Cape Hatteras 2006

A week ago, I was feeling that I could definitely use some time away from the constant tedium of work. Even the best job in the world gets to you after awhile. Thankfully I had been invited to hang out for a week at Cape Hatteras, one of the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, and was soon on my 400 mile journey to the most relaxing place on Earth.

Eleven people made the pilgrimage to this remote, backwater mecca: JT, Bill, Heather, Greg, Barry, Jen, Tom, Ann, Sarah, my mother Bridget, and myself. Though our journeys varied greatly in time and distance, we all had one thing in mind: to do absolutely nothing of importance all week. Some of us were more successful at this than the others.

For instance, Tom accidentally cut a hole in his floor, so he decided to build a dumbwaiter. Tom, Ann, and Mom had some art business to take care of, and JT was prepping a computer for Sarah. And I had my unhealthy obsession with trying to take a picture that didn't suck, so I went off by myself several times exploring the island, beaches, and lighthouse.

But when it comes down to it, what's most important about a beach vacation? Swimming? Shelling? Being with friends? Drinking? All of these are important, especially the drinking, as it can help both swimming, shelling, and hanging with friends. But in this post-9/11 world, the most crucial part of any good vacation is being mistaken for a terrorist.

Now, I have a history of being pulled out of security lines for looking shady. I can't help it, blame my parents. This time, however, was a complete surprise, since there was not an airport in sight of this remote island.

We headed down to the ferry landing in order to take a ship to Ocracoke for some shelling. Our two black Jeep Cherokees were herded onto the ferry, and the voyage commenced. I immediately hopped out of the car and started taking pictures of the early morning scenery. This was the first mistake.

The second mistake involves a certain hat that was found on the beach several years ago by JT. This hat is no ordinary hat. It is a State Ferry System hat, a hat that is only given to employees of the State Ferry System. A Hat with a capital H. And as special as this sounds, keep in mind that it is a hat.

After we removed all the shells from the beach, it was time to return to Hatteras. As luck would have it, we ended up on the same ferry that brought us over (the “Chicomicomico” for those interested). Me being me, the camera came out again and I went to town. I took some nice photos and was walking around when Tom came up to me, “They might ask you about your camera. One of the ferrymen has been questioning JT about his hat.”

“Ummm, okay,” was my only reply, but my thoughts were racing. How had they found out that I had a camera? Was I being so obvious with the 5 pound instrument that I so stealthily held up to my face for minutes at a time? I assumed anyone who saw me would think the 300mm telephoto was merely a harmless, overly large cell phone. The mission would be compromised if they realized my deadly intentions: to take a nice photo. But I steadied myself for the task, and continued my pursuit of the perfect photo.

I was heading to the bathroom when I was intercepted by two of the ever-vigilant ferry workers.

“Sir, can I speak with you a moment?”

“Of course. What can I do for you?” I could feel the sweat forming on the back of my neck, and my heart pumping faster than the ferry's engines.

“I noticed you were taking a lot of pictures.”

Damn! How had they found out? I had practiced for months for this mission, nothing was going to compromise it now!

“Yes, it's a really neat ship, and I think I got some good shots,” was my meek reply.

“Okay sir, thank you.”

They left me on my own, yet I was fearful. What would happen once we reached the dock? The brutality of the Carolina Ferry System is world-renowned. Was I going to be cast into the ferry's brig, never to see land or light again? Or would I be tied to one of the pilings and left for the sea gulls? I needed to complete the mission, I needed to get those photos home. I quietly slipped the memory card from the camera, and slid it into Tom's shirt pocket.

“Don't let them take it. Remember me.”

The final ten minutes of the trip were tense. The dock slowly came into sight, and it was time to return to the cars. Thinking the worst was over, I recovered my memory card from Tom. I got back into Car 1 with Greg and JT, while Tom drove Car 2 with Bridget and Jen. We headed back up the island, but didn't get too far before flashing lights and a wailing siren caused me to go clammy once more.

Turning around, I could see Tom being pulled over by a patrol car.

“JT, just keep going, leave your father behind, it's what he would have wanted.”

We barreled down the highway, but our flight was doomed. The police car pulled past Tom, and signaled for us to turn around and follow him back.

“Do you know why I pulled you guys over?”

“No officer.”

“We had reports of two Jeeps acting suspiciously. According to the ferry crew, someone had a camera. We've also had reports of a hat.”

The vitriol in his voice told me he had a thing against hats.

JT spoke up to defend his cap, “I found this on the beach a few years ago, that's how I got it.”

“I see,” the officer didn't look like he was buying it. “And the camera? I bet you found that on the beach too.”

“No sir, that was mine,” I brandished my camera, “I was the one taking pictures.”

“You need to be more careful in the future. I'm going to let you go with a warning this time. There's been a lot of picture-taking, and hat-wearing on the ferry lately. We're trying to keep tabs on suspicious folk. Enjoy the rest of your vacation.”

As he turned away, I heard him murmur, “…if you can.”

Apparently safe for now, I got back to the rented house we were using as a base, and successfully downloaded the pictures. Once again, photography has defeated the dark overlords of the Carolina Ferry System.

Viva la Sombrero!

This article was updated on April 28, 2023