The assignment: infiltrate the tourist crowd at the local shore town of ---- --- (name redacted to protect the oblivious). This is a reconnaissance mission only – I am to observe and report, not undermine and destroy (that may be a separate mission).
My tasks begin before my actual arrival at ---- ---, in that I must arrange for lodgings, prepare my wardrobe, and lose enough of my tan so that I blend in with the other pale creatures who emerge from their concrete work prisons once a year, to return all the more depressed after their brief taste of freedom. These preparations take several months, especially since my first choice of motel, or “inn”, fit the company budget until I was notified that that time of year required my stay to be no shorter than two weeks, defeating the savings I would have had at first glance. After an arduous search, I settle on a quaint bed and breakfast set atop a drive-in diner (I am exchanging peace for discounted fares, as all do).
The clothes also take some time, since I must appear to be one of the non-locals. I bring with me a collection of decaled T-shirts, long shorts, flip-flops, and huge sunglasses to wear every day, even if there is rain. A cap for my head and a water bottle holder for my side complete the ensemble – my cell phone and wallet must make do with residing in my pants pockets.
I arrive on a lovely July morning, the seagulls laughing as they soar below the prop planes streaming ad banners and above me, sitting in the miles-long car queue and inching my way into the town’s lone way in (or out). The residents of the houses alongside the main road are nowhere in sight, with many of the windows boarded up and signs on the lawns reading “Back After Labor Day” – curious.
After getting lost thrice, I find the correct street for the bed and breakfast and I squeeze my car into the converted house’s driveway that had been built for a one-person buggy. I check-in at the front desk as small children frolic around me, and I am notified that I will need to find a spot to park my car on the impossibly two-way street because the driveway is needed for the daily delivery trucks. I decide to ditch my car at the local supermarket parking lot for the nonce – this clearly is a walking town anyway.
Since it is late, I decide to go out for dinner (not at the downstairs diner – the prices are too city) and I find a locally owned restaurant on the town’s main drag. The fish is excellent, the ocean-themed drinks are sublime, and the ice cream is frosty. The waitstaff clearly are high school students, so I debate whether to tip higher to reward their initiative, or lower for ignoring me in favor of the customers at the bar. I split the difference and leave the mean – it’s too late for them to spit in my food, and if they already did, then this is what they get for that kind of behavior.
The following day, my zinc oxide sunscreen is sorely tested as I rise early to spend the entire morning, afternoon, and early evening on The Beach. As per behavior I have observed in this setting, I first lie under my umbrella for several hours, then I stand in the surf staring at the waves for several more. I then go back to my umbrella, which the wind has relocated and I must dig a hole to the other side of the planet to keep it in place; the top is now so close to the ground that I hit my head on it a number of times and almost dislodge it again. Several pods of dolphins swim close to the shore and the humans on The Beach cheer, but by then I have had enough and I yell “Shark!” to clear out the rabble. Only the lifeguards really know there are no sharks nearby (that we can see), but since their backs were to me during the incident, they cannot locate the perpetrator. I decamp during the panic to a spot at the end of The Beach that is next to the wildlife preserve, where I spend several hundred minutes watching the birds cavort as the sun sets behind me. I turn in early, as all those waves and the non-shark sighting really wore me out.
I decide to rent a bicycle the next day to see what all the fuss is about. I had nearly run over two families and a wannabe stuntman on those things during my initial trek into town, so this has to be something special if people are willing to risk their lives to do it. Plus, there are plenty of bike lanes – not that everyone sticks to them, as I found out – so I should be all right. After paying the exorbitant rental fee, I mount a lovely beach cruiser and attempt to have it live up to its name as I ride on the paved path alongside the ocean. I soon discover that I am extremely out of shape and the exercise becomes torturous rather than serene. I wait a seemly few hours before I walk the bike back to the rental place, making sure to ride it for the last few feet (I notice that others join me in the same deception).
For the last day of my mission, I know I must do a tour of The Boardwalk. Millions flock here from far and wide to walk on said boards, eat fried food, drink gallons of syrup, play rigged games, buy over-priced tchotchkes and flimsy clothes, and stand on an hour-long line for a minute-and-a-half thrill ride that is duplicated for (almost) free on their everyday commute. I do it all, and I even get my face painted just to see what it would feel like (it feels pretty creepy). The crowds only grow as day turns into night, and there are spectacular fireworks on The Beach to make it seem as if you are receiving something for free after the $20 parking charge. The biggest challenge by far, though, is in foiling the pickpockets: I manage to ward off three, but at one point I notice that the brand patch on my shirt sleeve has been expertly snipped off without my knowledge. Nice work.
Since check-out time at the bed and breakfast will be at sunrise tomorrow morning, I turn in early once more, wiped out by my adventures and by all that salt air. Speaking of which, I must include in my final report that salt air seems to do absolute wonders on hydrangeas.