Trip 23 -- Diners of New Jersey Walk
Epilogue: Cape May to New York (Margie D's Soda Fountain at Dellas 5 & 10)
Thursday-Saturday, October 29-31, 2020
Wildwood to Cape May: 12224 steps/10.50 km/6.52 mi/1h 48m
Total, Port Jervis to Cape May: 497113 steps/399.83 km/248.44 mi/77h 28m
From Cape May's Jetty Motel to the ferry is a little over five miles. I don't have to be there until 2:00 p.m. for a 2:30 departure, but the short break in the rain is scheduled for the morning. I plan to head out early and get most of the way there before noon; then I can find a place for lunch and hopefully not get too wet on the last section of the walk.
I check out and have one last look at the sea, feeling perhaps more sad to leave than I ought to be. This is New Jersey, not the moon; it's easy to return. It's cloudy, not raining, and it's still warm. I start making my way up Broadway.
I realize I'm running earlier than expected. It's only 10:40, and the walk won't take more than an hour and a half. Surely I have time for another quick walk through town...
Such handsome houses Cape May has: Victorian homes, in whimsical greens, reds, and blues, with frilly turrets and gables. Many of the homes date from the 1880s, built after a fire leveled much of the town in 1878.
I walk along the pedestrianized Washington Street again. Quincy's Original Lobster Rolls opens at 11; that might be the perfect breakfast. I'm ten minutes early; I'll have to stroll the block a bit and come back.
A few minutes later I find myself in front of Dellas 5 & 10. I peer through the entrance and almost laugh: A cardboard portal with "DINER" in pink letters shows the way to Margie's Soda Fountain at the back. I have to go in.
The cardboard portal is adorned with fake 45-RPM records bearing titles such as "Twisting the Night Away" and "Soda Shop Strut." I walk under and through the aisle and reach the soda fountain, 11 stools and two booths. I'm greeted by a guy wearing a white dress shirt and a black bowtie. The menu is up on the wall -- "Margie D's Soda Fountain Fun!" with a painted yellow arrow pointing to "Fun!" and a frothy ice-cream float happily licking its whipped-cream lips -- but it's easier to read the 1-1-2 printed takeout menu.
I order a cheeseburger, mozzarella sticks, and a peach-flavored Coke; they offer 16 flavorings, one of which is pumpkin, but not everything has to be pumpkin, even in October. While he makes my meal, I stroll around the store. There are novelty toys, candy, stuffed animals, those birthday cards that tell you what happened the year you were born, an out-of-order pinball machine called Gottlieb's Jacks Open, an assortment of books all priced at $6.99, a giant-gumball machine, office supplies, and crock pots and other kitchen appliances.
The meal takes a long time to make. He's using his gloved hands and a spatula to try to balance everything on the burger; it's amateurish precision, like a barber who spends too much time making sure the sides are even. The burger also lacks personality; the tomato and lettuce are awkwardly bulky, and the onions squish out the sides, reminding me of burgers I've assembled from spreads of toppings at friends' barbecues. The mozzarella sticks are nice and firm, but I run out of marinara sauce. The Coke could use a little more peach, and it's by far the most expensive soda of the trip: $5 with the flavoring, and that doesn't even include refills.
By the time I leave, of course, it's raining steadily. It's not a heavy rain, though, and the poncho does the trick. I make my way back to Broadway and walk north to the bridge over the Cape May Canal. I head west on U.S. 9 and eventually approach a shopping center, where I plan to pause a bit and see whether the ferry is still running: The rain shouldn't be an issue, but for the evening they predict winds of 50 miles an hour.
I'm walking in the shoulder, against traffic. A car is stopped there, and the driver signals to me. I expect him to ask for directions, but he says, "Need a lift?" It's a surprise; he's the first stranger to offer me a ride on this walk or my walk to Boston. I thank him and cross the road to the shopping center.
No notice from the ferry company means we're still on, so I take the back way out of the shopping center and walk along a side road until I reach the ferry entrance. I present my identification at the check-in desk; my poncho is soaked.
"You're not on a bike, are you?" the agent says. I don't realize she's joking until she chuckles. There's a gift shop and I buy a pack of ferry-branded playing cards; I realize later that I should have bought them onboard or in Delaware, where there's no sales tax.
Around 30 cars are lined up to make the crossing; there are only five foot passengers. Considering the rain and increasing wind, it's a fairly smooth trip of 80 minutes. On arrival, I take the bus to the Lewes Transit Center and then another bus down to Rehoboth Beach. I'm grateful there are buses at all: There are no other passengers on the first bus and just two others on the second. I realize that I'm in Sussex County, Delaware; when I entered New Jersey at that state's northernmost point, it was also Sussex County.
I wish I had more time in Delaware, because nobody knows anything about Delaware. I know this because Bill Bryson once wrote, "Delaware may well be the most obscure of all the American states. I once met a girl from Delaware and couldn't think of a single thing to say to her. I said, 'So you come from Delaware? Gosh. Wow.' And she moved quickly on to someone more verbally dextrous, and also better-looking."
Delaware never comes up in the news, except recently because Joe Biden lives there. I've been here before -- I've even spent a couple of nights in Lewes, and the weather was similarly dreadful -- but I can't say I know much about the state other than that it was the first one to ratify our country's constitution. The other thing I know is that there is no sales tax or meals tax, and for that reason alone it's worth spending some time in.
In the summer, buses go all the way to Dewey Beach, where I'm staying, but for me it's a walk along the beach for about 20 minutes. It's still raining, just hard enough for me to want the poncho, but not quite hard enough for me to figure out how to put it on in the wind; it billows up every time I try to open it, and it more resembles a parachute than protective clothing.
I cross back over to the main road and pass by Woody's, where I confirm that they will be serving food after my Scrabble session ends. A few blocks later -- a couple more than I want it to be -- is the Hyatt, where I spend a half-hour in the warm pool and attempt to play solo pool basketball.
Scrabble ends at 9:40 and then I head over to Woody's. I've been foiled by that dreaded loophole of bar kitchens: the late-night menu. Yes, they serve food until eleven, but after ten it's a paltry and particularly uninspiring subset of their normal items. It's technically 9:56 now, but I'm not going to argue with the bartender.
Most of the options are fried snacks. There isn't even a hot sandwich apart from their renowned crab-cake sandwich, and that's what I go for. It's satisfyingly loaded with crab, but I finish it quickly and want something else. I order nachos, which have strange bits of onion scuttling around, much as on my burger earlier. Still, I'm grateful there's food at all.
Most of the other bar patrons are in town for a wedding. They're in their early 20s and talking about getting drunk in Poland or chastising their friend who tried to keep up a dapper appearance while tramping along the glaciers of Iceland. Their talking in the Hyatt's corridor will wake me up briefly later -- the others are staying "at an epic AirBnB" -- but I don't mind; as long as they're being safe (which is by no means guaranteed) and polite (which they seem to be) they're a sign of life.
"Are you a culinary gangster?" they ask a newcomer to the bar who looks like Guy Fieri.
While I pick at my nachos, I read a FlyerTalk thread called "The worst part of being a solo traveler is...." Common themes include single supplements on cruises or excursions and awkwardness dining alone. Sitting at the bar is an option, but people at breakfast buffets and such have often come back to their food having been cleared and other people seated. And while some nice restaurants handle solo diners well, others relegate them to undesirable tables or provide inferior service.
Solo women have it differently: They are often assumed to be looking to earn some cash, or they are given excessive and unwelcome attention. And it is not safe for them to leave a drink on the bar when using the restroom.
Then there's the threat of excessive and intrusive conversation. One person jokingly suggests answering "Where are you off to?" with something like "Mogadishu." If the response is "But the plane is going to New York" or the like, one can always say, "Not after I speak with the captain...."
And for solo dips in the ocean, someone recommends rolling valuables into a diaper and leaving it on the beach. No one will touch it...except in the case of one traveler who did just that and a cleaner came along and took it away. Fortunately he was able to dig it out.
The rain is supposed to continue in the morning. If there's a break, I think, I'll walk the seven miles back to the Lewes Transit Center and stop along the way at the Rehoboth Diner. Not only will that give me a chance to sample a Delaware diner, but there's a fantastic sidewalk the whole length of the Coastal Highway back to Lewes, and I want to show my gratitude by using it.
But when I wake up, the rain is blowing sideways. I leave the Hyatt a little later than I intend to, and I have 24 minutes to go the two miles to the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center and catch route 201. This bus runs every half-hour, but the next one leaves me just a one-minute connection at Lewes to the intercounty bus to Dover, and if I miss that one it's more than four hours until the next.
I put the poncho on and clutch it around my throat; it stutters a rat-a-tat-tat sound in the wind as I hurry up the Coastal Highway and then Route 1A. I see the bus go by in the other direction; then it's going to loop around and pass the convention center.
I make it with two minutes to spare. There's just one other passenger, with a bike; I admire his fortitude in riding in this weather. I have a half-hour to wait at Lewes; fortunately there's an indoor shelter. I board the bus to Dover and discover that I've misread the fares: It's not $2 per bus but $2 per zone, and it should be
$6 to Dover and another $6 onward to Wilmington. However, I could have saved something by buying a day pass on the first bus. The driver is kind and lets me on for $2.
He explains that, with a half-hour to kill at Dover, I can get off at the next-to-last stop and wait in the Wawa convenience store -- the onward bus to Wilmington will pass by -- or I can go all the way to the Dover Transit Center, which is a depressing row of outdoor bus lanes and rudimentary bathrooms. I chance it and ride to the end, and I'm glad I do: Not only do I see that there's a Victrola museum nearby, but the transit center is next to the Lancaster County Farmers Market.
It's an indoor market of Amish vendors and I wish I had more time. With no more significant walking to do, I can buy a few things, but I have to act quickly. I get a walnut-raisin sticky bun, a stuffed pretzel (this one with scrapple and egg), and a block of partially cooked scrapple. This enables me to read the ingredients and see what really goes into it: "pork (stock, fatback, jowls, liver), wheat flour, cornmeal, salt, spices." On the one hand, I expected lots of -ates and -ites and other preservatives. On the other hand, I thought a fatback was a position in football.
The bus to Wilmington gets fairly crowded, all things considered -- it's about a third full. I have an hour and a half in Joe Biden's longtime city, and I walk along the river to Banks (maybe Banks'; they don't seem to have decided) Seafood Kitchen for a lunch of creamy oyster soup and a ginger-spiced pot of scarlet snapper and mussels. Wilmington was an important Underground Railroad stop as well, and resident Thomas Garrett fought alongside others against the gangs who would try to kidnap slaves -- who were free in Delaware -- in order to bring them south.
I board the first of two commuter trains operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority; my 23.5 hours in Delaware are almost up. It's almost an hour to Philadelphia, and after about 35 minutes, it'll be almost another hour to Trenton. Then New Jersey Transit will bring me to New York.
Get out of bed.
The journey is over.
Rush to Rehoboth,
And board route two-oh-one.
Make one change soon,
One more at Dover.
In just a few hours,
I've reached Wilmington.
Is bringin' me onward.
Their trains are well-padded,
Their fares not too high.
(A pro, not a con word)
Takes me to Trenton.
SEPTA, aye, aye!
Soon I'll continue
On N.J. Transit.
Schedules are fuzzy,
Tickets are dear.
This way for ages,
But who understands it?
Friendlier system --
Your choice is clear.
Makes me feel I'm flyin'.
I whoosh through the suburbs,
The view is a blur.
Is so gratifyin'.
Nothin' else like it --
SEPTA, for sure.
Next time we travel,
Oh, can you please take
Me to the state that's
Named for William Penn.
We'll feast on scrapple
And birch beer and cheesesteak.
And then we'll start plannin'
To come back again!
Suddenly SEPTA (Suddenly SEPTA)
Earns my love letter. (Earns your love letter.)
Suddenly SEPTA (Suddenly SEPTA...)
Shields me from rain. (Oh, such rain!)
I've never schlepped a
Small bag any better.
And now that I'm homebound, (And now that you're homebound,)
And now that I'm homebound, (And now that you're homebound,)
And now that I'm homebound,
SEPTA's my train!
At Trenton I see that the old split-flap board is, alas, still frozen where it was nine days ago. New Jersey Transit departs on time and, as is often the case, waits just outside Penn Station and pulls in six minutes late. It's no longer raining, but it's cold, and I walk the mile home.
Today is Halloween, and nothing is scarier than me in the kitchen. Before I start what will have to be my next eating adventure -- "Vegan in November" -- I make banana-stuffed pancakes, throw on some brie and fontina, cook up a slice of scrapple and a fried egg, and pour bourbon-barrel-aged maple syrup on the lot.
It's better than I expected. A side of matzo-ball soup and a tall glass of Coke and it'd be perfect.
I didn't start out the trip planning to write a parody of a musical-theatre song every day. The first one was only because I was singing to alert bears to my presence in High Point State Park. Then I liked the rhythm of "Lafayette, New Jersey" the next day, and two occurrences became a tradition. There's been a request for a list of the songs I used, so here goes:
Day 1: "Oh, What a Beautiful Daytime"
"Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" from "Oklahoma!"
Day 2: "Lafayette, New Jersey"
"Gary, Indiana" from "The Music Man"
Day 3: "Memory"
"Memory" from "Cats"
Day 4: "Pavillion"
"Maria" from "West Side Story"
Day 5: "Them's the Animals I See"
"So in Love" from "Kiss Me, Kate"
Day 6: "Cheesy Meat"
"Easy Street" from "Annie"
Day 7: "Manmade River"
"Ol' Man River" from "Show Boat"
Day 8: "Fend Off the Sounds"
"Send In the Clowns" from "A Little Night Music"
Day 9: "Shamong!"
"C'est moi" from "Camelot"
Day 10: "Three-two-two"
"A Bushel and a Peck" from "Guys and Dolls"
Day 11: "Washing Clothes in Somers Point Again"
"Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" from "The Phantom of the Opera"
Day 12: "Sea Isle City"
"Those Magic Changes" from "Grease"
Day 13: "Some Enchanting Beacon"
"Some Enchanted Evening" from "South Pacific"
Day 14: "N.J. Lore"
"One Day More" from "Les Misérables"
Epilogue: "Suddenly SEPTA"
"Suddenly Seymour" from "Little Shop of Horrors"