Day 300 slipped by like another mile marker on the side of a highway. Yesterday we rolled 25,000 over on the odometer, and today the little, black Honda will get a respite. It gets to rest while we ride on the Port Jefferson ferry to Bridgeport, Connecticut. It’s been a wild ride up the Eastern Sea Broad from Florida to New York. Here is a list of our stopovers (I may have forgotten a few. My first journal is packed away in the trunk.); some were one-night stands, and after we left Florida, the longest stay was 3. We stayed in Fernandina Beach, Florida for 4 nights before driving into Georgia; St. Mary’s GA, Tybee Island, GA, St. Simons Island, GA, Savannah GA, Beaufort SC, Charleston SC, Kure, NC, Cedar Island, NC, Rodanthe, NC, Nags Head, NC, Virginia Beach, VA, Cape Charles, VA, Cristfield, MD, St. Michael’s, MD, Annapolis, MD, Lewes, DE, Ship Bottom NJ, Atlantic Highlands, NJ, East Norwick, NY, Riverhead, NY, and Port Jefferson, NY.
Here are a couple of highlights and surprises.
On the way to Cape Charles, Virginia, we found the little motel where Lloyd had stayed 13 years ago. It’s just passed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel. The place was locked up tight; pinecones as large as Idaho potatoes littered the rocky driveway, and plastic lounge chairs had grown cobwebs. This wasn’t a high tourist area and we feared we’d have to drive on to find a place to stay. Four miles down the road, I spotted the Rittenhouse Motor Lodge peaking out of the woods. We pulled in and stopped. The air was redolent with chimney smoke and pine. Every color and variety of azaleas grew under the bows of loblollies. Waking into the office, I felt as if I’d stepped into the heart of a sunbeam. The shelving over the front desk and numerous display cabinets were lined with the largest collection of amber glass I’d ever seen. Stacks of books, piled high, sat on tables and benches. A photograph of a man shaking the hand of Prince Philip while the Queen and another woman eyed one another’s hats was leaning against a trunk. This was not a typical motel office lobby. This was someone’s well-tended living room, and I wanted to nestled into one of the chairs, wrap a blanket around my shoulders, and begin reading.
An elderly gentleman almost skipped out of the back room, announcing he had just been eating watermelon and was very happy about the entire experience. This was Bob Rittenhouse, the 81-year-old owner. He built the place in 1951 and opened it a year later.
Finding small independently owned lodges like this is one of the reasons we love traveling. The Rittenhouse Motor Lodge doesn’t have hairdryers secured to the walls in the bathrooms, continental breakfasts with every carbohydrate known to man, or even $ 6 bottles of VOSS water. But it does have small trails through the woods with hand-painted trail signs, like the one warning you of poison ivy, but reminding you that the birds love poison ivy berries, or the one pointing to the headwaters of Parson’s Creek just a few yards for the lodge’s front door. And how many times do you get to chat with a delightful gentleman who had a chance to meet the Queen?
I’m happy to report that my old apartment building on 30th and Madison in Manhattan is still there, but then again, as the Big Apple continues to grow, it really doesn’t change much. The doorman is not the one who greeted me several times a day in 1981, but this guy welcomed me into the building as if I’d never left. Starbucks are everywhere, but I had no trouble finding a deli that served big, sweet corn muffins. And the people whom we stopped to ask questions, were just as accommodating as ever. We then drove onto Long Island and I found the little, yellow house on July Avenue in Bayville where I lived for nine months after I left the city. It is now shabby and rundown, but across the street, in great condition, is the red-brick house where my little dog Jenny (now in heaven) was born. The place where I worked, Rinehart’s Restaurant, was torn down about 15 years ago and replaced in a posh resort-type eatery. While we had dinner there, I imagined my dog Lito (also in heaven with his sister), playing on the beach, as he did when he managed to sneak out of my house while I worked. This place has not changed much either, but my time here held memories of a different nature, memories that I hold dear and close, and as I finished my wine, I knew it was time to leave and that I had visited Bayville for the last time.