My eyes follow the Chesapeake Bay Bridge sprawling before me in the distance. My boyfriend and I are only halfway across, and I’m already imagining reaching the other side and seeing more of what rural Maryland has to offer. Easton, Md., has always just been a town I bypass on the way to Ocean City, Md. I’m excited to check in to our hotel, spend the evening at a wedding, and explore downtown Easton tomorrow. This weekend getaway is much needed.
We come off the bridge and drive through Kent Island, Md. On both sides of the road, sailboats sit lonely in shipyards while their masts sway in the chilly October wind. I’ve never seen the Chesapeake Bay look so gray and gloomy. Boating and beach season are coming to a close, and the Eastern Shore is quieter than usual. Which, luckily for us, means we are not staring at another car’s bumper for hours.
Eventually, the boatyards morph into enormous fields. The ground and sky collide. Rural landscape meets commercial establishments as we continue. The prominent Under Armour logo on the Queenstown Outlet Mall sign beckons the shopper and runner in me as we drive past. Finally, we reach Easton’s main drag. I’m surprised to see familiar chain restaurants lining the roadsides. I feel at home knowing a Panera Bread Company and Chipotle Mexican Grill are nearby. I cannot help but notice that the cars are more rundown here, the fast food chains have timeworn, empty parking lots, and the best accommodation — other than the derelict Econo Lodge — is a dingy Best Western. This is no Annapolis, Md.
According to the bridal party’s website, their wedding is one of three in the area this weekend. “Why would anyone want to get married here?” I ask my boyfriend. He shoots me an annoyed glare, because, after all, the bride and groom are his friends.
I’ve been told the bride and groom are spending their first night together in the honeymoon suite at the Best Western. The princess in me scoffs at the idea, envisioning the Four Seasons Hotel suite I plan on being in for my wedding night.
We pull up to the Day’s Inn.
“No,” I say.
I turn toward my boyfriend to see he is holding back laughter. We thought it was a hotel. The convenient car-to-room parking says otherwise. I feel like a prostitute being dropped off by her pimp.
The Day’s Inn is where the bridal party suggested guests book rooms. It’s no wonder they got a discount for wedding guests.
The woman at the front desk only aids in my hesitation to see our room. Her oily, long blonde hair and faded navy polo do not exude class.
The word “ew” leaves my mouth at least 20 times as I walk through our room. The dresser and television sit lower than the bed; there goes the hope of watching a movie in comfort. The geriatric plastic furniture and lack of a shower curtain in the bathroom indicate that we’ve been given the handicap room. I open one of the white towels to find a curly black hair, fuzz balls and yellow stains inside. I think I’ll just air-dry.
“I feel like I’m on a Griswold family vacation,” I say to my boyfriend.
“Try and find the humor in the situation. Relax,” he says.
I leave the bathroom in a huff and shut the curtains over the room’s only window because it faces the street. One of the lamps is dead, leaving us with two lamps barely casting enough light to illuminate the dark hole that is now my life.
My boyfriend must like the darkness as he is now napping on the bed. I hurry to lift the corner of the mattress, checking for bedbugs. Finding none, I realize they’re the one misery I’ve been spared.
The wedding screams, “We spared all expenses.” I sit on a white folding chair at the boat dock the bride’s parents own. The bride is delivered on a boat and married under a pergola. The groom sports a Maryland tie and matching cufflinks. I feel overdressed in a fitted, red dress, black tights and black flats. I see a guest in jeans, a guest in army-print pants, and a guest in a black romper. I look around expecting to see the receptionist from the Day’s Inn.
I start to wish I had never left my side of the Chesapeake Bay.
The wedding reception — like our motel room — is not what I envisioned. It’s held on a field at the bride’s parents’ property. My flats are covered in damp grass by the end of the evening. The white, circus-like tent does its best to shelter the guests from the cold as the night wears on, but by 8 p.m. I’m in my winter coat. The cheap red wine — of unknown origins — does little to warm me, and though there is a small band playing, no one is bothering to dance. My boyfriend and I leave promptly at 9 p.m.
The next day, we venture to downtown Easton. Disappointingly, we find that almost all businesses are closed on Sundays; however, even with closed doors, the stores and restaurants in this part of town give me hope. Every other store sells antiques; in between are specialty boutiques selling handmade wares and taverns boasting fresh seafood and craft beer. The red-brick sidewalks are dotted with black, cast-iron lampposts and old-fashioned street signs. This is the allure I expected to find.
We walk past the Bartlett Pear Inn as guests are eating their homemade breakfasts on the patio. I sigh with envy.
We walk through Thompson Park in the center of town. I inhale the scent of the smoky fall leaves. A couple sits huddled together on one of the wooden, tree-shaded benches. I stop to take a picture of the sunlight streaming through the multicolored leaves. Across the street, the steeple of the Talbot County Courthouse looks out proudly over the town.
After our morning exploring the town, it’s time to cross back to our side of the Chesapeake Bay. As we again drive down Route 50, I watch the fields blur by. Local produce stands and pumpkin patches pepper the roadside. Easton may not be the wealthiest or classiest town in Maryland, but it delivers a sense of peace. The air is filled with an ever-present breeze from the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland pride is prominent; the residents act like New York City tourists with their Maryland flag T-shirts and blue crab bumper stickers. Perhaps the bride and groom had a budget wedding, but they were all smiles the whole night.
While I do not wish to ever again stay at the Easton Day’s Inn, I can see myself on the porch at the Bartlett Pear Inn, soaking in the town. Sometimes a relaxing weekend getaway just requires me to have an open attitude and $4 for a drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.