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The road trip was one of those spur-of-the-moment ideas conceived during the euphoric
afterglow that often accompanies and empty wine bottle. My friend Deanna and I were looking
for an escape from that most overrated time of year.
“Yes! Myrtle Beach for Christmas!”
“No obligatory family festivities!”
“Just a beach, some sun, ...”
“...maybe a round or two of golf...”
“We’re there!”
A couple of weeks later we packed up my station wagon with golf clubs, suitcases, a cooler of food, and I-don’t-know-how-many-pairs-of-shoes. (In our defense, we didn’t were driving through snowy Ontario into the temperate weather of South Carolina. We would need boots for sure, walking shoes no doubt, golf shoes we hoped, sandals if there was a God, dancing shoes if there was a chance. Slippers for the hotel room, water shoes for the shower. And an extra pair of most because black is not a neutral, I don’t care what they say.)
“Mornin’,” said the cheerless border guard. “Where are you headed today?” although he didn’t sound like he cared much.
“Myrtle Beach,” I said, wishing encounters with authority figures didn’t leave me feeling like I was a fugitive from justice.
“For eight glorious days,” Deanna chirped from the passenger’s side.
He peered into the back of the wagon, and regarded us over his bi-focals. “What’s in the cooler?”

“Ooooh,” Deanna said, bouncing in her seat and flapping her hands like she was trying to put out a fire eight inches in front of her face. “We have smoked salmon, and all the
accoutrements, like capers and lemon ...” She started to drool. “And brie and kiwi and grapes and Clamato because we have to have a caesar before lunch. And, best of all, cham-pagne!”
I groaned. I was pretty sure we were in contravention of at least three laws that would send us straight back home - importing food, booze, and nut bars.
“We just have to stop at duty free and pick up some vodka and we’re all set!” She batted her Doris Day eyes, endearing herself even to me.
The guard raised an eyebrow, grinned a half-smile, and said “Have a nice trip, ladies.”
“And the best part ...” Deanna called to him as I hit the up button for the window and started to pull away “ we’re playing golf on Christmas Day! Wahoo!”
“Good job you’re cute,” I said, shaking my head, “or we’d be cooling our heels in customs while they poured your Dom Perignon down the sink.”
There was only one impediment to what could have been a quick trip. Deanna, it appeared, had an abiding fear of bridges.
“Ohmigosh, a bridge,” she exclaimed on her first turn behind the wheel.
“Uh-huh. Very good,” I said. “And do you know what that is over there?”I pointed to a green barn.
She played along. “A barn. And that’s a cow!”
“And this is the Susquehanna River,” said I, consulting the map.
“And this would be the problem,” Deanna sang. “I don’t do bridges.”
“What do you mean, you don’t do bridges?”
“I’m terrified of them.” She pulled off to the side of the road.. “I can’t drive over them. I panic.”
“Just do what I do. Close your eyes.”
“Seriously, I can’t drive over that bridge. We’re stuck here if you don’t drive over it.”
“You’re kidding.”
“No. I’m not kidding. If I have to drive over that thing, we’ll die. I’m telling you ... we’ll die!”
“What would you do if I wasn’t here to drive us over the bridge?”
“I’d turn around and go home,” she said flatly.
“Okay, trade places. I’ll drive.”
It was going to be a long trip - we were heading right into the watery states of Maryland and Virginia. I swore that if I ever took another trip with this lunatic, it would be to the Gobi freakin’ desert.
As we approached the river, I tried coaching my friend into accepting bridges for the valuable structures they are.
“Look off to the left at the panoramic view. Isn’t that pretty?” I said in soothing tones.
“And to the right, see how the sun sparkles on the water. Beautiful! See? The bridge is our friend.”
“Oh dear, oh dear, this isn’t good,” Deanna moaned, covering her eyes.
“You just need a distraction. Let’s sing,” I suggested with the condescending, sweet voice of an impatient baby-sitter. “Jingle bells, jingle bells ...”
“... jingle all the way,” she joined in, her eyelids still squeezed shut.
“Oh what fun it is to ride ...”
“Da da da da da,” Deanna finished.
I stopped singing and stared at her. She opened her eyes and stared back defiantly. “So, I don’t know the words, okay?”
“You don’t know the words to Jingle Bells? Everyone knows the words to Jingle Bells. Yasser Arafat knew the words to Jingle Bells!”
“Well, I get them mixed up. I just know it ends with fa la la la la, la la la la.”
“No, that’s Deck the Halls With Bows of Holly.”
“Oh ya! Deck the halls with bows of holly,” she trilled, “Fa la la la la, la la la la.” She looked so proud. It was like I had just watched my daughter tie her own shoes for the first time. And we had made it over the bridge.
Her next turn at the wheel, though, was the same story. “I can’t do this,” she whimpered through clenched teeth.
“Don’t worry. I’m right here beside you. We’ll sing.”
The bridge loomed. She tightened her grip on the steering wheel. “I don’t know ...”
“Oh little town of Bethlehem ...” I trilled.
“How still we see these ryes ...”
“How still we see thee lie.” I rolled my eyes. “You’re hopeless. Do you know any Christmas songs?”
“Well, there’s that one about three wise men,” she offered hopefully.
“You mean We Three Kings?”
“Ya, that’s it! We Three Kings Of Orientar. I could never figure out where that was. Go ahead and try... you’ll never find it on any map,” she declared.
I wonder if my new friend is one of those people who hovers between being brilliant and
insane. It’s a fine line, I’m told.
* * *
We rolled into Myrtle Beach and checked out the shopping district. In keeping with the spirit of the season, we both purchased a set of brown felt reindeer antlers. Deanna’s were festooned with a plaid ribbon and small gold jingle bells. Mine had coloured Christmas tree lights dangling from the antlers. Deanna looked adorable. I looked like Bullwinkle with breast implants.

We arrived at the hotel after dark, when the only view from our room was of faintly lit palm trees. We left the balcony door open and listened to the steady swish of waves. In the distance, a foghorn sounded faintly, turning the mood melancholy. However, the decorated miniature Christmas tree we had toted from Canada cheered us, and we toasted our success in arriving unscathed.
Hungry for dinner, we ventured down to the lobby, reindeer headbands in place, in search of the restaurant. After poking our heads into many doorways to find nothing but quiet darkness, we finally came across the bar.

The dim room was silent as a funeral home. Three couples drooped on bar stools; the bartender wiped glasses with a cloth. No one spoke. Deanna and I looked at each other with
raised eyebrows. Well, wasn’t this just a jolly old place to be! I’ve seen friendlier faces inside the offices of Revenue Canada. We edged forward. Eyes peered at us through the smoky haze, as though we were apparitions materializing in the mist.
“Merry Christmas, everybody,” Deanna said tentatively.
In one voice, they answered “Merry Christmas”, sounding remarkably like the lighthouse
“Ha, ah’m Buddy,” said the bartender. “What can ah get you ladies this evenin’?”
Ooh, wasn’t that southern drawl just delicious?
“Scotch,” I said. I always drink scotch at wakes.
“Where y’all from?” Buddy asked as he served our drinks.
“Canada,” we replied in unison.
“Ah thought so. When ah saw those antlers yur wearin’? Ah thought, those girls must be from Canada.”
We laughed. It was probably the first sound of joy that bar had heard in a long time.
“So, where are you all from?” Deanna asked the barflies.
Linda and Don were from New Jersey. They were here because their kids had taken off to Florida for Christmas and they had no one else to share the holidays with. Anne and Bill were from Philadelphia. Their kids hadn’t invited them to have Christmas dinner with them, so they left town to assuage the hurt.
Rachelle and Bernie were here to play golf. They were in the bar because “every other goddam place in this God-forsaken town was closed tonight.”
These folks could such the Christmas spirit out of a room faster than a Dyson vacuum cleaner.
Undaunted, Deanna pressed on. “Know what? I’ve got my camera here, and I’d like to take your pictures. We’re keeping a scrapbook of our trip, and you’re all certainly part of the experience!”
“Wait!” said I, warming up to her scheme. “They need antlers!”
They were too shocked to run screaming from the room. I plopped the antlers onto their heads in turn.
“Now smile!” They stared into the flashing camera, their hang-dog expressions caught on film for posterity.
But they smiled. Laughed, even. Long after our dinner had come and gone, we all sang Christmas songs at the top of our lungs. Deanna, who couldn’t keep the words straight, mimicked us half a beat behind, and that made everyone laugh louder.
“Whah, you antler girls are lak a breath of fresh air.” Buddy flashed a brilliant grin. “Ah was about to slit ma wrists if you hadn’a come along.”
When we finally staggered off our bar stools, to a person they hugged us and said thank you. It had been some time since they’d laughed that much - and we believed them.
* * *

It was Christmas night in Myrtle Beach, and the hotel was putting on a show. Deanna and I were particularly high spirited; Buddy had sent a complimentary bottle of wine to our table because we had dared to show up wearing our headbands. You don’t need diamonds when you’ve got antlers.

The opening act was karaoke, which should, in my opinion, go back to Japan where it came from and leave us alone. Who really wants to find themselves at center stage, flipping backimaginary hair and licking their upper teeth just like Cher does, because they’re cool and a really good singer? Or is that just me?
(Never NEVER go to Karaoke night with a friend who owns a cam-corder. Just a little friendly advice.)
The headliner, God bless him, tried his best. He crooned like Tom Jones as he wound his way through the half-empty cocktail lounge, caressing ladies under the chin, stroking their cheeks with his thumb, and making all our stomachs turn. No one was going to be tossing their panties at him that night.
Suddenly struck with empathy, Deanna left to his rescue. She performed brilliantly, trading suggestive quips with the performer while she continued to sip from her champagne glass. The two of them finished off the set with the most provocative, uproariously funny entre-deux imaginable, culminating in a sexy tango together on stage. The audience roared with laughter and demanded an encore. The entertainer was speechless.

The following night, the lounge was packed and there was a buzz of excitement in the air. Suddenly, a woman from Buffalo clutched Deanna.
“Oh, what time do you go on, hun?” she asked.
“Go on what?” Deanna frowned. Why was this stranger pushing an autograph book in her
“Why, on stage! What time is your performance? We met all these nice people at the golf course today, and told them they had to come on over and see the show!” She pointed to where a group of people sat at a nearby table. “There they are! Couldja be a doll and just wave at them for me?” she gushed.
It’s not often that Deanna is at a loss for words. “I...I’m not part of the show.”
“But, hon, we just saw you last night!”
“Last night was, you know, impromptu.”
“Oh, but hon! You were so funny! I was sure you were part of the show!” The woman harrumphed. “Well, what am I going to tell my friends? They all came to see you!”
Apparently, Deanna has missed her calling.
* * *

With an ice storm threatening the eastern seaboard, Deanna and I decided to head for
home a day early. Besides, we had pretty much used up our repertoire of Christmas song, and we had all those bridges to deal with. Our American friends, including Buddy the bartender, showed up in the lobby to wish us farewell and a safe trip. Linda, who we had met on our first night in the bar, hugged both of us and whispered tearfully, “Thank you, Antler Girls”.

Four simple words. And they meant the world to us.
Every Christmas Even, I don those silly antlers and remember how I felt at that bar in Myrtle Beach. It’s different now, of course. I could never recapture the same joie de vivre, but I smile when I think of that special Christmas spent in the company of strangers. As I grow older, I hope I never lose the irrepressible spiritedness of an Antler Girl.