El Cap and I are in Hilton Head for a few days to see his parents. We do this periodically because he is a good sort of son who likes to see his parents, and also, well, Hilton Head rocks. Aside from it not being in Florida, it’s pretty great. It’s the best study in tourism planning I’ve seen: the place can be packed, and they’ve worked it out so that you don’t realize how crowded it is until you get past the last roundabout and you see droves of vaguely pink tourists heading back to their cars in the off-site parking lot.
And this is how the conversation started. For those of you who read my non-Gabber blog (shameless plug: CathySalustri.com), you know that El Cap and I have often-bizarre conversations, everything from road signs with anteaters on them to why he thinks Rhianna’s music is fine as long as Andy Williams sings it.
Here’s what we talk about on road trips:
Me: Oh, hey, Gulfport’s going to pave the beach parking lot. I’m thinking of writing a column about it. I don’t want to see it paved.
El Cap: Why are they paving it?
Me: Er, I’m not sure. I guess because the old one isn’t working.
El Cap: It works. We parked there the other night. Are they using shell?
Me: No, they’re paving it with, you know, pavement.
El Cap: So it’s going to be a black parking lot?
El Cap: What about the runoff into the bay?
Me: They say the sand and shells are so hard packed now it doesn’t really matter, that it will be the same.
El Cap: Do they have a study that tells them that?
Me: Uh, no. I don’t think so.
El Cap: Why can’t they just grade and rake it?
Me: I don’t know.
El Cap: Has council voted on this yet?
Me: I’m not sure. I think they’ll have to, though, because of the cost.
El Cap: How much will it cost?
Me: I don’t know. More than $10,000, probably.
El Cap: When are they doing this?
Me: Ah, I’m not sure. Probably this coming budget year. I should probably call the city manager and ask.
El Cap: They’re going to have to take it down a foot or so to put in new basalt or put a new foundation in, right, to put in the blacktop? Why can’t they just turn it over – take what’s there, mix it all up, lay it down again, and make it semi-permeable again? They could put in drains.
Me: Er, I don’t know.
El Cap: Once you pave it, you can’t put a bike path in, you can’t plant it. I don’t think they should do anything until they have a plan. Have businesses been complaining about people tracking in shells?
Me: I don’t think so.
El Cap: Well, these are questions that would need to be answered before they pave it.
Me: I’m sure they know the answers.
El Cap: Who’s “they”?
Me: City staff. What would you do instead?
El Cap: I don’t know. It’s a beach parking lot; let’s stay beachy. Everybody likes our quaint alleys because they’re not paved. I think that should hold true for the parking. That’s me talking with no knowledge whatsoever, but it seems easier to get it re-graded every year or two instead of the maintenance blacktop requires.
Me: Well, look at me, I have no knowledge of anything here, and I’m more than happy to talk about it.
El Cap: Who knows? It might be a nice spot for a carousel.
El Cap’s snarky references aside about my rabid support for a carousel on the beach, he did inspire me to do my job. I called our city manager and asked him about the project, and the bottom line? The city’s open to other solutions, but no one’s presented anything better. This isn’t an approved project, and the lot does need work: those shells are so packed down the automotive runoff doesn’t go anywhere but on our beach and into our bay.
I know we’re not Hilton Head. We don’t have the resources for off-site parking. That ship has sailed, and that’s OK: We’re our own town, with our own character, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
But that doesn’t keep me from hearing Joni Mitchell in my head.
Contact Cathy Salustri.
This originally appeared in print and online in the June 26 edition of the Gabber Newspaper.