I recently returned from a week at the beach with my family. Having grown up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, what we call "the beach," has its southern start in Ocean City, Md., and goes north up Route 1, extending to Rehoboth Beach, Del.
As I tend to write about Arkansas culture, I'm dedicating an entry to the Delaware beach culture, something I hold near and dear to my heart.
I have visited this beach every summer for as long as I can remember. And while my mother winning giant stuffed animals for my brothers and me at the Wac-A-Mole game at Funland on the Rehoboth boardwalk is no longer the highlight of the trip, this part of the world has evolved into somewhat of a haven to me. It's about 150 miles from Washington, usually a three-hour drive -- close enough for a single night away, but just far enough to be an escape.
Over the years, it's grown significantly. There are multi-million-dollar houses with ocean views, and there are inland developments lined with identical homes that are more fitting for Any Given Suburb, U.S.A. As the valuable real estate is increasingly built upon, developers are now building up, instead of out, with pastel-colored townhouses so tall they have elevators. Then there are the trailers that have always laid claim to pretty desirable plots of land, and it will probably stay that way until some developer buys out the owners and starts from scratch.
Each beach town has an identity. Ocean City is packed with condo buildings with beach views, along with a boardwalk and amusement park. Fenwick Island and Bethany Beach are traditional family-friendly beaches, populated mostly by unique and often breathtaking single-family homes either on the beach or on canals that give boats access to the Assawoman Bay, which goes out to the Atlantic. These towns have cute, family-owned shops full of things you can't help but buy to decorate your beach house. For example:
Looking out from the Bethany boardwalk:
Bethany Beach is also home to my father and stepmother's house:
Our dogs are the welcoming party:
The live version:
Dewey Beach is a small strip featuring mostly bars and motels, perfect for the college-aged crowd...or for those who wish they were still in college. Next comes Silver Lake, which I have always considered one of the most scenic areas. It's this placid stretch of water surrounded by homes with gazebos. Furthest north is Rehoboth, with the fancy restaurants and another boardwalk.
My mother and stepfather's house is on the bay. I spent the great majority of my week at the beach sitting here, reading and/or having a cocktail:
At sunset from a nearby restaurant, which happens to specialize in crabs:
Hardshell crabs are any true Marylander's heaven. All kosher rules go out the window when served such deliciousness as these, smothered in Old Bay seasoning:
Below is a soft-shell crab sandwich. Soft-shells happen at a certain point in a crab's life, when it loses its hard shell. You eat the crunchy crab, shell and all:
The sign outside the restaurant told the truth, though I can't comprehend why this place wouldn't capitalize on its Chesapeake Bay crab heritage:
When I managed to tear myself away from the deck, other activities included:
Our old stand-by, Nicola's Pizza in Rehoboth, specializing in nicoboli goodness (ground beef, melted cheese, and the veggies of your choice wrapped up in a doughy calzone):
Spotting the wild horses on Assateague Island:
Parsons Farms Fresh Produce:
My first reaction to a farmers market being open on a Sunday, was, "But wait! Farmers markets are always open on Saturdays, not Sundays!" Why did I think this, dear reader? Because in Arkansas, this is the only way I've seen it done. Buy your fruits and vegetables on Saturdays, head to church Sunday.
See, it goes both ways -- I bring my Yankee ways to Arkansas, and the Arkie ways go with me when I leave.
The Bible Belt does not traditionally go as far north as Delaware, but...
A waitress at the Bluewater Grill in Millsboro, Del., said to my mother and me: "You want to hear something funny? I thought you were both saying grace but you were just texting."
On a related note, the liquor store we frequent is called the Bayville Package Store. I thought it sold stamps or packing materials or something. My family's best guess on the reason behind its name is that alcohol is intended to be sold -- and hidden? -- in brown paper packages.
And perhaps the greatest juxtaposition of all? The quirky Roxana Country Corner adjacent to the Intimate Pleasures Boutique -- on Zion Church Road (of course):
Back in the swollen heat of Arkansas, I leave you with this lovely thought: