When The Circus Leaves Town


I feel a little like this picture.

Summer is done for us, except for a few hangers on, those lucky enough to chase the sunsets in an endless summer. It's still hot, the sun sets late, the water is still warm down on the beach and the pools are still open. But the kids are back in school, colleges are open, football has replaced surfing and holding down the sand as our favorite pastime. The circus has left town, and we are left to sweep up the peanut shells and sawdust.

Of course, there's more to it all. When the kids go back to school, they go up a grade, or go away to college, the names change on the jerseys, the sand isn't quite as hot as it was in July. We're all waiting for the hurricane to come. We all get a year older.

Tortuga's Lie is a bit of an institution on my Outer Banks. It's a popular stop for dinner, with lines out the door and into the parking lot, They even added a little hangout spot in the back, and you can see a dedicated cooler for water for the long waits. It even became famous for a visit from Guy Fieri on his Food Network show, where I'm sure he proclaimed the food to be "off the fishing hook!" and "a cruise down the beach road to flavortown," And to be fair, even if he didn't say those things, they still would be accurate. At least, they were back in the days when I could get a table there.

Before it was Tortuga's it was Gandalf's & Co., a wonderfully eerie name of a café that used to be there. There still are remnants of the old Gandalf's there on the wall. It also was Papagayo's, Quagmire's, and Steamboat Harry's, to name a few. I remember it as The Pagoda East, a rare treat of a Chinese restaurant on the beach full of seafood. Getting Asian food was an exotic trip for a kid in the 1970s when living on a little island. I think the place started in the 1950s as a rather traditional restaurant called Frank's or something like that. It's been a lot of things over the decades, but it still survives at least. No one has torn this place down to build yet another rental house. If you ask the dwindling number of locals who remember the various restaurants, they all have fond memories of their favorites. Many will tell of working for a beloved owner or cook at one of the many businesses that have graced the building. And more will happily share their favorite dinner or drink. As much as I remember the burritos from Papagayo's, or just wanting to go to to a place called Gandalf's in hope of seeing a wizard or hobbit as a kid, to me it's always Pagoda East, that strange place that provided food so unlike anything else we would eat. I can't even remember the food we would get, but I can still picture the dinners we had.

Is there a point to all this? Sure. When summer ends, the beach always got a little quieter, the sun sets just a bit earlier, so we can see it when we are heading back home from a long day, just like in the picture. There's this bit of emptiness, but also a bit of rest that comes at the end of August. We're also a little bit happy that we escaped without hearing the dreaded H-word. We are kind of done. Cooked from the sun, our feet scruffed and blistered, brown hair turned blond, and soon the tan will fade just a little. It's that first moment to sit in the chair on the porch and have the realization that we don't have to get up, just yet, and do it all again tomorrow. There's a bit of regret, it sure was fun, and what do we do with ourselves now kind of feeling. But just for a while, it's going to be great to not smell like fried shrimp.

And those of us who have done this, year after year, we're a little like Tortuga's. We have changed. We used to be one thing, young, wild and crazy, organized, plan our nights out or our days off, and we grew into another, with a bit of responsibility added, doing what we love, but working hard at it. We keep changing, the building gets older, gets repaired, we take care of ourselves a little better. Note the big water cooler again. We're learning to stay hydrated. We give away part of ourselves to others, like tourists taking up a local's favorite spot, or a son or daughter taking up the time we once had. But it's worth it, the building stays and carries on.

The end of summer is a little like a tough birthday of sorts. A year older, but we get the cake all to ourselves.

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