The simple black and white state road sign next to the highway heading east signaled the correct path to the Brunswick County beaches.
"Do Not Mow."
The family van, rusty lounge chairs strapped on the roof, dependable clunker bikes hanging off the back, hurtled to a sandy summer mecca.
Everyone was excitedly looking forward to something favorite about our annual beach week. I was looking forward to nothing. No chores, no projects, no "to do" lists. No mowing.
I was in pursuit of a righteous beach coma.
Each morning, all I needed was a pocketful of quarters for the half-mile walk to the pier along the ocean's edge. A phalanx of bursting newspaper racks awaited the slow daily march of visiting print media pilgrims. It was a shared ritual. It was each day's plan. First, grab a mug of coffee. Barefoot to get the papers, we arrived from all directions. Then we spent the rest of the day reading them. Done.
One day, my routine was torn asunder. I needed to mail a letter.
On the mainland an easy task, especially for an off-island multi-tasker like myself.
At the beach, on this day, perhaps more of a challenge. I moved slowly. Like the prophetic sign said, "Do Not Mow."
I had to drive to get a stamp. An ill, but not alarming, turn.
There was a line at the counter and the post office's self-service machine was out of individual stamps. A bright, shiny new machine had been freshly installed in the lobby for the obvious ease of vacationers. It had one option left. I put my $20 bill in for a book of stamps.
The machine lit up like we were on the floor at Vegas, not in a sleepy beach town. With a huge clatter and mechanical spitting sound, it spewed nickels, dimes, quarters and mostly dollar coins in change. The factory specs must have set the eject switch at "11." Coins flew across the tile floor, loudly. And rolled and bounced off my chest. I looked around for a hidden camera. Or security.
Half of the dollars rolled back under the vending machine into an unfinished, unreachable concrete basin. On my hands and knees, I needed more coffee and a sudoku puzzle bad!
I got in line to ask for help. Ten minutes later, two of us were digging around with a long screwdriver to pry out the errant coins. Clutching my dusty change, I fled for the surf.
Back at the cottage, someone was making pancakes, someone was planning a bike ride, someone was squirting on sunscreen. Someone needed help on a crossword puzzle, someone else was coming down the stairs rubbing their eyes, asking, "Hey, where is everybody?" There wasn't a cloud in the sky. The sun, sands and tide were properly aligned again.
A few days latter, we packed it all back up. The damp towels, the bocci, the Frisbees, the dog-eared paperbacks, the flip-flops.
The wonderful, weary family and van sped west this time.
The sign in the rear view mirror read "Ton Od Wom."
And we did.