Author’s note: This is the seventh installment of a multi-part series. For an optimal reader experience, read the introduction, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI first. Subsequent installments will post daily.
On our way back to the room, I encountered our maid in the hallway. She asked in broken English if I wanted service today.
“Yes please,” I said.
“What service you want?” she asked.
This was a puzzling question. I’ve stayed in hundreds of hotel rooms over the course of my life, but never has a maid asked me which duties I wanted her to perform. Were there different levels of service? Was it like a car wash, where you have to choose the hot wax and tire shine? Having never been a maid myself, I began mentally brainstorming various tasks associated with room hospitality, also thinking if I was the one who had to craft a chore list, I shouldn’t expect much on the cleaning front.
I settled on responding the same way I do when I’m at the barber shop and am asked for direction on how the stylist should cut my hair. “Just a regular room clean, please,” I said.
This seemed to be an acceptable answer, because the maid nodded and pulled a stack of towels from her cart. But then I remembered we still didn’t have an ample stock of silverware and, not wanting to re-live the awkward interaction with Dustin at dinnertime again tonight, asked the maid if she could provide us with two forks and a spoon.
It appeared this request was a bridge too far. The maid frowned and scrunched up her face. “Silver?” she said.
“Silverware,” I said. “Forks and spoons?”
“For eating?” I said, making a shoveling motion toward my mouth.
It still wasn’t sinking in. “Can you show?” She led me over to her maid cart.
I flashed back to my first night, watching a guest rifle through a maid’s cart and realized maybe she wasn’t being a vulture after all, but that part of staying at the Beaumont Towers was an expectation you were to amass your own supplies.
I picked through the various soaps and towels, finally coming upon a plastic bag of silverware. “Silverware,” I said, pulling out the necessary utensils. “Forks and spoons.”
“Oh,” the maid said. “Forks and spoons.”
I told her I appreciated the missing pieces and, not wanting to be a dick, handed her five dollars. She looked at the bill in her hand, again confused.
“A tip,” I said. “For cleaning the room.”
“I not do anything yet,” she said.
“For after you clean,” I said, and I ducked back into my room before she could respond, hoping her duties required no further explanation.
After showers and dinner, we again ventured out for a walk, this time on the street-side of Atlantic Avenue. While the boardwalk offered only featureless hotel facades and sit-down restaurants, Atlantic Ave gave me my fix of cheap, trashy commercialism.
At most vacation destinations, I find souvenir vendors to be hokey and pandering, providing goods that are antithetical to the attraction’s main purpose. There’s something skin-crawling about touring Mount Vernon, the humble home of our country’s first president, and then being escorted through the gift shop in the hopes you’ll drop $40 on a plastic tri-corner hat or $200 on a replica candlestick.
But the shore just ain’t the shore without an Olde Tyme photo studio that dresses you up like cowboys and sells you sepia-toned pictures for 50 bucks a pop, or a store where you can buy a styrofoam boogie board, a hermit crab, a pukka shell necklace AND a tribal henna tattoo all in the same transaction.
Virginia Beach’s primary method of vacuuming cash from tourists’ pockets was a chain of variety stores called Sunsations. Unlike the hot, shoebox-sized shore stores I was used to back home, Sunsations was roughly the size of a high school gymnasium, each packed with stuff you could only justify buying if you were drunk. More impressive still was the fact there was an identical Sunsations location every other block all the way down Atlantic Ave; each populated with its own set of teenage Russian employees and gaggle of screaming children touching shit.
While Melinda spent the better part of an hour sifting through a 50-yard-long rack of knock-off Vineyard Vines t-shirts, the kids were most fascinated by the myriad of personalized gifts Sunsations had to offer. It’s an incredible feat of marketing, honestly. You don’t need a corkscrew — you’ve got three at home — but this one’s shaped like a wine bottle and it says MARY on it! HOLY SHIT, THAT’S ME, I’M MARY! THEY MADE THIS CORKSCREW JUST FOR ME! You can’t get your wallet out fast enough.
I drank enough beach beers earlier to entertain the idea of buying a novelty beer koozie, the selection of which included ones reading Drunk Wives Matter; I’m an ASSHOLE, if you don’t want your feelings hurt WALK AWAY; and Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder. Ultimately, I decided against buying one, knowing it would only end up in the bin of 300 other koozies I bought while intoxicated.
In the end, Melinda purchased a pastel Virginia Beach t-shirt. D decided on a personalized $6 glass bottle full of sand, an item I predicted would be wedged behind his bookshelf by September. J left the store empty-handed, Melinda telling her the personalized key ring she selected was not practical as she owned no keys (though in hindsight, just as practical as a bottle of sand). This denial resulted in J adding her own falsetto wails to the chorus of Sunsations’ feral children.
The need for impulse buys adequately sated, we continued down Atlantic, passing a number of street performers. Apparently, the city government hires and stations these performers up and down Atlantic Ave each summer to distract tourists from the fact their nest eggs are slowly seeping into Sunsations’ cash registers. They call it “Live on Atlantic,” and it was a nice touch to the street’s ambiance.
By far the largest crowd was drawn by the fire juggler on 14th street, who cracked jokes and talked to the audience via a headset microphone as he flipped flaming bowling pins into the air. I got the feeling most of the people in the crowd weren’t interested in the man’s talent so much as they were hanging around in case something catastrophic happened. It was very much the same vibe you get observing people watching NASCAR.
My personal favorite was not the juggler or the Kid Rock lookalike brazenly asking for “donations” right next to the Live on Atlantic sign that read DO NOT TIP PERFORMERS, but the enterprising young man who saw the city program as an opportunity to independently share his talents with the world.
Unlike the sanctioned artists, who performed on tiny platforms with professional PA systems, this guy crouched in the doorway of a closed candy shop belting the lyrics of a Less Than Jake song into a Fisher Price tape recorder. My initial instinct was to classify this dude as homeless, though the iPhone he used to play his backing tracks suggested otherwise.
I paused to listen for a moment and hum along with his rendition of “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts,” but Melinda unfortunately tugged me along before we could arrange any sort of duet or I could ask him why on earth the city had rejected his request to be a Live on Atlantic performer.
And the fighter jets screamed overhead.