Lost in Time
Getting to Charleston proved to be easy, in a difficult sort of way. Our friend Anne’s parents live in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and she had invited me and my wife up there for the Thanksgiving weekend. We were delighted to accept, as I had heard nothing but good things about Hilton Head. I knew it was an upscale beachfront resort town that normally would have been way beyond our means. The opportunity to stay there for free over the holidays was a chance we couldn’t pass up. So my wife and Anne left it up to me to book the tickets over the internet.
I was only too happy to comply. It would give me something useful to do on the internet and somewhat justify our high-speed connection at home. So my quest began. To make a long story short, I booked tickets to Hilton Head airport arriving late on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the last Thursday in November, and returning to New Orleans Sunday evening. I got a great deal on US Airways, the only airline that flies directly into Hilton Head, for only $150 a ticket. I clicked away without giving a second thought to the screen asking me if I was sure everything was correct for my travel days before purchasing my tickets. I praised myself for my ingenuity in getting such cheap tickets on the busiest travel day of the year.
I am living proof of the adage that says “if something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” A few days after I had booked my non-refundable tickets, I discovered that Thanksgiving is not the last Thursday of November; it is the fourth Thursday of November. Yes, it was no wonder I had gotten such a great price on my tickets: they were for the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Anne was a little freaked out about the whole thing because there was no way she could go on the weekend I had actually booked, since she had finals that week. But she was okay when we offered to pay the difference to go the week after that. My wife and I had no problem going whenever we wanted, so we just kept our reservations, and got a couple of friends who worked for hotel chains to get us some discounted rooms. Of course, in hindsight, it would have been cheaper just to change our flights too and stay with Anne’s parents, but we were looking forward to a little adventure on our own, unencumbered by tagalongs.
We didn’t want to stay with Anne’s parents, whom we had never met, without Anne, so we made reservations in Charleston, South Carolina. I still don’t know why we decided to stay there, rather than Hilton Head or nearby Savannah, but it sounded like a nice place and not too far away. So our mutated plan was to fly into Hilton Head, stay the night, and rent a car to drive to Charleston and stay the rest of the time there. Our friends got us into the Hilton Head Hilton for free the first night. Then in Charleston we were going to stay at the Renaissance Inn for three nights at the employee rate. We were happy about our little luxurious stay.
At Hilton Head, we arrived at midnight. The taxi driver who brought us to our hotel was extremely knowledgeable about the place and he entertained and informed us about the history of Hilton Head Island. It seems that William Hilton discovered the island, but mistook it for the headlands of the continent. It wasn’t until later that it was discovered to actually be an island, hence the oxymoron Hilton Head Island. I also found out that it has nothing to do with Hilton Hotels, though they didn’t miss such a great marketing opportunity and plunked the Hilton Head Hilton smack dab in the middle of the south coast.
The residents have adopted some very eco-friendly policies for their little island. There are no illuminated parking lots or streets, only a few security lights. This is so as not to confuse the hatchling sea turtles and have them head away from the sea. Also, there are strict rules about signage and setbacks. There are no neon or lighted signs, only very small wooden ones. Buildings are set well back from the roads and are always behind a stand of trees. This gives the island the appearance of being quite uninhabited, especially from the back of a taxi at midnight. I was happy for the sea turtles, but couldn’t help feeling like something was slightly amiss by this policy.
I was astounded the next day to see buildings peeking out from behind the trees. In the darkness of night, I thought we had passed nothing but empty woods! It turns out that the island is quite well developed, just enshrouded in Nature.
Except for the guardhouses. Unless you stick to the main roads, you can’t go anywhere in Hilton Head without a security pass. We found this out when we decided to just pop in on Anne’s parents to say hi. Every community is behind a guardhouse, even the hotels and countless golf courses. After a rather embarrassing wait at the guard shack while they contacted Anne’s parents for our unexpected visit and legitimate residents of the place were waiting in an endless line behind our car (which was a pimp-daddy red Pontiac Grand Prix), Anne’s dad came out and met us at the entrance, since it’s evidently a much bigger deal than just ringing up the guard and saying “let so-and-so in.”
At any rate we spent a very nice hour or so meeting them. One sort of strange thing was that they seemed rather disturbed at our plans to stay in Charleston rather than the much nearer Savannah, Georgia. I still don’t know why, but they kept trying to get us to change our plans and stay in Savannah. It seemed they couldn’t imagine driving all the way to Charleston from Hilton Head, even though it didn’t seem far on the map at all. He told us that if we wanted to get to Charleston before night, then we should get going now, since it was at least a four-hour drive. We thanked them for their hospitality and made our move.
On the road, I kept trying to understand how they could have possibly calculated the trip at four hours. From Hilton Head, you take Highway 278 to I-95 North for about 25 miles. At exit 33, take Highway 17 North for about 80 miles and it brings you into the heart of Charleston.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.