Observations From a Beach Vacation

A scene observed: four young men – late teens or early 20s – walking along the beach together in ankle high water, the sun high and the sky clear, their heads buried in their cell phones. They could just as well have been walking at the mall.

* * *

phonesSame scene, but in a restaurant: mom, dad, son, and daughter give their orders to their waiter and then bury their faces in their cell phones, sitting in silence until 15 minutes later, when their dinner arrives.

* * *

You know you’ve seen and possibly even experienced this: you arrive on a mostly deserted beach, it’s early and the crush of people hasn’t arrived yet, you put down your blanket or chair, and there’s barely a person in sight for blocks on either side of you. You sit for a few minutes and then you hear behind you the sound of metal-framed beach chairs clanking together. Seconds later a party of strangers arrives and sets up 20 feet from you. You look again at the beach and find it’s no less deserted than when you arrived yet these folks decided it was absolutely essential to set up camp in your lap.

* * *

Sound doesn’t carry very well on a beach, but once in a while you realize that you’re hearing every word spoken by someone who’s more than 100 feet away from you. When The Curmudgeon offered this observation to The Curmudgeonly Sister she said, “And I’ll tell you what they’re saying. They’re saying ‘This is what I need to get for my classroom before school starts.’” Sister, of course, is a teacher and knows a thing or two about projecting one’s voice.

* * *

ocean cityWhile generally exercise-averse, The Curmudgeon awoke early one morning and drove to nearby Ocean City to rent a bicycle and ride up and down the 2.5-mile boardwalk a few times. (That this boardwalk also has a store with the best caramel popcorn ever made is purely coincidental.) The boardwalk is pretty carefully structured for those who use it: there are marked lanes in both directions for bicycles, surreys, and pedestrians. Occasionally people wander out of their designated lanes, or aren’t even aware that there are such lanes, and those who do pay a price: The Curmudgeon was quite surprised to observe how often – and how angrily – those sharing the boards castigated others. He was sorely tempted to introduce the person expressing such displeasure over his own momentary lane drift to the sole of his PF Flyers but decided that he’s on vacation and should just chill. He thinks others should, too.

* * *

The Curmudgeon always assumed that the spectacle of men sucking in their guts when they cross paths with a pretty woman was something that only happened on television comedies. Turns out he’s wrong: he observed that very practice on numerous occasions one day while people-watching on the beach. Memo to the guys: it doesn’t work. When The Curmudgeon returned to his beach rental he stood in front of the mirror and sucked in his gut and unmistakably looked like…a guy sucking in his gut.

* * *

When you sit on the beach on Brigantine and turn your head to the right at a ninety-degree angle you face Atlantic City and are so close you can distinguish the casinos from the other buildings. Until the doomed Revel casino was built, in fact, you could read the word “Showboat” on the side of the then-northern-most casino in the city. Despite its proximity, The Curmudgeon seldom sets foot in Atlantic City.

The Ascot, one of the $25 a night motels at which The Curmudgeon and his family stayed when he was a kid.

The Ascot, one of the $25 a night motels at which The Curmudgeon and his family stayed when he was a kid.

It wasn’t always that way. When he was growing up, Atlantic City is where The Curmudgeon’s family usually went on vacation. Back then, before gambling became legal, Atlantic City had mostly been abandoned to young blacks and old Jews. The Curmudgeon’s parents took their three kids to Atlantic City for three days and two nights, often staying at inexpensive motels a block off the boardwalk – inexpensive as in about $30 a night. His grandparents stayed a week, and at better, Jewish-oriented large hotels right on the boardwalk and his grandfather would come home halfway through their week there and pick up his two grandsons (his sister was too young during these years) to come back and join them for the rest of their week. The Curmudgeon recalls three of those hotels – the Breakers, the St. Charles, and Teplitzky’s (the latter a half-block off the boardwalk and no relation to the restaurant of the same name opened in Atlantic City a few years ago) – and what he remembers best is the food: there was a lot of it and it was very, very good. He specifically recalls coming off the boardwalk one night and being led by his grandparents to the St. Charles dining room, where there were – oh, such a wonderful memory – tables laden with slices of cake… piled high! For an always-eager eater with an insatiable sweet tooth it was heaven.

Casino gambling hasn’t done everything for Atlantic City that many people hoped, although the idea that it has done nothing for the city is absurd to anyone who spent any time in Atlantic City before the casinos arrived. But it’s certainly true that the gambling dream wasn’t realized and probably never will be.

When you think about it, Atlantic City should have three primary attractions: the beach, the casinos, and entertainment. The casinos pretty much act as if the beach doesn’t exist; they use it primarily to attract day-trippers to beach bars featuring bikini-clad servers; day-trippers are probably the least lucrative customers of all, but for the casinos it has become a matter of “beggars can’t be choosers.”

Not that long ago Atlantic City did a decent job of attracting big-name entertainers, but now, not so much. While The Curmudgeon was at the beach he saw several publications about entertainment and recreation in Atlantic City and a lot of the “big name” entertainment to appear there in the near future was less than inspiring.

To be fair, there are a few big-name – or at least somewhat big-name – performers: Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Buffett, Rod Stewart, Lady Antebellum, Zack Brown, and Kesha. If you offered The Curmudgeon free tickets to all of them the only one he’d be willing to sit through is Buffett, but, well, you have to allow for taste.

Once upon a time, "Lido Shuffle" was the name of one of his songs.  Now, he's so old it's a description of his gait.

Once upon a time, “Lido Shuffle” was the name of one of his songs. Now, he’s so old it’s a description of his gait.

But the other “major” acts appearing in the near future consist mostly of performers who passed their prime 30 (or more) years ago: Rick Springfield, Andrew Dice Clay, B.J. Thomas and Gary Puckett, Boston, 98 Degrees, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Boz Scaggs, the Marshall Tucker Band, Cheech and Chong, and Lucie Arnaz (seriously – Lucie Arnaz?). That’s not exactly a lineup that inspires you to try to find time in your schedule to swing through Atlantic City, is it?

* * *

Years ago The Curmudgeon heard that Brigantine had a small local population of red foxes that live in the town’s extensive dunes. Twenty-six years coming here, though, and The Curmudgeon had never seen a red fox and never encountered anyone who had seen one of the foxes.

This is the big one, Elizabeth.  I'm coming to join you, honey.

This is the big one, Elizabeth. I’m coming to join you, honey.

That ended on this visit. The Curmudgeon was heading toward the beach not too much after 8:00 one morning when he saw a red-furred animal that clearly was not a dog and clearly was not a cat heading across a path to the beach and into the dunes. He stopped: he’s a big sissy when it comes to animals and even if he weren’t he knew better than to get any closer to the animal even though he had heard that they posed no threat to people and were occasionally even spotted playing in the street with small dogs and cats.

* * *

As he has written in the past, The Curmudgeon does not play nice with the people who check those on the beach to ensure that they have paid for the privilege of being on the beach. Not that he doesn’t pay or objects to being asked for proof that he has: it’s that he finds it frustrating that he pays and when others don’t, the beach tag checkers do…absolutely nothing.

beach tagsNo news to report on this front because in a full week on the beach, including, on several days, two visits a day, The Curmudgeon only saw the tag-checkers twice and no one asked him to show his – not once over the course of a full week.

Which leaves him feeling like a fool for paying for a beach tag in the first place.

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