Monday, September 6, 2010

My Own Kind of Holiday

The rush of tourists had been building steady all summer long. Even before Memorial Day, they started filling the campgrounds, the restaurants, and the beaches. RVs kept rumbling down the highways, and the local grocery and variety stores were filled with them, buying last minute items and some of the camping gear they thought they needed for the beach. Given the weather, rain gear and blankets would be on the list.

I got used to waiting at the traffic lights for two or three lights, inching forward, checking out the out of state plates in front of me, and occasionally stomping on the brake to avoid a maneuver by some tourist who was lost or needed to make a sudden lane change. Navigating in our small town isn’t too difficult, but that assumes you know where you are going and you can figure out if you are going to the beach or to the big city over the hill. Left or right, it doesn’t seem too difficult.

But, then again, I live here and I know the geography and don’t need a road map. And, I don’t need to find a campground or a motel tonight. I have my groceries stashed at home, and a quiet back yard to enjoy for the evening. And, if I’m playing tourist somewhere else, I would be a good candidate for some of the whacky driving I see here.

But, today is different. It’s Labor Day, a special day for us locals. It’s the day we get our town back and our roads and our beaches. Most of the tourists are leaving today, headed back to work and the start of school. The highway noise has already abated quite a bit, and I am enjoying the silence of the neighborhood, now that the campers and RVs and the trailers hauling the ATVs for the sand dunes have headed back to the big city.

My wife and I jumped out on the edge this morning, and headed out looking for breakfast at one of our favorite spots. We knew we’d hit the tourists, making one last grab at the restaurants and one last visit to the beach. Traffic was thinning out nicely, and we didn’t even get behind an RV on our way to the restaurant.

Still, we were pretty disappointed to find it closed. I guess the owners had finally had their fill of the long lines and crowds of hungry tourists filling their restaurant. I can’t say that I blamed them. It had been a long summer, despite the long bouts of cold, wet weather, and the endless weeks in June when we didn’t even see the sun. The tourists still came, and were a bit grumpy, but business was good and the motels and campgrounds still filled up.

We kept on driving, going about twenty miles farther up the coast than we had planned, and hoping Choice #2 was open. Well, it wasn’t. They must have had the same thought as the owners of the first restaurant, and actually took the holiday off, like the rest of us.

I suspect a lot of the restaurant and motel folks head up the river and find a quiet spot, taking a bottle or two of wine or a case of beer, and having a quiet picnic. Some peace and quiet would definitely be in order. They’ve earned every minute of silence by the riverbank.

On we went, hoping that #3 was open, and it was. There was even a place to park and we grew optimistic that we’d find a nice quiet table and enjoy a peaceful breakfast, at a place well known for its good and hearty breakfasts.

Instead, we were greeted by a line, and a waiting list, and many of the tables were filled with tourists with hungry, tired kids. The parents looked even more beat, and you could tell they were secretly waiting for the start of school the next day and some time of peace and quiet during the week. The kids were sunburned and had a few scrapes and scratches from their time at the beach or in the campground. The cars in the parking lot were crammed with disorderly mounds of camping clothes and beach toys. The dads all needed a shave and the moms hadn’t bothered with makeup.

Still, the wait wasn’t all that long, and the waitress actually recognized us as locals when she brought us coffee and menus. She just rolled her eyes in a silent commentary on the noise of the tired kids all around us. She was ready for a break, too, and was probably wishing she’d worked at Restaurants #1 and #2.

As we waited for our food, the place started to thin out a bit, and we saw families getting back in their car, for the final leg of the drive home. You could tell mom and dad were hoping that breakfast would result in sleepy kids on the way home and some peace and quiet.

Later on, we ambled down the sidewalks of the beach front town, exploring some of the stores and taking in the pretty sidewalk flowers of the place. It was so overrun with tourists during the summer, that we’d never taken the time to walk around, and see what all the tourists were enjoying.

We wandered into one of my favorite rainy day stops, the local book store. It was just us in there, and the clerk, who looked both tired from the summer, and bored because she didn’t have to answer any tourist questions. I had time to browse and finally found a good book for a friend. It was one of those simple pleasures that summer at the coast never lets you enjoy.

Apparently, we had worked up a thirst of sorts, and we stopped by the espresso place, one of those places that has a lot of magazines and nice tables to sit at, and where you can read the New York Times and not feel like you need to rush off. At least, that’s the feel you get on a rainy day when it’s not tourist season.

Still, as we walked up on the patio, there were at least twenty people loudly laughing and crying and saying good bye to each other. Apparently, a group of beach house seasonal types had planned to gather at the coffee shop for one last latte and to say good bye.

I felt like shoving them aside, and helping them to their cars, just so I could get to the barista and order a nice quiet cup of Joe and find an empty table, like I’d do on a respectable fall day around here. And, my patience, what little I had, was rewarded when the seas of departing tourists finally finished their good byes and got in their cars. There really was an empty table for us, and a copy of the Sunday New York Times to purview. Peace at last.

Thoroughly enjoying my coffee, I also had a chance to look at some of the art work on the wall, a creation of a local artist, and browse the newspaper. No crowds hovering around the cashier, and no long wait for my coffee, either. Yes, it was truly a holiday and the tourists really were leaving. I was celebrating in my own quiet way.

Afterwards, we ambled back home along the back roads, with only a few bicyclists reminding us that we still had the “little season” to endure. That’s the time in early September when the college kids are still out doing athletic things like bicycling the entire length of the coast, or the old folks in their giant RVs venturing forth to the beach, before they get geared up to play snow birds and fly off down the road to Yuma for the winter. We’d need a good southwest storm to come in to make them go home. But, the storm would bring the fish in, and then there’s the fall fishermen. But, that’s another story.

Still, as we passed the cheese factory, which boasts, or cringes, at the fact they have a million visitors a year. That place was still a zoo. I guess you have to make one last stop before you head back to home after your vacation at the beach, and get an ice cream cone. I wanted one, too, but I could wait a day. Tomorrow, there will be plenty of places to park there, and no line for the chocolate peanut butter on a waffle cone.

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