A rainy day in Myrtle Beach (hey, it happens)...Pinball baseball/great cuisine
MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA - Dang. A guy goes from fabulous weather in southern Ontario in October and flies to Myrtle Beach and is greeted with ... rain.
It wasn't a big storm or anything, but the grey-green breakers were rolling in pretty heavy down this way on Monday and again Tuesday. Still, there's always something to do in a town this big, so I went and checked on the downtown Boardwalk.
The original one, or one of them, was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954; an event most Torontonians should know something about given the extensive damage in our fair city and loss of lives. Anyway, it's quite nice, and they also have a giant Ferris Wheel called the SkyWheel, similar to the London Eye.
I wandered about and then found a small arcade right on the boardwalk. Usually, I hate arcades but given the drizzle it seemed fine. And, then, suddenly. There. They. Were. A long bank of old-time baseball machines from the 1950s.
For those who've never seen these, they're truly old-school "pinball" style machines where you drop in a quarter (the Fun Plaza Arcade uses real coins, not tokens, thank goodness) and get a series of big, silver balls "pitched" at you. You slam a small lever (how old-school is that) and "swing" at the pitch and launch the ball towards a series of small holes at the top of the pinball board, if you will. The holes are labelled "out, single, double," etc....
Every time you get a hit, a bell rings and a pop-up player starts to circle the bases. It's cheesy and simple and absolutely wonderful. I went on Monday and the machine was firing pitches at me faster than Justin Verlander or Nolan Ryan. But I notched 18 runs before making three outs. Tuesday I went again and managed maybe six runs in four games. In my defence, the machines were quite slow and I had trouble adjusting, and one of them kept throwing pitches way outside and they were looked like a Roy Halladay back-door slider. Really, they did.
A guy who works there told me the baseball and skeeball games are most popular. "But the machines also require a lot of maintenance," he added with a grin.
Some folks find the Myrtle Beach boardwalk tacky. It is. But it's also great. I mean, who doesn't love deep-fried funnel cakes or greasy hot dogs or tacky bars with country stations blaring or classic rock on the radio and $2 beers? I had a great blackened fish sandwich at Dirty Dan's and terrific sweet potato fries and spicy peel-and-eat shrimp, plus a beer, for $20. Try THAT in Toronto.
My waitress also was great. I was taking notes about the menu and she came over and said, "Hey, you writing me a love letter?"
I'm staying inland a bit, at the lovely Marina Inn at Grande Dunes. It's on the intracoastal waterway; a quiet spot well away from the banging pinball machines and tacky t-shirt shops. It's a nice hotel with spacious, well-laid-out rooms.
I had dinner at their renowned restaurant, Waterscapes, which specializes in Carolina cuisine such as shrimp and grits and locally raised meat and veggies. I had fabulous crab cakes without an ounce of filler, then a main course of local quail done two ways; grilled and deep-fried. It was quite tasty, served alongside some nicely grilled/charred green onions. But the star of the show was fig-covered cornbread pudding; sweet and savoury and rich and filling as all get out.
Kudos to chef James Clark, who shows (as do many others) that there's far more to Myrtle Beach than Ripley's Believe It or Not and the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove souvenir shop, and how great a name is that??
More to come this week and next on Myrtle Beach and local golf at PIne Lakes and Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, plus brief visits to Charleston, Savannah and Amelia Island and Ponte Vedra in Florida....