Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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On the Beach

I want to tell you about an awful place. A place where masses of humanity are crushed together in sweaty, noisy misery. Think of how a fevered Medieval painter might have depicted Hell, and you’ll be on the right track. I am speaking, of course, of The Beach – or rather, The Beach as it seemed when I was younger. My views on the subject nowadays are more varied and nuanced, though my perceptions from childhood are still a part of the picture.

I grew up on the east side of Detroit. There were no beaches in the neighborhood, so going to one required extensive planning on the part of my parents, particularly as we were a family of ten people. But at some point, we all managed to go to Metropolitan Beach.

As you can see, it really wasn’t so terribly far from our house to Metro Beach. On clear roads, you could have gotten there in about a half hour. But since it was the night of the big Fourth of July fireworks show, it took a while to get there (and far longer to get home).

The event consisted of two very distinctly different experiences. The second part was the fireworks show, which was transcendently beautiful. I’ve always loved fireworks, and this night was no exception. But before that, the experience was unremittingly torturous.

The beach during the daytime was many things:
1. Aching, baking heat
2. Squintingly bright sunshine
3. Hordes of kids I did not know and did not care to know, screaming too loudly, running too fast. I did not identify with them and wished only to be far away from them.
4. People lying in the sun, working on their tans. They often had their heads covered or were reading or sleeping, so there was at least a sense of some inner solitude, but the activity itself seemed painful and nonsensical – Why would anyone CHOOSE to lie out in this awful hot sun, particularly while surrounded by all of this pointless sensory overload?
5. The lack of physical comfort anywhere in sight. Walking on hot sand? Ow, ow, ow. Lying down on hot sand? More ow, plus getting gritty sand all over yourself. When exactly was the fun supposed to start? Oh, I should put down a towel and lie on that? Okay, now what? I’m lying on a towel, surrounded by heat, noise, and mayhem on all sides. Such fun.

In later years, a friend suggested that the reason we should go to the beach was to see the pretty girls in their swimsuits. Well okay, I’ve never been averse to seeing scantily clad pretty girls. But really now, there are myriad places to do that on a hot summer day that are nowhere near as oppressive as this awful beach. It seems a mighty high price to pay for something that isn’t really so hard to come by.

My first positive experience with a beach came in early adulthood, when I spent a weekend with a few friends at a secluded cabin on the shore of Lake Huron. Their stretch of beach was only easily accessible to about half a dozen other cabins, and those were mostly vacant that weekend. Also, it was partly cloudy during the day with temperatures topping out around 80. And you know what? It was nice. We walked along the beach, picking up the odd seashell. At night, when it was cool, we laid out on blankets and saw more stars in the sky than I’d ever seen growing up in the city. The crashing of the waves was restful and ultimately sleep-inducing. Yeah, it was that nice.

But let’s get back to the hell-hole I was describing earlier. A scene like that makes me realize how relatively appealing it would be to walk a mile in a driving rainstorm to get gas for my car. Or how much nicer it would be to shovel out my driveway during a blizzard. It is a genuine mystery to me why so many millions of people seem irresistibly drawn to this sort of thing. What am I missing here? Do people really like this sort of thing? Or is this some kind of Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome, where people like it because they’ve always been told they like it?

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