Travels postsTuesday September 21, 2010
Travels: Rehoboth Beach, Del.: Old Pro Golf
Part One of Rehoboth trip here.
Here’s a change. Back in the 1970s we put something called “sun tan lotion” on our bodies and then lay baking on a towel on the sand for hours. We compared tans like it was a competition. We had tan lines. Now, before we even step outside, we goop up with something called “sun screen” (30-75 SPF), and after dips in the ocean we reapply it beneath the umbrella. We read beneath the umbrella. We wear hats and SPF shirts and try to avoid the high-noon hours of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. when there’s no place to hide.
Amazingly, with all of these precautions, I still got a tan. OK, a “tan.” OK, I got TFS: Tan for Seattle. More amazingly, there are regulars who still go for the deep, brown, unhealthy-looking George Hamilton tans. They’re so brown they probably would’ve stood out in 1977 but they’re especially noticeable in the SPF world of 2010. One wonders what compels them. I regret many moments in my life but few more than baking in the sun doing nothing but aging faster.
And what happened to my mini-golf courses? There used to be two along the boardwalk: the original, between Baltimore and Rehoboth Avenues, near the public restroom; and the “new one,” Old Pro Golf, on the roof of a T-shirt and gee-gaw shop next to Delaware Avenue, overlooking Funland. The original was clever enough, with a different level, five feet up and in the shade, as one made one’s way through the course.
Old Pro Golf was even more dazzling. It used a circus motif, with many moving parts, including, memorably, on the 19th hole, a ramp that narrowed to the width of a golf ball and that lead to the opening and closing mouth of a pneumatic hippo in a cage. To get a hole in one, and a free game, you had to hit it straight enough so it would stay on the ramp, hard enough so it would fly—like Evel Knievel—across the gap between ramp and hippo-mouth, and time it properly so the hippo’s mouth was open when the ball arrived. If you did all this, buzzers and lights would go off and you’d win a free game. As a kid this kind of coordination seemed impossible. One time my older brother, Chris, did everything right but the ball still bounced off the hippo’s tooth. Ohhhhhhhh. We talked about it for weeks afterward like it was Willie McCovey lining out to Bobby Richardson to end the 1962 World Series. Then one summer it suddenly became easy, and between the three of us, older brother and younger sister, we must’ve won five free games.
1970s Old Pro Golf: Showing off that first, sweet free-game pass outside the now-conquered hippo cage, and post-game with my sister Karen and our friend Dan, who's wearing a “Darth Vader Lives” T-shirt.
That course is still there, but called “Ryan's.” It's without the hippo in a cage, the circus motif, moving parts, fun. Every hole involves small hills and dales and...that’s pretty much it. The free game on the 19th isn’t monumental, like a pneumatic hippo, but small. Hit the ball up a short, steep ramp, and into a small hole protected by a wire-mesh cage. Is the hole a clown’s nose? I forget. The whole contraption is tiny. It feels like you could pick it up and walk away with it. It feels like carry-on luggage.
The original course, meanwhile, is long gone, replaced by a Grotto’s Pizza.
Tomorrow: Tea shirts.
My nephews Ryan and Jordy eye the only mini-golf course left on the boardwalk. It's hardly a circus. On the plus side Jordy beat me by a stroke.
Travels: Rehoboth Beach, Del.: Intro
They say the days blend together but each is distinct.
Check-in times are generally at 2:00, so more than half the Saturday is gone by the time you emerge stiff and sweaty from your car, and anyway there’s work to be done—rentals to check into, groceries to buy—so you’re lucky if you get in a late-afternoon dip in the ocean and a walk on the boardwalk at night. But Sunday you take it all in. You go to the beach in the morning and afternoon, and, though half the ocean has gone up your nose, you stay past 5:00, past the lifeguards, until the sun, once blasting the top of your head, begins to lose its power; then it's dinner and Funland and the parade of people walking and preening along the boardwalk, and you've done so much this day that the next day, Monday, you step back and rest a bit. It is your vacation after all. It is only Monday after all. Even when you get back into it on Tuesday, you think, “Really? It's still only Tuesday?” It feels like you have all the time in the world. But Wednesday disappears, poof, and suddenly it’s Thursday and you know you're on the downside of things, and Friday, oh man, Friday you rush around and do all the things you should have done earlier but never got to, while Saturday morning is filled with melancholy. One last video game. One last walk on the boardwalk. One last look at the ocean. Bye.
I’ve been to many beaches since I was last at Rehoboth Beach, Del.—in Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Florida, Oregon and Washington—but Rehoboth, the beach I grew up with, the beach I went back to for the first time in 25 years last month, is still the one by which all the others are measured.
I expected it to be dirtier but it’s surprisingly clean. I expected it to be more crowded, and it must be—it swells on summer weekends from about 1,500 locals to include 100,000 tourists—but because the boardwalk has been extended further south, past Funland, it doesn’t feel more crowded. I expected the waves to feel puny, the water warm, the jellyfish rampant, but the waves were great, the water bracing, no jellyfish were sighted.
Planes still flew advertisements along the beach. One lone swimmer, in swim cap, still invariably plowed the waters 30 feet from shore. The Dolles sign still dominates the center of the boardwalk.
That doesn’t mean things haven’t changed.
Tomorrow: What's changed.