Nobody comes to places like this on purpose.
Even the tourists who rent here in season do so only when the more exciting seaside towns are filled up, then rush in and our for sleep and a change of clothing while using beaches, restaurants and amusements other places have to offer – towns that don’t roll up their sidewalks at dusk the way this one does.
But I can hear the ocean even as I step off the bus, a distant whisper of moving waves somehow connected to something inside of me – as if my internal organs respond to the same change of tides.
The quiet of this place has haunted me since my first accidental stop here years ago.
I still can’t believe this place exists or that it has remained unchanged since my boyhood.
I feel the ach the minute my black boots touch the sandy side and my duffle bag drops beside me – the driver closing the cargo hatch with some mumbled words about “good luck” as he rushes back to his seat to take off. The hiss of the door sounds nearly simultaneously to the grind of gears.
Even he doesn’t want to get stuck here.
I brush the sand off the single stripe that decorates the shoulder of my uniform as if fearful that the tiny grains might hide my life’s greatest accomplishment so far.
Although I come here deliberately, I have no intention of staying, using this stop as a short cut to the more popular retreat a few miles down the beach.
The last bus out of Philly filled so fast it didn’t have room for me, leaving me at the platform to watch the other soldiers waving at me in the windows as they went off to find cheap sea side thrills, while I got left behind.
Remembering this place, I changed my ticket for the next bus here, pondering the meaning of why it had so many vacant seats.
I figure to get a local bus out of here and reach the seaside about the same time the others do. But when I get into the bus depot, I find the station master pulling down the shingle to his window, telling me he’s closed for the night.
I tell him I have to catch the next bus.
No problem, he says, the next bus leaves at noon tomorrow, and I’m crushed.
Taking pity on me the bus clerk tells me the motel offers cheap off-season rates.
I have a three-day pass in my pocket and two bottles of whisky in my bag. I have no intention of wasting either in a town like this – alone.
I hate the idea of losing the first night of my previous pass sleeping away in this sleepy town.
But what choice do I have?
I half carry, half drag my duffle bag along the road, feeling as if it contains a dead body, perhaps my own.
Animals scurry in the underbrush along the road, wood chucks or rabbits, I can not tell with dusk.
Off-season, this place has all the charm of a ghost town.
Even now, the place looks haunted, the buildings pealing paint from a long summer of sun and salt with a few heroic people propped up on ladders scraping the old paint off.
Even the motel looks like a casualty, with one car parked in its gravel lot, and green growing at the bottom of its mostly empty pool.
I smell cooking before I even reach the motel office, and find a woman in an apron scurrying out from some hidden kitchen when I call out at the counter.
She seems surprised to see me and surprised at my uniform, having apparently seen only local people lately.
I ask if she had a room I can rent despite the fact that the “vacant” sign blinks out the window over my shoulder.
She hands me the key to a room and then stops me as I go to leave.
“You hungry?” she asks.
I shake my head, thinking of the bottles I brought, and how they will keep me company tonight, the first lonely night of the three-day pass the Army always issues before they send a man off to war.