Archives for category: beaches

 

 

TO THE BEACH!
Although healthy and involved in various athletic activities, try as I might, it’s delusional to think of myself as still in my thirties. That ship sailed several decades ago. My thoughts are wistful as I stand like a statue in the surf at Carolina Beach watching my friend Mike, a decade older than I, frolicking amidst the crashing waves like a porpoise.  He whoops with joy. He leaps. He splashes.

“Why can’t I enjoy the beach like that?” I wonder, as I inch in up to my knees.

“Oh yeah,” I remind myself, “I didn’t even like going ‘down the shore’ (what Philadelphians call ‘to the beach’) when I was little.”

 

 

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In large part I blame the ancient wooden building where we stayed. Mrs. Bernstein’s rooming house in Atlantic City could not have been scarier to me if it were haunted. My grandparents started going there well before my birth and, for reasons incomprehensible to me, my parents continued to visit there as late as the early 1960’s. One of my earliest recollections took place in front of Mrs. Bernstein’s, a struggle, from my perspective, as significant as Gandhi’s. I sat outside on the sidewalk and refused to go in.

“It’s going to fall down,” I said (or words to that effect). “I’m not staying in that dump.”

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My protests were in vain. Once inside the bastion of faded wallpaper and threadbare, musty carpets, an additional early childhood memory involved lying on my stomach on a lumpy bed, groaning because of a sunburned back. Finally, I recall the kitchen or common area on the ground floor populated exclusively by large-bodied, loud-mouthed, chain-smoking Quebecois, shouting, cursing and singing in their strange language. There may only have been four or five men but, in my recollection, I perceived there to be a hundred.

Travel between Mrs. Bernstein’s and the beach also spawned doleful memories. (Disclaimer: I wasn’t the easiest-going little kid). My parents and I lugged mismatched beach chairs, towels and an umbrella. Though only two or three blocks long, the trudge seemed endless to my five-year-old self. The air hung hot and humid. Little planes buzzed above advertising local restaurants or shows, none of which were relevant to me. Once we arrived at the boardwalk, constructed like a wall in front of the beach, I remember splinters sticking up from the planks, litter everywhere and hordes of clamoring people. Then, as now, there were stores selling junk, tee shirts and more junk.

My mother purchased my cooperation in the schlepping operation with the promise of a visit to the one redeeming aspect of Atlantic City: the fudge shop. No dummy, she held this inducement over my head as something we would obtain on the walk home, after the beach, “so long as everything went well.”

 

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Related to the development of my poor attitude about the beach was the subject of swimming. When I was about eight, I recall attending Sesame Day Camp. Many people recall their summer camps as special places of growth, discovery and the development of lifelong friends. I hated every minute.   I ONLY wanted to play baseball with other kids who also ONLY wanted to play baseball. I didn’t want to shoot arrows, row boats, sing songs, look at someone holding a frog, or make ashtrays.

 

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At the end of each day, after the typical regimen above, my fellow campers and I arrived at the pool, where I experienced abject failure for the first time. Though the sixteen-year-old counselors offered their finest tips, for reasons unclear to me, nothing stuck. Easily the best ballplayer in my group (a skill neither prized nor acknowledged by the others) my swimming aptitude predicted a career as an anchor.

I couldn’t master breathing, and I couldn’t master kicking. I disliked water in my mouth, nose, ears or any other orifice. It didn’t take long before they moved me from general instruction to remedial work in the shallow end with the other losers, the kids who could barely walk on land, let alone swim in water. By summer’s end, I could splash around and tread water with my head held as far above the water as possible. If my stroke had a name, it was the “reverse ostrich.”

 

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Mike asks if I like to swim in the ocean.

“Do you mean, like with my head and eyes under salt water?” I ask.

“Well, yes,” he says, kind enough not to add: “Is there another way to do it?”

“No, I’m really happy about up to here,” I respond, indicating my mid-section. “I’m barely competent swimming in a pool, so the ocean….”

I’m relieved that Mike’s already leapt into the next wave before I can complete my explanation. After he emerges from another session of body surfing, Mike is exultant. But he’s a gracious host and understands I’m out of my element. He gestures with his arms: “Well, at least you can enjoy the beautiful beach.”

He’s right about that. Carolina Beach is broad and clean, the sand fine and white. A few other visitors walk along holding hands, relaxing or picking up pretty shells. Every few hundred feet, an individual or family has set up a colorful umbrella and chairs. Sand plovers skitter delicately back and forth with the tide. Even the seagulls are relaxed, in stark contrast to the ones in my New Jersey memories.

In my recollection the beach in Atlantic City resembled Normandy on D-Day.  Large shells with jagged edges threatened my feet.   Families placed chairs, blankets and umbrellas practically on top of each other. Massive seagulls dive-bombed for food, screeching maniacally, like pterodactyls.

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Once my family settled into our spot in the sand, I didn’t lack ambition. With my plastic shovel and bucket in hand, I aimed to dig to China. Discarded popsicle sticks shored up the hole as I dug. My parents offered to accompany me into the surf, but I had little interest in anything but digging. Alas, I never reached China. Though frustrated, I didn’t ask to leave the beach. Perhaps, that was the value of Mrs. Bernstein’s; once I got out I wanted to stay away as long as possible.

 

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A storm approaches to cut our visit several hours short. We’d enjoyed two nights at Mike and Sue’s. We’d had terrific food and conversation and a mediocre four-way game of Scrabble. (Mike won). I’m happy to have happy beach memories to overlay my old ones. Who knows? If I can find goggles large enough to cover my entire head and more secure than Fort Knox against leakage, maybe next time I’ll brave one wave. It’s never too late to start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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REPORT FROM THE COAST

I grew up in the “Go Down the Shore” city of Philadelphia and now live in the “Go to the Beach” state of North Carolina. Last week, we visited the “Drive up the Coast” state of California. It all amounts to the same thing, in one sense; an escape to sand and surf. But in my imagination, each implies very different things, namely: The Jersey Shore is people-dominated, rough and tumble, the stuff of reality television, with boardwalks, tattoos, fudge and criminality just around the corner, real or implied.

North Carolina is mellow, with soft sunshine beating down on vast white sand, gentle waves, with coeds seeking boys and retirees seeking shells. Fishing boats bob in the near distance, patiently gathering the next meal to be eaten off paper plates beachside, in a wooden establishment inevitably called “Fish Shack” or “Shrimp Shack.” The implication is that the nearby water, as warm as bath water in the Carolinas, is a harmless neighbor, hurricanes notwithstanding.

In contrast, California’s coast, with waves crashing upon its craggy rocks, is dramatic.   We may delude ourselves into thinking we control the Atlantic Ocean, with dunes and jetties, but the Pacific shows the futility of even trying. It’s epic. It’s massive. It’s awesome.

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A wedding enticed us to San Francisco last week. We decided to extend our stay beyond the event and drove north, first to Fairfax, Santa Rosa and Healdsburg in the wine country, then “up the coast” to Point Reyes. After a day there, we traveled the famous Route 1 North two more hours to Mendocino.

I’d approached the trip with several misconceptions. First, I thought all B & B’s implied bed AND breakfast. But I soon learned, in three out of four instances, we had B-Bed, but no B-Breakfast. We survived, and it allowed us to see several additional establishments, but seriously? B & B’s without the second B? I digress.

Mendocino, in particular, is a town I pictured (admittedly without any basis whatsoever) as sparkling, pristine and pretty. For better or worse, I imagined the wealth of Newport, Rhode Island fused with the brilliant sunshine and modern architecture of South Beach, Miami. I imagined BMW’s, Mercedes’s and an occasional Tesla pulling up to valet parkers in uniforms astride wine bars clothed in earthquake proof glass. What I got was gravel roads, old wooden structures and a whole lot of aging hippies.

I’m told the weekend crowd is closer to what I pictured, escaping from the city for fresh air and open spaces. But during a Tuesday-Thursday visit, our humble rented Chevy fit right in. Some shops sparkle with hints of opulence but much of Mendocino falls several levels below “hippie chic.” One speculates endlessly about which grey-ponytailed painters and potters are “real artists” and which just subsist on family trust funds.   Coffee and sandwich shops abound, and shelter employees and customers who live in the world’s largest remaining collection of psychedelically painted Volkswagen buses.

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I have nothing against the hippie culture. Though too young to have experienced the bulk of “The Sixties” and disinclined to partake of the remnants, my sympathies for the era are bona fide. “Hair” is among my favorite musicals.   Eugene McCarthy was my first political hero. And I’m happier listening to “Whiter Shade of Pale” than almost anything written since, though I STILL have no idea what the lyrics mean. Did the singer?

I’ve concluded that the beauty of Mendocino has little to do with its people. It’s about nature. The thrilling drive through redwood forests gives way to the Pacific Ocean. It alternately glistens or is bathed in fog. Wind howls as though a storm is coming, then switches to perfect calm.  My eyes are drawn to the ocean and I can’t pull them away.

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Another misconception of mine concerns cattle. Before our visit, if I took a word association test that said “milk,” I’d respond “Wisconsin” or “Iowa.” How many people know that California leads national milk production? If that same test included “ranches,” I’d respond “Oklahoma” or “Texas.” California is actually fourth in beef production, and second in total cows. To my surprise, there are cows on hills and cows on mountains. There are cows throughout wine country, looking as comfortable as connoisseurs, though presumably not partaking. In Point Reyes, there were cows on the beach! Seriously, how many readers knew of California’s bovine bounty?

In conclusion, I enjoyed seeing a part of the country I’d never seen before. If given the chance, everyone should see the northern California coast. Perhaps, someday, I’ll learn to either do more research before a trip, or squelch the tendency to reach conclusions without any basis. And, as concerns Airbnb, I’ll check the fine print.