I spent last weekend out of town at the least glamorous beach on earth. No palm trees or glistening white sand for me. I barely left the tri-state area. I went on holiday to Ocean City, Maryland. And it was glorious.
If you’ve never been to Ocean City, you really aren’t missing all that much. I know I lobbied to spend a summer there, but honestly, the place is pretty trashy. Rough crowded beaches, liquor stores and ads plastered almost everywhere the eye can see. The people aren’t much better- it’s impossible to be a woman over 12 and walk down Ocean Highway without being honked and hollered at upwards of a dozen times. The nicest thing I can say about Ocean City as a place is that it has more incarnations of mini-golf than you could possibly ever imagine.
Still, I’ve spent at least one weekend there every summer for the past 5 years. I make the four-hour drive from DC with a car full of my closest friends from high school. Just us, Mike’s grandparent’s tiny beach condo and a truly excessive amount of alcohol. We call this Beach Week, although we never stay more than a few nights, and it’s our friendship’s greatest tradition.
The initial group has grown and shrunk as relationships and friendships come and go. We still have our original core, but the party has ballooned up around us. This year we crammed 14 people into a three-bedroom condo. Now it may seem unlikely to you that anyone could like each other enough to sleep 6 to a room, but I assure you, somehow we do.
As we struggle through unemployment, crappy jobs, and generally early–twenties suckiness, Beach Week has kept us together and kept us going. All year long we tell stories of Beach Week lore: the year Carolyn and I tried to swim in a hurricane, the time the cops caught us skinny-dipping (okay, that happened twice), the time Mattie almost got in a fight defending our honor. Not all of the stories involve us getting in trouble or almost killed, I promise.
So, is this travel? We’re not exploring new locations, or actively seeking learning or adventure. There are approximately zero museum visits; cultural experiences or sunrise hikes undertaken during this weekend. I’m a total fan of all that high brow stuff- don’t get me wrong, but I think there is a subtler experience and value that comes from revisiting the same old place, with the same old people, time and again.
In fact, I would say that because things are the same, it is easier to see the subtle changes. Travel serves a lot of functions in our lives. Discovering new places teaches us about ourselves sure, but sometimes it’s seeing your reflection against the same comforting backdrop that lets you realize your own evolution.
Five years we’ve been doing this. That’s like a lifetime when you’re my age. Over that span of time I’ve gotten boyfriends, lost boyfriends, graduated from college, moved to London and back (twice) and yet, somehow I’ve never missed a year. It keeps me grounded and it reminds me what’s at my core.
Unfortunately, this year was probably the last beach week, at least for a while, at least for me. After several years at home, most of us are rallying to move up and onwards with our lives. People are off to grad school, off to California, off to conquer the world. Can’t even fathom where I’ll be a year from now.
Progress is exciting, but it’s bittersweet as well. My friends are very important to me. They know who I am, where I’ve come from, and the support me where I’m going. They are reading this right now, right alongside you. As I go out into the world, independent lady that I am, I carry them and this history with me.
And I always carry pictures. On cold backpacker nights, I can look back on the sunny days of Beach Week, and remind myself who I am.