FAIRFAX — Amy Bing graduated from Allendale-Fairfax High School in 2005 and wants to be a nurse someday.
But plans for nursing classes remain on hold as she struggles to keep food on the table for her two daughters, ages 2 and 3.
For now, the 26-year-old stands on the side of Route 278 at 4:30 in the morning waiting for a bus to take her to work as a housekeeper at the beach resorts on Hilton Head Island.
It's 80 miles and a world away from Allendale County, where she can't find a job. “Most things done closed down here,” Bing says.
The $9 an hour she gets at the Westin Hotel barely beats the minimum wage, but it's the only way she can support herself and her daughters. The trip costs her $2.50 each way, and she won't return home until the bus brings her back to Allendale at 7 p.m., barely in time to tuck her girls into bed.
Her fiancÚ watches the girls for now, but once he finds a job she will have to see if her mother in Hampton County will care for them. She wipes sleep from the corner of one eye and shakes her head. “It's all I can do. I have to work to provide for my family.”
Several other women and a couple men wait in the pre-dawn darkness with Bing in the parking lot of the Ezzy Stop convenience store in the small town of Fairfax.
Starr Parker, 43, dressed in her red Five Guys Burgers shirt, knows the routine well. She has taken the bus to Hilton Head off and on for 20 years, after moving to Allendale County from New York because it cost too much to live there.
At 5 a.m. the bus pulls up. It's almost full, with those aboard uncomfortably attempting the squeeze in extra sleep. “Sometimes you gotta stand up,” Parker says. “You miss that bus, that's it. You gotta walk home.”
As Parker waits to board, she acknowledges that her three boys, 11, 13 and 18, have grown up largely in the care of relatives or babysitters because of the 14 or more hours it takes to ride the bus to Hilton Head, work, then return by bus.
She shrugs. “In order to make a living, you've got to do something. You got to do what you got to do. ... Allendale is all vacant buildings, a lot of them. It's cheaper to stay here, and hell to get a job.”