Friday, January 30, 2009

It's OKRA, not OPRAH...

The Alligator River Marina turned out to be a fine and friendly place, perhaps the apex of southern hospitality we have encountered thus far.

John here....

The marina is run by Morris and Wanda Pritchett - she's "Miss Wanda" to one and all - and because of its choice location just before the Alligator River Bridge, it was going to be pretty much "full-up," as Morris described it while he skillfully jockeyed both sail and power boats into the slips.

With the sun finally making a cameo appearance -- and so many boats snugged up together -- it didn't take long for heads to start popping up out of hatches like some nautical version of the "Whack-a-Mole" game. Conversations soon ensued, friendships were quickly formed, and it came as no surprise when the boat-to-boat grapevine made it known: "Cruiser Party at Five O'Clock."

It was BYOB in the cruiser's lounge, which is a living-room arrangement in the same building that houses the showers and laundry facilities at the "Gator." The Gypsies crew brought pre-made rum and Coke concoctions -- vodka and grapefruit for Colleen -- and with a dozen or so boaters in such close quarters, the conversations were many, varied and entertaining.

So was dinner.

The Alligator Marina revolves in large part around a Shell gas station. On the marina side, that's where boats take on fuel, and on the land side -- US Route 64 -- it caters to motorists bound for the Outer Banks. Inside, it's more than a gas station. It's a convenience store and gift shop with a combination deli and restaurant, and when word got out that Miss Wanda had ribs on that night's specials menu, all of the cruisers made a bee-line for the restaurant.

In hindsight, perhaps it was not so much a bee-line for us. Being Gypsies, we lingered longer at the party than some of the others, and thus, Miss Wanda was ribless when we arrived. We called an audible, however, so Tammy and Colleen went for fried chicken -- Southern fried chicken, naturally -- while Doug and I went for the North Carolina Barbecue Plate. Miss Wanda took great pains to explain what we'd be getting.

"This is Eastern Carolina Barbecue," she said in her honeyed drawl. "It's vinegar-based. It's not like the barbecue in Western Carolina. That's tomato-based."

In a few short sentences, she summed up one of the most significant cultural divides in all of North Carolina. When it came time to choose side dishes, I saw okra on the menu. I asked her if it was fried or steamed, and she looked at me with raised eyebrows.

"Most Yankees don't even know what okra is," she said, and how she pegged me for a Yankee, I'll never know. "They don't even know enough to ask how it's cooked. They say, 'What's that O,K,A,R stuff?' I just tell 'em to get the onion rings."

I got the okra. It was fried and it was outstanding, as were the mammoth 24-ounce cans of Coors Light we used to wash our food down, beers that cost us all of $1.49 apiece.

Morning saw the usual mass exodus from the marina, with most of the boats following the identical route south to Belhaven, NC. That required passage down the Alligator River and through the very narrow Pungo River Canal, where partially submerged logs and stumps -- plus shallow water -- made the passage an interesting one.

No comments:

Post a Comment