Our Trip To Delaware, July 2001

by Michelle Erica Green

We had a magnificent weekend on the Delaware shore, something I last did in 1981 with my parents; we had gone every year before and rented a house with my great-aunt and -uncle, but then my father had melanoma and we started avoiding all sun-intensive vacations. We used to stay in Bethany, which is one of the smaller resort towns -- Ocean City, MD and Rehoboth, DE being the larger ones with Dewey being reasonably small but overcrowded. Our hotel was across the street from Indian River Inlet at the border of the state park on the Delaware shore, surrounded on one side by the fresh-water harbor that heads toward the Chesapeake Bay. It's a magnificent place to be, and pretty isolated -- there are lots of expensive beach houses a ways down but the state beach hosts mostly noncommercial fishermen, who sit all day with their trucks and their poles and are both more knowledgeable and more respectful of the environment than most tourists.

We got in Friday night, after fighting the massive amount of traffic headed over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (except for that and the ferry there's no other way over). After a huge, wonderful dinner of flounder stuffed with crab imperial and crab au gratin, we went over to the beach at dusk. There are conservation laws to keep people off the dunes, but we saw lots of evergreen, some cactus that we suspect isn't native, toads and all sorts of other things flourishing around the boardwalk from the street to the beach proper. We hadn't intended to swim at that hour so we didn't wear bathing suits, but I insisted on digging for sand crabs (I still haven't learned their proper name -- mole crabs, sand fleas, sandbugs, even the fishermen didn't know exactly what kind of crustacean they are -- they're about the size of one's thumb to the first joint, rounded, they get washed ashore with the waves and immediately burrow in the sand butt-first though until I learned from a fisherman this trip I had always assumed the other end was the head!) Anyway, we ended up soaking wet from pursuing the little beasts so we swam a little, until it was truly dark.

Saturday we woke up early, though not early enough to see the sun rise over the Atlantic, and went down to the big free breakfast buffet in the screen room on the harbor. In the water there was a nest on a post with osprey babies, beneath which were several egrets, blue herons and a variety of seagulls, plus some kind of terns with black heads. When we went outside with binoculars after we ate, the tide was all the way down so we could see fiddler crabs, clams, mussels, and horseshoe crabs down in the muck -- I guess they're not picky about how salty the water needs to be! There were hundreds of the fiddler crabs, who would get up and run as a group every time a bird came near, which was very amusing to watch from a distance since without the binoculars one can't distinguish individual crabs and sees what looks like a moving wave of bluish rocks. There were also rabbits in the high marsh grasses, which we saw later in the day closer in to downtown Bethany. We went swimming in the morning, walked the beach for awhile, I stopped a fisherman to ask what was biting (flounder and bass) and he pointed out to me where there were dolphins swimming less than 100 feet offshore, jumping together -- I have never seen dolphins in the open water though I had looked from the time I was very young. I thought one had to be up a lot earlier in the morning to have that sort of luck.

Then we showered and went into town to browse the souvenir shops. There are lots of hippie clothing stores which is my favorite thing about beach towns -- I can get India cotton dresses and pareos for next to nothing there. We tried to picnic on the beach but the sand was scorching hot, so we escaped into the air conditioning of a seashell and pirate museum, and we drove out to see a lighthouse situated near a place that custom-designs buoys and lobster traps where we got some crab soup to take home.

Later we went back to the hotel, walked on the beach some more, napped, showered, went out for a fabulous seafood dinner in Bethany at a place called Mango Mike's that's the first place I've ever encountered to serve mango and chipotle relish on swordfish, plus coconut and jerk spices on shrimp -- they were phenomenal -- and then we got some of the ubiquitous fudge and salt water taffy and went back to the hotel to eat it and watch Animal House, which was on TV and reminded me of being in high school when everyone went to the beach the week between school ending and camp starting. Back then every other store on the boardwalk was an iron-on t-shirt place, and I figured by now they would be replaced by temporary tattoo parlors, but I was wrong -- there were iron-on t-shirt places that also sold temporary tattoos, henna painting, incense, bongs, Grateful Dead paraphernalia and all manner of head shop items that are illegal in Ocean City but not over the border in Delaware! Anyway, well after dark we went down to the beach to star-watch, which was somewhat difficult because of the bright half-moon but that made it possible to see ghost crabs scuttling on the sand (completely transparent under a flashlight, really cool).

Sunday morning we got up to swim at dawn, walked about two miles north, went back to check out, then drove into Rehoboth which is the big Delaware tourist town. Some things never change -- the arcade with its always-broken Skee-Ball machines, and the giant pirate ship ride and little planes that go around and up when you pull a lever, a dozen salt water taffy places and formerly-dime-stores, currently-dollar-stores, lots of sunblock retailers that used to carry only Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Oil, the used record stores, the places selling authentic faded Dead t-shirts for less than new homage to Jerry Garcia t-shirts...it's nice to know that the 60s will never end in some places. There was a store from my childhood, the Thunderbird Shop, which was then a cigar-store Indian type of place, lots of plastic collectibles and moccasins -- now it's a high-end Native American home decorator with hundred-dollar handmade peace pipes. Lots and lots of shell shops including one owned by a collector of pirate memorabilia and salvage booty who opened a museum upstairs -- he had lots and lots of silverware and coins from ships that sank off the shores of Delaware carrying would-be immigrants, lots of old bottles, some cannons, some chains, some Senora de Atocha coins and emeralds, and a clay urn made by his father in the fifth grade. We considered getting the boys hermit crabs but decided the hamster will be trouble enough to get taken care of while we are in Maine.

There's a pizza place called Nicola's that was famous from my childhood for Nic-o-bolis, which are essentially pizzas rolled into stromboli shape and stuffed with sauce, cheese and whatever pizza topping one would normally get. We used to have them every year in Rehoboth (that and Phillips' Crab House were the family traditions but now there is a Phillips in Baltimore so we eat there somewhat regularly). We decided to get frozen Nic-o-bolis to bring back for my parents and kids, so after lunch we took a case of them with us. We drove back through thunderstorms that probably ruined the fireworks Rehoboth had scheduled for tonight so as not to interfere with Bethany's centennial celebration on the Fourth of July -- undoubtedly one reason Rehoboth Beach itself was so mobbed as to be unappealing, not a foot between people in the water or between umbrellas in the sand, cigarette smoke and beer everywhere and gulls swooping down to get the droppings -- I much prefer the empty beaches where one only has to look out for the occasional fishing line. Everyone was delighted to have imported food and salt water taffy, and when we got home we discovered that our washing machine seemed finally to be fixed so I tried to get the sand out of everything.

We had plans to leave again the day after next for my in-laws, where Paul's brother Jon and his wife were also staying -- not sure of our plans other than possibly a baseball game -- then back home Sunday night for more laundry!