Why Did It Take Me So Long to Write About Tybee Island?
Off the coast of Savannah
Tybee Island is a memorable place to visit even if it's only a one-time experience. But I've been there a hundred times. My mother lives there. I've written a novel about it - well a novella. And the thought of writing an article about it has flit through my mind a dozen times. I've always put it off because I was distracted by something else. Something I didn't know so much about. But circumstances have conspired to prompt me - finally - to put my experiences in print.
It is always interesting to see some place you know well through the eyes of someone who is seeing it for the first time. But. I've already seen the sunrise over the sea oats. I've seen the pelicans skim the surface of the water, then climb, turn and Kamikaze dive for the fish they sight. I've walked the north beach with a school of dolphins following me just out past the knee-high shallows. I've climbed the lighthouse and waited in line in June to eat the shrimp omelets at The Breakfast Club. I've fed the alligators and the cats at The Crab Shack. I've fought the traffic to see Fourth of July fireworks from the pier on July 3rd. I've seen a loaded tanker emerge around the north point like a newborn coming out of the womb.
I know Tybee. I love Tybee. I want my readers to see it through my eyes. There are too many things I can tell you that a first-time visitor can't. Yes, the owner/chef of The Breakfast Club, Jodee Sadowsky, cooked for the John Kennedy wedding on Cumberland Island, just a little further south from Tybee. Yes, he's a Chicago Cubs fan, which doesn't keep the die-hard Braves fans of Savannah from waiting in line for his grits. But I can also tell you that anyone who orders a side besides grits to go with their eggs or pancakes has to pay an extra $1.50 for it. Good for Sadowsky, I say. I say, if you're going to skip the best thing on the menu, you ought to pay an ignorance fine. What a first-timer also wouldn't know, is that it is worth the extra wait to hold out for a seat at the counter. For no more money, you get the running banter between the cooks, which is as good as the old opening monologue between Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon or Jimmy Fallon and his sidekick (for those under 40).
A first-time probably knows that they do fireworks on the main beach around the pier on the third of July. But they probably don't know that on New Year's Eve, if you pick a spot somewhere on the north side of the island, you can see the fireworks from both River Street in Savannah and from about a half dozen sites over on Hilton Head across the channel in South Carolina. They look like quarter-sized kaleidoscopes popping up in the distance. Happy New Year and then some!
Frequent visitors might know that on the weekend before Memorial Day the island hosts a Beach Bum Parade, which is little more than a glorified water fight. It began several years ago when the local men's baseball team finally won an annual tournament. The players took to the main drag, Butler Avenue, down the length of the island with water balloons thrown, not only at each other, but also at the unsuspecting bystanders who were foolish enough to come out and watch the spectacle carried on by - supposedly - grown men. From there it grew to an annual event complete with floats fitted with water cannons and such. Drenching the audience is the goal and has been elevated to an art form.
For a few years, the locals tried holding the parade on the actual weekend of Memorial Day, but too many tourists just didn't get it. It wasn't the same. So they moved it back to the week before, and the full-time residents or snowbirds (winter-only residents) revel in the madness. My daughter-in-law and I attended one year. We picked the elevation of a bus stop bench to stay above the fray, armed with an umbrella to protect us from the deluge that would pass us by on the street as the floats went past our own personal viewing stand.
We might as well have painted a huge, red bull's eye on our backs. In our innocence we stood there enjoying each float more than the last, when a bunch of guys snuck around from behind us and pummelled us with water balloons from below the protection of our umbrella. The only purpose the umbrella served was to catch their attention as weak prey. We had to flee to our car and lock the doors to escape them. It was all good. Served us right for thinking we could stay high and dry at the Beach Bum Parade
What they absolutely have to do on Tybee is stop making movies there. Every holiday the island is swarmed by tourists. Every three-day weekend is worse than the last. Now, I'm sure these are all perfectly lovely people who have every right to spend their holidays anywhere in American that they choose. But this is not Panama City or Orlando. No building may be built higher than three stories. Hotels are limited to the main strip near the pier. Most of the housing is individual homes or condos. There is a city ordinance against music after 11 p.m. and groups of more than fifty congregating even in a private domain.
But where movies are made, movie stars follow. It is well known that the island is the home, rather one of the homes of Sandra Bullock. She fell in love with the low country making a movie with Ben Affleck a decade or so ago. What is not so well known is that she is hardly ever here, but her pine trees are growing unabated to a height that is taking all her neighbor's views of the north beach. And most of those folks live here full-time. Maybe she'll read this article and do something for her island community, like top out her trees. The neighbors have all benefited from her ability to buy, not just a beach house, but the three lots surrounding it. That luxury is helping to preserve some of the view where anyone else would have built three other three-story houses on those lots by now. So there are pluses and minuses to having a movie star in the neighborhood. Tybee is known for its tolerance, and there are really no hard feelings - just lost views..
Tybee is also becoming a location of choice for weddings. We had my first son's wedding there a few years ago and had the time of our lives. All you need is a permit from Tybee City Hall that guarantees you a slice of the beach reserved for your ceremony. There's a catch though. They won't give you a permit without confirmation the bride and groom have undergone premarital counselling. You've got to love a town that feels that strongly about insuring young couples get off to a good start..
My one warning, no, my two warnings are these. First, pay to park. Everywhere. Anywhere. I've spent my inheritance on parking fines on Tybee Island. You can park virtually nowhere for free. My parents purchase a resident's yearly parking pass for one hundred dollars, and we try to use their vehicle whenever possible when we venture from their house because, on our own, we can't seem to keep from finding yet another way to snag a parking ticket. Beware.
My second warning concerns the best beach on the island: south beach. It is the most fun at low tide because the sand is shifting on the island and creates these wonderful sandbars and tidal pools down at the lower end. The horseshoe crabs and sand sharks are easily visible, and if you venture out to the furthest sandbar, you feel like you are walking on the surface of the moon, but with sunshine and a welcoming breeze.
Here's the warning. You'll be out on the sandbar and suddenly you notice a lifeguard from his perch on the beach headed your way. You wonder what in the world his problem is when you realize - you are the one with the problem. The tide is coming in, and you are all but stranded out on that sandbar. And the current between the sandbar and the beach has gone from being a little bit of a tug when you crossed it to becoming incredibly strong. By the time the lifeguard reaches you, he and his safety float are a sight for sore eyes. The under currents all along the beach have the potential to be life-threatening. Pay attention to yellow and red flags - and the tides.
And now that I've finally written about Tybee Island, a word to the wise. If you have an idea for an article - write it. Do it today before someone else writes it, and you have to read their article instead of your own.
And do visit Tybee Island, aka the Redneck Riviera. Just, please, not on a national holiday. Any other time, I'll meet you at Hugapoo's and buy you a cold beer.