It’s been called “the scariest bridge in America,” the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, two flimsy steel parallel spans measuring 4.3 miles long and 186 feet high at the apex. On the eastbound span, there are three lanes, so at least you can ride in the middle lane. On the westbound span, there are only two lanes, and just a low jersey wall between your car and a 186 foot free fall into the hard gray water below.
I would rather crawl over a field of broken glass and dive into a pool of lemonade than cross the Bay Bridge ever again. But if you want to get to quiet, picturesque little Bethany Beach, DE where we’ve been vacationing for years, you have to cross the Bay Bridge.
After a couple of recent incidents involving cars hurtling off the Bay Bridge, I decided I just couldn’t take it anymore, which is one of the reasons we decided to go to Virginia Beach this year. To get to Virginia Beach, you just have to cross a causeway that’s only about 10 feet above the water. To an acrophobic, that beautiful causeway is like the highway to heaven.
Virginia Beach is a mash-up of a beach town and Las Vegas, kind of dirty, kind of glamorous, a little wild and very commercial. You couldn’t just pluck somebody up from Martha’s Vineyard and plop them down in the middle of Virginia Beach, and expect them to be okay with that.
The oceanfront is lined by glittering hotels, lit up at night by pulsating discos and fire pits. The boardwalk isn’t really a boardwalk, rather a wide, 3-mile long concrete palisade where people walk, run, bike, and skateboard all hours of the day and night.
There are a surprising number of homeless people camped out on the benches lining the boardwalk, and surprisingly few police.(Which doesn’t totally bother me, as I can’t go to Delaware without getting ticketed by the police for parking in the wrong place or talking on my cell phone or something.) Some of the public art installations look worn and dated, although the huge statue of the sea god Neptune presiding over the boardwalk is very impressive, especially at night, bathed in spotlight.
Paved and commercial as it is, Virginia Beach doesn’t feel very close to nature. There are no sea grass covered dunes between the ocean and the boardwalk. You don’t see the variety of waterfowl you see in Delaware, mostly herring gulls, pelicans and the occasional erne flying far overhead. The air doesn’t even smell like salty sea air, and the tall hotels block the view.
Virginia Beach has the same activities as most beach towns: mini-golf, para-sailing, and the like. It also has some that could only have been dreamed up by someone who had way too much to drink, like the cheesy plywood covered “pirate boat” that cruises up and down the shoreline, occasionally firing its fake cannon. It ticks me off that people would pay money to ride around in a pretend pirate boat, with the phone number displayed between the fake masts.
Still this place has its own unique charm. Last night, we ate dinner at Big Italy, which combined an Italian bistro, pizzeria and dessert cafe in one raucous space, each with its own soundtrack. So you had techno blaring in one ear and Sinatra in the other. Somehow it worked.
After dinner, we wandered over to a band shell where a cover band was playing 70s R&B. Families of every ethnicity, young, old and in-between, drunk people looking for a hookup, the fashionable and the unfashionable, all grooved and clapped to tunes by the Commodores and KC & the Sunshine Band. Strangely, that worked too.
And Virginia Beach has some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in a beach town. In Chincoteague, Virginia the townspeople never miss the opportunity to let you know how much they hate tourists. Delawareans are not overly friendly to outsiders, although they are at least polite. But here in Virginia Beach, the store owners, clerks, restaurateurs, wait staff, everyone we’ve encountered, has been chatty and friendly, cracking jokes and making us feel welcomed. I like that.
So what Virginia Beach lacks in picturesque, perfect charm, it makes up for in lively energy and hospitality. It’s kind of growing on me. Best of all, I don’t have to cross the scariest bridge in America to get here.
Where did you go on vacation? Did you have to cross a scary bridge to get there?