Weird Tales #1: Ripley's Museum
As usual, the background (a.k.a., context) is necessary. What transpired in the 24 hours preceding this adventure is still somewhat blurry. Firstly I recall being dismayed at a set of broken computers. One of the damaged pieces of machinery met its demise by my hand solely, and I was distraught at my irresponsibility and carelessness. Logical conclusions thus sprung to my mind, the foremost screaming the pair of words I'd heard far too often..."road trip."
"Bah, not again," thought I, "it wasn't that long ago I promised I'd stopped until I moved out west."
But the feeling kept creeping up my spine. Within hours, it was uncontrollable. I felt trapped. The two broken computers were lying lifeless on the floor, cords haphazardly strewn around them.
"Yeah, this is a safety issue," I mentally remarked.
Oh, not the cords. The depression. So, I packed a suitcase with enough to manage 2 days somewhere, hit up a friend [who had stated interest in hitting the beach before the summer ended], and filled up the tank. Money is always an issue, but at that exact moment, it certainly didn't feel that way.
The plan was pretty simple: my cohort had family in the vicinity of Rehoboth Beach, DE. I'd never been, so it amused me to think I'd possibly be bunking up for a few days in unfamiliar territory with unfamiliar people. Unwilling to shy away simply because I felt initial discomfort, I put on my best poker face and agreed to the plan. I'm not easily convinced, however, without experiencing it.
The drive was remarkably short. I'd been rehearsing for this coast-to-coaster that's approaching in about a month, when I kiss the east coast goodbye (at least temporarily) and try things out west. All in all, then, a 150 miler is mere child's play. My colleague disagreed, but the road warrior is what the road warrior is. I cannot deny my roots and my life's blood.
Since roughly 90% of the driving took place on Rt. 1, I won't waste time laboring on about the scenery. As mentioned in other compositions, be it musical or article form, these types of drives are relaxing and enjoyable. The farther away from the general tourist population, the better.
The problem here wasn't that there was an overabundance of tourists, per se. That season was behind us, if only by a matter of days. The issue of "days" was apparent, with russian waitresses at every restaurant and more russian clerks at every store. It's something a mid-20's American male gets used to in this area. After the first few run ins, the novelty wears off, and they're just another person behind the counter. Hell, I've even been to Russia.
No, the problem wasn't inherently these objects of slight irritation. The problem was unfamiliarity. It was a new area, surprisingly, and while I've been known to drive past--even thru--this region, I've never stopped and smelled the coffee.
It's been years since I ventured into something without any real preparation. I'd been married, therefore I'd always done my homework regarding locations, attractions, and how to squeeze every friggin' penny out of every event and minute. In short, I'm not accustomed to traveling "alone". Until this scenario began to unfold, it'd been years of traveling with only a select two or three people. This was about to change, and maybe this change is what gave me the perspective I needed.
Rehoboth Beach is a weird place. It seems to be filled with all manner of people. One example was an elderly man being wheeled around by his caretaker. They obviously were not used to being on the boardwalk, as they approached and asked if smoking was allowed. Considering that everyone else seemed to be doing it, I encouraged them to light up. The guy didn't look like he had much time left, and seemed interested only in peering silently into the horizon. It might have been his last smoke, who knows.
On the other hand, it was populated heavily with the LGBT community. This isn't a bad thing, as having lived down in the rusty Bible belt for nearly a decade has left me missing the overtly gay displays of fashion and attitude. While Ocean City, MD, certainly had better examples of this, Rehoboth beach doesn't seem to discriminate--much less hide--it's more flamboyant edge.
There was absolutely zero music. It was almost maddening. Even in Cape May, NJ, I'd see someone busking on the side of a road somewhere. In Rehoboth beach, however, there was only silence. Perhaps this is the intent, or maybe it was just the time of day/week we were there. No music is altogether depressing, though, and unless the night life (can a small shanty town like this have that?) wakes up tremendously, this is obviously a location for the retired, or at least those seeking a very quiet escape.
It still feels like shanty-town americana, however, and retains this feel throughout the area. The architecture is not dissimilar to other regional escapes, and the selection of retail outlets is on par with the rest of the shopping arenas you'd find like it. The only worthy side note is the no-tax rule. Delaware is well known for it, and many travel across the state border simply to access this convenience. I'm not much for shopping, so this wasn't much of an attraction for me.
Roughly thirty miles south of Rehoboth is Ocean City, MD. This is a common stop for many people, from places like New York and D.C., to humbler origins like Boyertown, PA. One might liken this to a small, ocean front Vegas. It certainly has much of that aire in the evening when the sun goes down and the lights turn on.
The boardwalk was the main attraction, it seems, as the entire downtown appears framed by it. Spanning over two miles in length and sporting hundreds of novelty shops and restaurants, it is a nice way to walk downtown without wearing shoes. If you don't mind seagulls, that is. Anyone who ventures to a beach understands the possible collateral damage incurred, however, and plans accordingly.
The main interests here were the food choices coupled with Ripley's museum. I wanted to encapsulate the mood of this weekend away with some cuisine that was familiar, yet different. The hunt was on for the proper eatery that fit the mood, and we eventually settled on a 50's type diner with a superb selection of "stop-your-heart" fried seafood. I'm assuming it was the same seafood found just about everywhere else, honestly, but the overall aesthetics of the joint made it altogether a positive experience.
Other than that, and a silly run-in with a russian clerk's ego, Ocean City was pretty "normal." There weren't sleepless nights cavorting drunkenly through a town that appeared all but alien thanks to severe perceptual changes. This wasn't another lucid excursion through Chesapeake, or some saunter through "Deliverance" territory. Nothing sincerely noteworthy stood out, and maybe that's a good thing. For once, I am having trouble finding a tongue-in-cheek moment.
Ripley's was honestly enjoyable. It definitely possesses unique quirk, something I have found missing from nearly every other exhibit since visiting London in 2004, but then again, what would one expect from the guy who asks you whether you believe him or not every two seconds.
The current exhibit on display there was the shrunken head. I'm assuming that it rotates to the other three museum locations out of "fairness", so I'm writing under this assumption. Also, that this assumption is correct.
I also want to publicly confess that I broke the spinning lights room. We don't know how I managed to, but a jump and an attempt to not puke and fall over the rail resulted in an abrupt stopping of the rotating mechanism. It never started back up, and we stayed there for almost two hours.
It was funny, though. I saved a poor girl who was honestly too frightened to brave it otherwise.
There was a sincere amount of morbidity on display here. Human bone jewelry, beheadings, torture devices, human skin masks, etc. It was all very visceral. Luckily we were pretty much stone cold sober, and the paranoia was tolerable. There was an air of death hanging throughout the exhibit, and that's probably intended. Ripley appears to have been a terribly disturbed individual at heart.
After the museum, we left the town behind us. The ocean, alas, appeared to be stricken with similar disease akin to the remainder of the eastern seaboard. We did see dolphins playing freely off a jetty, so that was encouraging.
The State of the Midatlantic East Coast
I'm closing this article with a piece of cynicism. What I've been able to witness and take part in, that is, the lifestyle of the eastern seaboard, has resonated with me over my [almost] three decades living here. I've been as far north as the border, and as far south as Miami. I've lived along the shorelines of the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and even the open Atlantic for a short time in 2007.
Now comes the time in my life to move on. I've decided to head west, as far west as I can go and stay in the States. I'm leaving the only region I've ever truly lived in, while I've roamed about elsewhere. The cynical part is the lack of remorse. There really isn't an ounce of sentimentality seeping into this farewell piece, and my "tip-of-the-hat" is more out of respect and longevity than out of desire.
The east coast feels as if it is dying, slowly and painfully, riding into that good night. From Boston to Jacksonville, economic times are difficult and cities appear as if they're even closing down. Detroit, while not a coastal city, reaps the advantages of being on the Great Lakes, across from Canada, but that city (as we all know) is in its death throes. It's only a matter of time before the urban east is reformatted for the 21st century.
In the meantime, I'm skipping town. I don't feel obligated in helping rebuild an area that chooses (more often than not) the wrong choice. I've seen bad decision fall upon bad decision, with no remorse and certainly no attempt to repair the situation. Roads go unfixed, taxes keep getting higher, the votes are being sent in but they're all for the same person, etc.
It's a broken region populated by under educated bafoons with a pseudosense of pride originating from their place of birth. I've never witnessed a group of people with so much understand so little about it. It's maddening. I'm losing my mind.
My offbeat writing style, my musical tastes and compositions, all are better suited on the Pacific coast, where there's a sense of freedom--and, perhaps, the last little piece of the American Dream--to clench onto and hope for. If it exists, I certainly hope I can find it. If it doesn't, it promises to be a fun ride nonetheless.
So, with my first [hopefully of many] "Weird Tales" entry, I make my final salute to the 29 years of living as an East coastie. Here's to 29 more on the other side of the world.