This Time with Waves: More Trucks Under Water

By John Laudun


There is a certain satisfaction, though not necessarily a happy one, for the student of legends in discovering the next iteration of the same legend. So, to the 2016 Louisiana instance of what might be termed the legend about "property abandoned in a disaster for the insurance" that I documented in "Trucks under Water" in Louisiana Folklore Miscellany 28 (Laudun 2018), we can add the instance of the red Jeep during Hurricane Dorian in September 2019. Unlike the Louisiana example, we have a clear instigating instance, an artifact that is later revealed to be the product of a particular series of incidences that is then transformed into a legend. In this continuing consideration of the intersection of objects, disasters, and insurance, there is of course a consideration of the immediate historical context, including the moment the Jeep appears, followed by an account of the memeification of the Jeep and the strands that most memes fell into.

Stormy Weather

As morning broke on September 5, Dorian was a category two storm making its way along the South Carolina coast, slowly depleting itself by lashing the land with winds, waves, and rain. As with all hurricanes, the east and northern sides of the storm are considered the "dirty" sides where the counter-clockwise rotation pushes water from bodies of water into storm surges, often considered the most dangerous of all the dimensions of a hurricane. It was this combination of water coming up and water coming down, along with the winds and the possible tornadoes they may generate, that gave local officials sufficient cause to order coastal towns to be evacuated.

Myrtle Beach was one such town, with a number of tornadoes causing significant damage as Dorian swept along the coast. Sitting in the center of 60 miles of beach known as The Grand Strand, Myrtle Beach has a history shaped by hurricanes—one of its national historic landmarks was historic for having survived Hurricane Hazel in 1954. With a population of twenty-seven thousand, Myrtle Beach annually hosts an estimated 14 million tourists who come to The Grand Strand throughout the year, staying in high rises strung along its beaches and possibly playing on one of the close to 100 golf courses. And yet, with all this revenue, the average take home pay for someone living in Myrtle Beach is $23,000.

As the surf rose and the winds began to blow, a number of folks who had stayed behind looked out on one of the beaches and noticed something odd: a late model, ruby red Jeep Grand Cherokee parked on the beach. While it is hard to know who first noticed the Jeep, the first moment it appears to have been brought to a broader public's attention is in a story posted at 10:21AM by local NBC affiliate WMBF. A little over an hour later, at 11:45, Kathleen Serie, a reporter for the local Fox affiliate WZTV was on the scene and captured not only video of the waves breaking over and the water swirling round the Jeep but also a small cluster of ten or more onlookers who appeared simply to be standing there, watching to see what happens next. Later that day, WZTV included the video as part of a story which ran under the headline: "Jeep abandoned on Myrtle Beach as Hurricane Dorian rages; onlookers take selfies." Their report included the following:

This Jeep owner clearly left things in Mother Nature's hands. As Hurricane Dorian raged off the coast of the Carolinas on Thursday, a unique sight appeared on the shores of Myrtle Beach, S.C. A Jeep SUV was seen stuck on the beach as fierce waves from the hurricane could be seen battering the vehicle.

The Myrtle Beach Police Department told WPDE they were notified about the vehicle early Thursday morning. Authorities found the car locked and abandoned on the beach. Due to ongoing severe weather conditions, officials said on Twitter that it's not safe to remove the vehicle. "Thank you for the calls in reference to the vehicle on the beach," the Myrtle Beach Police said. "We are aware and we are working with our team to develop a plan to remove it however, it is not safe at this time. As we want to keep you safe, do not approach the vehicle. Public safety is a shared responsibility."

As time progressed on Thursday fierce waves engulfed the Jeep, knocking its bumper off. Onlookers could be seen taking photos of the Jeep and selfies before police cleared the beach area. One man was seen posing for a photo on top of the vehicle as it was engulfed by water. WZTV reporter Kathleen Serie said that as the waves got more violent, the Jeep's tires became loose.1

The first image in the emergent vernacular we have, then, is the selfie, which is itself documented by the WZTV team.

What follows is a steady stream of both individuals acting ostensively, coming out either to see what's happening to/at the Jeep or to be part of what's happening. The simplest form of ostension is the selfie, the more complex forms involve other kinds of performances, the most notable of which was a man playing the bagpipes whilst circling the Jeep as the water came up around it. The series of events was captured later by David Wiliams of CNN:

The owner of the Jeep abandoned on Myrtle Beach during Hurricane Dorian will probably think twice before giving someone his car keys. The red SUV became a social media sensation Thursday as it was bashed by strong surf whipped up as the hurricane moved past South Carolina and up the Atlantic coast. People posed for selfies with the Jeep and some even climbed on top of it. One man dressed in black walked solemnly around the vehicle in his flip-flops while playing "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes.

As much as news outlets wanted to be outside the zone of ostension themselves, they were, as they often are, as much a part of the legend's creation and development as anyone else, with a number of stations establishing video feeds of the Jeep.

What followed was a number of selfies posted various places, the establishment of at least two Twitter accounts, and even a parody produced by a grade-school child for the amusement of her friends and parents. Online activity, as principally evidenced by the more active of the two Twitter accounts, @MyrtleBeachJ33p, roared relentlessly for the next 24 hours. By Friday afternoon, around 4PM local time, the activity appeared to have wound down and the attention of pranksters and punsters had moved on. From later reporting, in an updated version of the original WMBF post, we learn that the jeep had come to be on the beach due to some carelessness followed by confusion:

The owner of the Jeep, who does not want to be identified, reached out to WMBF News and explained what happened and why it was abandoned while a hurricane hit the coast. "My cousin has been around, he rides a motorcycle so I thought I'd let him borrow my jeep because the weather has been so bad. This morning he thought it would be cool to go on the beach and take a quick video of the sunrise before the storm came," the Jeep's owner said. But the ride on the beach took a turn for the worst. "So he got on the beach and started driving it. I guess there's that runoff there and he didn't realize it was in front of him, he was looking out the window when he went off and got stuck, which you can see he actually banged up the bumper a bit," the owner explained.2

With the mystery of the Jeep revealed, there was only its hauling away to come, which the city promptly accomplished with a backhoe and some chain, removing, from their point of view, a public hazard, but one which had been a welcome point of diversion for those waiting out the storm.

The Tweet Life

Two minutes after Serie tweeted her video of not only the jeep but also of people taking selfies of the jeep, @daily_staley posted a video of someone sitting on the jeep crosslegged, as if meditating. He tagged local weatherman Ed Piotrowski, who would himself become a part of the growing body of lore and ostension surrounding the jeep. While people continued to flock to the jeep and at least one local news station set up a video feed, Twitter was momentarily quiet. Then, an hour later, @the_Jameson asked, "does the Myrtle Beach Surf Jeep have a twitter account yet" (no question mark in the original).

Within two hours of the that question being posed, two Twitter accounts for the Myrtle Beach Jeep sprung to life. The first, @DorianJeep, was created shortly after 2PM, and its first post was at 14:13 and was, as was only fitting, a photo of the Jeep firmly ensconced in water with the hashtag #selfie. Twenty minutes later a second account was created, @MyrtleBeachJ33p, and its first post was also an image of the jeep with waves crashing around it. It too only had a hashtag for text: #NewProfilePic. In this way, both accounts reinforced the notion that theirs would be an account from the jeep's point of view. By the time the storm and interest in the jeep had run their parallel courses, @DorianJeep had tweeted 30 times, with the last coming some time later on the same Thursday afternoon as the account's creation. By contrast, @MyrtleBeachJ33p posted 496 tweets, principally on Thursday and Friday with limited activity on Saturday and then sporadic activity through to September 17 (about the time of this initial assessment).3

Of the almost 500 tweets from @MyrtleBeachJ33p, 136 were outbound tweets originating with the account, 68 were retweets, and 292 were replies. Of the media created and circulated in the course of the day, there were 60 photos, 10 videos, and 8 GIFs. It will surprise no one that the texts of tweets often anticipated or echoed media incarnations.

The first photos and videos are mostly concerned with the jeep itself, with images of the water and of people interacting with the jeep amid the incoming waves, but later in the afternoon, Twitter users had found ways to make the inanity of an abandoned jeep and people wandering during a storm taking selfies with it into something more. It began with a tweet from @alwaysjathis with a screenshot from a smart phone of a listing for the jeep on the Facebook Marketplace. While the other vehicles have expected price tags, the jeep is listed for $1. @alwaysjathis's comment is: "@MyrtleBeachJ33p wtf. I believed in you."

Figure 1. The Myrtle Beach Jeep is in the lower right-hand corner. Photo: Courtesey of John Laudun.

A couple of hours later, someone upped the intertextual ante with a photoshopped image of the Little Mermaid seated in the middle of her collections with the jeep nestled to her right. (See Figure 1.) This was followed by a video of someone playing the bagpipes while walking around the jeep, in what one supposes is a kind of pantomime wake anticipating its imminent death. This was followed by a number of images playing off the currently quite prominent advertising campaign by Farmer's Insurance that regularly profiles some odd accident followed by knowing insurance man, played by J. K. Simmons, stating "At Farmer's, we know a thing or two because we've seen a thing or two." Two of the images are below, but there is another one that appears to be the work of professional comic artist, Ed Wilson, but I cannot ascertain its provenance. Other photoshopped images include references to Castaway, with the beach in the background of the scene where Tom Hanks' character first stumbles onto the island, the jeep as the shark in the famous poster for Jaws, the jeep as a kind of redneck fishing vessel, and the jeep as part of a Cheech and Chong adventure, among many others.

The videos include a time-lapse of one of the television live feeds of the jeep with the caption "IGHT // IMMA HEAD OUT" superimposed, the aforementioned bagpiper, which was enormously popular, as well as a young girl impersonating a reporter re-creating the entire event with a toy car. Hers was not the only toy reference of the day, another photo posted revealed a toy red jeep ensconced in a zip plastic bag of rice with the caption "24 hours and it'll be good as new."

Shelter from the Storm

There are more images and photos that are part of the overall stream of social media discourse that seemed to take some solace in the plight, both imagined and real, of the Myrtle Beach Jeep as part of the larger sweep of Hurricane Dorian. Curiously, while the insurance motif occurs quite a few times more, it is almost always in the form of intertextual reference to the Farmer's Insurance ad or a kind of general numskull frame. Nowhere is there any chicanery featured in the texts surrounding the Myrtle Beach Jeep found online. What is currently unknown is if the kind of legends I have previously documented simply do not circulate in online form, but remains something for face-to-face interaction.

There is much more to be examined than this short response to current events can articulate. The work on legends focused on numskullery and/or chicanery at the intersections of the individual with super-human agencies continues. The flow of texts between ordinary people as agents of information and more prominent agents like news outlets, which here seem to be largely instantiated by local television news teams, is something that we now have the ability to track more clearly. As the University of South Carolina's Social Media Insight's Lab noted:

Traffic wasn't limited to Twitter. Local news stations such as @WYFFNews4 @WXII @LIVE5News covered the #RedJeep, with Facebook live streams of the Red Jeep reaching over 50,000 views #JeepWatch2019 #Dorian #HurricaneDorian #SCInsights


1. Please note that the text has been edited for readability with removal of the extensive paragraphing used by news websites. This was done to all the news texts.

2. This story appears to have had an original posting date and time of September 5 at 10:21AM. How much local activity, and legendry, may have sprung up and/or been enacted before such documentation like this is currently unknown. This particular story indicates it was updated the next day, Friday, September 6 at 12:57PM.

3. It's interesting to note that the @DorianJeep account was largely accessed through a web browser and that @MyrtleBeachJ33p through the Twitter app for iPhone. How the difference in devices involved was affected by power outages or mobility during use is something worth possible exploration.


Fedschun, Travis. 2019. Jeep abandoned on Myrtle Beach as Hurricane Dorian rages; onlookers take selfies. Fox News. September 5.

Laudun, John. 2018. Trucks Under Water: A Narrative from the 2016 Flood. Louisiana Folklore Miscellany 28: 20-36.

Nelson, Kristin and Patrick Lloyd. 2019. JEEP WATCH: Owner explains why Jeep was left on beach during Hurricane Dorian. WMBF.

Williams, David. 2019. Owner of the Jeep abandoned in the surf on Myrtle Beach during Hurricane Dorian explains how it got there. CNN. September 6 (Last updated 13:40.)

This article was first published in the 2019 Louisiana Folklore Miscellany. John Laudun is a Professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where his research and teaching focuses on understanding folk culture and cognition. His book, The Amazing Crawfish Boat, is an ethnographic study of creativity and tradition and his most recent work has focused on understanding folk narrative's role in the spread of ideas.