Just Another Day at the Beach

I am on the beach with my wife. I am under the umbrella, my wife is in the open sun. I haven’t visited the beach in a hundred years. We have been quarantined for at least that long.

We are social distancing, sitting almost as far away from the water as you can get. The nearest beach goer is about a mile away.

I used to work on the beach. One summer, I got a job in Destin, Florida. I was a lifeguard-slash-beach-attendant. The industry term was: “chair setter-upper.” Or: “rented mule.”

My main job was to set up umbrellas and chairs, and to make sure everyone’s radio was cranked up loud enough so that others would complain to the lifeguards about it.

You learn a lot about people when you watch them on a beach, which is what I did for nine hours per day.

One time, there was a family of Germans on my beach. They were mostly elderly people. Mid-70s, maybe.

Germans are finicky, they don’t like wearing wet swimsuits after they’ve been swimming in the Gulf. So every time the old man would emerge from the surf, he would remove his Speedo.

He did this nonchalantly, as though sliding out of a Speedo before a couple hundred spectators was just another day at the office. Then his wife would hand him a dry Speedo, and he would cram into it. Whereupon his wife would fully strip and do the same thing. Gravity had not been kind to these people.

That was a bad day to be a beach-attendant-slash-lifeguard.

I also had to deal with Young Drunk People as a lifeguard. When young people visit the beach, federal law requires them to bring 50 cases of beer per young person and a boombox capable of shattering windshields.

Drunk young people also love to invent creative ways to consume alcohol. As in: “Hey, y’all! Watch me drink beer through a Frisbee!”

Thus, as a lifeguard, I was always having to do the dreaded job no authority figure ever wants to do, by marching over there and kindly asking them for a beer.

But mostly, being a beach attendant consisted of helping people get situated beneath umbrellas. There, they would smear copious amounts of powerful sun-blocking agents onto their bodies then go lie in the open sun.

The most crazy day I ever had as a beach-attendant-slash-lifeguard was when a shark came into our waters. It was a smallish shark. This was like the Shih Tzu of the shark kingdom.

Then, all of a sudden, here came this kid who looked like he’d been hired by Steven Spielberg, sprinting out of the surf, shouting, “SHARK!”

If you ever want to see pandemonium, shout this word on a crowded beach. People were screaming, openly weeping, packing their beach gear, some were leaving the state of Florida forever.

The next morning, my entire beach jurisdiction was empty, and it stayed like that all week. It was great.

As it happened, I was going through a really bad period of life at the time, a girlfriend had just broken my heart. So peace and quiet was just what the doctor ordered.

I remember walking into the ocean surf on an unpopulated beach and wading up to my shoulders. I would spend the entire morning there, just listening to sounds of water.

The Gulf is its own creature. When you look at her from a distance, her water goes from emerald green to navy blue, before fading into the horizon. You also feel something in the water. It’s a gentle power that reminds you of how small you are on this earth. And no matter how hard you try, you cannot be any bigger.

A few weeks after the shark sighting, my beach started to fill with people again. More families, more drunk kids, more Europeans wearing bathing suits that were made from a single strand of No. 3 spaghetti.

One day—and I will never forget this as long as I live—there was this thing poking above the surface of the water. It was swimming parallel to the shore. It was a big, triangular, gray fin. A huge fin. Judging from the size of this fin, this shark would have been about the size of a Plymouth Business Coupe.

“SHARK!” yelled some kid.

It was the same scenario as before. People were screaming. But when the fin got closer, something was wrong. The fin jumped out of the water. Everyone could see the fin was attached to a rod held by a little boy who was hysterical with laughter.

Immediately, a middle-aged woman charged into the surf and dragged the boy from the water by his earlobe. She yanked his pants down in front of God and country, and turned his white hindparts candy-apple red. I wish I were making this up, but I’m not.

That was a very good day to be a beach-attendant-slash-lifeguard.

Anyway, I only worked on the beach for that one summer because you can have too much of a good thing.

But today, it’s all coming back to me. This place is an old friend. This saltwater has a way of working itself into your DNA if you live here. Sometimes it’s one of the only constants in your life.

Right now, my wife is giggling, she elbows me. “Look,” she whispers.

So I do. In the distance I see an older couple on a beach towel. They have just traipsed out of the water. Their suits are soaking wet.

And…

These people are definitely German.

21 comments

  1. Lita - May 17, 2020 7:14 am

    Yup.

    Reply
  2. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - May 17, 2020 10:50 am

    Heck! Germans don’t even need a beach to get naked in public. Any old public park will do nicely, danke schoen. Especially in Munich during Oktoberfest.

    Reply
  3. Ann - May 17, 2020 12:29 pm

    God has blessed you with the ability to show us there is interest and importance in so many seemingly simple occurrences in life….you bring them to life and really make us aware of all that is going on around us…thank you for sharing….all emotions!….oh..and be sure Jamie puts on sunscreen!🌞

    Reply
  4. Anne Arthur - May 17, 2020 12:30 pm

    Hilarious! Love it to the T. Reading your description of the waters I can feel its pull and power.
    Annnd, yeah, there is a reason I never speak German on a beach when German tourists are around. I want to prevent them knowing I am one of them… except, I don’t strip naked on a beach, nor in a park during October fest. LOL

    Reply
  5. Leslie in NC - May 17, 2020 12:37 pm

    Oh Sean, you brought back such fond memories for me with this story. A lifelong native Floridian, I relocated to the mountains of North Carolina almost 5 years ago mainly for a change of scenery and to escape the Florida heat & humidity, which I am less and less able to tolerate as I get older. My sister soon followed. We were just talking the other day about how the sand and salt water is in our blood and how we could leave that life-giving elixir is a still a mystery to us both. I love the cool clean air of the mountains, but still long for my beloved Florida beaches and always will, especially the Gulf. Never thought I’d say, let’s go on a vacation to Florida!

    Reply
  6. Dianne - May 17, 2020 12:40 pm

    Sean, your story today of Europeans swimming at the beach reminded me of a funny memory. We were on the island of Crete (Greece) with two other couples on what we thought was an isolated part of the beach. We three little American women had on our one-piece suits and our husbands had on swimming “trunks”. I was getting a tan while on my beach chair on my stomach when my husband said “turn over and look at the other people on the beach now”. So me and my friends looked up and realized we were on a topless beach, because Europeans don’t have hang ups about their bodies like Americans. As you said, some of these women were “older” and gravity had not been too kind to them. The husbands particularly liked the “young” topless women!! However, those speedos that the European men wear was absolutely disgusting but hilarious at the same time. The truly funny thing was these people knew by our swimming “attire” that we were not Europeans, but rather “puritan” Americans. We all still laugh about that day at the beach on the Island of Crete. By the way………there is no other beach and water in the world like the Gulf Coast. Pure heaven!!

    Reply
  7. Lauren Walker - May 17, 2020 12:48 pm

    The Gulf is magical. Come visit us in Wakulla County!

    Reply
  8. Peggy B Proffitt - May 17, 2020 1:14 pm

    This was such a good read. Hilarious! Thank you.

    Reply
  9. Berryman Mary M - May 17, 2020 1:20 pm

    Dear Sean, I have spent a lot of time on the Gulf beaches. The colors of the sand, sky and water are so beautiful and so surreal, that when I am away from the beach, I think I must have imagined the colors and beauty. And every time I return, the colors just take my breath away and restore my soul. Thanks for this. Oh and my youngest son worked one summer at Watercolor also doing the lifeguard/beach attendant job. By summer’s end, he was brown as a berry and strong as an ox.

    Reply
  10. Jerry McCloud - May 17, 2020 1:36 pm

    Wet noodles….

    Reply
  11. Bobbie - May 17, 2020 2:15 pm

    Oh, I could write way more than allowed here about my love for the beach. In fact, was my first love at eleven years old. I had a dream come true during the real estate boom when I decided to move from the GA mtns to cash in on the opportunity. I could not believe this was happening to me….and to top it all built a house on the beach at Cape San Blas. Truly a dream come true. This was the closest thing to Heaven on earth! I so agree with Leslie in NC, the salt water gets in your blood and you are never the same. What I wouldn’t give to be sitting there on those soft white sands right now. If I try really hard, I can hear the waves and smell that wonderful salty, slightly fishy air. Thanks Sean for the memories. Enjoy your days on the beach. Perhaps, God willing, can have just one more visit, and while I’m there, a short ride over to Indian Pass and the Raw Bar would make it extra special❤️🦪🦪‼️
    Bobbie

    Reply
  12. Jess Rawls - May 17, 2020 2:33 pm

    I grew up in Sarasota, FL, and spent many a day at the beach when I was a kid. Now my dermatologist tells me that my damaged skin is a result of those days from six decades ago. Mr. Sun is not our (skin’s) friend. I don’t even like to read about the beach, but this was funny, and I enjoyed it. However, it brought back a lot of painful memories…..sunburn, don’t ya know.

    Reply
  13. Harriet Bryan - May 17, 2020 3:09 pm

    Hi Sean I grew up spending every summer going to Blue mtn beach and Grayton Breach and dancing at The Store at Grayton Beach. Thanks for the memories and the smiles on another day of quarantine.

    Reply
  14. Jack Giddens - May 17, 2020 3:48 pm

    Wading out into the Gulf to shoulder depth? No undertow? I remember from my youth that one learned not to wander too far out due to stepping off a sandbar or getting taken away by the dreaded undertow. BUT, I sure do miss those halcyon days at Sunnyside or Kiska Beach and, later in life, the Little B’ham and the Old Dutch Inn. And the “Y Bar”. Sigh.

    Reply
  15. Linda Moon - May 17, 2020 4:36 pm

    100 years….Yes, at least. So, you were once a “rented mule” at the beach. I can visualize that. I can also “see” the German’s Speedo, the European’s spaghetti straps, and the older couple’s gravity-induced wrinkles. Enjoy your beaches, Sean. And thanks for reminding me of why I prefer Cool Mountains and Mountain Towns like Helen, Georgia….especially during the annual Oktoberfest seeing Germans in their non-Speedo Lederhosen!

    Reply
  16. Larry Wall - May 17, 2020 5:39 pm

    Sean, that was a great blog this morning and made me think back to our many trips to the Emerald Coast and staying everywhere along its length, from Mexico Beach to Fort Morgan. All of it is, or was, delightful. Some have become too congested to be enjoyable during the summer season so, me and my bride of 52 years usually now go down to Fort Morgan in late September and stay for the month of October. Unless a hurricane chases us away early.
    We were fortunate to have discovered Destin and its charms back when there was only one high-rise condo building on the beach and it was next door to our yearly summer vacation spot, South Bay Townhouses, and was a very short stroll down the beach from a tiny oyster and sandwich shack called the Back Porch, because that was where the 3 or 4 picnic tables were that sat customers. But we loved it and the 8 or 10 other local eateries that served fresh catches, including your own if you were lucky. No better waters on the coast of the U.S. than the Gulf of Mexico.

    Reply
  17. MAM - May 17, 2020 6:33 pm

    Another memory about German swimmers. This happened in Bali, where a mixture of folks, Americans, Indonesians, Europeans, populated Kuta beach. A topless older German woman went into the surf near where we were. Our at-the-time young daughters giggled almost uncontrollably every time a wave came in, lifted the woman’s boobs, to which as commented above, gravity had not been kind, and then flopped them back down. It was simply ludicrous (and hysterical) to us “puritan” Americans.

    Reply
  18. Keloth Anne - May 18, 2020 1:43 pm

    This was just wonderfully entertaining and a “right on time” in this ongoing quarantine time😷😍
    You’ll never know what your podcasts and daily posts have meant—you are incredible and I pray you and Jamie stay safe and healthy ♥️♥️

    Reply
  19. Joy T Lane - May 18, 2020 9:34 pm

    I think someone should jump out of the water at lest once a week screaming “”SHARK”. Maybe that would keep things to a manageable level. 😂

    Reply
  20. Mary - June 26, 2020 12:06 am

    I’ve always felt closer to God at the beach. Strength in the waves and peace in the sounds of the ocean. So soothing.

    Reply
  21. Caroline Conner - June 26, 2020 1:45 am

    Mind if I sit next to you (6ft) on those sands? I can hear the waves, feel the breeze and smell the salty air. Glorious memories. Hope I get back there. Mexico beach was my spot. Sounds like you are not there any more.

    Reply

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