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Time & Space

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Midway through her second summer patrolling the popular south end parking lot on Pawleys Island for the town police, Officer Lisa Orr knows the secret to finding a parking space: patience.

"It can be frustrating at times," she said.

Orr started working weekends on the south end last summer. There had been a growing number of complaints from the area, including a few that involved arguments over parking spaces.

If the town's other officers had to deal with weekend parking on the south end, "they wouldn’t have time to do anything else," Orr said.

Her goal is to keep the emergency access to the beach open. That means making sure that vehicles are properly parked and that traffic doesn’t back up while drivers wait for a space to become available.

"The important thing is to keep traffic moving," Orr said.

At its busiest, the traffic can reach gridlock as cars looking for a parking spot form a continuous circle and other cars stack up on Springs Avenue waiting to get into the lot. When that happens, Orr will direct traffic back up Springs.

Six to eight vehicles is about the limit, she said.

Over Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends, gridlock is guaranteed. Chances of getting a parking space after 10 a.m. are slim to none, Orr said.

"Outside of that, if you're patient, you'll get a space," she said.

Shawna Calderon of Myrtle Beach made her first trip to the south end on a recent Sunday afternoon. She and a friend strapped their surfboards on top of Calderon’s black Nissan 300ZX and headed south to meet some friends.

She saw some people packing up to leave and waited for them to back out.

Other cars stopped behind the Nissan and waited … and waited.

A horn blew. Orr stepped out of her white Ford Explorer and asked Calderon to pull over to let other cars pass.

That made Calderon nervous, so she drove around the lot for another lap. After three circuits, she found a spot.

John Camp, who drove down from Myrtle Beach in a van to meet Calderon, found a spot nearby. Another friend was already waiting.

"Car pooling would have been a smart thing," Camp said.

Calderon said she seriously considered asking people at a nearby beach house if she could pay to park in their driveway.

After two seasons on the beach, Orr, who lives in Litchfield, is familiar with many of the regular beachgoers at the south end. They understand the rules and newcomers usually follow their example, she said.

"There are enough locals who come down here; the others just fall in line. That makes it simpler," Orr said.

There are some general rules on a large sign, and a small sandwich board sign that says the parking lot is full and vehicles need to keep moving. The unwritten rules are more subtle.

Orr didn’t intend for Calderon to give up her chance for a parking space. "I told her to tuck herself in so cars could get by," Orr explained.

Another driver did that flawlessly, stopping on the right side of the driveway, leaving enough room for cars to pass and for the departing car to back out of the space.

Orr nodded as she drove by.

"I think people get more frustrated trying to leave than waiting for a parking space," she said. "They're ready to leave."

But drivers often have to back blindly into the driveway. There are almost always people walking through the lot, and frequently small children.

Orr is happy to let people take their time leaving, and will get out to direct them if there is heavy traffic.

Disputes over spaces have been rare this summer, she said. They occur when someone slips into a space someone else is waiting for or when passengers get out of a car and try to hold a space until the car gets around the circle.

Pedestrians can’t stake claims to parking spaces, Orr said.

"Be patient, something will open up," she said.

Since the parking spaces on the south end are marked with timbers, there is rarely a question over illegal parking.

Each space holds one car or two motorcycles.

On the Fourth of July, Orr urged some frustrated drivers to look for parking on the island's north end. They were back a while later, still frustrated in their search.

"Sometimes I'll suggest Huntington Beach State Park to them," she said.

There is only so much parking space on Pawleys Island, Police Chief Guy Osborne said. When it's full, there’s nothing the town can do.

But they can do something when drivers try to expand their parking options on their own.

On one Sunday afternoon, Orr pulled into the south end parking lot to find an SUV and a minivan parked bumper-to-bumper in one space.

"No, no, no. We're not doing this," she said.

She looked the vehicles over. They weren't actually blocking traffic. "This is tricky," she said.

Orr guessed both vehicles belonged to a single group of beachgoers, but couldn't be sure.

"I'm going to have to give them a ticket. I have to. If I don't then everybody will be doing it," she said.

A parking ticket went under the windshield wiper of the SUV.

Orr took photos to attach to her copy in case the owner wanted to challenge the ticket in court.

"I've not seen that before," she said. "That's a new one on me."

Some days Orr writes a dozen tickets. That was the only ticket that day.

Orr’s beat also extends to the beach beyond the parking lot. She flips a switch on the Explorer's dashboard to put it into four-wheel drive and steers cautiously through the soft sand at the emergency access.

Jellyfish in the creek brought a steady stream of parents seeking help for their children to her SUV over the weekend.

She packs a spray bottle with a topical anesthetic and, with the parent's permission, applies it to the welts.

She keeps an eye out for dogs that are off the leash, littering and under-age drinking.

A couple of girls on boogie boards in Pawleys Inlet caught her attention.

"I hope you are strong swimmers," she said after calling the girls out of the water.

She told them the currents can be treacherous. They promised to be careful.

A couple approached the SUV and asked about sea turtle nests. Orr pointed to a pair of nests in the dune in front of the parking lot, both covered by bright orange mesh.

The couple looked disappointed, but brightened when Orr said they could check at Town Hall for the time of the next scheduled inventory, when trained volunteers will excavate the nest to see how many turtles hatched.

Orr first approached the town about volunteering with the police department after she retired as a county court bailiff. She spent four years in Family Court after 30 years as a juvenile probation officer.

Osborne, who she had been in a Taser class with, hired her for the part-time job.

"It's my reward for 30 years of doing a job nobody wanted," Orr said as she drove slowly up the beach under a deep blue August sky.

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