I’d been warned in advance to expect the unexpected. “You’ll see some strange things down there,” I was assured.

So when I found myself with tears of laughter rolling down my face, late on Sunday night, sitting on the right-hand side of a stage in a room with my Gardiner-native girlfriend, an Irish guy from Philadelphia and his Bermudan buddy, being heckled by a comedian with a suspiciously British accent and the same name as me, I shouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest.

And that’s how my first trip to Old Orchard Beach wrapped up.

Truth be told, despite being from a country renowned worldwide for its beautiful and plentiful stretches of sand and surf, I’m not much of a beachgoer. I burn quickly, I’m somehow more of a sand magnet than anyone I know, and — as I’ve written before — I grew up all precious with sensitive feet, so I’m not much good at walking in flip-flops. I know; I’m hopeless.

All that adds up to me not having visited much of Maine’s beaches last summer, save for a nice little visit to Popham before work one September morning. Co-workers and friends had regaled me with stories about Old Orchard Beach since virtually the day I arrived, but I just hadn’t made the trip down.

That all changed when The Girlfriend asked me last Thursday whether I wanted to head south Sunday morning, bypassing the crowds that were set to fill Portland for the Old Port Festival, and spend a day at the beach. Curious to see what Old Orchard was all about — and needing inspiration, having had problems developing another column idea for this weekend — I immediately agreed.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect, although various friends’ opinions all seemed to contain the same four words: “Tourists in banana hammocks.”

Oh. Good?

To my surprise, OOB was a lot closer to home than I had assumed it was. Once we got past Portland on Interstate 295, we were practically there. After a couple of missed turns and some backtracking, I found myself on East Grand Avenue, navigating the Subaru slowly through a sea of people in bathing suits and beachwear darting across the street like we were in a life-sized game of Frogger.

My assessment was that there were a ton of people around, but I was quickly informed that I “ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” since it was a Sunday afternoon and school was still in session for a little while longer. I’m guessing that would explain the lack of the aforementioned banana hammocks.

As we wandered the streets, the smell of all measures of fried food hanging in the air, I couldn’t help but feel like Old Orchard seemed very familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The ice cream shops, a dozen different stores selling the same touristy T-shirts, the motor courts with swimming pools in the parking lots; had I been here before? Surely not. But try as I might, I couldn’t make the connection with somewhere similar back home where my family had vacationed before, when I was a kid.

After a raw bar lunch on the pier — I’ll never stop being grateful for the availability of fresh seafood in Maine — and a couple of beers, it hit me. I was trying and failing to find the comparison to touristy beach towns in Australia, but the memory triggers weren’t taking me that far away: I was thinking of Santa Cruz, California. The physical features were all there — the family-friendly sandy shore, the amusement park, the midway, people scampering every which way.

And while the nostalgia was present and accounted for, there were also the reminders why some places are best to see once and then live on in your memory rather than in return visits, such as the “visitor tax” that one seems to pay on every check, regardless of the establishment and the feeling of being “just another damn tourist” getting underfoot. It made me curious about the year-round residents and what they do for the summer, not to mention how the place looks during the winter.

Overall there wasn’t too much unexpected, except for our inability to find a meal that didn’t come from a deep-fryer and the guy wearing nothing but shorts, a cowboy hat and pink knee socks with a pattern of little black mustaches. But even though I felt overly self-conscious about being a tourist, I couldn’t escape the fact that I fit in perfectly: I was sunburned bright red, just like everybody else.

Adrian Crawford is a former Web producer at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Maine Walkabout is published the first and third Sundays of each month. Contact him through his website, www.crawfinusa.com.