The Sweetie and I decided to squeeze out a final summer road trip to Grand Bend last weekend. Along with having a glorious beach and beautiful sunsets it is one of those quintessential beach towns, lined with tacky shops selling straw hats with Corona emblazoned on them, cruising teenagers and bars blaring requisite Jimmy Buffet music. We decided it would be the perfect place for a final summer blowout.
I tried to ignore the turning leaves and the autumnal chill in the air. “It’s a summer road trip and it is going to feel like summer even if it kills us!” I declared, although my voice sounded forced and rang a little hollow. I secretly wondered if I was like the bearded, portly guys I see in March wearing shorts and sandals when there is still snow on the ground, or the young girls wearing mini skirts, oblivious to the fact that their legs are turning blue.
On our way into town we stopped at an antique market nestled in the woods. Unfortunately, instead of antiques there were more flea market type finds such as flags with cannabis leaves on them, belly button rings and dusty DVDs. The Sweetie pulled out a DVD called Roads Trips From Hell, a compilation of movies where road trips go horrifically wrong.
“Put it back!” I hissed, seeing bloodied bodies and a machete wielding masked killer on the cover. “We’re on a road trip, don’t even look at it!” I worried that it was a warning from the summer gods that I was pushing it and forcing the season past its prime.
As we left the dusty DVD section and bypassed moldy books we passed a vendor doling out samples of sausage. I politely declined saying, “Thank you, it looks delicious but I don’t eat meat.”
He turned to The Sweetie and muttered,“Lucky you,” with a disdainful toss of his head in my direction.
I pretended I didn’t hear him and hurried towards an old lady hunched by a stall with antique looking items. I spotted a pair of salt and pepper shakers shaped like turkeys and asked for a closer look. I have a cousin who collects tacky salt and pepper shakers for Thanksgiving and thought rainbow coloured turkeys would be a welcome addition. The old woman sighed and groaned until she finally managed to grab the shakers. When I turned them over I noticed they were cracked and one was missing a stopper.
“It’s an antique, of course it’s missing a stopper!” The old lady barked at me before I said a word.
I touched the intact stopper wondering if I could find a replacement somewhere.
“Well don”t push it in! You’re going to break it!” She chided. I gingerly handed them back to her. She snatched them from my hand and turned abruptly.
The treasure hunting adventure had taken on a darker tone. Instead of cheery banter and good-natured haggling, I seemed to be making everyone angry. I tried to cheer myself with some kettle corn and immediately started to choke on a kernel. Passersby gave me the stink eye and a little dog growled at me. As I sputtered and hacked, wondering if this was going to be my untimely and undignified end, I began to even annoy myself.
“Let’s get out of here and find a cozy little cottage for the night. Everybody is cranky here,” I whispered to The Sweetie.
The sausage guy gave me a final smirk as I passed and I think I swallowed a gnat as we trudged back to the car.
The cute looking cottages I had hoped to rent for the night were locked and empty, looking ghostly and forgotten. We went to the corner of the main strip and saw that the decidedly less romantic looking Rod & Gun hotel and lounge had rooms available.
The lively stores along the street fell silent as the sun started to set. I hurried to an ice cream stand and asked the girl, “What time do you close tonight?”
“Now!” She snapped and turned her back, quickly slamming the serving window shut.
I started to get cold, pulling my hoodie around me and wistfully reminiscing about those heat wave July days when it was almost too hot to breathe.
As we walked back to the Rod & Gun we stopped to peer in the darkened shop windows. Suddenly I felt an urge to look up. Dangling from the awnings were spiders. Huge dark thick legged full bodied spiders. The town was filled with them. There were menacing spiders dangling and crawling everywhere. Every hanging basket was a threat. Every neon light was a showcase for a spider colony. Maybe that is why everything shut down after dark. “It is a town of spiders!” I shrieked, my voice becoming more and more shrill. The Sweetie was equally disturbed, which heightened my panic. “What the hell?” he kept repeating over and over again as I left deep fingernail imprints on his arm. “Wouldn’t they have reported this is the news? Do you think they’ll have this on the internet? What if the spiders band together? There are enough of them and they are big enough that if they worked together as a team they could take us out!” I babbled until we got back to The Rod & Gun.
Everything was strangely desolate and still at the hotel. It felt a little spooky. The room and silent hallway felt oppressive. The Sweetie started getting sleepy, strangely so, almost like he was under a spell.
“So sleepy,” he murmured, as I lay next to him in the bed, thinking of giant spiders, crabby old ladies and growling dogs. I remembered reading somewhere that the average person swallows eight spiders in their lifetime. As The Sweetie’s breath deepened I began to worry that maybe the old hotel was haunted. Perhaps there had been one too many drunken brawls at the Rod & Gun lounge and a disgruntled hunter had been shot over a glass of whiskey. His ghost could be wandering the halls in a bloodied flannel shirt looking for revenge. The spiders had been a warning and The Sweetie and I were like those dumb people in horror movies that ignore all the signs and are always the first ones to meet a grisly end. I felt myself drifting off and felt a pressure around my throat, realizing as I started awake that it was my own hand gripping the sheet closely around me.
As I lay in the dark listening for ghosts, I thought again of the bearded guys with their bare legs when the air is still icy cold, pushing the season, and how I scoff at them, my forehead furrowing in a mixture of concern and disgust at their pale hairy legs looking like plucked chicken flesh. As I drew the covers around me, my own skin covered in goosebumps, I thought about the planned outing to the beach the next day and realized that I am a bearded sandal wearing weirdo myself, foolish and touchingly optimistic, destined for icy toes and an early seasonal flu. Perhaps pushing the boundaries and insisting it is still summer in an abandoned beach town is not the best choice after all. Maybe there is something to be said for accepting things gracefully.