There is a certain feel to coastal tourist towns that earned their glory in an earlier era. I’d define it as rundown charm. Shops are crammed full of made-in-China souvenirs. Taffy and ice cream tempt people off of the street. Occasionally, one can hear the unmistakable sound of carousel music as horses and lions and emus and giraffes go around and around to the echoing laughter of generations of children.
Coffee shops have a down-home, utilitarian atmosphere where you can buy a cup of steaming clam chowder, coffee and cherry pie for under ten dollars. The saltines are free. The waitress is likely to have a few thousand miles on her feet. She may even call you honey.
But I am being nostalgic. Such places are a dying breed on the edge of extinction. Boutique shops and upscale restaurants are now the rule. Yesterday’s $7.00 T-shirt has become today’s $200 blouse. Lunch for two can easily cost $50.00. And the ten percent tip (remember it?) is now twenty.
We can thank the yuppies of the 1980’s and 90’s for this. They rolled out of the major cities along the West Coast of America from San Diego to Seattle with money to burn. Sharp entrepreneurs quickly figured out ways to separate them from their cash. Ocean side property was scarfed up and prices skyrocketed. Old buildings were renovated and new buildings built. Everything was impacted. The closer a town was to a major city, the greater the impact.
I am not saying all of this is bad. Things change. I like my designer coffee and handcrafted beer as much as the next person. And I am glad that artists and artisans have profited by being able to sell their work in the upscale shops.
I found a bit of the old and a bit of the new when I visited Seaside, Oregon last fall. Seaside was one of the grand old resort towns, like Santa Cruz in California or Myrtle Beach in North Carolina. It was where you flocked to in the summer if you had money. You can still see the old buildings: now renovated, spruced up and repurposed— to use a modern term. For example, the old courthouse had morphed into a modern brewpub. The single jail cell that once housed Saturday night drunks, now houses kegs of beer. I ate my $12.00 hamburger there and washed it down with a decent porter.
After lunch I walked downtown. Midweek, clouds, and rain meant I had Broadway more or less to myself. A few tourists, locals, and I scurried between store entranceways, trying to stay dry. I admired the old buildings, checked out the local carousel, and stopped off to visit a dog that was lying under a table in a small shop where its owner sat and offered to read my palm. I opted out of fortune-telling but did buy a book on the future at the local bookstore. Watch out for robots.