Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Morehead City, North Carolina

"A huge fish just came in, I'm not sure what it is..." and so a giant bluefin arrives at the dock outside Morehead's Sanitary restaurant. They say the season has started slowly in North Carolina but the grins on the crew's faces and their foul weather gear smeared in blood speak for themselves. The tall white boat with an open deck and fixed rods for reeling in giants has clearly been here before.

This time, the biggest bluefin tuna lies stiff on a heap of ice, shining with two rows of triangles top and bottom. In overcast light, the headless 400-pound fish is pushed, shoved, and hauled onto a stretcher-like tarp which allows it to be moved by four men with great difficulty up to the dock and across to a waiting pick-up truck that arrived only minutes ago.

Someone slips on the wet gunwhale and their leg is briefly caught between the fish and the dock. The leg seems tiny. It's hard to imagine being attached to such a large animal by a thin plastic line as it fights the hook and and swims for its life. A handful of admirers have spilled from the Sanitary restaurant to train digital cameras on the scene. The air is jubilant. Though no money has yet changed hands, this single fish could be worth thousands of dollars. If it's been handled right and can be sold for sushi, that figure increases by a power of ten.

Two more tuna half its size lie waiting. Even the largest catch today is hardly full-grown for a species that easily boasts 1000 pounds and circles the ocean during in its annual migrations. The bluefin tuna is a powerful, warm-blooded, swimming machine that we are only beginning to appreciate through satellite tagging and other hi-tech research that is gives a window to their lives on a planetary scale.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Shag on the Strand (SOS) swept through Myrtle Beach again this fall, as it has every year for a generation or two. Beach music played too loud, smiling faces with a little too much make-up, and off-season hotels filled for a solid week of dancing. And these people can dance. The loafers, the bermuda shorts, the tight white pants aren't as flattering as they used to be, but the hips still swing and the feet know how to hover.

While the road behind is an unremarkable mess of concrete and neon, the nighttime lap of waves on soft sand remains. Buildings have sprung up along the beachfront but are mostly low-rise, bordered by snow fencing along cresting dunes here and there. Perhaps only the beach itself looks as bright, as sparkling as the original Shag craze of the 1940s and 50s.