Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Beach Thoughts

Beach Thought #1: Connected

Two teenage girls walk past me, some 20 feet closer to the ocean, their feet sploshing in the thinnest of ocean water at the edge of the tide. They are talking about God only knows, but probably friend stuff, like boys or clothes or that band that had that song. The only item on their person was their smartphone.

After observing days of humans walking the Florida beach, one thing more clearly divides people into two groups than any other, and that's the smartphone.

If you are 12-30 and female, you are walking the beach with a smartphone in your hand. If you are that age and male, you probably have it in a pocket if you have it at all. But it's not essential. The guys seem as . Beyond a certain age, you keep it in a handbag or something, or you don't even bring it to the beach, or you don't even have one to begin with.

Nothing about this observation is original, but the obviousness of it seemed so stark on the beach, a setting where everything seems to beckon you to seek simplicity, to exist non-electric. Single-gear bikes, old school fishing poles, towels and coolers, simple folding chairs and minimal clothing.

In these surroundings, the smartphone stands out in the starkest of contrasts. Having it be the only item on your person as you walk the beach says so very much about how we think of being connected. The older people think of being connected to nature, or to themselves, or to a book (and, arguably, imagination). The younger people might think of all this, but what they most value is being connected to everything that is not directly within their reach. The people who aren't with them, the information that is not in the moment all that relevant, the music not of the ocean but of that band that had that song, traveling through their tiny phone speakers.

Beach Thought #2: The Strangeness of People Watching

The stunning, modelesque 20-something woman who walks onto the beach, disrobes, tans for exactly an hour, exactly 30 minutes on each side, gets dressed and leaves. She traveled all the way (however long that was) to the beach so she could lie down there and tan. (And yes, I realize this says far more about me and what I find odd than it says about this woman.)

The old over-tanned man with the pot belly, bicycling leisurely down the beach on a machine straight out of the New Belgium logo, except with a parakeet riding on his handlebars.

The old man pulling an old cart of fishing poles and other items, wheels squeaking as if it were a dying ice cream truck or a carnival freak. He pulls it into the tide, possibly in the hopes that the water might keep the wheels from shrieking at such a painful volume. His septuagenarian friend walking in pace with him from the sand, apparently finding it not the least bit odd that his pal was slogging through the water and fragile soggy sand, apparently seeing no need to lend him a hand. 

Beach Thought #3: Fiction?

Not 20 yards from where our beach house exited onto the beach, amidst the dunes, a woman around my age had parked her old school bike and draped her towel over it to create a sort of shade block in which she was lying down. She was looking up into the sky and smoking a cigarette. By the time she got back on her bike an hour or so later, she'd smoked at least a half dozen, probably more.

I imagined her having told her husband or live-in boyfriend that she was going to take her daily ride on the beach. She does this every day, under the guise of getting her exercise, leaving her condo on that bike, riding a few hundred yards down the beach to this hidden dune, where she smokes and wonders what happened to the life she thought she'd be living by now. She just knows this bike ride that's not really a bike ride is the most liberating part of her day. She knows that the sky looks different every day, as her smoke rings rise up to the clouds above.

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