I’m not a Delmarva native. Darn few of us here are. In fact, even to be considered an old-timer you have to have arrived with the Dutch or been born in a manger in a Selbyville chicken coop. So I’m an interloper. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love my Delaware coast.
Of course, when I first arrived, mid-1990s, everything was a culture shock for this New Yorker. Fresh off a daily one-hour commute, people here considered a ride from downtown Rehoboth to Route One going “all the way out on the highway.” At best, a New Yorker might carve a pumpkin, but would never consider making one a prize-winning projectile. Most tellingly, folks in Sussex mostly looked baffled when I mentioned Matzoh Ball soup.
As a matter of course, I was suspicious of any event celebrating live chickens or dead Horse Shoe Crabs. And no bonafide New Yorker would ever be caught ordering a flat breakfast meat made of spare pork parts too peculiar for sausage.
Sure, my real estate agent provided full disclosure that I was moving to Rehoboth Beach, but frankly it never occurred to me I’d be living in rural Delaware. The first time I ventured outside my comfort zone was to the Georgetown DMV. At first I thought some patrons were civil war re-enactors but it turned out they were dressed for agribusiness. Who knew.
And people were really, really friendly, which made me both nervous and suspicious. I’d lived in a New York City apartment building for three years and never said a single word to anyone in the elevator. It’s just not done.
My second expedition took me across the Woodland Ferry outside Seaford. I love a good ferry ride, like the one between Manhattan and Staten Island, crowded amid 30 vehicles and 4,440 passengers with, of course, nobody saying a word to each other. Twenty one million people ride it annually, racing five miles in 25 minutes, on the most reliable transit schedule in the U.S.
The Woodland Ferry, on the other hand, takes six cars and a sprinkle of chicken catchers over a really narrow trickle of the Nanticoke River. The slower lower trip, lasting five minutes, is like a ride at Funland and I love it. And it might or might not be running Thursday mornings because it might or might not be down for maintenance.
For sheer contrast with, say, Manhattan’s Bloomingdales, we’ve got Wilson’s General Store, and darn it, the shop was closed on the Sunday I first rode past. Their sign said Ammunition, Notary Public, Groceries, Meat, Hardware, Subs and Coffee. You never know when you are going to need eggs and buckshot at the same time.
I’m sure it surprises no one that prior to my first Apple-Scrapple Festival I was a scrapple virgin.
There I was, chowing down on this legendary farm food, negotiating it nicely until I looked up and saw the 40-foot scrapple company sign listing the ingredients as pig’s snouts and lard.
Just then the Hog Calling Contest began with people wailing “Suuu-eeeee, Suuueeeee,” which was roughly the same sound I was making spitting out my pig snout sandwich. Wisely my mate grabbed my arm and steered me toward a vendor hawking kosher hot dogs, which, if dissected, are probably the Hebrew National equivalent of snouts and lard.
Here’s another of my favorite Sussex traditions – business cards by cash registers. Back in the Big Apple or its kissin’ cousin downtown Rehoboth, business cards by the register represent realtors, day spas and concierge services. A mere mile outside town, there are cards for gun cleaning, taxidermy and deer-cutting. So near and yet so far.
Ever watch the infamous Delaware State Fair Duck Drop? Officials literally drop a duck (albeit gently) onto a numbered grid where people have plunked down money to wager which grid gets the first duck poop. You can’t make things like this up.
And then there’s that pre-historic-looking horseshoe crab. They say it’s more closely related to spiders, ticks, and scorpions than to crabs and I believe them. New York has its crustaceans, mostly on menus, but I can’t remember ever seeing a horsehoe crab wash up on Fire Island. Here, in the name of eco-tourism they throw the damn things a festival.
So my love affair with the coast and its rural neighbors continues . Not that I haven’t shared my culture with the locals. Lots of long-time Delmarvans can be found singing karaoke with me to Liza’s New York, New York, spearing matzoh balls at my Passover Seder, or razzing me for my allegiance to the Bronx Bombers. Don’t tell anyone, but lately I’ve been rooting for Sherman the Shorebird.
But I do have to be careful. Last time I went to New York I inadvertently started chatting with people in an elevator and almost got myself arrested. I’m an honorary Delmarvan now. Except for the Scrapple. Some traditions are just too hard to swallow.