Monday, August 18 2014
Room 644, 6th floor, Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, Monmouth County, New Jersey
I should mention that our room was fairly spacious, our bed was king-sized, there was generic abstract art on the wall, and (perhaps because of all the Jews who stay here) there was no Bible in the room (or, as we exclaim upon discovering this, "No hay Beeb-lay!"). But neither the sink nor the tub were able to drain when we'd arrived yesterday. I'd been able to fix the former, but we'd had to call somebody to fix the tub. Most unpleasant of all was that WiFi cost $10/day. We'd decided to do without it on principle, though we could still use Gretchen's cellphone (and one of these days I'll figure out how to make it provide a tethered hot spot).
After we got up, Gretchen and I went down to the boardwalk and over to the place where boardwalk passes through the Convention Center. There's a coffee shop there where we bought soy cappuccinos, oatmeal (for Gretchen) and peanut butter bagel (for me; they didn't have hummus). As we waited for our stuff to be prepared, Gretchen explored the boardwalk breezeway over near the Convention Marquee, which read "LED ZEPPLIN AUGUST 16 1969." Meanwhile power walkers kept striding past. Does moving their arms like that actually achieve something?
For most of the day, a badge allowing access to the beach costs $5/person, something we'd managed to avoid yesterday by arriving so late. There are deeply-tanned guys sitting at all the entrances making sure people have their badges, and when we didn't, we were pointed in the direction of where they could be purchased.
While Gretchen solved a crossword puzzle, I wandered along the shoreline looking for pebbles. There were plenty of shells and even the occasional sand dollar, but I was mostly interest in the stones, which often looked exactly like lime beans. The ones I was looking for were the standouts: the ones with strange colors, the variegated ones, the ones with interesting veins, and the few that were almost transparent. We happened to be near a part of the beach that concentrated the larger pebbles, and I collected so many that eventually I had to transfer them to Gretchen's bag.
Mark and Maresa eventually joined us and we all spent time just lying in the sun. I was careful to apply sunblock and managed to avoid serious over-radiation. Wisely, given his lack of pigment, Mark tended to only stay on the beach briefly and then wander over to the Convention Center. Gretchen had already checked us out of our hotel rooms, though one of the valet guys had said we could just keep our cars in valet parking for the afternoon. But it would have been nice to have a hotel room to go back to. With our only "home" being the beach itself, I felt overexposed and under-utilized. I suppose I could have hung around the Convention Center more, but to be there without purpose felt like loitering. Nevertheless, I bought a cup of coffee and wandered around to the shoreline end of the building, which is held up by an array of crumbling piers. It seemed strange that such a grand structure had been erected in such a provisional part of the world, but evidently even Hurricane Sandy hadn't caused much damage.
By the time a consensus developed that we should go down the boardwalk and get lunch, I'd been ready for it for hours. We went down to a food stand called Mogo, which offered "Korean Fusion Tacos." It was basically Korean food offered in the handy forkless delivery format invented in Mexico. One could get chicken, shrimp, or beef, but of course we got the tofu, which we piled high with kimchi offered in the help-yourself condiment area. The tacos each cost $4, but they're small, so we all got two of them. We ate them next to the hollowed-out hulk of an abandoned casino at the south end of the boardwalk. As we ate them, Gretchen told us about the animism of her childhood, when she would refrain from saying insulting things about inanimate objects for fear of hurting their feelings. She also told us that her desire to root for the underdog was so strong that she actually preferred the left side of her body over its entitled take-charge right side. Then Mark talked about a phenomenon I labeled the "democratization of celebrity," in which every teenage kid with a cellphone and a baseball cap can be their own paparazzi and document their little lives on Facebook. Mark said that such kids parade into a Chipotle as if they're Justin Bieber, doing their best to look just so and just so cool as they go about the ordinary things of adolescence. This reminded Gretchen of how she was when she was a kid, often seeing events in her life from the writerly perspective of a memoirist.
On the way back to our beach, we stopped at an icecream place adjacent to a business where fortunes are foretold. I didn't want icecream, I wanted lemonade, so the guy at icecream place put a lemon sorbet in a blender and made it into the perfect drink. As I sat there drinking it, Gretchen noticed a long white hair protruding from my left nostril and directed my attention to it. I yanked it out and flicked it away, and then, sensing Maresa's horror, suggested sprinkling it on her icecream. She's not used to the level of crassness that Gretchen and I bring to every situation.
After whiling away a couple more hours on the beach, we began making our way back toward the hotel to pick up our cars. I'd found a small plastic Tyrannosaurus rex on the beach that I was intending to keep, but when Gretchen saw it, she said I should leave it on the sand for some kid to find and be delighted by. "But what if that kid is a future Dick Cheney?" I asked, alluding to Gretchen's refusal to sign an organ donor card because of people like Dick Cheney. Maresa was on my side. "Keep it!" she insisted. I kept it.
After retrieving our stuff from the hotel bag check, Gretchen and Mark went off to get our cars while Maresa chatted about things like being stung by hornets (she'd heard about using Broad-leafed Plantain as an antidote). Mark and Gretchen were taking a long time, but then suddenly Mark showed up in a panic, saying that our cars were in the process of being towed, Gretchen was blowing a gasket, and he needed a bunch of cash. Both Maresa and I forked it over and hoped for the best, but eventually Maresa headed off to the parking lot to see what was happening. She eventually came back because my ID was needed. The Honda Civic Hybrid had been registered in my name. When I showed up, a big sunburned man in a tow truck was filling out a form while Gretchen stared at him with a look that I knew to be absolute contempt. She'd tried all the various political tricks in her arsenal, and still the tow truck driver was insisting on getting $150. That was because he'd already loaded our car on his truck. As for Mark & Maresa, he demanded $100 because he hadn't yet gotten to their car. It could have been worse; had we shown up 20 minutes later and the cars been taken, we would have been out $400 each.
I asked Gretchen how that could have possibly happened, and she said that one of the valet guys had told her that it was okay for us to leave our cars at the hotel into the afternoon. Now we were wondering if perhaps he was in cahoots with the towing company in the sort of elaborate only-in-New-Jersey conspiracy that also saw Chris Christie closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge to punish political foes. Whatever the reason, I was itching to write a terrible Yelp review for the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel.
We followed Mark's car on back roads from Asbury Park to Red Bank, parked in somewhat-dubious (after having been burned by a Jersey tow truck operator) parking spots, and then walked to our dinner destination, a restaurant called the Good Karma Café. That sounds like a dismal hippie eatery, but they have reasonable vegan junkfood selections like a tempeh reuben and a burger that can be made into a "bacon cheeseburger" with tempeh and a "cheese" based on nutritional yeast. Such a burger wouldn't fool Rush Limbaugh (or, really, anyone expecting a bacon cheeseburger), but if you're already vegan it would work. I knew Gretchen would want me to get something else, so I ordered the tempeh reuben, which I thought was pretty good. It was messy, but it was also cut into two pieces, so I could offer the second half to Gretchen before it became a prop for a horror movie. The best food of all, though, were the tempeh "wings," which we got two orders of on my insistance. After getting randomly dinged for a collective $250, I was not in a frugal mood.
We got back home a little before 11pm and I immediately went to bed.
Me beachcombing today.
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