Final Word: Nature of the Beach

Ahhh. Open spaces, clear horizons–and more people than wildebeests on the plain at the height of migration. Stop if you’ve herd this.




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Illustration by Tom


When Lewis and Clark went trekking for the coast, they had the trail more or less to themselves. They wouldn’t have much liked their journey today.

Why is it, I wonder—from my vantage near the gridlock that is Boyd’s Corner on a Friday evening—that travelers feel the need to all leave for the beach at the very same minute?

I could see the potential for a pileup the first time I made the drive. But shouldn’t it occur to people after all these years that they could say, “Hey, why don’t we leave (earlier-later) than everyone else?”

The reason they don’t, of course, is that the drive would stop being a pilgrimage to the beach; in that it would become just another commute.

There has to be a mass trek to the beach for the same reason we all leave for the stadium at the same time: It’s part of the herd instinct we inherited from our animal ancestors.

But does it make sense? Wouldn’t there be more water in the Serengeti’s dry season if the wildebeests simply staggered their start over a few days, instead of all 100 million of them setting out on their migration at the same time?

And it’s just not the getting there that we so atavistically wish to do simultaneously. Once we’re there, we want to do everything else at the same time, too.

Take breakfast. Why can’t a simple morning repast be prepared and eaten in the peace and privacy of one’s own rental house? Why must something as simple as eggs and toast or pancakes be sought at Ma and Pa’s Pancake Palace, again, at the very minute everyone else seeks out their eggs and pancakes?

Just look at the droves of frazzled parents and bug-eyed kids pouring from clogged verandas onto the sidewalks and streets, just like a herd of wildebeests that suddenly all have to drink from the same now-dry watering whole.

I understand the human impulse to leave the congestion of urban life for the sprawl of the suburbs. We grant unto ourselves that emerald patch of weed-free monoculture for the sake of a little peace and quiet.

Yet in summer, we suddenly find ourselves cramming against each other on a strand of broiling sand that is more congested than any turn-of-the-century East Side tenement.

All morning long, human pack mules, laden with folding chairs, umbrellas, ice chests, buckets, shovels, blowup toys, floats and enough sun block to create personal nuclear winters issue forth like a cartoon Normandy Invasion to claim a patch of sand as small as a queen-sized blanket.

If you’re getting the impression that I don’t like crowds, you’re missing my point. I like the beach, the ocean, the great limitless horizon. So why is that the only way we can conceive of enjoying the splendid experience of wide-open space is by jamming ourselves together like, well, sardines?

Still, it is, to me, a little more than slightly ironic that so many of us are willing to flock back to the sea from which we all once presumably crawled, wriggled and flippered inches ahead of some razor-toothed predator. As “Jaws” author Peter Benchley once explained to us, when you enter the ocean, you’re just another link in the food chain. Even the wildebeests know better than to stray from the arid plain into the cool of the jungle.

With creatures that can sting to paralysis, poison, nibble, gnaw and outright gulp in a bite, isn’t the ocean more or less a liquid jungle? Would any of us run headlong and fancy free into a rain forest?

And for crying out loud, if you insist on wearing a string bikini or Speedo, please call Jenny Craig first.


Reid Champagne can be found inland during the summer months.

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