“That’s my whole thing,” Alyssa shakes her head, still smiling, “If you have to ask what’s good on the menu, the answer is probably nothing.”
Answering my question about what to order from the pride and joy of Bannister’s Wharf, The Coffee Grinder, Alyssa Cerceo doesn’t beat around the bush. I settle on a simple latte and ask how long she’s been in business. In return, I get a story about how she missed the establishment’s 10th anniversary, shaking her head the whole time. I get where she’s going with her answer. The days run together.
Much of Newport’s charm is the people and the places that have been there for as long as tourists can remember. Shop owners and wait staff are comfortable chatting, cycling through thousands of tourists a day, and they’ve learned their way around friendly and captivating conversation.
The quick but memorable experience easily gets Coffee Grinder a spot on my return list, and I spend the rest of the afternoon weaving in and out of open docks and public harbors, admiring the boats and sights along the seaside. The next best thing I put in my mouth is an order of fish and chips from The Wharf Pub, enormously satisfying as it’s the second time I’ve eaten fish in the last eight years.
As I walk, I get a message from my friend. “You have, have, have to go to St. Mary’s Church,” it reads, “Where JFK and Jackie were married!” I feel like I’ve failed as an American for not knowing until this moment, but I swing a right anyway and walk up the Memorial Boulevard hill. There’s a tourist group already snapping photos, but once they’re gone, I’m the only one on the premises. I can feel the history of the place weighing my feet to the cement, a feeling I usually get only around places that are centuries old, but it’s the romance of this one that presses on me. It’s a lovely moment.
It’s a fifteen minute drive to the lighthouse at Ragged Point, and I leave just in time for sunset. It takes me twenty-five, thanks to scenic viewpoints and my inability to simply drive by a beautiful vista, but it’s worth it. I park at Castle Hill Inn and I’m not sure where I’m going as I leap over the fence and off the cliff, but after cavorting across a hundred feet of scraggly rocks, I finally see a glimpse of what I came for. It’s at this moment that I feel immensely proud of what I’ve accomplished. I traveled across the country on my own to see this, and I’m seeing it.
It’s windy and beyond out there on the rocks. I can’t feel my hands anymore after taking a thousand photos of my phone—I can never take enough. My nose is red and my eyes are watering, but I can’t leave the Castle Inn Lighthouse. Maybe it’s because I know there’s a chance I’ll never be here and see this again. I’m cursed with a terrible memory, and as many times as I try to press the image into my skull, I know it will be gone before I’m ready to say goodbye. The sun sets, and I’m surprised I make it back across the night-black rocks alive.
My bed at Gilded Hotel is extra that night. Extra soft, extra plush, extra comfortable—just extra. The only thing that can make it better after an hour-long soak in their perfectly-sized bathtub is the promise of Ma’s Donuts the next day (get the s’mores and honey dipped flavors, and iced coffee with cream and sugar). Newport’s quiet seaside ways have given me much needed pause from a nonstop road trip down my country’s eastern coastline, and from my hectic life that always seems to be speeding up. I don’t remember ever feeling quite this comfortable.