Holiday Road

We first became aware of the song at the end of last summer, during a long three hours in the car. We were coming back from Ocean City, Maryland. It was September, when the days are still warm, but the nights get cool. It was still summer on the calendar, but the kids were back in school, and we shared the highway with big yellow buses. September has a certain cruelty to it.

As we drove, we felt sun-kissed and peaceful and maybe a little sad, but also excited to sleep on our own bed, under our own comforter, and not the threadbare, scratchy hotel blanket. Sitting in the car for three hours is a mind game. We tried to find license plates from different states, but the only different state was Delaware and sometimes Virginia. We saw a Rhode Island, but that was a long time ago, back at the Exxon station.

When we first began dating, I made mix CDs for our road adventures. The girlfriend never liked them because the she thought the songs I picked were depressing. I guess I couldn’t help myself. A good mix CD, by nature, ought to be a little dour. These days, we analyze the songs on the radio, each one a new conversation piece. But right now, they were playing commercials.

That’s when we heard it. In a Kenny Loggins-esque voice, a man sang with too much earnest:

Seaside Country store!
We’re a little bit country but a whole lot more!
Most unusual store on the shore!
Seaside Country store!

There was something about it. It was catchy. It was Osmondy. Then it was time for another uninterrupted block of music. Man, Weezer sucks these days. Whatever happened to Everclear? Then there’s The Smashing Pumpkins. The girlfriend had a story about friend whose older sister was a Goth.

“When this song came out, I was twelve. My friend had a sister who had these Goth friends, and they sat in her bedroom and listened to that song. They hung out in the graveyard and told us never to go there after dark, because it bites.

“We didn’t know what that meant,” she continued. “We went there after dark and nothing happened. I think they were having weird vampire sex,” the girlfriend explains. “That’s what this song reminds me of. Being twelve. I still liked to play with my Barbies, but I was losing that innocence.”

I was sixteen when it came out. It just reminds me of being bored. That thick, dense boredom. That kind of boredom only comes once in your life. Sometimes, I have a strange nostalgia for it. We were quiet for several minutes. We thought about these things and drove.

We watched the fields go by. When I was a kid, the whole drive to the beach was fields. Forever fields and blue skies and nothing to look at except the occasional cow, which was extremely exciting. The cow was like a spark plug that jolted the car.

“LOOK A COW,” one of us would exclaim, and me and my sister and mother and father–all of us–would press our faces to the glass. And sometimes, we would also moo.

But now there are less fields and more Walgreens and Family Dollars–places to buy last minute plastic flip flops before the beach. More of everything these days. There used to be only one McDonald’s along the way, and it was exciting when they built a Burger King. But now there are all kinds of fast food choices, even exotic ones like a combined KFC/Taco Bell.

We passed a billboard for a steak house. We passed a roadside stand selling carved wooden statues of eagles. We passed a fruit stand called Pop Pop’s Produce. It’s been there since I was kid, and has always reminded me of my grandfather, even though he died before I was born. We passed a bull with wide, heavy horns, walking along the fence, followed by a group of six goats, walking two feet behind him.

“Wait, was that a really a bull?” I asked.

“A bull being followed by goats,” the girlfriend said.

“Why do you think those goats were following him?”

“If you were a goat, wouldn’t you also choose that as your leader?”

“Probably.”

It made sense. And as I thought about it, suddenly that song cut through the car again.

Seaside Country store!
We’re a little bit country but a whole lot more!
Most unusual store on the shore!
Seaside Country store!

“There’s that commercial again,” I said. I began to sing along. “MOST unusual store on the SHOOOORE! The girlfriend joined in. “SEASIDE COUNTRY STORE!”

“We should go there sometime,” I suggested. And from that moment, the song became an obsession. And the store, whatever the hell it was, became a legend. We imagined the unusual items Seaside Country Store might stock. There are thousands of junk stores and gift shops along the shore. All of them are exactly the same with similar-sounding names like Souvenir City and Gift Nook and Beach Bums. They sell the same t-shirts and knick knacks and overpriced suntan lotion, staffed by exceedingly polite Eastern European students.

I knew Seaside Country Store would be different. I just knew it. Yes, a little bit country, but a whole lot more. And I didn’t know what was implied in the word “more,” but I felt it must be something special.

Even after we got home, I continued singing the song as we unpacked. Our clothes still smelled like coconut oil and sand, but soon they would smell like Arm and Hammer dryer sheets. I hummed the song through dinner. We ordered pizza, not ready to face the realities of home and ovens and leafy green vegetables. I have a healthy fear of leafy greens. Later, we watched TV, and during the commercials (and sometimes during the show), we interjected with random lines of the song to each other.

Seaside Country store!
We’re a little bit country but a whole lot more!
Most unusual store on the shore!
Seaside Country store!

We’ve been singing that song since the summer, and the unusual items inside the store have only grown in myth. Coconut bras? Shark fetuses? Two-headed hermit crabs? Do hermit crabs even have heads?

We couldn’t wait until summer. This past weekend, we decided to go.

There isn’t much to do at the beach in the winter, but the shops are open on the weekends. It would be a chance to steal a few summertime traditions in the winter. It’s probably wrong to eat a giant tub of hot caramel corn in the blustery cold of February, but you only live once. Besides, it wasn’t like we were going to order funnel cakes. That would be a sin.

The wind gusts reached 60+mph as we walked along the boardwalk. It kicked up the sand and sprayed it in our faces. The disassembled Ferris Wheel spun, appearing to be operating. The hotels and restaurants sat suspended, shuttered and braced for winter, biding their time. They seem to wait, like the rest of us, for the summer and for the sun and for something.

We’ll just have to settle for the Spring in the meantime.

Everywhere were the signs—with a hint of a desperation—that Springfest was coming. And so was Richard Marx. Motherfucking Richard Marx. The girlfriend and I pondered what the hell it was the guy even sang. We stood in front of the sign, transfixed by the intense stare of Richard Marx. We named a few songs, but they were all Bryan Adams songs. Oh well.

But don’t tell me. I won’t even Google it. I want it to come to me naturally—one day while I’m playing Tetris or eating a banana—it will surge into my brain. THE NAME OF THAT SONG RICHARD MARX SANG. Until then.

Yet the beach is alive in other ways in the winter. Dogs aren’t allowed on the beach or boardwalk in during the summer, but in the winter, it’s dog city. All kinds of dogs stroll the boardwalk with their owners. There are little floofy dogs and long-haired smelly dogs and dogs that are probably white, but are now an off shade of gray. They do dog things like look at each other and sniff and woof playfully. These are seemingly simple actions to us, but I’m sure to them they are very involved conversations.

I take the song from the “Bear City” Saturday Night Live skit, and replace the word “bear” with “dog.”

Dog City, Dog Dog city. Dog City, Dog Dog city.

It’s funny every time.

We passed by a dog having the time of her life on the beach, rolling in the sand. She wasn’t waiting for anything. Not the summer nor the spring. Not even motherfucking Richard Marx.

But now it was time to visit the most unusual store on the shore. Seaside Country Store isn’t located in Ocean City proper. Ocean City ends at 146th Street along Coastal Highway, and Seaside Country Store lies just a mile beyond it. Along Coastal Highway in Maryland, there are hundreds of signs per square foot vying for your attention.

ICE CREAM MINI GOLF POPCORN RIBS CONDOS BEACH WEAR CHEAPEST LARGEST VOTED BEST GREATEST CRABS CRABS CRABS.

But you can feel it instantly when you’ve hit the Delaware line, as the number of signs drop off to just two or three per block. We were almost there. I envisioned jars of weird jellies, creepy hand-sewn dolls with real glass eyes, and monkeys. Real ones. I wouldn’t expect any less from a store that promised a whole lot more.

“There it is!” I said, seeing the reddish barn-looking building ahead.

The girlfriend swerved across three lanes to turn in. That’s when I realized I really should have looked at the winter hours on the website first.

Oh well. We will be back. This post will be continued in July of 2011. We turned around and crossed back into Ocean City, realizing that three hour drive back home was yet ahead of us. We decided to stop along the way for a round of indoor jungle miniature golf.

I whooped the girlfriend in mini-golf. Well, in truth, it came down to one stroke between us for the last four holes. That meant every swing was intensely choke-worthy. My palms sweating, I prayed the girlfriend would bungle it all, making a grievous mistake like bouncing it off that rock, the ball rolling back to its starting point.

It came down to my hole-in-one—of which the girlfriend contests the validity. She says I’m a cheater. But I don’t cheat. I play competitively.

Also, I took a picture of a monkey’s butt.

What’s important to realize here is that the large monkey is on a spinning platform, so I had to time the picture precisely as the butt rotated. I did it for you. Yes, you.

You’re welcome.

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9 responses to “Holiday Road

  1. Did you know there’s an old Muppets movie called Dog City? Seriously, there is! It was a tv movie. It’s on dvd. I got it from Netflix awhile back. Good times. ;)

    “We are not open” saddest statement ever! I was all excited right there with you, too! This is like that time I went to Disney World and didn’t see ONE mascot! Not one! That was also a sad day.

    Thank you for the monkey butt. It almost made up for bringing back a traumatic memory. ;)

  2. How disappointing. I really wanted to know what’s inside the country store. I bet it turns out to be awesome, with giant hermit crabs using old Ballantine beer cans for shells.

  3. Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww No! July?! That’s like an eternity! That store’s gonna have mounds of awesome that reach the ceiling. You can tell.

  4. Oh no. You know what it’s going to be like when you finally get in to the place, right? It’s going to be SO SAD.

  5. no way. I believe in the MOUNDS OF AWESOME. I believe! Even if the store is stupid, I know there is still going to be one awesome thing in there that cannot be found anywhere else on earth, and I will find it and buy it. I just know it. I feel it.

  6. There is a store along Route 50 on the way to Ocean City that we always use to pass and I never got to go into. It’s a small blue building with pictures of cartoon caracters on it that says it sells antique toys….. but, I’ve looked it up and apparently it has been closed for quite a while now. I still can’t stop thinking about what might have been in that store!

    I must’ve hit send on this before putting in my name. Eeesh.

  7. Fantastic post! Great pics, too.

  8. ilovehorseyrides

    I love the monkey butt pic the best :)

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