This summer, I’m keeping my travel domestic and fulfilling some long overdue visits to friends and family. I forgot how cheap it is to vacation when you don’t have to pay for hotels and you don’t have to go out for every meal. Also, I’ve been to places I’m going this summer many times before, so I’m not running around trying to experience everything all at once. I haven’t taken a vacation that was exclusively focused on spending time with people in, well, ever maybe. But now I am. The purpose of my travel this summer is to immerse myself in the lives of my friends, experience a different America for a bit, and simply relax. As a bonus, I’m saving some serious coin for a big international trip during the end of year holidays and my big mid-life birthday next April.
The first half of this first trip was spent with my old college friend who found me online last year and came out to Colorado in December. After 18 years, we picked up right where we left off, so there was no question that I should go visit her this summer. We spent the first two days in her family’s shore house where she and I lived together during the summer of 1999 and then the next two at her house in a Philadelphia suburb. As I recently wrote, I’m always trying to learn something when I travel, and I treated this domestic trip the same as a I would an international one. It was quite easy, actually, because the mid-Atlantic does feel like a foreign country to me now. People talk with an accent primarily marked by long, drawn-out “a” sounds, towns have strange, very British sounding names compared to the Spanish-inspired ones I’m used to in Colorado, the climate is muggy compared to my arid one, the landscape is greener, and people drive more efficiently, for example, not being afraid to use the shoulder to go around someone turning left. So, out of my copious note-taking, I have these five main takeaways to share.
- Wawa is a phenomenon. I’ve never seen such dedication and loyalty to a convenience store. The first stop we made after my friend picked me up at the airport was to a Wawa. We went again the next day for Hoagie Fest. Employees have good reason to love this place but to me, it is a frightening cultural force in its ability to foster customer loyalty.
- Every activity has its accoutrements, in excess, and lying out at the beach is no different. What a production! Tommy Bahama insulated cooler bags, beach tags to gain access to locals-only beaches, towels, sun tan lotion (not sunscreen, as we require in Colorado), tubes for floating, a coverup, a hoagie from Wawa for lunch, multi-person umbrellas that require a separate “sand screw” accessory, personal umbrellas that vice-grip on to your beach chair, and the magical beach chair itself –one that is new to me – the backpack chair. As the name implies, you carry this chair like a backpack to free your hands for all the other stuff. It has drink holders and insulated pockets in the back. Everyone had them.
- A lukewarm shower can be the best kind of shower. When I lived in Honduras in 2004, I purposely took lukewarm showers because it was always too scorching and sticky for a hot shower. The slightly cool water refreshed my skin and provided some relief. It’s been a while since a less-than-hot shower was appealing, but after running three miles in the 95 degree heat and oppressive humidity, it was just the thing on the shore.
- Living in Colorado has made me more attuned to nature. My friend and I went for a walk in Bryn Athyn (those bizarre names!) along the Pennypack Trail and its offshoots. My friend’s mom thought I wouldn’t like it because it’s just a little nature walk, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The smells were different. The humidity made it feel almost tropical. The foliage was lush and verdant in a way it never is in a Colorado forest. The belching bog tricked me into thinking there were cows nearby until my friend pointed out the source of the sound. The fawns we saw were the darling Bambi kind. Fireflies! Fireflies everywhere. I forgot such an insect exists but I’m so glad they do.
- The world of Mary Poppins exists and it is magical. Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey has, among other sculptures, famous paintings rendered in life-sized three dimension. You can step into a painting as if you were with Mary herself on a London sidewalk. Rat’s Restaurant sits behind a real life Monet’s Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies. This place is a true fantasy land. You dart in and out of small pathways to find lifelike picnickers and fisherman and all sorts of people reading, fighting, dining, and even showering. You can enter their world of make believe for as long as you like.