Sure, we have swimming pools, but they're not the best for people watching usually. Now, when I was a child going to the pool where my uncle was manager, there was a man named Triple-A who wore a two-piece bikini and swimming cap, and he didn't even stand out because a host of other crazy characters flocked to my uncle like birds to St. Francis.
But the pool I take my kids to is boring. It's mostly families, and if I wanted to see a lady chase her children around, I would just look in the mirror.
We have a river, but unless I had to ship some lumber down south I wouldn't exactly hang out there.
I went to a country club with my friend once. That was interesting people waching. In the middle of the weekday afternoon, some children had both their mothers and fathers watching them from the deck. Who was working in those families? Their money. That's who.
The beach is different. It is a true gathering place--not just for people with kids.
One thing I noticed, after we'd gone two days in a row, was that everyone had assigned seats, or so it seemed. The four older ladies with savage tans sat farthest from the water near the dunes and made bets on whose umbrella was going to blow away. The family that got the group rate at the tatoo parlor sat in front of them. We were in the front row, chasing our children with spray-on sunscreen, and next to us was a male sunbather wearing short black shorts who brought only a towel. (Hello? Is it amateur hour? You're supposed to bring other stuff to the beach, not just something to dry off with. Like chairs and hard boiled eggs and what not. I'm not be from New England, but even I know that.)
But the best part of the beach is how it brings out the kid in adults and the adult in kids. Grownups, like my husband and brother in law and father in law play in the waves. Kids, on the other hand, immediately see that there is a job to do.
They look at the sand and say, "Must dig giant hole." Or, "Must create elaborate castle." Or, if they're J.J.: "Must collect heavy backbreaking rocks for mom and dad to haul around in a bucket."
Reason being, kids can't get enough of the sand.
If you are a grownup at the beach, you notice how sand sticks to your egg salad sandwich, clings to your skin and burns your feet. You obviously have an appreciation for it; if you wanted to visit the ocean and not deal with the sand, I suppose you'd go to a harbor.
But if you are a kid, there is no downside to sand (Unless you're my son, Richie, whose eyeballs magnetically attract it.)
Sand, to most kids, is magic. It makes hours disappear.
If you sit on the sand, you can't help but dig or build something. This is true not just for kids but for grownups, too.
Kids will play with sand anywhere, not just at the beach. The backyard at the house where we stayed was all sand. One morning, I was sitting out there reading, and my three sons and nephew were playing in the sand. They each had either a horseshoe, a stick, a bucket or a badminton racket, and were plowing these through the sand, looking like insane farmers. They did that for about an hour.
I'd like to convert our backyard to a big sand pit. Our kids would never be bored again (though Richie would most likely go blind, eventually.)
Johnny's favorite beach on the trip was a small one that disappeared at high tide. It was actually a river that led to the ocean--an estuary I think. Everytime we went, a little boy his age was there, and they searched for hermit crabs and jellyfish and minnows together.
At low tide, people lined up their colorful metal folding chairs and watched the colorful sailboats going by. Then, as the day wore on and the beach disappeared, they did, too.
We stayed. The disappearing beach is a wondrous concept to me. I love that a beach can disappear and reappear two times a day. In contrast, the only thing that affects our swimming pool is adult swim.
But it also strikes me how little progress the tides make, considering how big the ocean is. When high tide comes in, it eats up, what, 50 feet of sand? Whereas in the ocean, there are parts so deep that sunlight can't even get down there and so dark, fish don't even bother growing eyes anymore.
And yet, for the most part, that water stays in the ocean day after day. Storms and tsunamis not withstanding.
Although, in fairness, the mountains stay in the mountains, and the plains stay in the plains. Mainly in the plains. They say nothing stays still, but moves too slowly for us to see. Who knows where it will all end up?
For instance, millions of years ago, we had an ocean in Kansas--and maybe beaches, too, but nobody ever went because the water was filled with sea monsters. Then one day, that ocean up and went away. Well, it was more like one eon.
I guess in the eyes of the universe, the middle of America seems as small as the beach we went to. And an eon seems as fast as a day. Sometimes the land is underwater. Sometimes it's dry. It just depends on the time.