and upward (or downward, if you insist), but nonetheless interesting, at least to a man walking a sulking dog.

The ubiquitous peace sign, a throwback to the ’70s, is still with us. More au courant are concerns for the environment: “Lights out; sea turtles dig the dark;” devotees of biking: “Share the road;” the occasional contrarian: “I’d rather be fishing;” and the dog-lovers, bless their hearts: “I am an animal shelter volunteer” and “All my children have paws.”

Dro liked that last one, apparently unaware that it might include cats.

Of interest, too, is the self-promotion on the license plates of many of the states. New York calls itself The Empire State. New Mexico proclaims itself The Land of Enchantment. North Carolina boasts that it was First in Flight. Florida is still the Sunshine State. And mountainous Utah encourages us to Live Elevated, the awkwardness of which suggests that it was a reluctant compromise after wiser heads nixed the obvious first choice: Live High.

And let’s not overlook the so-called “message” plates: the self-accused UNKOUTH, the fun-loving JOYRYDN, the proprietary MYCAR, and my favorite, TXT L8R.

My least favorite, perhaps was a bumper sticker saying, “Your village called; their idiot is missing.”

Sonofagun! I didn’t think they even knew I was gone.

“Did you, Dro?”

Wipe that smile off your face, dawg.

Image: Fun in the sun at Surfside Beach, SC by Robert S. Donovan via flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.
Robert Lamb

Robert Lamb

I grew up in Augusta, Ga., where I attended Boys' Catholic High. After a stint in the Navy, I attended the University of Georgia, majoring in English (Class of '61). I began my (wholly unexpected) journalism career on the old Augusta Herald, an evening paper, and went to work for The Constitution in, I think, 1976. I left in Sept. '82 to write The Great American Novel. That goal has proved remarkably elusive, but my first attempt (Striking Out, in 1991) was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award and my second (Atlanta Blues, in 2004) contended for an Edgar Award. My latest novel won no honors but might well get me nominated for a hanging. Titled A Majority of One, it is about a clash between religion and the Constitution over book-banning in a small Georgia town. I've also published a collection of short stories and poems: Six of One, Half Dozen of Another. Before retirement, I taught creative writing and American literature at the University of South Carolina and its Honors College, and feature writing in its School of Journalism. I maintain a now-and-then blog at and I walk my dog on the beach a lot at Pawleys Island, S.C.