She was waiting to cross the street.
“Whoa, Big Red,” I said to the bike, dropping down a gear on the magnificent motorcycle known as “Fire Balls.”
I snicked the machine into a rolling neutral and brought it to a smooth halt 10 feet back from the crosswalk. With a smile that bloomed like an orchid in the tinted greenhouse of my Nolan flip-up Helmet, I gestured for her to cross.
She looked up from the cell phone, gave me a little wave (with a smile), and stepped off the curb without dropping a word in her conversation. She was half-way across before realizing there was no other traffic. There was no traffic, no movement, and no noise for the entire length of the street, which ran for 6 blocks in either direction. This was the last week of October in the seashore town of Cape May, New Jersey, when the ocean turns gray and the white caps ride the waves into the beach. The place was deserted. And now this woman was walking the model’s runway, demonstrating red hot hip action, as she sashayed across the street for an audience of one.
I have pulled this stunt before. It usually draws a bigger smile from appreciative ladies in supermarket parking lots. But this is Cape May... And anyone here in the off season is either a prominent member of the business community or a hotel owner. This woman had the imperious look of someone used to ordering servants to clean the horse manure from the stable floors, with their dinner bowls. (I had originally typed “horse shit” instead of “manure” in that last sentence, but it seemed disrespectful in a story about Cape May, NJ.)
She realized the true purpose of my gallantry and dismissed me with a roll of her eyes that gently rocked the motorcycle under my butt.
The K75 went into gear with the buttery-smooth clunk of steel on steel and I rode east until the Atlantic hove into view. Despite being nearly November, the temperature was in the low 70’s and more than a few tanned lovelies were soaking up the sun on the beach (wearing bikinis that had less substantive material than a report from Congress.) Local New Jersey color oozed from a hot dog wagon parked against the dunes, and I realized it has been years, maybe more than a decade, since I’ve had a real dirty-water Sabrett Hot Dog.
The Sabrett Hot Dog is in the global industry standard for all-beef tube steaks that are to be specifically cooked by being immersed in boiling water for hours, sometimes weeks, at a time. They are a slightly less than perfect hot dog shape, somewhat spicy brown in color, initially linked with string, and delicious. They are best ordered with the works (mustard, chili, sauteed onions, and a hint of relish), on a bun as soft as a debutante’s breast. (I initially typed in “debutante’s tit” for the last two words in the previous sentence, but changed my mind. I think living here in Cape May is beginning to affect me.)
The “dirty-water” dog designation comes from the thousands of pushcarts that sell these things in New York City every day. The word on the streets is that the Sabrett dog gets its unique flavor from being cooked in water that is only changed once or twice a year. (This isn’t true. I’ve have cooked them in perfectly fresh water with the same great results.) The Sabrett company also makes signature red cooked “sauteed onions” which cannot be duplicated. You can sometimes find both in local supermarkets.
The hot dog wagon was a beat-up van with a thatched roof that offered a half-dozen kinds of soft drinks and every conceivable snack. Two proprietors, “Rich” and “Dawn,” ran this concern like it was a cafe on the Boulevard Raspail in Paris. Glancing at the menu, a loaded dog ran $2.50, which is up substantially from the 25¢ I used to pay as a 10-year-old in my native Jersey City. (Then again a lap dance is up considerably from what I used to pay when I was a 10-year-old in Jersey City too.) But a pint-sized serving of Turkey Hill Iced Tea was marked at $3 bucks apiece. The most expensive thing about a pint container of commercially bottled iced tea is the opaque plastic container, which costs about 1.5¢ each.)
“Thank God my bike doesn’t run on Turkey Hill iced tea,” I thought. “It would cost $60 to fill the tank.”
Rich handed me the hot dog, ensconced in a napkin, like it was the Stanley Cup. He was right. Soaked with onions, kraut, chili, and mustard, it weighed about a pound. Yet a hot dog simmered in boiling water has no strength of its own, and it took two hands to get this to my gaping maw.
I had forgotten how good these tasted, and I had another.
In the meantime, I refreshed myself with a pure New Jersey dialect. There are several accents common to the Garden State, and none sound like music. My own, fostered in the ash pits and rendering plants of Jersey City (where they render souls of children into transparent political promises), is a cross between finger-nails dragging across a blackboard and wailing cats. A woman once told me, “It will never work between us because your accent clashes with all of my outfits.” (She now lives in Concord, Ma, where life in New England grinds the audible serifs from every “r”. I hope she reads this and dares to leave a comment.)
The nasal tone of Rick’s voice matched mine, and I felt like we were part of a vocal counter-cultural conspiracy. He spoke of the technical complexity of hot dogs, and the challenges of tube steak marketing in a soft economic environment... And I thought, “God, these folks are so right up my alley.”
Firing up the bike, I headed off to the lighthouse, which is best viewed from the main drag running along the beach. While this lighthouse is not the tallest I’ve ever seen, nor the one in the most dramatic setting, it is the most romantic. You can sit here at dusk, alone in the off-season, and watch the beacon fend off the darkness. The setting is absolutely exquisite when there is a moon, and the point behind the light is bathed in silver. But it was as black as pitch last night, and overcast. The light stood like a sentinel.
Above:) The top of the lighthouse at Cape May, NJ. This lighthouse is 5 minutes from my desk to the east. Photo compliments of Wikipedia.
Cape May is a small town where every other building is either historically significant, or maintained by elves. San Francisco has that famous stretch of Victorian houses standing against the reality of the distant skyline. Cape May created its own reality 100 years ago, and took pains to preserve it. Former US Presidents like Ulysses S. Grant and John Adams (I think) used to come here to fish, drink, and get laid. (Pretty much why anybody would come to the New Jersey shore.) But Cape May resisted the urge to trade character for ferris wheels, and as a result they now have the most priceless gem of a community on the the New Jersey coast.
The lighthouse is less than five minutes from where I’m living. And I had just turned the corner, headed in that direction, when the exquisite beauty introduced in the first paragraph once again readied herself to step in front of my bike. What the hell were the odds of this?
“Hot damn,” I thought. I was moving a little faster this time, and had to squeeze the binders a bit more aggressively as well as drop down a gear. As a result, “Fire Balls” squatted on the front forks with more drama. My stop looked less than spontaneous, and I gestured for her to cross.
Still on the damn phone (giving some poor guy hell, no doubt), she hesitated — and waved me on.
I couldn’t resist. I planted both legs on the pavement, and switched on the K75’s flashers.
The look on her face was priceless. She put one hand (the one without the phone) on her hip and glared. Then she crossed the street slowly, deliberately, and with unabashed contempt.
“This one is really hot for us,” I said to the motorcycle.
Once again, I clunked the bike into first and pulled away, giving the Steeble/Nautilus compact air horn the merest suggestion of a tap. The millisecond of the trilling blast was perfect salute from a bike that makes almost no noise. My next stop was the dunes on Delaware Bay. Better than 14 miles wide at this point, it is barely possible to see the other side of the bay with the naked eye.The Delaware salt marshes are usually shrouded in haze, or cloaked in mist, or hidden behind the curvature of the earth. At night, it is sometimes possible to see bright lights that appear to be just over the horizon. Delaware Bay is the major opening to the port of Philadelphia, and huge ships, as well as million sailboats, can be seen on this waterway. I dismounted the bike, amazed at how calm the water was on these beaches, and wondered why I never became the kind of person who longed to be on the sea. (I stood on this spot after returning from my brother’s place on Thanksgiving night, and stared into a sky that was filled with stars. In the instant I looked up, a shooting star rocketed overhead, falling to earth far to the west, over a state I left barely a month ago. “I hope that didn’t hit Bregstein’s garage,” I thought.)
Above) The dunes overlooking Delaware Bay, five minutes to the west from my desk. Photo by the author.
I was less than two blocks from the house, determined to go back and do some writing on a screenplay that promises to be my best work, when I noticed that same woman (with the astounding ass) going into a little café, with a front painted in Cinco De Mayo colors.
“This is fate,” I thought, pulling up outside. There was no curb. A bit of broken blacktop, punctuated with gravel, sported a bicycle rack outside. The rack supported four highly technical bicycles, of the type ridden by really thin muscular men, in Spandex, who carry spare inner tubes where their genitals would be. (I actually typed the words “micro dicks” for genitals in the last sentence, but decided against it. I really think it is the Cape May effect on me.)
I grabbed my computer bag from the right pannier on the odd shot that this place would have WiFi, and went inside. There were three guys and two women seated around a large table, having a discussion. I picked a table off to the side, made myself comfortable, and ordered coffee from a waitress who had the ugliest shoes I have ever seen outside of paratroop training camp. I noticed two things: none of this crowd were wearing Spandex and the woman I’d encountered three times that day was nowhere to be seen.
Then the ladies room door opened and she stepped out.
She had a body to kill for, and had I been a Visigoth and had this been the Fourth Century, I’d have been reaching for my ax. But she also had the most extraordinary face. It was hot, but not from some angles. It was pretty, sometimes. She reminded me of Franka Potente — the actress in the Bourne Identity. She was a big deal in this circle, as the crowd afforded her some deference.
Above:) Actress Franka Potente. Photo from Wikipedia
I fired up my computer and started to write this story. And I actually got lost in it, which occasionally happens to me. I had started out mildly interested in their dialogue, as each of these people was a writer, apparently. One had written a book about local architecture... One had produced a coloring book for kids, depicting local landmarks... One was a poet... Another wrote songs, but was not a musician. And the last was a reporter. No one in this group had the New Jersey accent I’d been listening to earlier in the day. In fact, they all pretty much sounded like the kind of folks who yell “catch,” and then spit when I’d cup my hands. Each was wearing “fashion” clothes, most with exposed labels — printed on unicorn eyelids. They spoke of the author’s “need to create” and then “forever influence reader discourse.” I was going to raise my hand and ask about the author’s “need to go fast on German motorcycles, to drink, and get laid — right after the check clears,” but I couldn’t think of way to bring it up in conversation.
They concluded their meeting and had begun drifting out. I was answering some correspondence about my monthly column in the BMW magazine, when a voice asked, “So what have you been madly typing away for three hours?”
It was not the voice I was hoping for.
It had been three hours and I had consumed 5 cups of coffee and two whole wheat pastries (that tasted like dessert in the first class lifeboat). The person who asked the question was the “poet,” a soft-spoken gentleman, who seemed genuinely interested in my new face.
“I write a monthly column for a magazine, and I felt so chummy here, I just made myself at home and filed my copy.”
“What magazine?” he asked, really interested now.
“It’s a German transportation monthly,” I said, “dealing with long-distance, low-impact, high-speed approaches to social activities.”
“Aaaaaaaaah,” he said, with a knowing nod that indicated otherwise.
Though I confined my response to his face, my peripheral vision kept searching hers. Being in the company of writers never meant much to me before (unless they had their fucking agents with them); but at this moment, I felt like saying something that would impress this woman. (I had decided that Franka Potete was screamingly hot.)
“I have a book out too,” I murmured.
“Yes...” I stammered, really reaching now. “It’s on men’s sensitivity.”
My former lover once remarked that I’d drag out some reference to my book whenever I got desperate for credibility. “And it cures depression too,” I added with a smirk.
The poet was Alex. He introduced the woman as “Lisa.”
I couldn’t t resist. “Jason Bourne,” I said, extending my hand.
Neither one of them batted an eye.
“Well we like to write and ride our bikes,” said Alex.
“Me too,” I replied. “Mine’s red.” (My helmet and jacket was outside. Neither one heard me pull up on the K75.)
I went back there a couple of days ago. I have since learned that everyone who has breakfast in this place rides a bicycle. I pulled up in a bright red Ford 150 pickup with a nuclear reactor under the hood. The truck has a 40-gallon gas tank that costs as much as the Greek national debt to fill — once. It cost me $11 to drive the 5 blocks from the house.
Once again, I sat down and popped open my laptop.
Lisa was there. “Hi, Jason,” she said without looking up from the local newspaper.
I have been living in Cape May a month, and I am well on the way to getting at least one woman to think of me as Jason Bourne. It won’t last. But it only has to happen once — when my riding buddies are here.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011
Written In Exile From Cape May, NJ