Cape May on an Imaginary Rainy Day

I originally wrote the following post on my CapeMayX website (which is no longer active) a few years back and decided on this current rainy weather stretch, the article is worth another look.

My original intent was to encourage local businesses to think creatively about how to serve vacationers when the weather turned grey and rainy. So often, the knee jerk reaction is to complain and to wish things were different, rather than finding creative ways to work with what is actually happening. And as a guest house, we are always looking for ways to better serve our guests, even when the weather is less than ideal.

In this age of social media, where every new experience can be shared and talked about instantly, it seems that businesses who bring a constantly positive, creative focus, and who work relentlessly to bring value to their customers will enjoy success and long term growth. The article describes a fictional scenario that proves that premise. I make no mention of social media in the article (this was before social hit the mainstream), but imagine, as you read, how social, in the context of the scenario described could create amazing opportunities for any business that learns to think out of the box — even if that box is a bad weather stretch in a town people travel to for the sunshine.

I hope you enjoy and please feel free to leave a comment to add to the conversation.

After Ernesto (Hurricane) left town, I asked some Cape May shop owners if there are any business benefits when it rains. In general the response was something along the lines of — “When it rains, people don't go out. There's no business. It sucks.” 

Certainly this makes sense. After all, Cape May is a vacation town. People spend good money and travel good distances and expect to be greeted with the warm breezes, golden beaches, and a bright sun that hopefully define a typical Saturday to Saturday Cape May stay. But it got me thinking. Why couldn't businesses thrive on a rainy day? With no clear answers I did the next best thing. I made some up. What follows is part one of a series — My imaginary rainy day in Cape May... 

Now first I must admit a bias — I like the energy of an occasional blustery rainy day. Especially when traveling. Dealing with the elements gets you moving and forces you to engage your day. The surf kicks up and the masses typically retreat inside. Of course I don’t want rain all week on my vacation, no one does. But when it does rain, it’s a great point in the continuum to brave it up to the local bar with friends and family, order up some cold drafts and warm chowder, watch the game and take sides on important world affairs such as what a money making genius and complete idiot Paris Hilton is. 

Luckily for me, my fantasy sequence features savvy business owners who have positioned themselves to thrive when the weather turns bad. They’re the ones who would be smiling ever so slightly in this imaginary world, because they have a plan B. 

Thunder Pancakes. The one and only original rainy day pancake.

Thunder Pancakes. The one and only original rainy day pancake.

The day starts by taking my fantasy kids (for now, the only one I can name is little Mikey) to that cool Diner X I’d heard about on the edge of town. Diner X is known for its Thunder Pancakes which at $3 is half the normal price and served only during appropriate weather. Since I had noticed the Diner X imaginary signs earlier that week, in the back of my imaginary mind I was praying for just such a rainy day. It gets the family out, plus we get to save a few bucks and these days every dollar counts. Even the imagined ones. I’m thrilled. 

Diner X was packed. But with a rainy day game plan they knew to staff up, so the wait was minimal. True to reputation the Thunder Cakes were culinary and artistic gems featuring lightning bolt shaped cakes, whipped cream clouds and berries aligned like the dotted rain lines you might see on a weather map icon. Somebody in that kitchen really thought this through. Looking around, every table it seemed had at least one order of thunder cakes and all the kids were pointing wide eyed and screaming “that’s what I want, I want my thunder cakes.” 

Diner X also featured their infamous “cloudy day coffee” for only a buck. This extra strong roast was served piping hot in old fashioned glass mugs. The great spectacle was when the white creamers exploded into clouds trickling through the coffee (always a mesmerizing site) and the waitresses orchestrated the kids to make “wind whooshing” sounds as they watched the liquid clouds creation unfold before their tiny eyes. In a strange harmonic convergence of sorts, when one table whooshed all the tables whooshed like a pack of owls. This breakfast experience was amusing for the kids if not a bit disturbing for the parents, but it did add a vibrant craze to the atmosphere that I imagine little Mikey will talk about for years to come. 

Even afer we had just finished breakfast, I couldn't stop thinking about the Rain in your Face Bouillabaisse my friend Sarah told me about. She had been here last year during a particularly bad weather stretch and stumbled upon this delectable delight by accident at a local raw bar. For months, all she could talk about was this Bouillabaisse. Pray for bad weather she implored. Why? Well, this dish had achieved cult like status in part because they served it only after local weather officials declared that a half inch of rain had accumulated within the most recent 12 hour period. Only then would they put the Bouillabaisse on the menu for that day, starting at 2:00 sharp. No exceptions. Not to mention, the Bouillabaisse itself was insanely good.

I had checked the weather online an hour earlier and sure enough, six tenths of an inch of rainfall had accumulated since daybreak. Rain-In-Your-Face Bouillabaisse here we come. But when that word went out, you had to move fast because almost immediately there would be a line 3 blocks long outside the raw bar waiting for a table. It didn't matter how bad the weather was, that line would form with the urgency of a gathering category 5. But since these are my imaginings, I decided there would be no line when we arrived for lunch. 

Legend has it, during the particularly sunny summer of ’03, a famous Hollywood celebrity booked a trip to Cape May and paid local officials $1,000 to fudge the forecast so he could order the Bouillabaisse during his stay. It’s that good. This chap was seen enjoying his Bouillabaisse with the local weather crew and when word leaked out about what had happened, the crew was fired. Apparently they all now work part time in the kitchen helping out with the preparation. 

As I'm thinking through my next meal, we exited Diner X, our stomachs rumbling from being overstuffed with Thunder Cakes and eyes buzzing from the 4 rounds of killer cloudy coffee. I also noticed my ears were ringing, probably from the non-stop whooshing sounds when creamers were emptied into the all-glass coffee mugs. A satisfying mid morning buzz indeed. Exiting, I took note of the long line outside waiting for a table — a much longer line than when we arrived. 

As we bolted out the door I noticed the weather had kicked significantly since we arrived. Little Mikey kept tugging my shirt asking "Are we going to play the Lightning Round Skeeball competition?" I think he had just thought of it but asked as though he had waited hours for my reply. His school pal Tony Tubbs had discovered this event last year during the Tubbs Family Cape May vacation. Apparently little Tony won a contest and talked about it all year, boasting he was the best in the universe. Mikey wanted to be the best in the universe too. 

Lightning Round Skeeball was another rainy day only special, created by the family fun arcade, a local business reknown for leaving no stone unturned when it came to figuring out creative ways to get kids to get their parents to part with their hard earned cash in the name of good ol' family fun. Smart marketing and family branding at its family fun best. 

For five bucks, the kids (adults too, I guess) skeeball for 15 minutes straight competing against all lanes for the highest score. The Lightning Round provides a real-time peek into the world of parental insanity. The lanes are always full. Balls are flying. Kids are screaming as cacophonous noises are pumped through the huge arcade surround sound speakers that bracket the skeeball lanes, to egg the group on I suppose. Which seems about as necessary as egging on a group of infant howler monkeys. 

Skeeball scores are tracked throughout each lightning round. The highest scores face off in a 2 minute showdown each hour to determine that hour’s winner. The ultimate prize? A one day (good that day only) free pass on any machine in the arcade. As dreamy as that might sound to a parent on vacation, I couldn’t help but marvel at the genius of it all. The kids are already in the arcade. They’ve reasoned their parents into braving the weather to get there. They're spending money. And even if the parent stands in line waiting for sunshine jr.'s chance to play the Lightning round, you can bet the kids are scurrying around to play as many other games as possible. "Can I have another five dollars for change?" 

Once they're up, they're competing for the right to stay all day. Do you think any kid that wins their lightning rounds won’t be showing up repeatedly throughout their formative years to reconnect with their high score glory? Boasting about the summer in two thousand whatever where they kicked butt with the highest score in the known universe. Telling their friends who may plan their own family trips to Cape May? You bet they will. And how many secretly pray for the one rainy day during their vacation where they can once again go for the high score? Brilliant. 

So little Mikey and i hooded our rain slickers, broke from the family pack, and went over to give the Lightning Round a shot.

Posted on August 3, 2014 and filed under Family Experience.