Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It Was Quiet

Too quiet.

As we drove into Manzanita, Oregon, described as “a quiet, peaceful village located on the Northern Oregon Coast,” we were puzzled by the nearly empty streets.

We found a spot in a public parking lot. A short walk to the main street took us past Manzanita Seafood and Chowder House. We felt lucky to have found a place for lunch so early in our visit, so we set off down the street knowing where we would return for lunch.

Granted, Manzanita, a village of fewer than 900 residents, has half of its homes designated as second homes or vacation rentals, but it was mid-July and the town seemed unusually quiet.

The porch dog (above) we met seemed unconcerned by the absence of a frisbee-tossing companion.

Two places we expected to find some activity on this weekday morning were the post office and the Ocean Edge office, which specialized in vacation rentals.

All the hoopla associated with the Grand Opening at El Mariachi Loco was missing. It was nearing noon, but the lack of people on the street made it seem like early morning.

Gift shops seemed to be experiencing the same fate. This shop was named "syzygy," a name that required a second and third look to be certain of the spelling and a fourth to guess at the pronunciation. With no one to ask, we were left without learning the correct pronunciation.

Since no one was walking the main street of Manzanita, it was not surprising to find these colorful benches empty. They were so inviting that we took a few moments to sit down and ponder the reason for the quiet streets and sidewalks.

Continuing down the street with increasing questions, we passed by this restaurant with its outdoor dining. Temperatures were only in the mid 60s, but sitting in the sun with only a slight breeze would seem to be a comfortable way to enjoy lunch in this seaside resort town. However, no one was taking advantage of the outdoor seating.

The artwork on the posts at the entrance to this little row of shops presented scenes of sea life. Even here, though, there were no pedestrians. As we walked by, we wondered if Spa Manzanita was overflowing with participants. With the emphasis on fitness, exercise, wellness and nutrition, the Spa should attract visitors to this beach community. But no.

Another place to relax was the Parinamah Wellness Center. "Parinamah" means "well-being through transformation." Participants are invited to "Allow the power of the ocean, the mountain and the touch of our therapists to help you heal." At the Center, massage therapy and classes in yoga are aimed at reducing stress and developing a healthier lifestyle. Once again, no one seemed to be in the area.

These signs of the presence--somewhere--of kids was encouraging, but we still hadn't seen them or even heard the sounds of kids at play.

If the dining-in restaurants showed no signs of life, then the pizza shop with pizza by-the-slice may have customers walking the nearby streets.

But this was not the case either.

We had walked the length of Manzanita's main street without learning the reason for the absence of visitors. Approaching the seven-mile-long beach would surely reveal the whereabouts of the residents and vacationers of this seaside community. The buckets filled with sand were good news--and bad. They hinted at children at play on the beach building sand castles, but the fact that they were standing at the sidewalk's edge, and not on the beach, was disheartening.

Looking toward the ocean, we could see tiny figures on the beach, but they seemed to be heading away from town as though they were fleeing the area.

Not knowing whether to laugh about the emptiness of the resort town's streets or to fear what might be causing the emptiness, we began our three-block walk back from the beach to Manzanita Seafood and Chowder House--if it was open.

Nothing was clarified as we returned to our truck--we met no one and had no further clues as to the empty streets. As we approached our choice for lunch, we heard some strange sounds--a scratching sound and a faint screeching.

About 500 feet from the entrance to Manzanita Seafood, we were stunned to see, up on the roof, a giant crab. It was moving slowly, so we were not in danger, but we did not venture within a claw's reach.

Somehow a seafood lunch no longer seemed appealing--or safe.

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