Halfway through the heat and humidity of summer on the east coast of the United States, it’s time to play everyone’s favorite summer game (other than, of course, Cornhole, Chicken Fighting, the Index Card Game, Marco Polo, Pit, Spit, Monopoly, Never Never Have I Ever, and probably several others):
Name. That. BEACH!
(Are you going wild with anticipation yet? Did I build the eager spirit in your summer-cravin’ heart?)
Before I move to a coastal town that requires a wetsuit to swim in its chilly waters, I decided to spend much of my summer in warm, sandy spots, soaking up the sun and the waves and the local culture. In the last month, I’ve visited four, and thought I’d share my impressions of their differences and similarities. See if you can figure out which of the following is in New York, Texas, Delaware, and North Carolina.
This beach was full of women who had blue toenails, not because they were cold, but because it is apparently trendy to choose shades of navy and sky while getting a pedicure. Snacks here were ice cream and funnel cake; I drank an orange soda in the spirit of the season, because summer is the only time that I drink orange soda, which I used to drink at the pool in my grandparents’ neighborhood. This is the only beach where small planes flew parallel to the ocean at regular intervals, trailing advertisements for businesses as varied as Geico and a local tiki bar, and I missed the advertisers of old, the ones selling keychain photographs to groups of friends. Calm air, soft waves, and the background noise of teenagers talking about other teenagers, this was the perfect place for a novel, a nap, and a long stroll.
The only beach bordered by tall apartment buildings, a subway, and an amusement park, this beach was also unique because of vendors strolling back and forth, some with carts they wrestled over bumpy sand: “Ice-cold nutcrackers! Ice-cold soda, Corona! Fresh pretzels!” It took a quick search on my phone to identify the nutcracker that several individuals peddled; I had hoped for something more akin to a Chaco Taco. One woman in a red swimsuit and sheer black pants passed us several times on this beach, which was so windy that our umbrella blew over, inspiring a neighbor to scold us before he had a change of heart, offering to secure it. We declined. How long could the nutcrackers stay cold, in that heat? I had my doubts, but the beach provided excellent people-watching (and eavesdropping, with that accent telling me that we could be nowhere else in the world).
Did you know that an occasional influx of seaweed is actually a good thing? Despite a powerful smell, I learned during my stay at this beach that it naturally rebuilds the beach itself, thus inspiring me to soldier on past it and into the warm waters here. The birds – giant pelicans, among others, that zipped up their wings to dive down into the ocean – were the best anywhere, and absolutely mesmerizing. We tried crabbing under a full moon here but something accidentally (or sinisterly?) chewed through the line to let the cage free. Ah well. Swimming anywhere at night is magical, and this beach gave me that, and much more.
In a state known for both beaches and mountains, this spot made me nostalgic for the 1960s, even though I was not yet alive then, an idea that was somehow confirmed by the free shag lessons on Wednesday nights (note to my British friends and readers: not that kind of shag; it’s a dance). I went running on the beach in between thunderstorms and got lost, even though no one gets lost on a beach. Really, it was just because I was distracted by all sorts of good things, ranging from the best rocks I’ve ever seen on sand to a pier that reminded me of a church. I boogie boarded and tried stand-up paddle boarding, and am already eager to return.
Bonus fifth beach – yippee! This is just to see if you’ve been paying attention these last couple of months. I took a train to this beach, pilfered shells, remained bundled, and bought a woolen hat from a kind, chatty woman with teeth that angled every which way. I think this might be the beach I imagine I’m visiting when, years from now, I lose my sense of what day it is, what time it is, and how much pudding is on my face. When that day comes, I might be sitting here in my mind, a woolen wrap around my knees and a whisky in my hand.
Ok: so which is which? Did you guess that these, in order, are descriptions of Scotland, North Carolina, Texas, New York, and Delaware? If so, I’m sorry to tell you that you are incorrect. Flip them, and you’ll find yourself in Bethany, Brighton, Galveston, Surf City, and North Berwick. And if you got them right, let me know; maybe I’ll send you a jar of sand, just for playing along.
Then again? Maybe I’ll just send you some good wishes, and drink a Sunkist on your behalf. Happy summer to you!