On almost every beach I have ever visited, there are the treasure seekers. Some are looking for clams, some for polished stones, some for lost coins or jewels, some for the treasure the ocean sometimes yield. On the Hampton Beach early this cold and windy morning, a mother and her son were out digging for treasure. I am not sure what they found, if anything, but I shouted good luck to them, they always inspire me to look for the treasure in my own life.
I was born in a cottage by the ocean in Barrington, R.I., in a time when working people could buy cottages by the sea. It would not be remotely possible for a family like mine to buy a cottage by the sea now. In Hampton Beach, I am told, cottages once lined the entire beachfront, occupied by working people who could then afford a small cottage by the ocean, and send their families there to spend the summer.
Condos and apartments line much of the water front now, some of the cottages still hang on defiantly, but they look increasingly conspicuous, even out of place. There is no stasis in America, every cottage is an apartment or condo waiting to sprout.
The Hampton Beach cottages are vanishing, as are public beaches and cottages all along the Atlantic Sea Coast. The ocean is being privatized and developed, the cottages are disappearing. The cottage in which I was born is long gone, there is a giant McMansion there now, my grandmother would faint dead away.
I loved the cottages in Hampton Beach, they are so lovingly tended, with their Seahorse icons and freshly painted white picket fences guarding a few square feet of lawn. Small patches of paradise, I think. I doubt they will be there for long, it is hard to justify keeping a cottage by the sea that could be a five-story building by the sea.
Is there a child in the world whose soul has not been touched by a Playland Arcade, there are Playland Arcades all over America, or there were when I was a kid. I was thrilled to see one on the Boardwalk in Hampton Beach, I have never failed to check out a Playland Arcade when I see one, and I mean to go back to Hampton Beach with a camera and photograph this one.
These are the places of magic and mystery, the games of chance, ringing bells and taunting teases, everybody wins and nobody wins, rich in sounds and smells. We don't learn until much later that we never had a chance, that the deck was always stacked against us, but we always felt like a winner in the Playland Arcade, and sometimes we even did win.
I was lethal with the water guns for some reason, I won almost every time. Why do I think the Arcades are a metaphor for life, they surely teach us about the magic and mystery, about patience and victory, gains and loss, determination and pride. They are important, I am thrilled to see one on the Boardwalk at Hampton Beach.
Hampton Beach, N.H., is not a tacky town,but parts of its Boardwalk are deliciously and aggressively tacky, as any shore town Boardwalk ought to be. The range of and diversity of fried and unhealthy foods are astonishing, and even on a cold day, you can smell the aromas coming out of those shops and restaurants – sausage, fried dough, pizza, corn dogs, chocolate french fries.
There are people who only eat vegetables and organic food, there are people who eat what they like, they will go down with a smile on their faces. They are very American.
It is revealing how much Americans love their fried and greasy food, they will never give them up, even if it kills them, which it often does. I loved the colors, this block is a work of art in itself.
"Why do old men wake so early?," asked the fishermen in the Old Man And The Sea. "It is to have one more longer day." – Ernest Hemingway.
I think almost every day when I get up that this is no time to think of what I don't have or might have lost. This is the time to think of what I can do with what there is. There was, I think, something of the urgent flight in my journey with Maria to the sea on Monday in a nasty snow and ice storm that stretched our three hour trip into seven white-knuckle hours.
The snow never eased up, neither did the ice or the wind, not from our driveway to the ocean, waiting patiently for us in a middle-class New Hampshire town called Hampton Beach, the closest point to the ocean from our farm. We just had to get there, we were worn out and needing a change of pace, and Maria and I have fun together no matter where we are, it almost doesn't matter.
Monday, it mattered. In our marriage, we trade places being the wise and sensible one. I am sensible about somethings, she is sensible about others, we defer to the other. I am sensible about snow storms and driving, she is not. She has always driven around in storms in her tiny toilet bowl of a car – a Yaris – and it has always made me crazy. She just doesn't fear winter.
Monday, my thin male ego malfunctioned. I knew we should wait a day, even though we were going in my four-wheel SUV. But the forecast was awful and sane people would have just waited a day. All it would have taken was a phone call to the motel, we could have left the next morning..
Maria suggested I was a snow pussy – this is one of our jokes – and I was not sensible, I said let's go for it when I knew it might be risky. Sometimes, the tricky think about being a man is understanding the difference between being strong and being stupid. She gets anxious sometimes when she doesn't have the day figured out. But I could have made some noise about going out in a storm.
But even after checking the weather, I didn't know how much we should not have gone.
From the minute we crossed from Vermont into New Hampshire – we had to go about 15-20 miles per hour the whole way we saw accident after accent. Cars sliding off the road, sliding on the top of hills, big trucks unable to brake, cars back-ending each other, others overturned in ditches, upside down on shoulders, (even a Brinks truck overturned), police and rescue people everywhere. Not a smart move to go on Monday. I failed to be the sensible man, perhaps not wanting to be the snow pussy. And we were keen to go. Once launched, we both are reluctant to turn back.
We left at 10 a.m., we got to the motel around 5 p.m. Maria did an amazing job of driving, she drove almost all of the way.
So we made it, but it was a very long and tense trip.
And I have to apologize for writing that I expected to find a tacky town, Hampton Beach was a very nice town, funky in parts, friendly, close to the sea, which was as beautiful as we hoped it would be.
The town is heavily developed, the condo disease is there too. But it's still nice.
Tues, the sun was out – it was cold – and I got up early, perhaps to have one more longer day. We stayed in a lovely motel, the Atlantic Breeze Suites, at a great off-season rate. The rooms were spotless, roomy, we had a view of the ocean. There was even a small kitchen if we'd brought some food.
It's supposed to be insanely crowded in the summer, we'll pass on that season.
We found the most wonderful sea food restaurant – The Old Salt Restaurant And Lamie's Inn.
We liked it so much we had lunch and dinner there the next day. Great fresh seafood, cheaper than our local Italian restaurant back home. It was cold, but we managed several long walks along the waterfront. There is a tacky/funky Boardwalk area that looks to be great fun in the warm weather when the arcades and ballroom's are open. I'd love to come back and take some more photos.
My last two years of high school were spent in Atlantic City, N.H., and one of my first jobs was as a reporter working for the Atlantic City Press, covering the city and the shore towns. Hampton Beach reminded of these middle-and working class towns, their fried dough stands, arcades, ballrooms and boardwalks.I loved these towns, the feel of the ocean, the games and smells on the Boardwalk. They were not push, and neither were they beautiful any longer, but they were very rich in feeling.
Hampton Beach had a lot of feeling. To the north, there were some quiet and beautiful beaches and towns, we drove around for a couple of hours.
Deb Foster, our animal-loving farm sitter, relayed messages of life on the farm. Chloe was obnoxious, Fate got a cracker off of the counter, Red behaved impeccably. There was five inches of snow on Monday, much of it gone by the time we returned. Winter reminds us that it still exists.
Despite the harrowing start of the trip, we had the nicest time. The trip was full of feeling, it was what we needed. We are happy to be back. Because we both work at home, we tend to work all of the time Relaxing is not easy for us, going away helps, even for short trips.
On the way to Hampton Beach, my editors at Simon and Schuster messaged me that they thought my manuscript was in "great shape" and was going off to the copy editor. It was a hard struggle for me to leave Random House and seek out a new publisher, working with them feels very good to me, I have an editor once more who cares about my work and seems to like it and it felt like a very big personal victory for me to get that message. I have been waiting to hear it for a few years and was often worried I never would.
I am glad I never gave up on writing books, and grateful for my blog. I think it has saved me and given me new life.
That was a nice note to begin the small vacation, despite the absolutely miserable weather. The snow never let up, not for a minute, and the temperature never got about 21 degrees.
In Hampton Beach, we stayed up late and got up early to read, talk, walk, watch the sunrise, go back to sleep. I deliberately over-exposed this sunrise to capture the beautiful feeling of the sun pushing the night sky away and lighting up the sea. We want to go back there, it is a new possibility for us, the ocean just three hours away.
The people were friendly, the town had plenty of places to stay along the water, this time of year it is not crowded anywhere. We are thinking of making an over night trip in late May, before the mobs. To see the water again. Seeing the ocean was beautiful for us, it was just what we needed.
We had the best time, but then we always do. I guess it doesn't matter so much where we go, it matters that we go there together. I don't dwell on it, but this is the time to do what there is to do, and relish it.