Elizabeth and I have been to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for her family reunion in 2017, 2018, and 2021. Each year was somewhat different. The first two times, we only went for a weekend while Elizabeth was taking summer classes. I got to meet family members and see the hits of Rehoboth Beach, and that was about it. In 2021, it was somewhat different – we spent a full week in Rehoboth and I finally got to experience a lot of the town. That came at a tradeoff – we were there for longer while I worked remotely for NWS Blacksburg.
This time was different. Elizabeth could get a week off of work at OEM easily. I would be well past a month post-thesis-defense, and surely would be ready to turn things in. My job at NWS Norman began August 1. It was a perfect storm for Elizabeth and myself to be able to visit for a long time and not have to worry about work. We booked flights to DC from July 22 to July 27 and figured we’d consider it my last hurrah of freedom before joining the full-time workforce.
Funny how life works out. I should have realized that grad school was going to have a final hurdle to leap before I could earn that piece of paper. And this hurdle was not a small one – I had to finish an entire 100-page thesis in one week that had been described as “a long way from done”.
Elizabeth and I returned to Norman from Glacier early, early in the morning on July 20 and I set to the grim task of finishing as much of my thesis as I could in the two-day allotment before we left again. There was a lot to do – entire sections needed to be added, reorganized, or rewritten entirely. The whole thing needed to be formatted in LaTex via Overleaf, which was as familiar to me as the far side of the moon. Elizabeth was incredibly understanding and took the brunt of the unpacking from Glacier duties while I worked nonstop over those two days. I honestly wasn’t sure whether or not I could even justify going to Rehoboth given the fact that my literal degree hung in the balance with a week to go. But in the end, I decided to just go and make it a writer’s retreat. If my advisors weren’t happy about it, well, neither was I. I promised everything would get done.
So that’s how after some drama, Elizabeth and I ended up back at Will Rogers just a week after flying out to Glacier, this time headed for DC. It may have been just a hair before 11:00, but I needed calories to get my brain going, so Freddy’s it was. I had set working goals for each day – today’s was mostly simple enough, standardizing some of my figures and coding them to all fit together nicely. I sort of expected it to take the entire plane ride to finish all of it, but things were going well for me. By the end of the direct flight from OKC to DCA, the figure situation looked pretty good.
I was sort of concerned that the long drive from DCA to Rehoboth would prove to be a productivity “dead zone”. This is especially true given that I’ve found that the trip to Rehoboth can end up being an all-day affair. Dropping Snowball off with the people watching him, hours of picking crabs at Harris, packing – this is your reminder as a reader that you should never count on any sort of on-time behavior from Elizabeth’s family, who exists in their own plane of non-punctuality. But in this case, I needn’t have worried. Elizabeth and I had flown in on a Friday, and Winston was super anxious to get out to the beach Friday night instead of getting stuck in “DC people escaping to the beaches for the weekend” traffic. His Subaru was waiting for us in the DCA Southwest lot. While Pam had managed to cram the usual overkill of snacks and gear for the week into the car for the week, I have seen situations where it was far tougher to cram Elizabeth and my luggage into the car. Best of all, from my perspective, my laptop still had enough charge to let me do some writing while we went through the usual hours-long drive to the beach.
And that’s pretty much exactly what happened. It was a quieter car ride than normal, maybe in part due to jetlag and maybe in part due to my ferocious typing. But the trip also went much faster than some interminable trips to the beach that I have ingrained into my memory (2021 comes to mind). Even the traffic in Maryland prior to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge seemed pretty tame. By this point, my laptop was near enough to death that I’d stowed it away and joined in with the *vacationers*. If you want to talk about making great time, landing after an afternoon flight and still making it to Harris Crab House on the east side of the Bay Bridge by actual dinnertime isn’t doing too bad.
Harris was as it always was – loud and fishy, with lots of wooden mallets for the patrons. Elizabeth, Pam, and Winston shared what I’m sure was a delicious bucket of crabs. As for me, I had already tried shrimp back in Florida and found it to be absolutely disgusting. As the saying goes, “fool me once, strike one. Fool me twice, strike… three”. I stuck to bone-in chicken wings seasoned with Old Bay, as close to eating crabs as I’ll ever need to come in my life.
Pretty good, even though I would have preferred my wings in the form of nuggets with sauce on them. Even better, Elizabeth introduced me to the Harris Homemade Nutty Buddy, which is essentially just a drumstick dipped in a ton of nuts. It was delicious.
The sun was dipping to the horizon in an orange flame of glory by the time we got to the Delaware state line. The busy suburban road network had long since trailed off, as had the coastal and tidal forests, to be replaced by the now-familiar cornfields of central Delaware. Winston made one stop at another familiar local scene – Royal Farms. Otherwise we continued to make great time all the way to Route 1 and the beginning of the beach traffic-jam.
I was pretty happy to be back. Although it’s hard to try to recount accurately after the fact, I was pretty much constantly on edge from thesis stress throughout the middle months of 2022. Whether it was counting down days until the defense, or editing the paper, and now in this final stretch where I needed to put myself through one more herculean effort to get it out, there was always something in the back of my mind that warned me not to get too happy. But if I was going to have to do it, being able to get crepes delivered to me at the condo by Elizabeth sounded like a not-bad way to go about it. Besides, I’d *have* to be able to take a break at some point, right? Right?
We rolled into Rehoboth just before everything on the boardwalk closed. I had made a jokingly big deal about needing to stop at Kohr Bros for ice cream when we got there, assuming we wouldn’t make it in time. The reward for my histrionics was a prime drop-off by Winston at the boardwalk, a $13 charge for two on my incredibly overstretched bank account, and some pretty tasty ice cream. Orange/vanilla swirl, of course. I don’t believe in doing amateur hour when ordering Kohr Bros.
Licking our cones, Elizabeth and I walked through the humid Delaware night down the boardwalk over to Patrician Towers. The boardwalk mingled overwhelming familiarity – Zelky’s, Grotto’s, and the Boardwalk Plaza – with new sights – new bars open for business, and kids who were just so damn much younger than us. I felt old walking into the condo building’s garage to help unpack stuff.
Even though it was Friday night, the four of us weren’t *quite* the first ones to Patrician Towers. Terri, Garrett, and Cammi were already at the fifth-floor condo. After saying hello to them and getting ourselves set up on the bottom bunk of the little bedroom I always stay in on the northeast side of the condo, I prepared to get back to work. But it turned out we still hadn’t seen everyone who had already made it in town, because Elizabeth’s Aunt Bridget and Uncle John came up and invited the two of us to come check our their new place. They’d gotten a condo below and had been renovating it. I’m gonna be honest, the interior design work they did was pretty dang nice. My favorite part has to be the entire shelf of the fridge that John had stocked with literally nothing but Bud Lights. What a life.
After touring their condo and visiting with them, it was undeniably getting pretty late. Elizabeth had her usual giant list of things to do with her Saturday in Rehoboth to look forward to. Winston wasn’t going to wait – he had some friends in Dewey Beach that he wanted to visit right now on Friday. Elizabeth drove him out there while I worked on the couch, then came back and got ready for bed. I volunteered to give Winston a ride home – might as well work late into the night if I could, right? Not long before midnight, he texted and asked for a pickup. And that’s how I finished the first night of my writer’s retreat – watching all of the relaxed vacationers at Dewey Beach blow off steam while waiting for him. One thing had become clear to me, anyway – this would be no ordinary vacation.