“Welcome to Delaware,” the woman sang – an artist whose name I no longer know – and I remember the song was haunting and made me feel restless. It made Delaware feel like this perfect place to go when you need a break from the day to day grind, a place to escape and recharge, maybe even spark your creativity. That’s how, on one of the windiest weekends of early spring, I ended up in Wilmington, DE, for a writing weekend.
I headed out after work on Friday and spent four hours crawling north on I-95. But the Quality Inn was waiting with the light burning, and as the small desk clerk with the goatee and earring checked me in and gave me a map of the downtown areas with the bad neighborhoods X’ed off, I felt ready for an adventure.
The Blue Parrot in Little Italy was my evening destination – a fabulous New Orleans restaurant with mardi gras beads, strange masks, brass ceiling tiles and bright walls. The outdoor patio was crowded in the still warm evening air, but I chose the bar for a front row seat for the band scheduled to play – the lower case blues. An older crowd packed into the restaurant and I was happy to have the seat, if only to barricade me from the local blues enthusiasts. The music was great – these guys are definitely talented and my only disappointment was that no one was dancing. Well, one old guy was dancing, but he’d been drunk when he came in and had been slamming PBRs for about an hour. Somehow I didn’t find him a suitable dance partner, though he did ask me!
The next morning I grabbed breakfast at the hotel and headed downtown. I parked at one end, thinking I’d walk the length of the main street, popping in and out of shops that looked interesting, turn at the end and make my way back along the other side of the street. As I started my journey, I could tell this wasn’t going to live up to my expectations. I heard four people over the course of the Saturday describe the weather as blustery, which immediately made me want to pull out a thesaurus to find a different word so I could feel superior to the masses. Turns out, blustery is the best word to describe the conditions we faced that weekend.
Dodging flying trash that included plastic bags, cardboard boxes and paper, I walked down nearly empty streets lined with shops and restaurants that were closed, the few people who were out were bundled in coats, their heads down, their shoulders hunched against the wind. It was cold and the forceful gusts squeezed the air from all of us. The town felt like it had taken a vacation from itself and was out lying on a beach in Florida.
Downtown Wilmington is quiet and a bit run down. Of course, winter makes everything look old and desperate. Thin, leafless tree limbs scraped the sky as the wind wracked their bodies mercilessly. The cold morning sunshine exposed every crack and every dent – the buildings looking like an aging woman who, unable to find the magic product to make her look young, has given up trying.
I hurried toward the end of the street and found Loma Coffee, no patrons and three employees. It was open and warm, so I settled in at the window to write. Thirty minutes later, after a particularly strong wind gust, the power went out. The silence that fell over the cafe was unsettling, and the guys working came out and sat out front with me. We shared some awkward though meaningful conversation before it was time for me to head back out onto the streets.
Trying to find Theatre N turned out to be harder than it should have been. But I finally got there, bought my ticket and settled into the miniature theatre with tidy rows of red seats, a small stage framed in black drapes and a screen so small that you had to sit in the front two rows for it to fill your vision. Not surprisingly for a retrospective of Charlie Chaplin shorts, the audience members ran a bit older. There was one lady who I am sure saw the films when they were first released! We watched “Payday” (1922), “Sunnyside” (1919) and “Idle Class” (1921), laughing heartily at every hi-jinx and very nearly booing and hissing when the bad guy came on screen. It was so much fun.
I spent the freezing cold afternoon at Harry’s – the fancy seafood restaurant on the water. I tucked into a huge Manhattan and an even bigger order of calamari and wrote for ages. The only distraction were these two huge flatscreen televisions that started by showing beautiful scenes of ocean life before taking a gruesome tack – dolphins and sharks started tearing into schools of fish, birds dove in from above to take their pick of the baby sea turtles freshly hatched and on a desperate run to the sea. I was laughing so hard over this video, apparently the only one in the place that saw the irony behind it. The bartender thought I was crazy, but as I ate my fresh seafood, I felt justified in my appetite by the beautifully filmed display of the food chain.
My second night was spent in the hotel – a bottle of wine, Taco Bell and three movies streamed on Netflix. It was exactly what I needed. After a long breakfast at IHOP with Claudia Carroll’s wonderful Remind Me Again Why I Need a Man, I headed back to Virginia. I have to say that Wilmington didn’t live up to my expectations, but I’m sure it’s much more charming in the spring!