Full Circle In Virginia Beach
It’s a wonder I ever came back. To Virginia Beach, that is.
My first visit here was gothic.
It was 1975 and I’d just graduated from college. Another penniless friend and I decided that after four years of never going anywhere on spring break or doing anything other than studying and working - OK, and dating cute guys - we deserved a vacay.
So we loaded up her Chevy with camping gear and set out for ... Virginia Beach.
As we all know, May tends to be a balmy month here in the Resort City. The perfect place to thaw out after your last semester at a college in chilly Pennsylvania. A great place to get that base tan going.
Not that year.
It was raw and overcast when we arrived. Worse, we were staying in a pup tent at the KOA campground (not sure what it was called back then) on General Booth Boulevard.
No sooner had we pitched our little tent than the rain started. The two of us sat cross-legged inside and stared at each other over our Coleman lantern. We played cards. We read Cosmo. We wished we’d gone to Florida.
Finally, we went to the strip.
The bars were terrible. Guys with super-short haircuts - Navy guys, I figured out later - kept hitting on us. And at the end of that night we had to return to soggy sleeping bags.
After two days of damp and boredom we’d had enough. We pooled our money and got a room at the old Viking Motel on Pacific.
When one of the maids stole my wind-up alarm clock - the one that had gotten me up for all those 8 o’clocks in college - we decided we’d had enough post-graduation fun.
We headed north. Never to return.
Fast forward about 20 years. This friend and I had lost touch but found each other as a college reunion was approaching. She lives in Boston and emailed to ask where I was.
“Virginia Beach,” I replied.
“Very funny,” she said. “Seriously, where are you?”
How I came to live at the Beach was a long story, but easily told. I’d just gotten back to the States after three years working as a freelance journalist in Ireland. I was broke. I needed a job. The Virginian-Pilot had plenty of money in those days and needed a general assignment reporter. It was a marriage made in Tidewater.
An offer to be a feature writer at the New Orleans Times-Picayune came one day after I’d accepted the Pilot job. I actually wept over the missed opportunity, but honored my commitment.
Best decision of my life.
In the summer of 1984 I moved to the place I’d call home for the next 30-plus years. The place I’d meet my husband, have my children, put down roots.
I quickly found that it’s glorious here when the sun shines. And when you get to know this area, when you aren’t sleeping in a tent, it’s also pretty great in the rain. The people are kind and generous. That’s due in part to those guys in the short haircuts and their families.
This week WAVY-TV 10 did a story on Collin Dozier, a Beach guy who stopped his car in the middle of the night recently to prevent a stranger from jumping off the Lesner Bridge.
It was an extraordinary act. Then again, it’s the sort of behavior I’ve come to expect from the folks around here where faith and good works often go hand in hand.
Why do I care so passionately about Virginia Beach? Because of people like Mr. Dozier. People who look out for their neighbors. Even neighbors they haven’t met.
I usually write my Friday post late at night on Thursday. Not this week. I’m writing this Thursday morning because a friend and her husband are coming to town and I want to show them a good time.
Which friend? The one I huddled with in a wet tent 44 years ago.