It was another memorable road trip, and like those before it, it was a full frontal assault on oneâ€™s liver, digestive system, and ability to laugh often and hard without pissing in oneâ€™s pants.
Upon our arrival to Mile Marker â€œ0â€ on the Parkway and checking in to our digs, we offloaded the luggage and a very large box full of booze and wine, and immediately headed for the Ugly Mug for apple knockers (hot cider, spices, and Lairdâ€™s Apple Jack), beer, and
chow light fare.
That was followed by a couple hours of cutesy store shopping, once again confirming that there is no shortage of scented candles in the world. As the sunlight began to fade, it was time for to head back to home base (our room again served as â€œParty Centralâ€) for â€“ you guess it â€“ cocktails.
It was during this extended pre-dinner
drinkfest cocktail party, that we had our first of a few very pleasant surprises. It seems that Kathy, the Deckmistress, has a first cousin who owns a vacation home in Cape May, and he happened to be in town for the weekend. She placed a call to invite him to stop by Party Central to join the Usual Suspects for a drink or three. The Deckmistress had described her cousin, the Stardust Shrink, as a fellow who regularly goes for the gusto, but her descriptions did not do him justice.
He breezed into the place clad in bicycling attire (he had been riding earlier), armed with a platter of brie, nuts, chips and dip, complete with little cheese spreaders that had multi-colored fish for handles, a little something he had whipped up. Most impressive, indeed. Of course, he already knew his two cousins, Kathy the Deckmistress and Kathyâ€™s sister, Jeannie (the Good Sister), and Ken, my bodyguard, and the always hilarious Artie, their respective spouses, but he had never met the rest of us, including Bill the Ham, and his wife, Blue-eyed Laura. That didnâ€™t matter at all, because he immediately caught the vibe and fit right in with the group of traveling loonies.
After an hour or so, he had to leave to meet his houseguests who had just arrived. However, before leaving, he invited us all to his home for cocktails (I told you he fit right in) the following evening before dinner at a restaurant of his choosing.
We then took a one-hour alcohol-free break to get ready for dinner at Cucina Rosa. The waiter in this BYOB place was caught a bit flatfooted when he saw the array of wines, including champagne that we placed on the table. After he poured the champagne, he damned near wore out his corkscrew opening the balance of the wine, all of which was consumed. Oh yeah, the dinner was excellent. I recommend the spaghetti carbonara.
After dinner, we
staggered walked across the street to our digs for some post-dinner Gentleman Jack on the rocks and cigars. Some time around midnight, when everyone ceased making any damned sense, we called it quits.
Saturday morning, after a walk along the ocean, to clear the cobwebs from my cruller, we went to a local pancake house for some morning grazing, which included a gallon or two of coffee. We were surprised to see that the Stardust Shrink showed up on his bicycle to join us for coffee. Apparently, we had not managed to scare the dogshit out of him the night before. After getting a bit of a kick out of watching us all try to sop up the previous dayâ€™s libations with pancakes, he disappeared on his bike to be with his guests and to work on a restaurant selection for that evening.
Saturday was marked by a visit to a local craft fair (lots of stuffed, hand-painted and fairly useless things), more cutesy store shopping and a walk on the beach. Having finally had it with cutesy store shopping three of us went to this place for â€“ ahem â€“ a few cocktails until it was time to return to Party Central for a few cocktails before we had to get ready to go to the Stardust Shrinkâ€™s house for â€“ ahem â€“ cocktails.
The house, which the Stardust Shrink had described to us as being â€œreally just a plain houseâ€ turned out to be a magnificent, well appointed item with an ocean view to die for. In short order, the cocktails were made and distributed and the dining room table was covered with an array of fresh crab, shrimp, assorted cheeses and other goodies. The guy is amazing.
At that point, we were introduced to the Stardust Shrinkâ€™s houseguests. We all silently hoped that they had been suitably warned that this can be a pretty rough crowd. Lane, the fashion photographer (who could be a stand-in for Mick Jagger) and his attractive companion Fran, a research scientist, at first appeared to be a bit apprehensive, probably never having expected that a portion of their quiet weekend in Cape May would be spent with this collection of well-oiled misfits.
Any visible apprehension faded as we began exchanging side-splitting stories, and it was at this time that we learned that the soft-spoken Fran regularly interrogated her daughterâ€™s suitors with the thoroughness of Sgt. Joe Friday, while taking down all the important information (including vehicle type and license plate number) on 3×5 cards. By the end of the evening, in keeping with the Usual Suspectsâ€™ tradition, Fran the research scientist, was given a nickname, which she seemed to wear with pride. Henceforth, she will be known as â€œLegs Cornell,â€ for reasons which, I trust, are obvious.
We left the Stardust Shrinkâ€™s
outrageously beautiful oceanfront home plain house for dinner at the Black Duck. It was an extraordinary dining experience, again marked by the waitress asking, â€œwhere shall I begin?â€ when the veritable shitload of wine bottles were placed on the table. The Stardust Shrink, a wizard at restaurant selection, had arranged for us to be seated in a separate little room, which was undoubtedly prompted by his now, first-hand knowledge of the vigor with which the Usual Suspects raise hell engage in interesting repartee.
At the conclusion of the dinner, the task of figuring out the bill was left to Lane (who had been previously been â€œFast Laneâ€ by the Stardust Shrink). It was then that we learned that, while â€œFast Laneâ€ may be a whiz with a camera, he has trouble counting past ten.
When the calculations werenâ€™t working out, he explained that he took the total amount of the bill (including the gratuity) and divided by 10. Multiple people immediately advised him (with the subtlety of a battery of sledgehammers) that there were 11 people at the table. â€œFast Laneâ€ responded by counting heads aloud. He briskly pointed at each person around the table in turn, â€œone, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine ten.â€ There was a pregnant pause while â€œFast Laneâ€ stared into his own index finger identifying him as number 11. Following a few minutes of sustained laughter and ridicule, he was given his very own nickname. Forever more, he shall be known as â€œHalf-Fast Lane.â€
After dinner, the group of eleven returned to Party Central for â€“ guess what? â€“ more cocktails, laughter and general hell raising until about one in the morning, by which time everyoneâ€™s liver enzymes most certainly had entered the red zone.
This morning, everyone looked like warmed-over shit and was visibly trying to take in copious amounts of oxygen, while making valiant efforts to swallow their own spit. There was universal agreement that we would all give up drinking, at least for today.
There was also universal agreement that it was one hell of great road trip, made even better by having the pleasure of hanging with the Stardust Shrink, Half-Fast Lane, and the lovely â€œLegs Cornell.â€
Weâ€™ll be back next year.