Other Vacationers

Some of the other vacationers
We had been here just long enough that we’d grown restless from eating in the hotel for breakfast and dinner, and last night made plans to try the bigger resort next door. Our hotel is a small, quiet, boutique affair on a broad crescent of Caribbean beach, where all the neighboring properties seem larger and louder. Some are teeming with tourists, their stew of folks from all over seasoned with drawling, boisterous, hard-drinking Americans, like that one who tells the waiter, “It don’t matter,” and then makes him explain every item on the menu, because she, “don’t want nothing fishy.”
At the encouragement of several members of hotel staff and cab drivers, we walked down to the community Thursday fish fry, in the park. Nothing is especially cheap on this island, and when we bought two bottles of local beer, it came in big, milky plastic cups and was $10. There were many food vendors, so I guessed the best was the one with the longest line. Even the grilled corn was going to be $3 an ear. We lined up and drank our beer.
“Hey, it’s Missouri!” shouts the big pink fellow ahead of us in line for conch fritters.
He elbows his wife. She’s distractedly humping the air, dancing to the reggaeton blasting from the stage. Her eyes don’t focus on his face, but she peels her lips away from her teeth in a grimace of recognition. Is that a drunken smile? “You know,” she continues, speaking upward into the direction of the other couple in line with them, “Those Canadians are traveling with their kids.”
“Who wants to pay for all that!?” hoots her husband with a vote of support.
She jabs him back with an elbow of agreement, missing his belly and tipping not imperceptibly off balance.
Our hotel is full of people traveling with their kids. There was the tiny gent at dinner the other night in tiny navy topsiders without socks and tiny pressed khakis and a tiny white polo shirt and tiny suspenders. I was really looking forward to seeing him entertain himself with a parent’s pocket full of tiny cars, or a bunch of stickers and a new coloring book, but, no, his mom hauled out an iPad and set him up watching the glowing screen like a zombie, and the parents spoke in hushed tones in Russian without even glancing at him in his stupor. Do they even give out crayons in restaurants anymore?
Then there is what I call the Chas Tenenbaum family: with the nerdy dad in white tube socks and tightly belted, high-waisted khaki pants, the trim looker of a dark blond wife an obvious emblem of his financial success, and his matched set of curly-black-haired boys, the spitting images of dad, never out of arm’s reach, despite being on the verge of properly rambunctious Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn sort of ready-for-adventure age.
Contrast these to the French Canadians we hear thundering in circles upstairs whose arrival in the restaurant is announced by their three squealing miniature ruffians. They appear to be five year old brother and sister twins, with a bonus 4 year old brother who can’t quite always keep up but will fling himself forward and over and around and through in every effort to. The father doesn’t stop talking, and the mother doesn’t even glance down to see them kick off and deposit their shoes under her chair at breakfast so they can run tight laps on the patio, tagging each other with wadded napkins clasped in their unsupervised and undisciplined fingers screaming in their own unintelligible blend of French and English. Their breakfast ended in tears as the youngest slipped the room key into a crack in the table and couldn’t get it out.
It’s not just families with small children here. There are a number of older couples, and I am as charmed by the careful escort of the frail wife to the water as I was the young mother with sleeping infant on her chest under a beach umbrella. There is a moment at the water’s edge, where the surf rolls in and out and the footing is rough and loose, where a couple of the unsteadier guests have needed an arm to hold and a word of encouragement.
The day before yesterday, Chas Tenenbaum and the boys took a football to the sand and stood not far enough apart in a triangle tossing it. None of them seemed to have ever tossed a football before, and the younger boy missed every catch. The mother puttered about the loungers and joined them, making a square. The figure formed by the bodies constantly reformed as the ball dropped, the only sound that carried to me was the mother’s apologies.
And then yesterday, at the beach, the Chas Tenenbaums commandeered a stand-up paddleboard as a family and were taking turns balancing on it, mom at the tail and dad at the nose. When the dad took his turn on the thing, the little one pressed on the board near his mother, at the nose, insisting, “I’ll stabilize it.”
“No,” the father shouted. “Get off.”
Soon enough, he lost his balance and fell in again. The parents dragged the board back to its spot on the sand and retreated to their lounge chairs, and the kids swam, bobbing in the swells. In the end, there was just the younger boy left, only his nose and forehead visible, floating purposelessly in the water. Finally, a moment of entertaining himself.

On our way to dinner, we saw the older couple with the fragile wife, trying to take selfies in the pastel light of a beach sunset. She was unhesitant in asking me to take a picture of them, with her iPhone. It’s still one of my favorite things to do: take pictures of strangers for them. We promised her a full report on the restaurant next door.

What Sun-Faded Signs Don’t Say

They stood together, angled to enclose me like a pair of blonde parentheses. “We feel like we know how great you’re doing because we see you on Facebook,” said one.
“I look at all your pictures,” said the other.
I wanted to tell them the verb people use for that is “creeping,” as in, “I creep on all your pictures.” I didn’t. I wanted to tell the other one that what people see on Facebook is only the good stuff. Facebook is for graduations, job promotions, new babies, softball tournaments. Facebook is not for rehab, dropping out of school, cancer scares, incompetent bosses. It’s like a roster of all the delicious desserts you’ve gotten to eat, and none of the disappointing frozen dinners.
By way of being honest with old friends, I said, “My constant presence on social media is a reflection of my loneliness and isolation.”
This elicited light laughter. It wasn’t unsympathetic laughter. It was appreciative, and only a little uncomfortable.

My husband and I had come a long way, back from New York, for the wedding of a mutual friend. Since we moved from Seattle, our friend had bought a farm, moved her business there, and rescued a bunch of animals. Now she was getting married, having planned a big wedding, marrying her best friend of a number of years. It was a circus-themed affair, and because of who it was, we weren’t scared away by a circus-themed wedding. Maybe somewhat hesitant, but we were going anyway.
Getting to Vashon Island had included a ferry ride from West Seattle. Our morning had been gobbled up settling a monetary crisis for another friend, but we had thought we had enough time to park, walk on the ferry and be met by the shuttle bus. The Washington State Ferry system is a glorious relic of the days when government was big and had an important role in getting people and goods from place to place. People voted for that, and paid for it with their taxes. The white and green-trimmed ferries are huge, with several decks for cars and trucks and other decks for passengers. There is never enough parking at the smaller, neighborhood ferry terminals, but we followed the lead of other cars parked on the street. Though the neat, small clapboard houses near Fauntleroy Dock look just like the rest of West Seattle, the streets are painted with special striping, and the street signs erupt with multiple placards of all sizes and colors, facing the street in erratic angles. The signs we could see and read described the many times that parking was not allowed, during the week, overnight, but we felt we’d found legal parking for the day.

After a short wait in the small terminal, we bought two $5.20 tickets and walked on. We climbed the stairs to the front of the ferry to spend our short crossing as we knew we had always loved to: in the wind and sun.  It was so much as it had always been, engines thrumming, waves slapping, gulls circling that we had not so much a sense of nostalgia but one of stasis, that Seattle was unchanged and unchanging.
The gloss on our feeling of expertise dulled when we walked off the ferry and saw no shuttles anywhere. We wandered around for a bit, and the Bacon Provider called for a cab. Vashon Island isn’t really the kind of a place with cabs per se. There was just a guy you could call, his name was on the Internet, and he’d send someone to get you. Our driver refused to charge us the agreed-upon $25 fare, accepting only $15, but taking the $20 offered her anyway.
So we were late to the wedding, though we didn’t feel late, but we missed the ceremony in the mossy, wooded grove of giant Douglas firs where the beloved old dog was buried, and missed the entrance of the bride on horseback. So be it. We were greeted first by one old friend, and then another. People were happy to see us, asked after the kids. It was easy and pleasant.

The farm is wooded and lush, presided over by tall firs and carpeted in moss and ferns. There is a trim house and neat barn and the circus-themed decorations were joyous rather than jarring. There were too many people to catch up with and not enough time. I spoke to the pair of blondes, toured the property with another friend. Someone mentioned a small nugget of real gossip, but then explained to me, in a whisper, “Another time, over a beer.” It was as close as I came to a real conversation, and it ended as soon as it started.

After the trapeze act finished, the dancing began with a samba dancer wearing a tiny costume consisting of three green sequins working the room. Then, the whole barn crowd from our Seattle years reassembled outside for a group photo. After the photo, one of the blondes confronted me again, this time with the question, “So do you miss Seattle?”
Looking away I said, “Almost every day.”
“What do you miss the most?” she pressed.
I did not answer her.
Later, when we got off the ferry, our rental car was still there, but it had a parking ticket on it. Apparently one of the illegible, sun-faded signs said, “No Parking Weekends or Holidays.” The ticket was $47. We saw it and both laughed: cheap parking by New York City standards.

I am packing for a trip


I have a new suitcase, which was just the right size in the store and grew to monstrous dimensions on the way home. I have tried to take only what I will really need; this includes a sun hat and a flashlight, which were recommended, and some books, which were my idea. My suitcase is not full. The dog Captain is worried about what I am doing and gets in the shot.

I am not a runner, so I am leaving my running shoes at home. There are some things I know I will miss, like the New York Times, my own pillows, and the jokes my children tell me. I do not know if I will miss these shoes.