Normally, I love the beach. (Right there, that should tell you that my recent beach experience did not meet with glowing reviews.)
If I were to pick one place that brings my mind to a calm and meditative state, that place would be the beach – but not this time.
My mistake was in going to the beach on July 4th – along with every other person this side of the Mississippi River. The place was crowded, loud and chaotic, much like the food court at your local shopping mall, only noisier and with half-naked people and sand. Of course if your mall has half-naked people and sand, you can ignore that part. I would, however, be interested in seeing some pictures.
Two days prior to my debacle of a decision, a black bear had been spotted in the picnic area adjacent to the beach. The bear was scrounging for food. Now, I know this sounds like I am leading up to a Yogi Bear joke (and if you just laughed, then I guess I did), but in reality, this wasn’t a laughing matter. It had the potential to be quite scary. And when a home video of the bear (sans Boo Boo) circulated on social media and the local news, concern for everyone’s safety grew.
Determined to keep us safe, park officials started warning visitors not to leave food hanging around – as if that was possible. Most people bring enough food for a trek across the Sahara.
Rules were instituted, the first of which being that everyone had to eat all their food as quickly as possible, and to not leave any scraps. For safety’s sake, gluttony became the order of the day.
I tried to ignore my mounting bear anxiety and the uncomfortable feeling I had since I figured the crowd would be a tad larger than usual, this being a holiday. To compensate, my wife and I arrived as early as possible, just in case. But even at an early hour, the parking lot was filling up at an alarming rate. We tried ignoring it, following our usual beach ritual.
Our traditional hike around the park was bear-free, so we considered that a success. Still, I kept my eyes peeled for furry activity in the wooded areas.
Once sufficiently tired from our walk, we then headed to the sandy portion of the park to strategically select our spot for the day. We chose a spot about halfway between the shore and the parking lot, close to some sand dunes that we hoped would act as a buffer, and thereby lessen the through-traffic.
But our spot turned out to stink – in more ways than one. Number one: we were located too close to the restrooms, and the wind kept shifting. (I think you can figure out what that means.) And number two: a young couple with an adorable baby girl chose their spot right by our feet, not more than three feet away. Their baby must have had a big breakfast or digestive issues, since a ripe aroma emanated from the general vicinity of her diaper, no matter how often they changed her.
In military terms: we were outflanked by two armies of unpleasant aromas. So our plans were for naught. We were wrong. On this particular day, no place on this beach was safe.
After settling into our infortuitous spot, we decided to tough it out and make the best of things. Following the new rules of bear survival, we began devouring our food for safety. That’s when I realized that, in case of an actual bear sighting, we didn’t have an escape plan – or a survival plan.
Playing dead did not appeal to me one bit. It seemed too passive. A quick sprint to a temporary safe location seemed smarter, that is if you could find such a spot. So, it all boiled down to either a mad dash to the restroom right by us, or to our car, near the front of the parking lot. I opted for the car, as a quick estimate of distances told me that the car was closer – and unoccupied.
I tried telling my wife about the plan, but she couldn’t hear a word I was saying. Even though we were elbow-to-elbow, the crowd nose sufficiently drowned out my voice, rendering vocal communications useless.
The noise rivaled that of a crowded airport. Children with obvious bear anxiety issues cried incessantly, especially after their food and diapers ran out. A man with a 100-decibel portable sound system roamed the beach, back and forth, treating everyone in a tristate area to the melodic underpinnings of Guns and Roses, followed by some ear shattering bluegrass ditties by the Tennessee Po’ Boys (or something similar.)
Not to be outdone by the roving entertainment center guy, another kind beach patron in the parking lot pulled his green Chevy as close as he could to the crowd, opened the trunk, and blasted out his summer jams collection of X-rated hip hop gems.
And then the police showed up.
I looked at my wife and said, “This isn’t exactly relaxing.”
“What?” she replied.
After writing her a note explaining how I felt, my wife asked me if I wanted to go home. I declined the offer, figuring that if the bear showed up, the crowd would thin out – if the carnage was high enough.
(Yes, it is quite true: unpleasant experiences spawn cynicism.)
Still, I wanted to stick it out and see what happened. I was either optimistic or stubborn. At this point, I am not sure yet; but I did not want to give up on the day.
What happened was this: a little boy named Bradley had a fit because someone stole his rock. I know his name because his parents kept yelling it over and over. A girl named Melissa (yes, angry parents again) swallowed sand and hollered at the top of her lungs until she became exhausted and almost passed out. The cute baby at our feet kept filling her diaper at an alarming rate. And the local softball team set up batting practice by the trash pail.
Large green trucks showed up every 15 minutes to empty the garbage pails (another bear safety rule.) I got hit in the head by a Frisbee and by stray beach umbrella that wasn’t properly anchored in the sand. And I found out that, no matter how high the SPF factor, 3-year-old sunscreen doesn’t work.
After around five hours on the beach, we packed our beach gear and headed home, looking to escape to some peace and quiet and fresh air, only to get stuck in traffic behind a flatbed trailer toting two port-a-potties.
Maybe next year we will instead go to the beach on July 3rd – bears or no bears.