Some vacations are memorable because they take us to exotic locations. Some are memorable because of fun times spent with family. And some, of course, are memorable because they are so bad.
Let me rewind to summer of 1990. Hard to believe it has been two decades. Now, as a child (and, near as I can tell, it may still be that way), when someone from West Virginia went on vacation it was almost always to Myrtle Beach. Apparently, the existence of any other coastal areas is a well guarded secret in dem dair hills.
But in 1990, we strayed from the Hillbilly Vacation Formula because Dad had the bright idea to go to Maine. I feel certain he’d seen photos of Maine’s rocky coast, heard tales of their fresh lobster, and felt like it was a great and different place to spend a week.
But he was wrong.
Let me set the stage a bit. My stepmom had only recently learned she was pregnant with my youngest brother. If I do the math, she was first trimester when we loaded up the brand new Mercury Tracer (bought that very week, if memory serves) and headed from West Virginia to Maine. It’s worth noting that a few years later, that would become MY first car. It’s also worth noting, for those not familiar with their automotive makes, that it was a small car, and it was packed to the sunroof with our (then) family of four and a week’s worth of bags.
The trip to Maine was uneventful. We stopped halfway just outside of New York City, crossed a bridge and went through a tunnel into Manhattan where my brother and I could not get to F.A.O. Schwartz fast enough. I don’t recall buying anything, but my brother bought a high-quality Rolls Royce model car (this is important for later). We dined at a swanky-to-a-13-year old Asian restaurant, and returned to our Jersey motel room before heading through New England on our way to Maine.
For whatever reason, we arrived in Ogunquit, Maine with no hotel reservations. I’m not sure if we thought it was such an undiscovered location that one wasn’t needed or if it had just slipped my parent’s minds in the midst of finding out a third son was on the way, but at any rate, we ended up at The Pine Ledge. (notable, because the sanitarium closest to where I grew up was called the Pine LODGE…and both, as it were, were suited only to the criminally insane)
The location was lovely…an old style motel (think Norman Bates) in a picturesque setting. But that was all that was nice about the Pine Ledge.
It was run by an odd family who lived on site and, apparently, boiled onions for every meal. I distinctly recall that the motel matron was a spindly older woman who wore knee high striped socks and coke bottle glasses.
She showed us to our suite…a plywood paneled room that had last been decorated in the 1940s. There was a double bed, a twin bed, and a cot for us to fight over.
The kitchenette was a blast from the past, with a vintage refrigerator:
The bathroom was a musty old collection of paneling and bad wiring. The single light turned into a strobe after it had heated up. And the television was a black and white model on a rolling cart that likewise flickered once it had been on for a few minutes.
As we unpacked our compact car, I discovered that our room was already occupied. Crawling up my stepmother’s back was a near tarantula sized spider.
“Don’t move!” I urged. And she immediately did a forward handspring over the cot, screaming and shrieking as she broke into a back flip trying to get her eight legged friend off. He disappeared in the mayhem.
My brother made some comment that he would sleep in the car, and tense words erupted. Poor stepmom, flush with first trimester hormones, yelled at him and tossed his new Rolls Royce over the floral bedspread, breaking it.
After we had unpacked and calmed down, we set out to make the most of vacation. The rocky shore of Maine was calling. We could hear it, but, as it turned out, we couldn’t really SEE it. Fog rolled in so thick you could barely see your fingers if you stretched your hand out.
And behind the fog, rain. We checked out local shops, headed to the 24-hour L.L. Bean, and waited for nicer weather. When it came, we hoped to spend some time in the Pine Ledge pool. Only it had been cleaned around the same time the decor had last been updated. So we did the only thing we knew to do–we headed for the outlet mall.
After a few hours of fruitless bargain hunting, we returned to find that we had locked the keys in the car. The Maine police had to come with a slim-jim to get us back in.
Still, we had the Maine lobster to look forward to. Only lobster and pregnant women don’t mix so well. After an all you can eat feast, we stopped no less than 17 times for my stepmother to puke on the side of the road.
After that, it was decided there was simply no saving that vacation. We loaded the car back up on day three and headed home, never so glad to see a Comfort Inn in New Jersey in our lives.