It's true. I, Marian Holmes, completely failed to see the 20-foot Duck-shaped building on the side of the road... even though it was the only reason we had driven to Flanders in the first place, and my GPS was set to bring us right to it.
Michelle's response to my lack of observation was, what I would consider, "warranted": "Are you kidding me!?" she shouted from the passenger seat. An explative may have been involved.
I, unfortunately, was not. I really hadn't seen it...at all.
Michelle and I had been planning this Long Island trip for quite sometime: a local road trip, self-admittedly pathetic in size (three stops, two hours), which culminated in camping for two nights at Wildwood State Park. She camps; I never have.
The Long Island Welcome Center sits on the side of 495, The Long Island Expressway - aka, the LIE. It is a glorified rest stop, and Michelle and I have been obsessed with it since construction completed in 2016.
It has a tiny version of the Montauk Lighthouse beckoning you inside its parking lot, and a giant sculpture of a whale, just beside the entrance... which, by the way, is paved with the Long Island "Walk of Fame" - second only to Hollywood's very own, and sporting LI celebs such as the idolized Billy Joel, the queen of shrill, Mariah Carey, and Lindsey Lohan. Yes America, you heard it right, we are the birthplace of the Freaky Friday freakout, parent-trap remake double, herself!
This was our first stop... and it did not disappoint!
Inside, you had your typical rest stop accoutrements: bathrooms, tables and chairs, and food. Except, the food was all locally grown, and sourced. No Mickey D's here! From pastries, to mustard, to potato chips, and corn from the crops out east, this building prided itself on selling only that which was made, or grown, on the island itself. Michelle and I purchased pickles. We love pickles... probably an unhealthy amount.
Due to its two year old nature, this rest stop was cleaner than any either of us had ever seen. And, surprising though it may sound, sported a meeting room available for rent, and a miniature museum on all things LI - think Washington's spy trail, fishing and farming history, with a smidgen of Great Gatsby thrown in. We definitely stayed too long, judging by the looks the employees gave us - but what can I say, when you wait two years to visit someplace you pass constantly, it becomes a happening!
After twenty minutes of the farthest thing from rest at a rest stop, we were ready to head out to our next adventure. We pulled back onto the highway and headed on our way.
"We definitely stayed too long, judging by the looks the employees gave us - but what can I say, when you wait two years to visit someplace you pass constantly, it becomes a happening!"
"The Big Duck" is one of those local places people come to see. Eye catching, and bizarre, its presence causes many to pull over, even if they hadn't been looking for (and probably, thus still successfully saw -_-) it.
Built in 1931, it originally housed a poultry store. Today, it's 165 ft² interior is home to Oriental Trading's entire stock of duck-shaped trinkets, as well as a visual history of The Big Duck, and novelty architecture as a whole.
Fun Fact: Novelty architecture is often referred to as "duck architecture" due to this particular building's fame.
According to the modern age god known as Google, people typically spend twenty-five minutes at The Big Duck; personally, I think this is generous. While interesting, this landmark is the type for a quick picture, a bucket list check off of, "I've been there," if you will. Most come, they see, they Instagram, and then they leave. Michelle and I were there for almost an hour.
"Chief Sitting Duck is how he introduced himself to us."
Upon entering the Duck's interior, Michelle and I immediately noticed the proprietor; he sat in the farthest corner, twenty feet from the door, and ten from the counter, in a plastic lawn chair.
Chief Sitting Duck is how he introduced himself to us.
Immediately he asked us where we were from, and we both stammered responses: that we were locals, that Michelle had been here before, and that, somehow, I never had. I apologized, in the way you do when you're not actually sorry, but it seems the socially appropriate response, and he immediately absolved me of any false-guilt.
Over the next forty minutes, with his orange t-shirt tucked into his black, elastic gym shorts, Chief Sitting Duck spoke with us. We discussed local history, The Big Duck's included, the need for oral histories to be passed down, and the importance of travel, and adventure, and actually seeing the world - all of it, not just where they sell you to see. We discussed his son, who now owns a record store in Portland, his parrots, who chide him each day before, and after work, and he even made me read aloud from a book, to prove that I did, in fact, have the right kind voice to teach through the art of storytelling.
Chief Sitting Duck probed, in that way that instantly makes millennials like ourselves squirm. He asked us about our plans, and our hopes, and our dreams, and not in the way that is overwrought; he truly wanted to know, and he truly listened to our responses. And he definitely didn't let us get away with our slightly self-deprecating means of changing the subject.
We all come across people who seem to instantly see us for who we truly are. On this day, I came across someone like that sitting in a 20-foot duck. He encouraged us to stick together, that I pushed Michelle, just as she pushed me, to do more, and to do better. Which is true. He encouraged us to never stop learning, or questioning, or traveling. Which is a belief I hold very dear and very gutturally. And when I asked to take a photo with him, he encouraged us to forget about the posing and just be silly in the moment. Which definitely happened... especially when he invited us behind the counter, placed Michelle's hands around his own neck and set up a mock-choking for none other than the 'gram.
When our impromptu photo shoot had ended, during which two tourists entered the gift shop, immediately taking in the scene and sporting faces of pure confusion, I payed for my postcards, and pin, and Michelle and I walked out.
We snapped one last photo together, The Big Duck looming behind us, got into my car, and set the GPS for our next destination - both of us awkwardly laughing at the absurdity of what had just happened, saying how we had to call this someone, and tell them, yet each of us quiet, too, thinking deeply, mulling the Chief's words over, and over.
TO BE CONTINUED: LOOK OUT FOR PART II TO HEAR ALL
ABOUT OUR CAMPING ADVENTURES!