We took an impromptu road trip last weekend. Instead of having a quiet Thanksgiving at home, we took those four days and drove to the beach! It was fun, and a real eye opener into America.
I grew up in Alaska, with hippie parents, in an always-under-construction quanset hut. So, my view of America is skewed. Even this move has been to a bubble. A bubble of green-ness, where everyone shops at whole foods, and sets their recycling out once every other week. A quaint part of town with old quirky houses, little shops, a neighborhood feel.
It’s good, I guess, to have a wake up call.
Most of America is one big parking lot with box stores on all sides. Jesus. We drove for two days (300 miles, we have kids remember?) all through box store suburbia, lined beach side with a forced, tourist-cute clamor of hotels, condos, and “residences.” We didn’t mean to drive so far, but we were looking for a campground. Where people use, like, tents.
There was supposed to be one at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and the area was certainly cool enough to want to camp in. The high rise vacation-land had abruptly ended and it was just one long stretch of sandy beach and windblown dunes, with postcard quality, glinting blue water. But the gate was closed. The big National Park sign board next to it offered no indication of why they might be closed. We played in the sand for awhile, then drove on.
The next State Park campground informed us smugly that they were completely booked, often up to 11 months in advance. “We’re a very popular park.”
We had one more possibility before giving up and booking a room at one of the theme park hotels. We’d been driving for much too long already.
About 10 minutes before we got to Grayton Beach, the ambience abruptly changed. The buildings got smaller, with muted, stylishly earthy paint jobs. There were big SUVs with bicycles and kayaks everywhere. Trees lined the road. Suddenly the complete dearth of drinkable coffee ended with a chic little Starbucks (I’m ashamed to say I was ecsatic.)
We had just entered a different theme park. Yuppie Family Vacation at the Beach Park. Sorrowfully, we felt much more at home.
Well, it’s not my fault that yuppies co-opt everything groovy and good.
The town near our campground was called Seaside, but we called it Pleasantville. Everything had an eerily perfect, carefree yet endlessly chic, Real Simple* weekend at the beach feel. A pack of Airstreams parked around the very self conscious town square sold every kind of boutique food you might want. Including cupcakes. A whole Airstream selling just cupcakes.
The campground (and we should just be thankful we found one!) was in a small pocket of State Park. Quite gorgeous actually. A forest of tall pine trees skirted with some kind of tiny palm, and loads of prickery bushes. A lagoon with towering grasses. Sculpted scrub dunes. And of course, a long stretch of that white “sugar” sand beach washed by sparkling turquoise waves. A true paradise.
For $34 per night.
Yes, we payed almost $70 for two nights of camping.
Rather hard to swallow for Alaska folks, used to driving just half an hour from our home to an endless wilderness of free camping. But we payed, we stayed, and we enjoyed it even. The place really was beautiful, even with the high rises in the distance and the sound of the highway nearby.
And, as anticipated, the Toddler adored the beach. She played in the waves and the sand just as euphorically as we could have hoped for. It was quite satisfying. And Papa even got her a kite, which we flew with glee. How Hallmark. How America. How Family Vacation.
But, my favorite part of the weekend was (not coincidentally) the one thing that wouldn’t fit onto an American Greetings card.
My new tin can campstove!
*A word of apology to readers of this mag in our midst. I can’t stand the thing. No other magazine outrages me on such a profound level. But yes, part of why it outrages me is because I secretly love that very complexly achieved “simple” look.