The Morning after Hurricane Irene

Not much damage in Rehoboth.  The beach, however, looks to have taken a pounding by the waves.

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Hurricane(s) Irene

I was in Charleston a few weeks ago at a bar called Bootleggers when the topic of hurricane names came up.  The consensus of the group at hand was that Irene, Ophelia, and Phillipe were the best 2011 names for hurricanes.  Little did we know..

This is not the first Hurricane Irene. There was a Tropical Storm Irene in 1959.  Hurricane Irene in 1971 moved from the Atlantic across Central America and into the Pacific.  It was the first time an Atlantic hurricane was officially tracked crossing into the Pacific. Hurricane Irene 1981 started west from the Cape Verde Islands, but curved way to the east and eventually moved over northern France as an extratropical storm.  In 1999, Hurricane Irene made landfall in Cuba and South Florida before emerging into the Atlantic and shading the East Coast all the way up to Newfoundland.  The 2005 edition of Hurricane Irene didn’t come ashore.  It went up the East Coast west of the Carolinas and east of Bermuda before dissipating over the North Atlantic.

The World Meteorological Organization sets the names, which are now “recycled” every six years unless a storm is so bad the name is retired.  Let’s hope this isn’t the end of the line for Hurricane Irene.

The Chitlin’ Circuit

This photo shows remnants of an old black-owned hotel on US 17 near Litchfield Beach, SC.  The story goes that it was built in the late 40s by deccendents of rice plantation slaves who came into possession of the land as compensation from the plantation owners after emancipation. During the 50s, it became a popular overnite stopping point for black bands and entertainers playing the Chitlin’ Circuit — the name given to venues up and down the East Coast and throughout the South where it was safe for black musicians to perform during the era of racial segregation.

US 17 was a principal north-south highway at the time, before the interstates, of course, and there were probably few establishments catering to blacks along the way. Black entertainers would perform there and draw large crowds and included many well known stars of the time such as Count Basie.

The facility also included a restaurant and a boardwalk across the marsh over to the ocean front on South Litchfield Beach. Locals were charged a modest fee to cross the marsh and enjoy the beach, which is undevelopable because of tidal flooding.  The property was  almost completely destroyed  during Hurricane Donna in 1960 and the motel never reopened. The property and remains of parts of the facility lay  dormant for almost 50 years before recent efforts to do something with the site.

The South Litchfield Beach area for many years drew black folk and was called Magnolia Beach. Certainly the motel and causeway to the beach  was the impetus.

I went in search of similar remains over in Oak Orchard, DE, where the Indian River flows into Rehoboth Bay.   I’ve read there used to be a place called the Rosedale Beach Hotel that was a stop on the Chitlin’ Circuit too.

In its pre-60s heyday, Rosedale Beach had a little boardwalk, a hotel, and a dance hall where performers like Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown performed. White Sussex Countians often anchored their boats offshore to listen to the music.  Unfortunately, there are no remains of Rosedale, not even a marker.

Keep Calm and Rave On

Gays getting married. Gays having babies. Gays serving openly in the military.  Yes, we’re seeing some amazing things in this new century.  Here’s one I wasn’t prepared for: gays playing beer pong.

You heard me right. The ultimate beer drinking game is no longer the province of straight frat boys and Snooki wanna-bes. Now the gay twenty-something pocket boys – those wispy lads so thin you can slip into your back pocket – are playing pong right here in Rehoboth Beach.

“Pong” is shorthand for a drinking game in which you try and land a ping-pong ball in your opponent’s cups of beer. If you succeed, your opponent must drink the beer.  It sounds easy and in concept it is.  Except that there are numerous variations on the game and every group of players seems to have its own special rules.

The National Beer Pong League — yes, there is such an entity– counts more than sixty recognized variations that can be played without paddles and more than a dozen with paddles. You’ve got Dartmouth pong, Cornell pong, Bounce pong, Long Island style, Philly style, Beirut East Coast style, Auburn rules, Virginia rules, and so the list goes on.

There’s even a set of rules for strip beer pong. And special names for players too. A camel toe, for example, is someone who always shoots before consuming the beer. A Che (Guevara) is someone who refuses to play by the house rules.

Pong tables vary too, though you can basically play the game on any flat tabletop.  The most popular size today is eight feet by two feet, and you can order one online in plastic, wood or aluminum at prices starting as low as $89. Handmade elegant wooden ones are available too and can cost upwards of $700. Picnic tables work well in a pinch.

The game has become so popular that there are leagues all over the country dedicated to pong. There is even a World Series of Beer Pong, held annually at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas where hundreds of players compete for a $50,000 grand prize.

How did this all come about?

Most historians — and I use that term loosely — believe beer pong originated at Dartmouth College in the 1950s and 1960s. Some older alumni think it grew organically from the simple fact of putting cups of beer on the table when playing the game of ping-pong. However it started, by the 1970s, the game of beer pong had developed rules and spread up and down the East Coast through the college and university circuit. At Dartmouth, it became so popular the school sanctioned it as an actual intramural sport for a short period of time.

I played pong for the first time in the fall of 1979 in the basement of a UVA fraternity. It was hot and heady with the scent of college boy sweat, Polo cologne, and marijuana. Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus album was playing on the stereo. Juanita my sweet chiquita, what are you up to?

A paddle was thrust into my hand and I was steered to a ping-pong table set atop a pool table with arranged with plastic cups of beer. A neophyte to beer pong, the brothers no doubt considered me an easy target.  Little did they know I’d been playing ping-pong for many years in my own basement. I had a good lob and I knew how to deliver some wicked topspin.

Yes, back then we played pong on real ping-pong tables and with real paddles. Old school.

Things started to change in the early 1980s when the frat boys at Lehigh and Lafayette chucked the paddles and started chucking the balls by hand. They called their new variation “Beirut” in reference to the Lebanese civil war. The rival schools are located but seventeen miles apart in eastern Pennsylvania, so, naturally, each claimed to have invented the game.  While the origin might be at issue, the raison d’etre wasn’t: to get bombed.

Today you find diehard fans of both the paddle and paddle-less versions. It’s a matter of preference. The pocket boys of Rehoboth toss rather than paddle. And though I’m personally partial to the classic version of pong, I am quite impressed by the boys’ sense of sporting style. They’ve got a specially designed table, balls, and even plastic cups all emblazoned with the slogan “Keep Calm and Rave On.”  I was told it’s a riff off of the British government’s “Keep Calm and Carry On” campaign to buoy public spirit during WWII.  Crowns for queens.  I like that.