Back from vacation on the eastern seaboard.

29 August 2009

Lyssa and I got up early (which is to say, we slept in for a change) last Tuesday to get our stuff packed and leave for our first vacation in a couple of years. Jason met us at our apartment and helped us load everything into the back of his SUV (we packed kind of heavy for a change, though most of it consisted of books that we were hoping to catch up on). After a quick lunch at our local deli and a sidetrip to pick up some essentials (like shampoo and asthma medication) we then hit the highway. We headed due east toward Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for a couple of days laying of sand, surf, and tourist traps. All told we made it there in about three hours time counting the rainstorm we drove through on our way coastward. As it’s wont to be this time of year this far south the weather was sickeningly, painfully humid – humid enough that your hair wouldn’t dry without mechanical assistance and you could almost chew the air. Our hotel was located on the main drag of Rehoboth and seemed to have been designed during a time when the Model T was all the motor vehicle anyone needed, so it took some carefull maneuvering to get Jason’s vehicle into a parking space. After checking in we made two trips to offload our kit and stash it all in our tiny hotel room. Thankfully there was working air conditioning that ran full blast, so after pausing to change we hiked the two blocks eastward to hit the beach.

I’ve never really been to the beach – over twenty years ago I used to visit the shores of some large-ish lakes down in Texas and I’ve been to San Francisco Bay once or twice but this trip was my first visit to a real shore. Truth be told I hadn’t expected there to be so much stuff mixed into the sand – bits of shells, water-polished rocks of all sizes and sorts, and yes, the odd bits of junk that people seem to strew all over the place. The sand was also pleasantly warm and you could feel the breeze coming off of the water and heading inland. You really can smell the ocean, too: it doesn’t smell like organic matter or warm water or anything like that, but kind of dry and I would think unique to the area you happened to visit. I don’t expect the sea air at Rehoboth Beach to smell anything like that of, say, Texas or Florida. The seawater was cool but not cold so it didn’t take a long time to get used to, which I found another pleasant surprise.

The waves were amazing – it was very strange to feel the waves break against my body or the shore while water closer to the bottom was simultaneously receeding. I’m not Steve Mann or anything but from the persepective of fluid dynamics, that’s crazy stuff as far as I’m concerned. It also felt neat to stand on the sandy bottom and feel the sand and silt slither out from under my feet when the tide carried it away. Seawater isn’t as strongly flavored as I thought it would be; you can’t spend any time in the ocean and not taste it for one reason or another. It’s salty, but not to the point of being overpowering or anything like that. Also, you really can smell the sea air at a distance, at least a block away when the wind is blowing.

The three of us packed up in the early evening when we were too tired to swim safely and body surfing into shore (which is a lot of fun – I highly recommend the side stroke if you want to give it a shot) was more likely to faceplant you into the sand than get you back on dry land while standing. We took turns relaxing on the beach and exploring, then picked up a few supplies during the stroll back to the hotel, showered, changed clothes into something more comfortable, and after some aimless wandering in circles due to low blood sugar eventually went to dinner at Dos Locos, a tex-mex restaurant with a strong leaning toward seafood. None of us opted for the stone grilling option because assembling our own food was probably beyond our capabilities at the time – there was an accident with a glass of iced tea which resulted in two members of the waitstaff practically teleporting in to clean everything up to make the point. The Loco Enchiladas (enchiladas stuffed with a family’s worth of crab meat) are excellent, the flounder is very tasty, and the scallops were grilled to perfection. Between all of that and the attentive service, I can’t recommend this restaurant highly enough – half a flaregun. Just bring your chequebook because the food’s a little on the pricy side, though it’s worth it.

With full bellies, Jason and I spent the evening relaxing in our hotel room. Lyssa, ever the adventurous one, roamed the boardwalk and explored some of the side streets until the wee hours of the morning. Just a few hours later we were up bright and early, found an unusually tasty lunch at a sub shop just down the street, and explored some of the stores that Lyssa had mapped out the night before. Many of them happen to be tourist trap-type places – there are only a few different kinds (tacky t-shirt and curio store, small bookstore, trinkets and kitsch store, swimwear boutique, restaurant of random quality and price) and all had pretty much the same stuff for pretty much the same price. By and large, the prices didn’t much more than a dollar or two from store to store so I’ve come to the conclusion that if you don’t have to you really shouldn’t do a whole lot of shopping that close to the boardwalk. I will say, however, that this was the first area I’ve seen healthy and happy looking hermit crabs for sale in a long while. My admonitions aside, we still bought a few things from some of the smaller stores – stickers, pins, little things like that to remember our first trip to the each in over a decade (or ever, in my case). When it got too hot to hike we headed back to the hotel to drop our stuff off and change. Jason relaxed in the hotel room because he’d hurt his back a few days earlier and the heat wasn’t helping matters any while Lyssa and I walked around a bit more and then headed for the beach to swim for a couple of hours. While searching for someplace to set our towels out on the sand we had a run in with a ghost crab that seemed to have gotten lost among all the sunbathers. A few of the kids were inclined to torment it somewhat but one with a camera chased the others off, proably more to get some pictures for herself than anything else but I’ll take what I can get.

Swimming that afternoon was abortive, to say the least. The surf was much more rough than the previous day and Lyssa and I got tossed around enough to make us reconsider cooling off in the ocean. Lyssa cut her foot in several places when the surf knocked her over, then a few minutes later I was pitched ass over elbows by an incoming wave and bounced my head off of the seafloor. After stumbling back to dry land and rinsing the sand out of my hair we both decided to take things easy for a couple of hours. Not quite ready to head back to our hotel room we bought a couple of (overpriced yet larger than either of us expected) funnel cakes from a kiosk on the boardwalk, hiked back to the hotel to get changed and pick up Jason, and then headed out to dinner at a smaller restaurant a couple of streets off to one side of the main drag. Afterward we did the Lost Boys thing and hung out at one of the arcades on the boardwalk until everything shut down. Truth be told, there wasn’t a whole lot at the arcades, either: just a bunch of the usual “shovel quarters in until you collect enough tickets to get a toy” money traps, the occasional first person shooter, a full-sized Guitar Hero game that cost way too much money to play a single song, some pinball machines, and two lone Ms. Pac-Man games.

Don’t get me wrong, I like hanging out with the Pac’s pink-bowed lady, but there were other video games in the 80’s.

Lyssa, Jason, and I spent the bulk of our time at the arcade playing pinball games. Much to my surprise I got completely skunked by the Addams Family pinball game but did pretty well on the Indiana Jones pinball game. Lyssa did scarily well on the Lord of the Rings pinball game; I don’t know what Jason was playing but, well after I ran out of quarters, I rounded everyone up when the management politely asked us to leave around 0100 because they were trying to shut everything down for the night. After the last metal shutter was brought down we hiked along the shore for a while, listening to the surf and watching the sand pipers scurry along the waterline hunting for food that had washed up. Near the remains of what used to be a pier we stopped to collect a couple of samples of seawater to bring back with us in some bottles scavenged from the trash.

We got up early on Friday morning to prepare for the second leg of our journey, checked out of the hotel, and set course northward to Connecticut. Not too far out from Rehoboth we stopped at a Wawa for petrol, breakfast (which turned out to be largely a bust because they were simply out of most of their breakfast stuff), and travel supplies for the six hour drive through New Jersey and New York state. The drive up was fairly uneventful, modulo getting stuck in a thunderstorm on the George Washington Bridge which probably added an hour or so to our route through New York City. We eventually arrived at the hotel, a Motel 8, in the early evening, offloaded most of our stuff from Jason’s SUV and met up with Jean for dinner at the nearby steakhouse. It’s odd but not all that surprising that our room at the Motel 8 was much larger than the one in Rehoboth, much nicer, much cheaper (about half the price), and included a flatscreen LCD television (which, being a bunch of geeks, we didn’t make use of). After dinner we called it an early night so that we could geet up at a reasonable hour the next morning to drag ourselves out of bed, load up some of our stuff for a day trip, and get breakfast with Jean before traveling the three hours or so farther north to visit Salem, Massachusetts, the pagan capital of the west. Jason and I figured that we had to make a pilgrimage to the Mecca of pagan kitsch at least once in our lives to say that we did it, which is probably why Jean and Lyssa let us get away with it (having been there a couple of times).

If you’re a practitioner, chances are you won’t find much of what you need at Salem unless you hunt. Most of the town is a tourist trap (albeit a pretty one) with a lot of history (and a lot of bad history), some very expensive-looking properties, but a lot of good food. Salem is the Pagan mecca of the west and it’s acutely aware of this fact. There are some highly unusual stores at the local mall (where we parked after arriving) that play up the pagan kitsch theme, as you would expect. What I can best describe as a curio shop for occultists (with everything from an antique slide rule to a first-edition hardcover copy of LeVay’s The Satanic Rituals) can be found next to a tiny t-shirt store next door to a small-ish museum of macabre paraphenalia (bottled human organs, penis bones from minks, and coffin keys (one of which I bought to add to my collection, just in case)).

While out and about at Salem the four of us stopped off for lunch at a restaurant on the wharf called Finz, and for a surprisingly reasonable price had awesome seafood (and really, really good vegan curry). Jason and Jean raved over the fish and chips, and Lyssa’s Jamaican Jerk shrimp salad was pretty good, also. If you find yourself in Salem I can’t recommend this place enough – half a flare gun and bring a healthy appetite. That said, a lot of the really useful stuff is either off to the side or on the outskirts of town, so keep your eyes open. While I didn’t buy anything there Pyramid Books has an excellent selection of books on many topics so I’d advise having a good idea of what you’re looking for if you go there to buy something. Also, if you happen to find yourself in Salem and you’re a serious practitioner, visit Nu Aeon down by the waterfront (88 Wharf Street; Pickering Wharf; Salem, MA; 01970; phone 978-744-0202) – the owner’s a nice guy and it’s stuffed full of some difficult to find texts. I can’t recommend this place highly enough. We also took some time out to visit Laurie Cabot‘s store at Pickering Wharf – we’re not really that impressed with it. She has lots of style and kitsch, lots of incense, but not much else. If you want to go, go to say that you went but I doubt you’ll really find anything useful or helpful there.

Shortly before heading back to Connecticut we visited the small museum of the macabre’ at the mall that I mentioned earlier, and wound up hanging out with the guy behind the counter who goes by the handle of Depeche Mike. He’s a pretty nice guy with excellent taste in music, which we wound up talking about for a while. I mentioned some of the curios that were on display here earlier, but the ones that really caught me off my guard were part of the small collection of human remains for sale (phalanges for $6us-$8us, ribs for $30us, cervical vertebrae for $50us). Contrary to popular belief, human bones are legal to purchase and own in the United States, the question is how they were originally acquired. A good friend of mine buys some of hers from The Bone Room in Berkeley, California, there are outfits that specialize in human skulls, and sometimes you can even find them on eBay. For $3us per head visitors can also visit a small display in the back of the museum that contains a number of artefacts related to mediaeval torture acquired from a private collection in Germany, such as the handle from a release lever from a rack, assorted torture implements for crushing feet or exploring parts of the body best left umplumbed, and a pair of human skulls which were probably from condemned prisoners judging by the time period and the manner in which they had been mistreated over the years prior to their acquisition.

Sensitives and the squeamish may wish to pass on this exhibit, though I do suggest spending some time with Depeche Mike if you can.

Late in the day we started on the three hour trip back to our hotel in Connecticut and stopped along the way at one of the few remaining Friendly’s to grab a bite to eat. The food was nothing to really write home about, save that you can’t even call it healthy in a charitable light. Consensus says that the chain’s really gone downhill, which is probably why it’s starting to disappear around the country. After rolling back into the hotel we hung around the hotel room for a while to decompress and turned in shortly after midnight to pack our stuff up and make the long trek homeward on Sunday, a journey that was to take about six hours if we used the suggested routes or nine if we made the attempt to avoid toll roads (which would have taken us as far westward as Pittsburgh). After loading our last bag of stuff we met up with Jean one last time to go to breakfast at a local diner, stocked up on a few things at CVS that we’d run out of, and then began the journey southward to DC.