Hello. I’m Rob Kunzig. I’m a reporter and editor living in coastal Delaware, and I want to introduce you to Dewey Beach.
A mile south of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, Route 1 swerves right and the speed limit drops to 30. A marquee advertises the bands blowing through town that week, mostly burnt-out ’90s legends and cover bands. The crosswalks are busy with bikinied girls and shirtless frat boys lugging 30-racks of Miller Light. The highway ahead is a corridor of traffic lights and bar signs that glow and hum like bug zappers. A greeting placard reads DEWEY BEACH: A WAY OF LIFE.
Like many beach towns, Dewey is a catchall for the sins and stresses of surrounding cities. Weekenders swarm south from Pennsylvania and east from D.C., filling rental houses and hotels and hanging sodden towels from balconies and porch railings. Half of Dewey life is relaxed, copacetic, like “The Big Chill” without Jeff Goldblum: Beltway warriors kick off their loafers, pop “Graceland” in the stereo and quaff gin and tonics with friends. Think screened -in porches and the smell of citronella.
The other half is a boozy swirl of youth, sex and skull-numbing noise. Bouncers at Northbeach, a bayside bar known for $1 Bud Lights on Tuesday night, give you the wand-down as if it were BWI. The bathrooms at the Rusty Rudder feel like a refugee camp: After waiting twenty minutes to take a piss, you must negotiate floors covered in urine, beer and broken glass. Vomit rims the toilet seats.
Drinks are hurried cocktails made with cheap liquor and dumped into plastic cups by overworked bartenders. The cover bands play all the hits, and you hate it, it’s awful and you’re too old for this. Or maybe you aren’t. Maybe you love this song, and you’re high on the crowd, roiling and popping like grease in a skillet. You’re 21, and the night glows orange with sodium lamps. Anything is possible.
Tomorrow you’ll wake up hungover but happy. At The Starboard, boys and girls chastened by headaches suck down Bloody Marys. Theo’s diner percolates with coffee, waffles and eggs tinted yellow with hot grease. Beach chairs unfold. A cop flips on his lights and makes the day’s first routine traffic stop. The asphalt of Route 1 glitters under the sun, and you? You’re on vacation. You are, for better or worse, in Dewey Beach – which is, if you believe the sign, a way of life.