Winter In The Redneck Riviera

Niki Taylor

© Copyright 2004 by Niki Taylor

Photo of Myrtle Beach in winter (c) 2003 by Richard Loller.

This is the story of the delightful tackiness of Myrtle Beach, SC and how my father won an unusual contest.

 Summer at the beach doesn’t do much for me. The high prices, heat, and crowds makes me more uncomfortable than a bad sunburn. That’s why I like to go to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in the off season especially in the winter especially in December. The beach in December might not be for everyone, but it’s ideal for those who like to economize and who don’t need to sweat. The average daytime temperature there is in the 50s, but it can go higher. Put on a coat, and you can call the beach your own as you walk down the wide swath of sand, picking up seashells and looking at the seagulls. There are no sunbathers to trip over or screaming swimmers to block out, just a peaceful walk surrounded by palm trees and hotels. At that time of year, the hotels are cheaper, and they offer inside amenities that make up for outside activities. The hotel we stayed in was called The Captain Quarters, and it had an indoor swimming pool, hot tubs, lazy river, and a bowling alley. Whereas in the summer, the oceanfront rooms with balconies carry high prices, but in December, they can be had for a song.

 Not only are the hotels cheaper, but you can find coupons to shops, shows, restaurants, and golfing. Myrtle Beach has plenty of these places, and they all vie for your business in the off season.

There are a wide variety of shopping places. Malls, outdoor villages, and outlets abound. There are a couple of malls with a new one going up. The outlets offer brand name stores. Two unique shopping villages reflect the tone of Myrtle Beach. Barefoot Landing, according to the brochure, is modeled after a New England fishing village. It has wooden buildings housing shops and restaurants. Rocking chairs are scattered on the porches for those who just want to people-watch instead of shop. They can also look at Barefoot Lake which surrounds the area. Ducks and other waterfowl can be found waddling along or floating in the water. There are even machines where you can buy food to feed them. Be careful with that though. Those suckers will follow you all over the place after you do that. The ground is composed of broken seashells. There’s really a maritime flavor to the place.

On the glitzier side is Broadway at the Beach. This is more of an entertainment hub with a pyramid-shaped Hard Rock Cafe, a miniature gold course, and movie theaters. Nightclubs and other restaurants are outside the Hard Rock. Ripley’s Aquarium there has an overhead shark aquarium that you can walk through and feel like you’re underwater. On the ground outside the clubs are bricks engraved with celebrity names who have visited. A unique feature is at the miniature golf course with a medieval theme. Every so often, a dragon will come out and puff out smoke. On cold days, the heat from that feels good.

 There are Christmas shops at both these places where you can have Christmas year round. Then there are the usual department stores such as Target and Kmart. Don’t knock them because I had celebrity sightings there. Actually celebrity impersonator sightings. Liza at Target and Elvis at Kmart. With a celebrity lookalike theater in town, you never know who you’ll see.

Myrtle Beach has experienced a boom in entertainment with shows and theaters. Besides the celebrity impersonator theater called Legends in Concert, there’s the Alabama theater connected to the Alabama singing group, The Palace, Medieval Times, and Carolina Opry. Next to the opry is Dixie Stampede, a dinner theater experience. Owned by country singer Dolly Parton, it’s a rodeo. They have competitions with horse riders and audience participation. Myrtle Beach has been called the Redneck Riviera, and Dixie Stampede highlights the redneck element. It’s a competition between the North and South. The people from the North sit one side of the arena, and the people from the South sit on the other. The people in the show do barrel racing, ostrich racing, and other activities to win for their side. In December, it’s the Christmas season so the South wears red and the North wears green. The winner puts a wreath on their side. Whoever gets the most wreaths win. They have Christmas activities such as a manger scene and an appearance by Santa Claus. The audience can participate in four activities. One is for children who race each other chasing chickens. Another is for couples who ride toy horses in a race. At the end, the whole audience participates by standing up from their seats shouting “Merry Christmas” and passing a candy cane down the row. Whichever side does it the fastest wins. One event in particular caused a great deal of excitement in our family as my father participated in the toilet seat tossing championship.

He was playing for the Southern side from North Carolina and a man from Canada was playing for the Northern side. They each got to toss three toilet seats at a pole in a redneck version of horseshoes. My father’s toilet seats were red, and the Yankee’s were green. The tension was high in the audience as we ate our meal without utensils: chicken and beef, potatoes, corn on the cob, soup, biscuits, dessert, and tea or Pepsi. While we slurped and licked our fingers, the two men went at it. Although neither one hit a perfect ringer, my father was the closest, and he was the toilet seat tossing champion or the potty pitcher as he was later called. He was awarded a medal with a red ribbon, and the medal had the engraving of a horse and Dixie Stampede on it. A wreath was placed on our side, and the South won for the night. The South did rise again!

After the glorious victory, we went to Broadway at the Beach to look at the Christmas lights. With my father wearing his medal proudly, we took pictures of the decorations as we romped by the stores, restaurants, and the surrounding lake. It was cold but not too cold as we celebrated the victory at the beach. To cap off the perfect evening, he took a victory lap around the lazy river at the hotel. So come on down to Myrtle Beach. It may not have the quiet class of its South Carolina cousin Hilton Head, but it’s loud and proud in its gaudiness, and it’s guaranteed fun. Just watch out for flying toilet seats and Elvis.

Niki Taylor is a freelance writer and book reviewer in North Carolina. She has written for the web and magazines.

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