Author’s note: This is the fourth installment of a multi-part series. For an optimal reader experience, read the introduction, Part I, Part II, and Part III first. Subsequent installments will post daily.
After dinner we gathered the troops for a stroll on the boardwalk. Virginia Beach doesn’t have what I’d call a true boardwalk. The boardwalks of my youth were composed of an overstimulating hodgepodge of food stands, carnival games, and junk shops selling t-shirts with pithy slogans such as “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor” or the ever classic “life’s a beach.” Here, the boardwalk was lined with 30 blocks of hotels, the only sign of commerce an occasional beachside restaurant.
Furthermore, I was disappointed to find the Virginia Beach boardwalk was not made of wooden boards but concrete and steel. Growing up in Ocean City and Wildwood, I’m a purist when it comes to boardwalk material; a concrete pathway isn’t a boardwalk, it’s a promenade.
I explained this all to Melinda, including several fascinating details about the origins of boardwalks.
“So in 1870, Atlantic City began construction on a planked walkway in an effort to keep sand out of the hotels and…why are you walking so fast?”
One of the things you learn quickly about wandering the boardwalk is you must keep vigilant watch for fast-moving traffic. The boardwalk is home to all manner of propulsion: bikes with big beach tires, skateboards, rollerblades, trollies, and little four-man pedal carts called surreys. My childhood nightmares were often infiltrated by a detached voice yelling “watch the Tramcar, please.”
When walking on the boardwalk (ahem, promenade), you want to keep your course predictable and true, signaling all intents to turn or stop, lest you get sideswiped by a beach cruiser. It’s a skill I’ve acquired over countless years of boardwalk experience and execute without much thought.
But what I wasn’t prepared for was the invasion of motorized scooters, a hazardous trend sweeping the urban jungles of the world.
I wouldn’t be caught dead on one of these things, so the following contextual information is a result of research and not personal experience. Basically, these motorized scooters are free-range rentals, meaning you are not burdened with picking up and dropping off at a singular location the way you’d rent a car or bike. If you see an available scooter on a street corner, you wave your phone at it and hop on, then leave it wherever you are when you’re done. The scooter app charges you a small flat fee and then for distance, the way Uber charges for a ride.
It’s a service that’s no doubt making someone a buttload of money, but they corrupted my picturesque beach vibes. We couldn’t walk a block without dodging at least four of these fuckers, most of which were occupied teenagers who could barely control their own limbs let alone a zippy motorized vehicle.
The biggest problem was no one seemed to know where to ride these things. The bike lane? The street with the cars??
Most riders solved this ambiguity by not giving a fuck. Some rode on the sidewalk, others in the bike path, others in the street, weaving in and out of traffic. Wherever they did decide to ride, it was always at full throttle.
The beach gods must have sensed my disdain, because as we left the boardwalk and crossed the street to get ice cream at Kohr Brothers, I watched a dad and his son try to work out the kinks of their newly-rented scooter. I’m not sure if Dad was trying to ollie the curb or if he just didn’t see it, but they smashed into the edge of the crosswalk and wiped out hard. Dad scrambled to his feet, pulling the kid and the scooter off the ground like it was no big deal, and the new pulsing strawberry on his knee was just part of the show.
It was getting late and the kids were melting faster than their soft-serve, so we turned back onto the boardwalk and headed for home, sidestepping a teenage scooter gang.
It was a pretty night, the moon low in the sky, throwing a column of light across the calm surface of the ocean. I lifted my chin and took a deep breath of the cool night air, smiling to myself and clutching Melinda’s hand. This was the sort of thing I missed, the relaxing serenity of the beach.
Whap, whap, whap! Three unidentified objects exploded at our feet, causing Melinda and the kids to jump back in surprise.
“What the hell was that?” Melinda asked.
“Ice,” I said. “Let’s keep walking.”
“Ice? From where?”
“Those hotel rooms,” I said, pointing to a cluster of teenagers on a darkened balcony 10 stories up. Two more ice missiles shattered at our feet, making it clear my family was the intended target.
“What kind of people throw ice at kids from a balcony?” Melinda said.
“Welcome to the beach, my darling.”