Tuesday, June 28, 2016

French Kissing in the USA

You know what the difference is in walking on the beach and walking down Broad Street?

When there's sand underfoot, no one asks you for a light and when you say you don't have anything, calls to your back, saying, "You know what? That's okay because you look good."

In all likelihood, I looked sweaty since it was far hotter and sunnier today than it had been at the beach for the past four days and I was not adapting easily. Funny, I have no problem transitioning to the beach when I arrive from the city, but not so much in reverse.

The transition to worker bee was only slightly less arduous as I hunkered down to produce 1500 words on chefs, another 700 on a filmmaker and finally prepare questions for tomorrow's two interviews, leaving my chair only to eat and relieve myself.

A far cry from beach life, that's all I can say.

Of course it's all geared to meeting deadlines before leaving on vacation again Thursday, so every bit of it was well worth it.

Heck, tonight's date even revolved around trip preparation, with a stop at DSW for somewhat stylish walking shoes (and a mild anxiety crisis over whether to choose form over function) and another for life essentials, where I ran into a restaurateur who agreed that all the cool kids head out for Monday night Target shopping sprees.

That helps explain why I had no idea this was a thing.

Dinner at My Noodle & Bar was by far the most pleasant part of the day, perched in the middle high booth so we could look down on others (literally and figuratively) while enjoying tempura shrimp and vegetables before I hoovered a plate of broccoli and chicken as if I were starving and hadn't been eating non-stop at the beach for a week.

Despite guide books, legal pads and good intentions, planning amounted to no more than an acknowledgment that the only plan is to fly by the seat of our pants.

Do I have enough black? Why don't I own more scarves and jewelry? Which cute shoes will give me the best mileage? Is a trench coat as essential as I've been told? How much bonne chance can it take to make this chick chic?

I've got no idea and two days minus a road trip and a rewrite to figure it all out. Sans lighter, it'll be enough if I can match today's Broad Street assessment.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Missing the Wild Air

Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

And so closes a beach week of magnificent moons, endless conversation and constantly-changing winds and fronts.

And by endless conversation, we're talking about descending into discussions of which excellent words have fallen out of usage due to the dumbing-down of language.

Let's bring back "togs" and "dither," shall we? And don't get me started on the subject of "Hollywood packing," a term new to me but instantly understandable, because we already went down that rabbit hole.

My cleverest guest played the winds superbly, moving from the West bedroom to the East suite once the winds did the same. She learned the hard way that the summer sunrise will penetrate eyelids and burn your retina if you let it, but she never lost the breeze.

A couple of overcast days and lower temperatures kept tan lines in check and me (and my rotating cast of six visitors) on the porch far more than usual. Not ashamed to admit that one afternoon slid seamlessly into evening with little change in seating arrangement or pauses for wardrobe changes.

After an especially lazy day, a guest acknowledged the naked truth, saying, "All I did yesterday was ripen." Perhaps, but her hygiene instincts kicked in before mine and I feel sure I was even riper.

In fact, I'm thinking a compliment about my "beach hair" may have been a reference to the sand and salt in it.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The first rule of beach vacation is that there are no food police and the second rule is that there are no bathing police, either. We are not here to impress each other, except with our sparkling repartee.

One major result of having so much company and conversation was how little beach reading I accomplished this week. Past years have won me summer reading awards for sheer number of titles devoured and this year's consumption was a paltry two books, including the lackluster Pulitzer prize winner I regretted wasting time on.

When it was time to pack up the cottage and head back to the big city, I left with the usual regrets - since arriving home, I'm missing the constant breezes almost as much as the rhythm of the waves - along with the novel thrill of knowing I'm only a few days away from vacation number two.

Lucky me, right?

The drive back was my baptism by road reminder of the real world that awaited me: a sign on Route 168 warning, "Expect heavy congestion at next light," causing me to wonder why displaying that information was necessary at all.

Is unexpected heavy congestion somehow harder to bear? Honestly, who really needs to start obsessing about congestion ahead of time?

But wait, it gets better. All was clear at the next light, so the fear mongering was for naught.

Otherwise, it was a pretty inoffensive drive past gas stations offering $1.99 gas and a vintage car show at Ronnie's Barbecue, with the highlight being a woman riding a horse along the Capital Bike Trail, something I'd never seen among the Spandex-clad bikers, happy families and walkers galore.

It's no hawk soaring over the Atlantic, which we saw repeatedly from our porch perch, but it'll have to do, at least until I sally forth on Vacation Part Deux, stylish and not at all ripe.

Warning: unexpected heavy fashion emphasis on next trip. It's almost time for some Hollywood packing, so excuse me while I dither about which frocks to take.

I'm sorry my beach vacation is over, but I'm glad to be back so I can leave again.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Tiny Dancer Under the Stars

Does your body tell you what it needs? Is your liver sending you IMs?
~porch guest

Late Wednesday afternoon, three women, many bubbles (sparkling Rose and Lambrusco) and a parlor games where one asks a life question and all three have to over-share an answer.

Both enlightening and unburdening, we repeat this game the next day.

By evening, we acknowledge how helpful it would be to have a master chart on the porch wall behind us time-lining the men and chronology of our pasts for easy referencing when the conversation gets especially deep.

Two nights in a row, we sup at Ocean Boulevard, the first night at the corner of the bar where both my guests swoon over my meal of braised Dijon,panko-crusted lamb shoulder with the most divine Spring asparagus custard (that's right) under a sprinkling of very crispy frites.

It may just be the best $13 plate of food I've ever had.

Part of the reason we return for a second night is so that the youngster can have this dish all to herself. The manager brings us roll-ups, bragging that he rolled them himself and when I comment about how firm they are, firm enough even to bounce a quarter off of, he grins and jokes, "We're talking about the roll-ups, right?"

Are we?

While a singer serenades us on the patio with Beatles and Van Morrison, even a little classic Elton John, we spot the man we've dubbed the "Junk Jogger," whom we first saw the night before. Then, we'd thought he'd been pogoing down the Beach Road (and only mildly questioned his intent), only to realize that no, he'd simply strapped a headlight to his lower quarters for a late night jog.

From the patio, we were close enough to see him coming and going, his light still inexplicably affixed to his loins. For all we know, it may be the OBX version of Match.com.

We spent an entire morning watching rain and storms from the screened porch, grabbed lunch at John's - dolphin sandwich, fried shrimp and, oh, yes, milkshakes - and made very few inroads into our books, hardly surprising given the non-stop conversation.

Friday I threw a porch happy hour for five with three plates of meat and charcuterie, including fabulous locally-made beef sticks, and accompanying rumblings from the sky.

Another flashback when we dined canal-side (my second time this week) on the porch, effectively taking over a booth for six and outlasting everyone else, even those who'd arrived after us. I'd say my rib platter outshone all other dishes, but duck potstickers, Maryland crabcakes and crispy tofu with Thai green basil curry all got thumbs up.

Too full for dessert, we nonetheless headed back to the cottage to reconvene on the porch to eat Samoas, sip and watch the moon make its midnight ascent over the ocean, creating an ever-widening swath of moonlight on the becalmed water. whileSaturn and Mars lurked nearby.

The plan for the rest of vacation? According to the blond, it's to "Do things that make us feel like we're 19 again."

As long as I get to act 19 with the wisdom of the porch chart experience, I'm all about some fun.

We're talking about ignoring IMs from the liver, right?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

All I Want

Yacht Dogs don't have to show up on time.

Granted, we were a tad early when one of the hostesses informed us the band would start playing at 10, which turned out to be not exactly correct because musicians have their own ideas.

Come on, people, we're talking Yacht Dogs at the Jolly Roger.

But eventually they began setting up in front of a crowd of regulars and locals, or at least it appeared so since everyone seemed to know everyone.

The kind of place where a blond in a hat walked through the door and sashayed right on to the "dance floor," never missing a beat as she shimmied in her cut-offs to demonstrate her affection for the sounds of Yacht Rock.

It's not like we didn't feel it, too, despite our strategic position near the front of the bar with a bird's eye view of the bar action unfolding around us. Their folk-tinged rock covered a wide swath of cover songs, including the Beatles, which probably pre-dates their parents' music collections so they got props for digging deep.

The squared off guy in front of us was hitting hard on a much younger-looking woman, all the while, removing his visor (why was he even wearing it at night?) every minute or so and then refitting it over his still hair-covered head. A show of vanity? Nervous tick? As regular as a mechanical monkey drumming?

D, all of the above. Put your pencils down, kids.

We'd welcomed summer with lunch celebrating early season bounty from our favorite veggie stand on the way down: fat red tomato slices on BLTs accompanied by succotash of limas, corn, onions, sage and garlic, eaten at the big table on the porch looking at the all but flat ocean.

"Summer has officially started!" Sir Succotash himself pronounced of his melange.

Dinner's perch was novel, new and panoramic, situated as we were on the very new (last week) deck of Steamers with a view of some of the houses on Southern Shores that we walk by daily.

"Look at that cloud break," our server (who'd been there since 11 and was soon mercifully cut) pointed out when we sat down and, indeed, there was a picture postcard-worthy spill of light cleaving the sky right in front of us, a worthy visual to pair with the lobster (no local sourcing guilt here), steamed shrimp and ribs with two kinds of slaw and hushpuppies that kept us busy until the sun was a non-issue.

A walk on the beach where I was jokingly accused of stealing ecological specimens when I picked up a shell took us by a new turtle nesting spot roped off and looking fairly innocuous. "Come back in 55 days to see the result," a nearby woman suggets.

Oh, look, I am free that third week of August. Only thing better than baby turtles would be if Yacht Dogs was playing.

Tardy, of course. True fans don't mind.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dancin' in the Moonlight

What to do when the full moon intersects with the Summer Solstice for the first time since the Summer of Love?

My first thought was to party beach-style like it's 1967. Inspired, right?

Surely even way back then, spending the day on the beach - walking, reading (although my first book, a Pulitzer prize winner, has failed to thrill me so far), contemplating the ocean, marveling at the new and lamenting the loss of the old and, of course, commenting on the passersby - qualifies as appropriately laid back enough preparation for Mother Nature's convergence.

Our local lifeguards, Lindsey and Hunter (truer millennial names were never scratched on a guard stand chalkboard) kept busy all day, she blowing her whistle and chasing down idiots who'd ignored Hunter's warnings to wade out no further than knee depth because of ferocious rip tides and he cruising in the beach patrol vehicle, his long dirty blond hair glimmering under the afternoon sun.

They were a team, all right, keeping our beaches safe for the likes of bacchanalian visitors like us.

You know the type: first happy hour on the screened porch watching the colors of the sky and water deepen before moving the party to a favorite dive bar on the sound to join a cadre of four grizzled locals with enough stories, opinions ("Don't go to Dirty Dick's!") and jokes - some of the latter pretty awful - to amuse us, the guests, for as long as we were willing to stay and listen.

Our main man, Darryl, whom we've reliably run into at this bar the last four summers, regaled us with tales of bad cookouts due to drunken grillmasters (Darryl) and bad marriages due to crazy women (all of them, he swears).

Sunset seemed like a natural breaking point, so we took one of the regular's recommendations for a new place with a screened porch dining room affording a view of a canal, a boat's image still reflecting palely in the waning light.

And while it was no Cold Duck circa 1967, thank heavens, Veuve Devienne Brut Rose provided the perfect celebration sipper for our meal of gazpacho mounded with fresh crabmeat, New Orleans barbecue shrimp (the chef had spent  time cooking in NOLA), fat Maryland-style crabcakes (despite being in Carolina) and the rib-eye our new friend had so highly recommended (his assessment spot on).

The chef came out to say hello and chat, sharing that he'd worked in St. Michael's, Maryland and used every day he had off to drive to the Outer Banks until deciding it would be far smarter to work and surf in the same place and doing so.

I can appreciate a chef with a good head on his shoulders.

Once back in Kitty Hawk, the full moon made for a beacon over the ocean during a stroll toward it on the mostly empty beach. One thing's for sure, it's noticeably less crowded this week than my usual July fourth week, although we're still spotting an inordinate amount of flag-like bathing suits and shirts.

Once back home on the porch swing, wine in hand, the former drummer chose the mood music and while it technically wasn't from the Summer of Love, thematically it could not have been more fitting: Barry White.

Crooning to us with the surf crashing behind the Love Unlimited Orchestra, Barry White sung us into the first full day of Summer.

Can't get enough of several things, but this week pleasure isn't one of them. Cue "Love's Theme" and another night of fat moonlight.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mama's Got a Brand New (Beach) Bag

The modernization of my favorite beach cottage is, sadly, complete.

It now has wi-fi. Cue a single tear rolling down my cheek (and bonus points if you get the reference).

I first fell in love with this little oceanfront cottage in the early '90s because it reminded me of the kind of houses my parents rented when they brought us down to Kitty Hawk for summer vacations that became part of the fabric of our lives.

Its appeal was its simplicity: cedar walls, lots of windows (including one over the sink looking out to the ocean), a big screened porch facing the beach and an outdoor shower.

I required no more and it had no more.

But over the years, mod-cons arrived and I begrudgingly accepted them. First, there was a TV which I've never so much as turned on. Then came a telephone, a cheap white princess model that sits in the living room, rarely used.

Three years ago, we arrived to find window A/C units in each of the bedrooms, annoying not just because I had no intention of using them, but because they nullified the ocean breezes in one window of each bedroom.

Happily, last year, they weren't in the windows, not are they now thanks to some handiwork on arrival. We don't need no stinkin' A/C when the ocean is providing a far lovelier form of climate control.

Checking in this year, the realty company rep informs me of the wi-fi password, a necessity because the company now requires all its rental properties to have wi-fi. The past few years, we've "borrowed" wi-fi from other cottages when it was infrequently required (or gone to a place that had it).

Welcome to the wired vacation, which followed the trek down Route 460, also known as a zone of sign proximity stupidity, where you'll have a sign saying 45 miles per hour and ten feet further on, another sign saying "Curve 35 mph."

Is it just me or should that first sign come down? I passed so many conflicting sign messages, I gave up mentally chastising DOT after a while. Left hand, right hand, no communication whatsoever.

Lunch of salads and seafood was enjoyed at the Coinjock Marina (T-shirt: "wherethehelliscoinjock") at a counter facing the Inter-coastal waterway with a view of expensive boats arriving and departing. Within the hour, we were opening up the house, rearranging furniture and getting the place ready to receive visitors Karen-style (also known as old school).

Where we lucked out is not just with this exquisite weather with highs in the mid '70s and gorgeous northwesterly breezes wafting through every room, but with an ocean temperature of 70 degrees, a payback, perhaps, for last year's frigid water that put a hurting on ocean time.

By the time naps had been taken, sparkling Vouvray sipped and evening attire donned (as in, a change from our traveling clothes), it was 8ish when we arrived at I Got Your Crabs to a full bar and most tables occupied. We made do with two seats at the counter facing a mirror with a view of the bar.

Since it would've been impossible to pass up oysters for $8 a dozen, we didn't, slurping back two dozen with little more than some generous squeezes of lemon and smiles on our faces. We followed that with a half dozen steamed crabs, fried flounder tacos, hushpuppies and asparagus, nailing a fine beach arrival meal.

I have arrived on the Outer Banks, as I have for every summer of my life practically since birth (my Mom swears these trips began the summer I was born, but there's no photo evidence to prove that and the one picture of me from my first summer was taken in Colonial Beach, not here, so I'm doubting her memory) to live in a bathing suit, shower outside and read as many books as possible.

Best song heard so far: Talk Talk's "It's Your Life." Yes, yes is is and aren't I lucky?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

By the Time I Get to Richmond

Nature is clearly using the punish/reward system. I ask you, why else would weather this glorious follow so potent and scattered a storm?

Facebook postings had not prepared me to see a car in front of Emilio's with an indentation shaped suspiciously like the nearby tree that had caused the roof to cave in as far as the seats, a perfect groove of destruction. Trees languished across Floyd and on Monument's median.

Nor was I prepared to walk into Target only to find it fully operating, but on battery power. The further back you walked, the dimmer things got, yet shoppers bustled about. Ever shopped for sunglasses in a dimly lit store? I can't recommend it.

There weren't enough hours in the day to accomplish what I needed to in anticipation of tomorrow's motoring to the coast, so I did the best I could, then put on a new thrift store dress and went to dinner and a show.

Holmes was treating me to dinner since I was treating him to music, so I picked Rancho T, resulting in sort of a "you can't get there from here" situation now that Morris and Harvie are one way streets. But we persevered, and joined the unfashionable early Saturday diners (6ish) at a table facing a neon American flag and a partially shuttered window through which the sun was glaring intently (happily, our server corrected the latter).

Intent on seeing what a new chef and menu would bring, we then we gorged our way through dinner.

Chicken liver pate under a pickled rhubarb gel with totems of crispy chicken skin was as pink as it was perfect. Beer-battered maitake mushrooms almost made you believe you were eating something meatier than fungus. The to-die-for pairing of brown butter, capers and raisins elevated roasted cauliflower to swoon-worthy.

Spicy sticky chicken wings were both, but also - and absolutely key, to me anyway - fried up nice and crispy. When I insisted Beloved try one, Holmes tried to interrupt her grazing, causing her to murmur, "Leave me alone, I'm having my way with a chicken wing right now."

After all those assertive flavors, we ended with an elevated take on a diner classic: a tuna melt, but not just any tuna melt, but one made with poached tuna and remoulade on Billy Bread under a blanket of Gruyere, pickled onion and arugula. Classic dish, fresh take on it.

We had just enough time to see if they could possibly deliver as well on dessert as what went before and they knocked it out of the park with (Waring: preposition alert!) two layers of chocolate ancho cake between chocolate frosting next to whipped cream over caramel sauce.

I know it sounds like a lot, but it was exquisite...and just what I wanted after five savory courses.

Our next stop was the historic (and restored) Art Deco Henrico Theater, so we headed to Sandston (several jokes ensued) to see singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb, necessitating a few miles on I-64 and billboards that read, "Have pride in America! Vote Republican."

Speaking of scary people, at one point Webb joked, "I thought it was one of the better concerts we did and I don't always think that. I'm not Donald Trump."

We sat near a local violinist my friends knew from seeing him play, only to hear that he'd played with Webb last night and enjoyed it ("Maybe a little too much"), played golf all day and come home to a message from Webb asking, "What kind of strings do you use?"

Nerdy musician talk, that's what that is.

Holmes praised our seats for the view of Webb's hands on the piano, but the man's got so many hits that it would have been a great experience even if we hadn't been treated to the view.

Beginning with "The Highwayman" and talk of hanging out with Waylon Jennings ("He had his good and bad sides"), he spoke of writing "Galveston" during the Vietnam conflict (a fact Holmes and I only just learned), talked about being a PK (preacher's kid) and how the only place he could listen to his transistor was on the tractor, where he heard the Beach Boys and Glen Campbell, whom he characterized as having a five-octave voice like glass.

He showed off his mad piano skills by first playing the notes of "Amazing Grace" as written and then how it could sound after music lessons with Susan Goddard, his piano teacher (hint: very Rachmaninoff-like).

There was a semi-singalong to Johnny Rivers' "Poor Side of Town," he mocked Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" in song set to "Suzanne's" melody ("I'm not bitter") and ruminated more than once ("Going into the music industry is like deciding to gamble for a living"). The guy was good at it all.

The show was equal parts stories - writing Art Garfunkel's first solo hit, "All I Know," David Crosby calling him Mr. Balloons because of his Grammy-winning "Up, Up and Away," and Nina Simone doing his "Do What You Gotta Do."

Honestly, the man had a thousand stories and almost as many songs and Glen Campbell recorded 80 of them, several of which we heard ("By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Galveston," and "Wichita Lineman") over the evening's course.

Toward the end, Webb's mic stand kept unexpectedly drooping and every time he'd get it positioned again, down it would go. "It's been happening more and more to me lately," he quipped.

Of course he had to finish with the masterful four-movement "MacArthur Park" followed by promises to come back and share his Richard Harris anecdotes next time. I have a feeling this guy has stories he's not yet begun to share.

It isn't every day a living legend stops by Sandston to serenade us. Didn't we get lucky this time?