Monday, August 18, 2014

The more things stay the same...the more they change.

I loathe change. Anyone who has spent more than three minutes in this blog can probably decipher that.

Let me jump back to my Super Seventies childhood for a moment and talk about the word "hate."  I was instructed (not by my parents, who were born in the 30s and had a slightly better grip on things) but by my teachers and the somewhat younger parents of friends, that I should NEVER say I hated something, or someone, because "Hate is a very strong word." Well, friends, Richmonders, countrymen, lemme tell y'all, I know it is.  And if I say I hate something or someone, I really mean that I hate it. I don't dick around with this and yes, it IS a Very Strong Word, which is precisely why I employ it.  This is one of the beauties of the English language:  we have a wide variety of words that address almost every known condition. So yes: if I've said that I hate you, that probably means that I actually really, strongly hate you.  Not enough to kill your pets, because I like animals a lot more than I like people, but enough to rescue your pets from you because you're an awful person, find them a good home, and then kill YOU.

Oh, crap, I was talking about change. Or at least I meant to, until I got all sidetracked because I was thinking about the dude who cut me off on Route 113 last night. As the kids would say, "my bad."

I am now at my favorite beach resort, Cape Henlopen, I mean, Rehoboth Beach.  See, it was initially incorporated as Cape Henlopen City, which actually sounds a little bit more impressive, but then the Methodists got into the act and found some Biblical crap so here we are with a perfectly nice beach town that nobody can spell unless they are from here.  It's not made easier since there's a small town somewhere on Maryland's Eastern Shore called "Rehobeth," thus frustrating every attempt at spelling anything at all.

Every year when I take my beach week, I revel in the joys of this old resort.  No matter how many new generations of Like Totes OMG Washington suburbanites "discover" the place, it is still full of people that I have known since the earth's crust cooled.  I can count on attending Mass at St. Edmund's church, and run into three Baltimore families and at least one person I know from Philadelphia.  Invariably when I stop for ice cream at the Royal Treat--which many of us still think of as the "Hotel Royalton"--I'll bump into somebody from Frederick or Allentown or Richmond.

So, every year when I come to Rehoboth Beach, I think "Oh, look, it hasn't changed a bit."  It has, though, and this is the strange thing.  In Richmond, when one lousy building gets torn down, I die a little.  Even if it's nothing but a 1915 tire store on Broad street, I think of the Broad of years gone by; I mourn the Richmond that no longer is.  I imagine my grandfather buying new tires for his Buick there and taking a happy motor trip to... Rehoboth Beach, where, I also imagine, everything looks Just The Same as it did in 1915.

It doesn't, though; it doesn't even look the same as it did in 1985.  The difference is that since I only see the place for a week or so every year, it's not as immediately obvious. I figure that of all the buildings on Rehoboth Avenue, the main street of the town, about one has been ripped down and replaced every year since I was a teenager.  Since that's thirty years now, and Rehoboth Avenue is about five blocks long, that means that pretty much the whole Goddamned town has been torn down and replaced, or at least completely rebuilt.

Thankfully, the "feel" of Rehoboth Beach is the same.  It's still a pleasant beach town full of the "nice people" of Baltimore and Philadelphia, with occasional Richmonders and Pittsburghers thrown in.  (Washington people visit here too but there's no such thing as a "nice person" from Washington.)  We all sit around on porches in madras shorts and drinking way way too much gin: it's a lovely summer life.

Yet I wonder about the "things don't change" idea.  Since I seem to insistently believe that Rehoboth doesn't change, even though it quite clearly does, do other people feel the same way about Richmond, or Baltimore?  And does the change matter as little to them as Rehoboth's changes seem to matter to me?  Every time I go downtown I shudder when I see the empty lot where Thalhimers stood, and nearly break into tears when I see the Colonial's beautiful facade with no theatre behind it.  I know that there are thousands of people in Richmond who feel the same way about those particular buildings, but.. what about the nice little houses on Navy Hill that got ripped down for I-95? (Oh, right, I forgot that in the 60s those houses didn't count 'cause of how colored folks lived there.) Or that Council Chamber Hill--one of the Seven--was wiped out entirely for the same project?   and really, can I still pretend that 2014 Richmond is the same city I inhabited in 1991?

I think that most of us don't really want to see, or even imagine, that change has come to us: it means that we're getting old.  I may be a special case (and by that I may mean one who should be down at Central State) in that I don't want things to be any different than they were in 1921.  (I'd go earlier, but I need the Colonial to be open.) Aren't we all a bit nostalgic?  Even my Baltimore friends who grew up in not-so-fashionable neighborhoods recall a restaurant or a store that, while not elegant, had good food or cheap beer or the penny candy that everyone loved.

I haven't yet seen too many awful changes in Rehoboth Beach, yet.  Mind you that I just got in last night, spent all day on the beach today, and all evening drinking and dining with my best friends right in our own (rented) beach house.  I'll see the town itself tomorrow.  You know what doesn't ever change? the singing of the million different bug species, the sighing of the pine trees and the crashing of the Atlantic.  (Oh, and also the occasional Gato Del Stink.  Despite its  many delights, Rehoboth got skunks.)

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