Monday, May 11, 2009
Why I Retired to the Delmarva Peninsula
The Delmarva Peninsula is a large peninsula on the East Coast of the United States, occupied by portions of three U.S. states: Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Named as a portmanteau of the letters of the states that occupy it, it is almost 300 by 100km or about 180 by 60 miles, and is bordered by the Chesapeake Bay on the west, and the Delaware River, Delaware Bay, and Atlantic Ocean on the east. Its northern isthmus is cut by the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Bridges cross the canal and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel join the peninsula to the mainland. Other points of access include Lewes, Delaware, reachable by ferry from Cape May, New Jersey. Dover, the capital of Delaware, is in the northeast corner, but the peninsula's main commercial area is Salisbury, Maryland, near the center of the peninsula.
This is where I live and work folks, on the eastern most edge of the Delmarva Peninsula. I work in Lewes, Delaware near Cape Henlopen State Park and the Cape May/Lewes Ferry. I live three miles north of where I work in a development near Oyster Rocks Road, two miles from the ocean. All my life I wanted to work and live near the water. Two and a half years ago I realized my dream. I sold my house in the wooded hills of Chester County, Pennsylvania and moved to sunny coastal shores of Sussex County, Delaware.
For many years (since the late 70's) I have visited my longtime friend Big Bob who lives near Georgetown, Delaware on 22 acres of heavily forested land in his double wide trailer. At the time Bob moved to Delaware (the early 70's) he was told my his real estate agent "You'll never see any other houses on this road in your lifetime." Of course that real estate agent was wildly off target. Bob's road plus many other formerly pristine areas of Sussex County (known affectionaly as "Slower Lower" by its residents) now have many houses on both sides of the road. Even this formerly rural area of chicken farmers and corn fields has not escaped the advance of development and population growth.
At first I was put off my the flat coastal plains of Sussex County. I was used to the rolling hills and winding roads of Chester County, Pennsylvania where I had lived before pulling up stakes and moving to Delaware. However, over time I came to love the big sky and wide open spaces of Delaware. As the area of Pennsylvania where I lived became crowded and congested, the relative sparsness of the lower county of Delaware became more attractive to me as a potential retirement location.
Another factor in my decision to retire to Delaware was to escape the high taxes of Pennsylvania. For most of my adult life I have paid the excessive taxes that Pennsylvania places on single people like myself. Even though I had no children in the school, I paid the same school tax rate. I will go into the taxes in another blog posting, but suffice it for me to say that once I retired I could no longer afford to live in Pennsylvania. There was no reason for me to stay other than my Mother still lived there. The few friends I had were tied up in their families and thus had little or no time to spend with me. I had no gay friends in Pennsylvania. Since I was retiring this is something I had to consider, to have a support group of my gay friends and that was non-existent in Pennsylvania. I had to consider moving to a state that wasn't taxing me out of existence. I estimated had I continued to live in Pennsylvania, in five years time my taxes would be more than my entire Social Security retirement check. It was definitely time to get out of Dodge.
Another very important factor was my sense of comfort and well being. Although my neighbors were cordial to me in suburban Pennsylvania, the heavy cloak of "you're not one of us" was always there. When Bill and I would shop at Home Depot we would invariably receive stares from some of the other customers. Same thing if we ate out together. Always the "look." Straight people don't understand this "look." A good example is the attitude of a former school classmate of mine. He said "Why do you always have to bring up the homosexual thing and act a like a martyr?" I answered "That's because that is what I am." Straight people don't feel this constant oppression that we gay people feel all the time in a straight world. I guess my former school classmate expect me to practice the civilian version of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and then everything will be fine. I am what I am. I don't wear a sign around my neck saying "I'm gay" but I don't hide the fact either. My friend wasn't comfortable with that attitude, especially when I visited him in his neighborhood.
Where we live in Delaware now (near Rehoboth Beach - the "East Coast Gay Capital of the United States"), Bill and I can shop in Home Depot or Lowe's and we don't get the "look." That probably because the store is full of male/male and female/female couples. Same sex couples in Rehoboth Beach is less of a curiosity and more the norm and part of life than it is in Chester County, Pennsylvania. This is something most straight people can never grasp. The feeling of freedom. The absence of that glowering feeling of disapproval that we're not quite as equal as our heterosexual fellow human beings.
Ironically, I started this blog as a paean to the joy of living on the Delmarva peninsula. A reader of my blog sent me an e-mail telling me that I lived on an island. In many ways I do. I live in a wonderful natural paradise on the eastern shore of the United States. Every day I wake up I am overjoyed to have finally realized my dream of living and working "near the water" in an atmosphere that is relatively free of the oppression of homophobia. I make the qualification of "relatively free" because, even here there are pockets of ignorance and intolerance that sometimes manifest itself in ugly and unexpected ways.
Since moving down here 2 1/2 years ago I have made some friends in the gay community but not as many as I had expected. I don't know, maybe it's me but I find most of the gay men and women (especially the women) very insular and into their own cliques. Much of the local gay community's activity seems to be drag shows and fund raisers as excuses for parties. I don't fault those involved for those activities but I was sort of expecting that the gay community to have moved past drag shows and dressing up like women which only reinforces the gay stereotype to the straight community. I can see where camping it up is fun but I had hoped that most of the gay community had moved past that stereotype. That's not me or Bill so that is probably why we have made so few friends in the gay community. Almost all of our new friends are straight from where we live and where I work. No camp required to be friends with our straight friends. That said, I have made a few good gay friends since I moved here and I value and appreciate their friendship. I feel that the few gay friends that I have made are friends for life and for that I am very thankful. Note: haven't made any lesbian friends though. Now that is a much tougher nut to crack. I'm not holding my breath on that one.
While no place on earth is pefect, Shangri-La was a myth after all, I'm about as happy as I can be living where I live now, on the "island" of Delmarva. I wouldn't live anywhere else at this time of my life. Now if Delaware can pass a law approving of same sex marriages this would be Shangri-La.