It’s amazing how much difference 10 months can make, especially for a kid.
My 5-year-old daughter, Charley, grew an inch or two in the last 10 months. And, to be certain, when you are a 5-year-old who loves going on midway rides, that extra inch or two means everything.
We took our annual trip to Myrtle Beach last week. In fact, as I’m typing this on a partly sunny Friday morning, I’ve got the patio door open, listening to the sounds of the beach come to life. The waves crashing against the shore. A few kids splashing and wrestling in the pool below our balcony. The ice cream man making his first runs down 77th Avenue, all the way to the edge of the sand.
Going to Myrtle Beach is one of the rites of passage of being a South Carolinian. Oh, sure, Hilton Head is nicer. Edisto is more quaint. Folly Beach is more hip. Charleston is, well, Charleston.
But Myrtle Beach is something else altogether. It’s extraordinarily tacky and nostalgically charming at the same time. You aren’t going to find serenity at Myrtle the same way you would at, say, Kiawah Island.
But you can go to a miniature golf course that has a hole that is surrounded by a giant skull with smoke pouring out of its eyes. Or shop at one of approximately 1,000 Wings or Eagles stores. Or eat pancakes at one of the seemingly dozens of “pancake houses” along Ocean Boulevard or North Kings Highway. (Olympic Flame Pancake House is tops. The debate ends there.)
At Myrtle Beach in the summer, it’s always crowded. Did you ever see the movie “Summer Rental,” starring the late, great John Candy? Remember that scene when Candy’s character had to tiptoe across the crowded beach, stepping over sun bathers, knocking down kids’ sand castles and spilling water out of his cooler onto unsuspecting grandmothers? That’s me trying to get to my spot on Myrtle Beach.
And that’s OK. I don’t want to be alone out on the beach. The way I figure it, the more people there are out there, the more choices the sharks have for their lunch. And, yes, we saw a shark in the water on our first morning at the beach last week.
(Little known fact: There are more sharks between 72nd Avenue and 77th Avenue in Myrtle Beach than at any other place on earth. I have absolutely no science to back up this “fact,” so you’ll just have to take Professor Trainor’s word for it.)
MY DAUGHTER LOVES GOING to the beach, perhaps more than anything on earth. She is an unusually sweet and good kid, and typically very quiet when we are in the car. That wasn’t the case when we headed to the beach last week. From the time we left the driveway to the moment we passed into the Myrtle Beach city limits, she gave us the “Are we there yet?” routine.
You want to disappoint your kids? Well, when they ask you “Are we at the beach yet?” and you respond “No, we’re in Bishopville,” trust me, they’ll be really disappointed.
Charley has several boxes she has to check when we go to Myrtle Beach. Pool? Check. Play in the ocean? Check. Collect a bucket full of seashells? Check. Go to the Disney Store at the outlet mall? Check. Get ice cream? Check and check again.
And, of course, she has to check off the “amusement park” box at Family Kingdom. The seaside park, with its lights and sounds and rides and games, has been a draw for kids and families for years, even more since someone made the foolish decision to close the Pavilion.
As I’m sure you know, particularly if you’ve ever seen the movie “Big,” height is like currency for kids who want to get on rides at an amusement park. “You must be X inches tall to ride” and all of that.
In the last few years, Charley slowly has been working her way up the kiddie rides at Family Kingdom. First, she could get on the ones in which she had to be 32 inches tall. Then she conquered the ones in which she had to be 36 inches tall to ride.
Ah, but last year we hit a big barrier: 42 inches tall. The rides get a little bigger at that 42-inch threshold. During our 2013 beach trip, she was ALMOST 42 inches, but was just short.
She was able to get on the big ferris wheel last year, but only because the ride attendant, a cheeky fellow, put her against the height chart, then fluffed her hair up an inch or two to meet the 42-inch line. Aside from that, she was mostly shut out of the 42-inch rides.
However, that all changed this year. My girl is now exactly 42 inches tall, right on the button.
On Thursday night, I watched as Charley walked up to the big merry-go-round at Family Kingdom. “You must be 42 inches tall to ride alone” commanded the sign.
The ride attendant -- a tall, blonde girl with a heavy eastern European accent -- stopped Charley as she walked up.
“You must stand against sign,” pseudo-Brigitte Nielsen said. She then grabbed Charley by the shoulders and held her against the height sign. Her head was right on the 42-inch line. Still, pseudo-Brigitte wasn’t giving up. She bent down and eyed the top of Charley’s head, rubbing her chin ponderously, like Indiana Jones when he was considering how much sand to leave in the bag in the opening scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Finally, after about 10 agonizing seconds, pseudo-Brigitte declared “She can ride alone.”
And with that, Charley was off to ride the merry-go-round. No longer was 42 inches a barrier.
Annual Myrtle Beach trip? Check.
Trainor is a contributing columnist for the Index-Journal. Contact him at ChrisTrainorSC@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisTrainorSC. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.