Last weekend was originally scheduled for a much-needed trip back home. But rather than hit the open road in the Geek Machine after the mechanic at the emissions inspection lot warned that the engine might blow up any time, we boarded Phils’ truck and plowed towards the Eastern shore! Well, that’s “plowing” used loosely… with the cruise control eventually set to 60!
With the three-day weekend, we drove up early on Friday with plans to camp overnight at Assateague National Park. And boy, did we underestimate those weather reports, putting too much faith in the reported HI’s. The slightly breezy 70 degree weather didn’t come around till Saturday, when we were poking around Ocean City (aka, Mechanized Attack!). But on Friday… it didn’t feel anywhere near that.
We were getting our camping on a bit earlier than planned this year. The Johneroo pretty much marks my first and only camping opportunity of the year. We checked into the Ranger Station around 1. I wondered if the park rangers ever felt stupid in their uniforms. The high khaki socks and, on the portly, mishapen type, shorts that ride unevenly upwards at the crotch. Our Ranger at check-in was a guy who looked to be in his thirties, and may have been a fan of metal. What is his non-work personality like? He had a lengthy goatee, these sausage fingers, and eyelids that drooped like he was baked (he wasn’t bloodshot) or really tired. And he was sure to note that he would recycle, but not trash my empty soda can.
Despite the chilly temperature, the campgrounds were busy, though the grassy dune kept us somewhat secluded. I’ve never been camping on a beach, having passed up summer invitations from friends back in high school to head downtown for summer shows in the van and then sleep on the beach. I used to live 45 minutes from the popular destinations back home in Florida – Daytona and Cocoa and so forth, but as long as I’ve been in DC, I’ve never made it to the beaches. It’s a 3-hour drive for one thing. And I’ve always considered anything in the north or the midwest not really to be beaches, but rather flat water ocean. With foliage spread around the dunes! I mean, hell… are there any pro surfers that come out of these areas? Not that I can think of… but as soon as I heard the crashing waves, I was realized… they do have real beaches this far north!
I was as eager as Pavlov’s dog to finally get to the beach. It’s been a while… But the sea was angry that day, my friends! The water brought instant soreness to my feet as soon as I ran down to the water, being the big shot and thinking it’s cold out here, but we can get used to it pretty quick if we just don’t think about it and dive right in. It’s no wonder no one else was even attempting to go in the water. By night-time we were doubling up in sweatshirts and wishing we could close the little vents at the top parts of the tent.
I gotta give Maryland a lot of credit, they kept the Seashore swim-able. I’d lived in Indiana for a year and in 30 minutes you could drive out to the National Dunes. But, sandwiched between the sea-side industry of Chicago and the other half of Indiana, the lifeguard was always blowing the whistle to call in swimmers because the bacteria levels were too toxic for swimming.
Phil had been to Assateague before, though he stayed on the State Park side, which is just around the corner from the National Park side. Go a bit further beyond that, and you’re on the Virginia side with Chincoteague Island. It’s kind of like Harper’s Ferry, where you pass through three different “Welcome To…” signs as you’re driving around the bend. I was a newcomer and wonder whether the ponies would approach in packs. Kim had been talking about her trip out there recently, about the horse flies and how she didn’t want to be around wild animals in such close proximity. I wouldn’t mind it, so long as nothing bit my head off or gave us a scare while we otherwise slept soundly in the tent.
Actually, the wildlife out there was pretty tame. Phil didn’t think we’d see anything since nothing was roaming around as soon as we got around the park gate the way they had been when he was last there. It wasn’t possible that nothing would be roaming around, considering the clumps of shit strewn all over the street path to the campsite. Sure enough, he spotted the first one as we were walking back along the beach. A brown and white spotted horse that clung to the side of a picnic table behind some RVs, standing rather awkwardly with it’s back legs so close together, and without a care in the world. With that kind of nonchalance, Phil declared him to be the David Putty of horses. Yeah, that’s right. The moniker would be perfect if only the horse squinted.
Can horses squint?
The horses and deer and even the rabbits could have all assumed the Putty title. As a matter of fact, the only semi-excited creature we saw was one horse that seemed to really enjoy the photo-opportunities as evident from his giant, swinging erection.
Other than him, I guess it’s not too surprising that these animals – even the deer – wouldn’t flinch much if nobody bothers them; they’re around enough people at any one time, except during the real off-seasons.
We took a walk on the beach as soon as we got the tent set up that afternoon. There were plenty of prehistoric looking skeletons just lying around. Like the gulls carried them out of the water and went to town on picking them clean. We debated as to whether these were actually the skeletal remains of sting rays. My expertise on the matter derives from many a weekend spent as a kid around the sting ray tank at Sea World. I don’t recall anything bony or pointed about them… except the obvious tail super stinger tail. The jury is still out on that one.
Beware, dem beach craters!
After the stroll on the beach and a little exploratory drive, we headed back into town to the general store to pick up some firewood and things. The clerks looked pretty excited to make a sale. They sounded like New Yorkers and must hate the off-season. About half of the town was closed or held odd hours because of it, waiting to open up later in the month or early May. Living in those places must be depressing as hell when the main economy is on vacation someplace else part of the year. In the end, the firewood was kind of a wasted purchase. You can burn fire rings on the beach on the National side of the Island, but you can’t build a campfire at your campsite. I’m not sure that we would have had much luck even getting anything going in the metal BBQs with the way the wind was blowing so heavily. I guess someone is going to tell me that busting up all that extra driftwood wood is supposed to build character?
Oh, and we had to get a flashlight! Because falling face first into a pile of doodie while making a trip to the bathroom stalls in the pitch black of a chilly night is definitely not a character builder!We skipped straight to the part of throwing burgers and hotdogs on Phil’s little grill, since the sun was starting to go down and the 5 dollar Fireman’s flashlight was the only external lighting we had. I desperately hoped I wouldn’t be making a thousand trips to the bathroom. There was no way I was forfeiting the cider, a face-full of doodie be damned! Although, the portable potty was a little bit of a walk and already the sand had gotten intolerably cold. One thing we noticed driving up was how much flooding the area had in parts. Looks like Florida wasn’t the only place built on swamps.
Or as they call in the real estate business… lake front property!
I didn’t notice any sewer systems in the residential areas except in the one housing development we passed. When we got to the campsite, part of the ground was inexplicably wet. I realized when I got up the next morning and found our patio chairs to be sweating that the place gets plenty of condensation. Must be a real swing between temperatures setting everything off. As the sun was setting, we were scarfing down sloppily assembled hamburgers and hotdogs, a cold pull-tab can of baked beans, beer and carrot sticks. It started getting ridiculously cold and I was grateful when we put everything away and just ran for the hills. Or rather, the tent. I pulled on an extra pair of pants and a sweater, made a mercy run to the bathroom with the flashlight in my teeth, and then we pretty much huddled in the tent for the rest of the night. In the middle of the night, the wind picked up and whipped the tent around. My hip was killing me from sleeping from the flat ground and shifted to bury my face in the pillow, a classic can-you-breathe-like-that move. I imagined the wind getting so bad that it would just tear the tent apart. I didn’t fancy sleeping in the truck, but it didn’t seem like a bad idea if the horses and deer, on top of everything else, might’ve come creeping around the camps at night looking for a bite.
At dawn on Saturday morning, I woke up in a sweat. Even that early in the morning, the sun beat through the nylon of the tent as the weather warmed up considerably. I was dazed with sleep as I made a desperate run to the bathroom, only to find neighboring campers already up and about. The waves crashed loudly off in the distance and I wanted to go sit on the beach as the sun came up, basking in the sun and an occassional breeze, but I figured Phil would just start wondering where I went to. I went back to the tent and fell asleep for another hour before we got up, having to pack away the tent and get out of there before check-out time. Camping is a good time (though probably in the company of many more people in a less deserted situation as this), but man, what a chore it is to pack everything, set it up, and then dismantle it and put it all away when you get home again. Where’s that automatic activation/deactivation button like in the cartoons?
TV wouldn’t lie to me, would it?!!
We encountered more horses as we made our way out of the park in search of breakfast establishments. I figured this was a great place for a greasy spoon. At the fork of State Road 611 is a sign in the opposite direction of the park for Frontier Land! Just like in Disney World! I imagined corny 50’s era tourist traps still remaining there, kind of like South of the Border along 95. Complete with Davy Crockett coonskin novelty hats and gleeful animal characters. Well, maybe there once was, but it wasn’t quite that corny. They had a water park and a golf course, and when I saw the paintball field and gokart tracks, I wondered why I never made it out here before.
Why don’t we live here?!
I love beach towns, and were it not for the overcrowding of dickbag jocks and drunk girls on spring break and summer vacation, I’d want to live in one. The kind where you can get a semi-bum apartment with linoleum floors and overly tanned seniors and where you never have to walk around in shoes. There’s always a charming sort of Americana that stands out, especially in the cigar store-styled sidewalk decoration like plastic sharks in sunglasses and bright smiles holding up surfboards, or theme hotels like the Aloha Inn, with the totem pole and wild west lettering. These will probably all be gone someday in the wash of hard times and genetrification. The chains will have come in and everything, just like everywhere else, will probably be destined for the boring homogeneity of strip malls. But these little quirky things are all over in beach towns, and where hotels and shops packs every single available piece of space on the boardwalk drive along the Ocean City beach, it’s everywhere.
Except resturants. Where the hell does one get breakfast around here?
Why, the Bull Run Bar & Grille of course! That’s where I meekly ordered my Chum Bucket and a cup of coffee. It’s nothing more than a traditional breakfast, I just hate the name. For one thing, it’s a deceptive name. Were it a greasy spoon, the Chum Bucket would probably be the equivalent of the Garbage Plate you find in short-orders in Buffalo.
From the window, Phil saw batting cages across the street at the Family Fun Oasis. The marquee said that nothing was open till 3PM. Someone should change that sign! I got a boost in self-esteem showing off my batting abilities as a heavily padded T-ball tyke practiced a few rounds a couple cages down. Of course we were only swinging at slow pitched softballs, but I’m a girl… and I can hit! Phil and I haven’t gone to the batting cages since we had been to the Golf Center up in Anne Arundel county last summer. I was more brave then, hitting faster pitch baseballs, and I remember not hitting many on the one hand, and being quite surprised by the imapct of the speed when the ball cracked against that bat when I swung. I ain’t no major leager!
The Family Fun Oasis appeared to have it all – a dried up fun slide, climbing wall, a mini golf course, an arcade, the batting cages, and a buttload of go-kart tracks. Phil bought up double tickets for the both of us — a package deal. We’d get six minutes each on the track, so we chose the fastest and biggest: the Bandit Track. Only, the go-karts on the Bandit Track more closely modeled my own car, since we’d build up some great speed and drift into turns before the car just sputtered out and pushing the accelerator would get you nowhere. The mechanics monkeyed with a circuit panel as Phil and I, the only people on any of the tracks that morning except the one chubby boy on the circular Kiddie Track, plowed around the course. About every minute, we’d abruptly get cut in speed and the motors would just start clicking again until the mechanics found something to press in the panel again.
I think my check engine light is on! Three of male teenage staffers stood off to the side, looking bored or altogether disinterested as the overly tanned mechanics tried to resolve the situation while assuring us that we’d get a good long run in. We definitely got our money’s worth, because after about 10 minutes of intermittent speeding and drifting, we were led to the Grand Prix track to get our full, uninterupted 6 minutes. The Grand Prix was huge, a couple of loops and overpasses. Though not really as fast as the bandit track, or at least my car never seemed to pick up enough speed. After finding out it really isn’t that easy to tip your car on the Bandit Track, I got lead footed, so I had the sense of maximum speed. But, who can complain? We practically got a twenty minute run on the go-karts altogher. Unfortunately, Phil lost his pocket knife in the course of it, and the ultimate afternoon Oasis of Family Fun topper, an air hockey table, wasn’t functioning, so we piled back into the truck and rode on to our next destination: the beach!
I was desparate to get at least one good hour on the beach. We came all this way and didn’t get to enjoy it much on Friday, considering the weather. Being a native Floridian and this pale is just embarrassing. Even if we couldn’t swim (a guy’s dog even got mad at him for carrying him into the frozen waters of Ocean City), we had to lie in the sun! We just had to! So we did, parking ourselves just behind a family of three. A little boy’s swim trunks and floppy hat matched his dad’s swim trunks. The two played a short game of paddle ball, although the kid wasn’t doing too good. He seemed to have a delayed reaction to the ball when it came his way.
The beach was busy with sun bathers and other living things. On the other side of us were what I assumed to be a crowd of seven college-age friends. One of the guys, probably in the mode for impressing the girls, found no problem with rolling around in the sand, scoffing at anyone who scoffed at the activity itself. Sure, but he’s going to be sorry for doing that when he realizes how much sand just got into the small of his back, just below the waist his pants (buttcrack to us lay people). The girls chattered about drinking and parties from the night before as they checked text messages. Oh, that age…
A little ways from the family with the little boy and matching dad were a group of friends who were probably in their 30s that showed up with two big dogs on very long leashes (one was the dog carried out into the water by his owner), and one gunning at the little boy as he played paddle ball with his dad, missing only when he was choked back by his leash. No one even took notice. The boy didn’t even really seem fazed when he told his dad “the dog tried to eat me!” Bite him back!
By the time we flicked the sand out of our towels as best we could after laying out in the sun, we were ready to start making the three hour trip back home. I couldn’t tell if Phil was sarcastic or not about stopping in the Outlet Mall that we saw just as we crossed the Bay Bridge to the Eastern part of Maryland, but I was sure glad we didn’t. We did stop at an Amish Farmer’s Market, though, where we loaded up on a flat of herbs and vegetable plants we were going to plant in the yard, a slew of preserves that Phil picked up in part to send to his parents, and a buttload of old fashioned candy.
Root beer barrels in da heeeouse!
I was hoping to find something cheaper, since all of this was being sold direct, local. Not far from beach country is farm country, and I pictured this being like the country-side farmer’s markets back in Florida. The kind run by Mexican farm families selling their crops as chickens and roosters and dogs wandered around the circular lot. This place was cleaner, and certainly pricier. Damn you, inflation!
Next stop: Greenbelt.