Friday, October 2, 2015


Ultimately, we decided on San Diego for a summer family vacation, to include my wife, two daughters, a son-in-law, and two grandsons, both (then) aged two years, Ry Guy and The Dude.

San Diego won out for a couple reasons, namely:  we could drive it in only four hours and, more important, we could stay at a kids-friendly, self-contained family resort with beach and swimming pools.  

And we could visit the world’s most famous zoo.

Coronado Del Mar isn’t just any resort, but one of the oldest beach resorts in the United States, the last Victorian resort made of wood still standing.  

Built in 1888, it was fully electrified (novel back then) and thus did not fall victim (as all others did) to gas lamp mishaps resulting in catastrophic fires.

During the 1890s, L. Frank Baum summered at the Del, as it became known.
He even based The Emerald City, in his enduring Wizard of Oz series, on this very resort.

Richard Matheson, the master of magic realism, in 1980 published a novel entitled Bid Time Return, made into a movie starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour called Somewhere in Time

Everyone associates the story with the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan, where it was filmed.  

But in Matheson’s novel, the setting is actually… the Del.

The exterior staircase where
Beautiful Stranger shot herself
And then there is Beautiful Stranger, a mysterious woman who killed herself on 29 November 1892 at the end of a five-day stay, and whose ghost has haunted the resort ever since.

All in all, an idyllic setting for a traditional family vacation the first week of August.

I-5 connects with the coast at San Clemente and we roll onward until San Diego's skyline sucks us in and spits us out onto a magnificent bending bridge that lands on Coronado Island.

The Del’s imposing red coronet tower signals us into the compound and, like a Venus flytrap, consumes us into a motley mix of resort revelers.   

At first glance, it does not seem as exclusive as the hefty price tag suggests.  

Not that I’m expecting its guests to be dressed in Victorian garb or even seersucker suits.  

Middle America is rather hefty around the middle and comes garbed in shorts, tees, and sweats.  

I’m not a snob, but I appreciate that snobs have reason to gripe.

It is also crowded—over-crowded—and we are processed in like cattle, which also sets the tone for how resort personnel perceive their peak season guests.  

They are aloof and weary, as if we—the summer hordes, a necessary nuisance—are their natural enemy.  

This is because (we eventually discover) there is much for these hordes to carp about, and the constant carping of the hordes has numbed the staff into snotty indifference.

Start with the ancient elevator, perhaps one of the first ever made:  

Although quite charming, and operated by a uniformed elevator boy, it is prone to failure.  

This is problematic because it is the main lobby’s sole elevator, serving hundreds of rooms on four upper floors.

And then there are the accommodations themselves.

The only thing genuine about how it was touted to us is ocean view.  

Truth is, the drab rooms are not quite up to Motel 6 specs, right down to the retro-like low tub with rusted shower nozzle, and toilet adjacent to the sink (hide your toothbrush away).  

No air conditioning, beds are soft, pillows hard—and you don’t even want to think about what microscopically resides in the carpet.  

Add a cheesy aroma in the corridors for the full experience and my wife and daughters are none too pleased.

None of this matters to Ry Guy and the Dude, who are thrilled to do what little boys always do upon checking into a hotel:  jump up and down on beds.

We go down for a bite to eat in a cafĂ© called Sheerwater.  

The waiter is aloof and weary and while our snack isn’t bad, it is nowhere worth the price, $4.95 just for iced tea. 

The best time to appreciate whatever there is to be thankful for is upon a stool at the bar at 5:33, and this bar stocks Nolet’s gin.  

For months, a liquor vendor had been trying to push this gin on my bar.  

So I use this opportunity to try Nolet’s—and it immediately replaces 209 as my favorite.

In fact, I like it so much, this being a vacation, I order a second martini, always a mistake even if it seems like a good idea at the time.

A family frolic on the wide beach, enjoying dusk-to-dark views of the Del lighting up, clearly demonstrates that this place... is better from a distance.

My first novel about a road trip has been acquired by Skyhorse Publishing in New York City.

It will be published in Fall 2016.