HILTON HEAD ISLANDER ACTS, DIRECTS AND SINGS IN MANY LOCATIONS

Lili Torre was still texting “here” when I spotted her sitting on the wide steps of Union Square. She leapt up and smiled with the same bright eyes I’d known since our Hilton Head Island High School days, when she sang and I played drums in our school’s production of “Les Miserables.” She moved to New York just over five years ago to chase a career in musical theater, and that’s how we found ourselves on a bench in a city most people only visit.

When I stepped on stage at King Dusko in Charleston in 2012 to perform with my rock band, I didn’t know that McKenzie Eddy, founder of the small bar and performance space, was from Hilton Head Island. And I knew nothing of her past life running a record label in New York City.

“Meet me on top of the hill.”

On a lull between summer showers, I direct Nicole Arnold to the cylindrical tower atop Fort Greene Park, overlooking Brooklyn and toward Manhattan’s skyline beyond. Though we’ve met over video chat, Nicole’s wide smile is larger in person. She has earthy skin, auburn hair and looks out from patient eyes. We hug like old friends, even though I’m nine years older and we didn’t grow up together. We’re both Hilton Head Island expats, and we share other traits — a love for travel, an openness to strangers. It’s the real reason I reached out to Nicole after the amazing cross-country bike tour that made her famous in the Lowcountry last summer.

Over video chat, sitting on the porch of his Chicago apartment, enjoying a rare pristine summer day in the Windy City, Hilton Head native and percussionist David Agee told me about his life’s unexpected turn. He’d just wrapped up his last semester teaching percussion at Fenwick Park High School, and was spending the week saying goodbye to friends before starting his new adventure. Agee, who uprooted to Chicago eight years ago to pursue his love of music, recently joined the Navy and is heading to boot camp. He joked, “I never thought I’d be graded on pushups in order to play music.”

These aren’t my lungs,” he told his theatre classmates. It was 2013 and Brennen Reeves was facing an eager audience, speaking of an illness without a face. No one knew. Brennen, who was born with the progressive lung disease, cystic fibrosis, has fought for every breath. As a child, doctors told him he’d wouldn’t live until 18 unless he traded the old pair for the new. Not only did he survive a double lung transplant, he would invoke his own story in a oneman play entitled “Breathe. A True Story.” These are his lungs, now.

Lance Little was still in high school when, sitting on the porch shooting the breeze, he came up with an idea that seemed far-fetched — a restaurant that cures world hunger. It was clever, but wasn’t it a bit naive? The fast-food giants were making billions, but the fry cooks came home smelling like cheap grease, earning minimum wage while the money funneled upwards. Meanwhile, even in first-world America, children were going hungry. Of course, this was high school, and Little wasn’t too concerned with the economics of the idea. Enrolled in Hilton Head Island High School’s ROTC program, he had plenty to keep him occupied, along with being an average teenager. But his idea to end world hunger would not be ignored, even as he grew up and moved on with his life.

During our telephone interview, Jillian Traver is negotiating a narrow English country lane in her compact Vauxhall Tigra while chirping away about music festivals in Latvia and the rich craft of winemaking. She’s picking up her fiancé, fresh off work in London proper, at the train station and they’re driving to their very first home in a village outside the city. He hops in the car and greets me in British English that seems to have rubbed off on Traver.

It’s 2009, and Vijay Viswanathan is fly-fishing on a remote river in Alaska’s Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.

This is grizzly country, where glacial peaks give way to an endless sea of green scrub valleys, through which weave streams where virgin trout that have never known the taste of a steel hook die of old age. Viswanathan embarked with a small team of professional athletes and biologists carrying all they needed to live and fish for a week. “Trips like that give me the same feeling I get when skiing through fresh powder,” he said. “These are memories that will stay with me forever.”

Where does your water come from? Not long ago, a vast freshwater aquifer stretching from South Carolina’s coast through Georgia and Florida supplied the wells that quenched the Lowcountry. But aquifers can be depleted by overuse, and many wells have become compromised as salt water has seeped in where fresh water used to be. Now much of the Lowcountry’s water is sourced from the Savannah River. Thankfully, Hilton Head Island boasts a budget large enough to afford supplemental water sources, and the means to purify them.

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