Holy cow, will you look at that!” I said in amazement to Elaine, my friend back east. Elaine and I talk on the phone at least two times a week. There are weeks where we talk every day. We were really good friends in New York for 20 years; physical distance has not altered that. We say everything, which is why I blurted out my surprise seeing not one but two surreys making their way down my street.
“I didn’t think they came this far south, “ I said. “The rental places are all at least a mile north. But it is a nice day for a surrey ride.”
Surreys were one of the many surprises I encountered when we first came to Seaside. As a kid growing up in Atlantic City, N.J., another major resort town, a lot of people who visited rented bikes, big trikes, and tandem bikes to ride on the famed boardwalk. You could also rent a rolling chair, which was an upholstered pram contraption set on caster wheels; locomotion was provided by a man (usually older and sorry looking) who pushed. As a child I felt a deep sorrow for the rolling chair operators who often pushed with both arms fully extended and their heads down. Their faces were often dripping with sweat and they looked like oxen being driven. The chairs themselves were heavy and the passengers often quite large; frankly the whole thing looked like a lot of work for little money; although I’m sure some riders tipped better than others. Who knows? But there was no such thing to rent like a surrey, a self-propelling novelty of Seaside.
When we first arrived on the North Coast, my husband was attempting to have a phone conversation with someone regarding something to do with his work. I didn’t mean to, but I was eavesdropping. The other party must have used the word “surrey.” I never knew the context. What I do recall is my husband mangling the pronunciation or not understanding the other party’s word.
“Sorry?” he said. And then a moment later, “Suri? Siri?” The other party became exasperated.
“You haven’t been here very long, have you?” she apparently scoffed.
Soon after they both got off the phone.
Whenever I hear the word ‘surrey’ my mind automatically goes to the 5th Dimension tune written by Laura Nyro, “Stones Soul Picnic,” which in 1968 was No. 2 on Billboard’s R&B chart and was, for awhile, the No. 3 pop song in the country.
“Can you surry, can you picnic /
Red yellow honey/
Sassafras and moonshine/
Can you surry.”
I read an interview with the song’s composer who said “Surry” wasn’t “surrey,” and that the word didn’t mean anything. “It’s just a nice word,” is what she said.
When some folks hear the word “surrey” they think of the song from the musical “Oklahoma,” “Surrey With a Fringe on Top.” Something about that phrase always makes me think of maraschino cherries. I don’t know why. I haven’t noticed the surreys rented in Seaside having fringe. I have noticed people seem to love them. Whole families ride around, the adults doing the legwork while the little kids perch in front. It seems a fun way to get around if you want to check out broad swaths of the city and not walk. Of course you could always take the Trolley Street Car, which runs every Saturday and Sunday May 27 through Sept. 30.
There are three places to rent surreys in Seaside if you’re so inclined. You don’t have to be a tourist to rent one although tourists seem to enjoy them. Wheel Fun Rentals has two locations, one on Avenue A, the other on S. Holladay. The Prom Bike Shop rents surreys at their 12th Avenue shop.