Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Nobody on the Road / Nobody on the Beach

Resort towns are such a romantic mystery to me, although I'm pretty positive I got that impression from the Don Henley song "Boys of Summer." Incidentally, I really hated that song when I was a kid. Couldn't stand it. Then I heard it last year and was like, whoa, wait a minute, this song is at once depressing and brutally 80s. Cha-ching. Same for "Dancing in the Dark," a song whose lyrics I never really listened to until I was about 22 and wanted to change my clothes! My hair! My face! And then it hit me that they call him the Boss for a reason.

But back to the issue at hand, which is that towns with a seasonal rhythm are attractive to me in the same way sleep-away camp or boarding school was when I was younger. That you can be surrounded by an insular population for some of the year and inundated with a steady stream of strangers for rest appeals to both parts of my melodramatic brain--the I Hate Everyone But My Three Friends Lobe and the I Love Watching Strangers Cortex.

I spent five or so days up in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire with Kai, who is the friend I've had for the longest. We realized recently that we've known each other for more than half our lives. I'm older than two twelve-year-olds, which is what we were when we met. Anyway, her aunts own a condo on Lake Winnipasaukee that's crammed to the gills with food and booze and cable television. They weren't using it last week because why would they be? There's no point in being in New Hampshire lake territory when there's still snow on the ground and all the moose-themed ice cream shops haven't yet opened for the season.

Except it was fantastic. You could go for a whole day without seeing another person. We drove to North Conway a few times when we needed something to do. Conway is an even older resort town with kind of a honeymoon history; Kai's grandparents, parents, and most of her aunts and uncles all trucked it up to the White Mountains after they got hitched. We crashed the Eastern Slope Resort (the oldest and largest and whitest and most be-columned hotel we could find) for a minute to see what it looked like inside, talking the entire time about our nonexistent wedding plans to our nonexistent woodsy boyfriends. Otherwise, we hung around mostly on the "scenic railway" train tracks.

The trains were all parked for the winter in front of the aggressively old-timey station. I mean, during the tourist season you can take sepia-toned pictures of yourself in a boa with a gun and a jug of XXX-marked "whiskey" in a shack in the parking lot. That's how old-timey I'm talking, here. But the obvious emptiness of the town helped make the station a lot less Chuck-E-Cheese for me--more like walking around in a carnival after they close the gates and switch off all the blinking bulbs. Especially when you you factor in the weird looks we got from the eight or so bored teenagers hanging around in the parking lot, which just cemented the idea that "townie" is an identity I really like. Seriously. The ability to give that look that says "who the fuck do you think you are?" to anyone you haven't seen before is a skill I will never master like those kids had it down.

The other thing North Conway had going for it was a surprisingly cute coffee shop that sold a bucket of Americano for less than the price of a tall regular piece of crap coffee at Starbucks. It was the highlight of our first trip to the town because we found their stack of communal journals, in which a handful of high school kids had chronicled the entire summer before they left for college.

And then, on the second day, we were cornered by a woman who began her endless stream of conversation by asking "Wanna hear a weird story?" and then telling us that her dog was a hermaphrodite, which she thought was funny because she used to date women and she was currently married to a man who used to date men. This was all completely unprompted. Other things I learned about her before Kai rolled her eyes so far back in her head we had to leave, lest they get stuck that way: she has chinchillas; she has a tattoo of the Grinch on her leg and she does not shave the skin inside the outline of his face; she does not have a television but will recite the plot of several clips from the last episode she saw of "America's Funniest Home Videos."

Totally nuts, yes, but the most I get at my coffee shop is a stroller to the shin and a punch on my frequent buyer card.

I love New York, I do, but I love it uncomfortably. I don't know, maybe like how Marines feel about boot camp in retrospect? Like, when I'm here it's exhausting and too loud and a trial to get anywhere and you feel like crap half the time and everyone is on top of you and your outfit is never, ever the coolest one in the room and you are broke no matter how much money you make and people who are clearly dumber than you give you snide looks and ask to help the "following customer," which I still maintain is not entirely gramatically correct. But then I leave. And I walk around a town of fifteen people and two stores and scenic panoramic views and fresh air, and I buy coffee from a girl who compliments my tattoos and offers me the wireless access code for free because she is just plain nice. Then she turns back to talk to her friends and it makes me feel tough, because living here has made me able to handle life without the safety net of pleasantry.


Blogger Tripp said...

That's really beautifully written, thoughtful, from-the-gut. It also is spot-on regarding New Hampshire resort towns... Good stuff.

1:30 AM  

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