It’s a staple of old movies and cartoons: deserted survivor on a (usually gorgeous but still somehow undiscovered) tropical island, white pants tattered at the calves. He journals his thoughts and counts the days since he washed ashore, spells out SOS in the sand, and tosses a corked bottle containing his “mayday” letter into the sea. He just wants to find his way home.
At this unprecedented time in history, many of us find ourselves stranded at home, the ships of our spring lives having been dashed against jagged, invisible rocks by a viral tidal wave. The trade lanes are closed for at least another month; there will be no nearby vessel to notice our bonfire and come to our rescue. As another day without makeup fades into night, and as I look across at my dear husband (who is inadvertently playing the part now that working from home permits him to live out his fantasy of shaving maybe once a week), my thoughts drift to a REAL island – a barrier island, to be precise – that I have always wished I never had to leave.
On that island exists an oasis where the palm trees sway….during three seasons of the year, at least, until they are disassembled and carefully stored away to wait for warmer days. The roses grow lush by a sparkling pool, and the friendly natives welcome all…even the pirates.
It is to this oasis – the Caribbean Motel – that my mind, currently quarantined along with the rest of me, projects me out of my relative isolation.
Now, if you are a regular Caribbeaner….well, hi there, and thanks for stranding yourself here with me for a while. It’s nice to see you again. You’re welcome to read the rest of this, but you’re a regular, so you already know.
However, for those of you who may have landed here but not had the full experience yet, allow my projected consciousness to fill you in on why, of all the places my mind could have chosen to escape another grey day working remotely from the living room, it drove itself down Route 47, passed the salt flats and crossed the bridge, turned right onto Park, left onto Buttercup, and continued toward Ocean Drive to purposefully wash up on the Caribbean’s striped asphalt shoreline….
I could tell you about all the things your eyes would take in when you arrived. Googie architecture. Meticulous restoration. Bright colors, an enticing pool, and a welcoming canopy providing shade for the island’s king, George, as he regally presides over the goings-on.
I could tell you about the slender flash in shorts and a pale yellow t-shirt that flies around the place, doing everything from watering plants to greeting guests to offering them bits of juicy watermelon. That flash has a name: Carolyn, queen to George’s king, and she has personally overseen and brought to life every detail, every nuance, every flourish. Notice the colorful handmade tile in Room 101’s shower? Carolyn selected it. Notice the pattern in which that tile is laid out? Carolyn insisted upon it. And while she may not have moved heaven and earth to make it happen, she moved walls to bring her vision to life, all so her guests could enjoy those special touches.
See that loud guy who wandered onto the property and started to make a slight nuisance of himself? No, you don’t see that guy! Because Queen Carolyn flashed over there before the ground under his sandal had warmed and, without threat or show of force, looked him in the eye and dispatched him forthwith. For while all are welcomed, any nonsense that could threaten the peace of her guests is decidedly not.
I could tell you about the merry colored lights and enormous neon sign that first compliment the pastels with which the sunset paints the sky, then warm the night as darkness falls. I could go on about the hand-selected furniture, custom-dyed carpeting, bespoke window treatments; I could rave about the spotless condition of the property, and the fantastic personnel that keep this oasis so beautiful.
And those are all wonderful things.
But there’s more to it.
I applaud each of the many business men and women that have chosen to invest their time and money in the preservation and restoration of the Wildwoods’ original structures, and to retain and promote the doo-wop theme. But while money, neon, retro furnishings and the like can preserve the mood of a place, they are not enough to preserve the heart and soul of it. And the heart and soul make all the difference between a nifty museum of a town, and a place that draws you in and makes you feel as though you have come home.
The Caribbean has so much heart that it has a pulse. There is a magic there. This place goes beyond its retro look and manages to preserve the nostalgic feel of the place, to actually transport its guests back to a friendlier time, a slower pace, a somewhat more innocent and much less jaded bygone era. Leopard prints and bright colors and period furniture are fun, but it’s the people of the Caribbean that give it life. Historical significance and preservation are great and noble causes, but there is love here, not only for the building and its elements but for the soul of it all, that is palpable within minutes of arrival (…if you’re new. If you’re a regular, you don’t even have to be there; it reaches out to you wherever you are and grows stronger from the minute you start your next journey “down’a’shore”).
At the Caribbean, you are among friends. Friends new and old, friendly voices singing the songs of your (or your parents’, or your grandparents’) youth, friendly staff who work hard to make your stay pleasant, and friendly owners who eagerly and genuinely strive every single day to make the next stay – or even the next day – that much better for you. It is special in at least a million intangible ways that are almost impossible to articulate but are nonetheless compelling, and are very hard to find anywhere else.
I am so grateful to have stumbled into this real-life oasis, to have made so many friends there, and to know that after the current crisis blows over, that lovely technicolor oasis, with its king and its queen and all its (and their) funky angles, waits to welcome me. It is calling to me across the miles even now as it slumbers in the cold, reminding me that it won’t be too long before my next stay (in 51 days 3 hours 9 minutes and 50 seconds if all goes well, but who’s counting?). I cannot wait to unlock the door at my spotless home away from home and unpack my bags into the dresser. I shall toss our bathing suits onto the bed, and as soon as I finish unpacking, we’ll head out to the pool to greet our friends, new and old, and let the magic once again wash over us as we slip back in time…..
I invite you to jump in your lifeboat and row on over to the Caribbean as soon as it’s safe. Your flower leis are ready, and happy times await. I promise, you will never want to leave.
-Annette and Jeff