It’s summer. Temps are up, clothing has become minimal and the tourists get ruder every year. It’s true of all the towns along the coast. They are easily identified in their cars with out-of-state plates as they disregard the rules of the road weaving in and out of lanes to beat all others to their destination of choice. They speed on the local streets, even tweeting that it’s impossible for their cars to move at only 25 or 30 mph. They don’t heed pedestrians at crosswalks, barely pause for stop signs and in local traffic (due to sheer volume of a 100% or more population increase), are extremely unwilling to allow other cars to turn in front of them. On bikes they’re even worse. Even with bike lanes.
Back in junior high (as it was called then), I remember we took tests that had something to do with defining our future adult career paths and lives. Standardized tests. Multiple choice. Would you rather live a) at the beach, b) in the mountains, c) in a city, d) in the country. I always chose the beach, whenever it was one of the choices. I had already decided by that point in my life that even if it meant a 2 hour commute to work daily, I’d rather live at the beach than a city. I was born in a city. I never liked it.
My first house was 10 minutes from the beach. Close enough without the tax and insurance burden of waterfront property, but during a nor’easter it smelled as if it was situated in the middle of the Atlantic. One day it took my nearly three hours to get home from work. I had been at one of our other offices that day. It was late September or October – no longer tourist season – but the congestion southbound was horrendous. As soon as I got home I grabbed a pair of lightweight sweats and a tee and headed for the beach. There wasn’t much daylight left. Parked next to the boards. Took my keys, kicked off my sneakers and headed for the water. Then I walked along the water. When the sun was almost gone from the sky I headed back to the boards. I was completely windblown but relaxed, the long and stressful commute barely a memory. A jogger on the boards turned to look at me as he was going past, and seeing me take a long deep breath, he smiled at me as if to say ‘Isn’t it nice to be home?’. And I thought ‘Hell yeah. We get to come home to this every day.’ Toes in the sand, wind in the hair. Definitely worth the commute.
Because the air is cleaner and fresher, even on the hottest, most humid day of the year. We don’t have highrises blocking the sky, less traffic (most of the year) and don’t choke on car exhaust. We have independent shops that sell homemade ice cream and candy, delis, bakeries and pizzerias. Small libraries in old buildings. One is in a historic house complete with front porch and white picket fence. Small hotels, B&Bs, rental houses. Shops and restaurants that close for the winter. Traffic lights that become flashing signals then also. It’s a different pace and way of life from the cities and inland towns. And we like it that way. That’s why we chose to live here.
Not every town is the same. They each have their own personality. They even attract different tourists. Some have boardwalks and promenades just for walking dotted with pavilions to sit and watch the waves. Some have boardwalks with shops and amusements. Others have none. Some have beaches that are state or national parks where you can sometimes glimpse protected wildlife that live there. A couple are trying to recapture their glory days of resort tourist destinations in the early to mid-20th century, but not recapturing the design and spirit of those earlier times, unfortunately. Another lost its boardwalk in a storm and never rebuilt it, opting instead to allow houses to be built, forever changing to face of the coastline and the personality of the town and the island. The dunes had been nature’s protection. Having been leveled, every storm erodes more of the coastline and natural beach. And those soulless houses remain empty for nine months of the year, merely a display of money. Many of the colorful little seaside cottages and Victorians I knew growing up are gone, bought and leveled by tourists who built big ugly buildings that just don’t complement the scenery or lifestyle. When the storms erode the sand by and beneath their foundations they expect government intervention via beach replenishment. They should have paid attention to history and tides and climactic changes. Over the past 100 years islands all around the world have been altered or disappeared from view. Natural beachfront properties are not immune to the forces of nature and the effects of mankind upon this earth, regardless of the monetary value the owners feel their houses are worth.
We only have to suffer the rude tourists for a few months and it does get harder each year. They feel entitled to be rude and disregard rules of the road and all other laws. And their behavior has lasting effects on the locals year round. Towns have had to paint lines for parking spaces so that driveways aren’t blocked and others not blocked from cars parking bumper to bumper corner to corner. There is more paid parking. One town recently changed last call at the bars two hours earlier than in the past in an effort to take back their town from drunken behavior that has led to constant property damage. Other towns have taken note of the change and are considering the same. These changes affect the locals year round, socially as well as economically. Some of the ‘dry’ towns are among my favorite since I don’t have to dodge drunken drivers and pedestrians. Less trash is strewn on the streets and in yards and it’s quieter and more relaxing too. After all, isn’t the purpose of vacation to relax, slow down, take it easy? The dry towns don’t suffer for tourists. They just attract a different ‘clientele’. And with tourists disobeying the rules of the road while on bikes, they may be banned from some roads. This too affects the locals. The change won’t make us happy either. We enjoy riding our bikes to watch the fireworks on the beach instead of driving to avoid sitting in tourist traffic for three hours trying to get home, or to run local errands. I can remember as children our mothers sending us on our bikes to go to the local farm to pick up some fresh corn on the cob. We knew the rules of the road and we obeyed them. Cars would sometimes toot their horns to warn us they were coming up behind us so we wouldn’t veer into them. And we took no offense. We had been taught respect for the rules of the road and that we were sharing the road with cars capable of doing us serious damage, so we hugged that shoulder. I don’t know of a single town in a single state where it’s legal for bicyclists to use a center turning car lane to travel without intention of turning at the first intersection. And a red light means stop – for cars, bikes and pedestrians.
Years ago, in one shore town, I liked to walk the beach at night. That got outlawed due to tourists and prompted beach patrols and monetary fines if caught. So, while the tourists complain about changing rules and laws from when they came to the beach with their parents they should consider the reasons why the changes were implemented and now can’t do the things they used to do – and were allowed to do – when they were younger and thought of doing once they became adults. Instead, there is a prevalent attitude from tourists that they can do whatever they want wherever and whenever they want. At one yearly street festival a woman walked up to a refreshment stand, ignoring the line of people waiting their turn for service. When told to wait in line, she straightened her back, thrust her chin up and loudly proclaimed “I am a tourist. I don’t live here all year. I shouldn’t have to wait in line.” Everyone nearby, including the refreshment stand staff stopped, and turned to look at her. Then the staff finished serving the current customer and then went to the next customer in line, ignoring the woman. Score one for the locals and tourists with manners. Tourists and locals should all be able to enjoy the summer at the beach and beach towns. Good manners never go out of style.
Locals head for the sand and the boards all year long. A friend of mine once told me he wouldn’t come with me to the beach one winter day (again), saying “You’re the only person I know who goes to the beach in December.” Not true. I’ve never found myself to be the only person on the beach or boards – any day, season or year. We may not spend the entire day there in December or January, but go we most certainly do. We walk, collect shells, sea glass, sharks’ teeth. Surf fish. Practice tai chi. Some lay on the beach in their pop up beach tents seeking shelter from the wind. Not every beach is best for shells. I have my favorite spots. And it’s always interesting after a hurricane or nor’easter blows past. Of course, we love to watch the big waves crash in from those storms too. Surf’s up. Almost detoured to work one day when I saw the surfers, boards strapped to their backs, biking to the beach in the misty air. But I had meetings that morning.
All along the coast locals consider each other neighbors regardless of town lines. Because most are small towns and we shop and eat and drink in each other’s towns. Especially when you live on the town line. Same is true for doctors and mechanics and other services. We have volunteer fire and EMS departments. We know our neighbors. We pull over to the right for emergency vehicles. We hold doors open for each other, say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ to each other, chat with each other at the bank or grocery store. We don’t mind that a shopping mall is 10, 20 or 30 miles away. We don’t always lock our doors – except during tourist season. We don’t bitch about a commute of more than 20 minutes because most of us have had a typical commute of an hour or more because our offices have been located inland and north of where we live, in cities and more urban areas. We don’t want our towns to be like any of the cities in this state or the surrounding ones. If you want to live or vacation in a city with a beach, I do know of one. In another state. It’s called Miami. Seen it. Don’t want to live there.