If you want everyone in the room to leer at you like you’re a gnarled-face, infant-eating freak, simply utter the following four words: “I hate the beach.”
You may now begin sharpening your edged weapons and firing up your medieval torches.
Sand, umbrellas, flip-flops, board shorts, funnel cake — I don’t get it. And judging by the horrified reactions this has garnered over the years, that’s a red-flag indicator of my latent serial-killer tendencies, on par with spree arson or shooting squirrels dead with a pellet gun.
My idea of a vacation, away from the ulcer-inducing existence of sardine-can city life, has never included interminable melanoma tanning sessions, armies of shrieking children with oddly shaped sunburns or power-tripping pencil-necked teenagers demanding you pay them for sitting on hills of hot dirt. And that doesn’t even factor in getting there, wasting away for days in traffic so thick you could flip it upside down and hold it there like a DQ Blizzard. This ain’t garden-variety New Jersey hate, either. I grew up in Maryland, with that state’s Ocean City hosting our summer trips, feeling the exact same way.
I’ve got nothing against beach-town natives, business owners, shoobies and the seasonal residents who love it so. I’ve just never comprehended the idea of the shore as this mystical Brigadoon-like place that rejuvenates the human spirit. As a destination, it’s boring to me. Yet still, telling people “I’m not a beach person” is almost always met with a deep revulsion I find both amusing and confusing. I might as well throw on a crude sandwich board detailing a disdain for babies, bacon and Beyoncé.
Being a pariah, however, does have its annual perks.
We’re coming up on Memorial Day, the holiest of all beachophobe feasts. That’s because the people itching to ditch this crowded city, sit gridlocked on a crowded highway and cram into a crowded shore town are getting the hell out, freeing up so much cubic space that walks down the street begin resembling the dream sequence from the beginning of Vanilla Sky.
In many ways, the first SPF-30 exodus of the summer season is creepy, like a real-life version of that new HBO show where 2 percent of the world’s population evaporates. The city becomes staid and eerie. Certain places close. Certain services shut down. Many of your friends skate, not to mention the randos you know (that one guy who sits on his stoop; that one girl who walks by with her dog), suddenly unable to fill their unwitting roles as Truman Show extras in your daily narrative. Acquaintances start dressing in ill-fitting monochromatic outfits and muttering cryptic thoughts about the reckoning to an enraged Justin Theroux. Wait, that’s from that new HBO show.
If you’re anything like me, though, the positives of shore-induced ghost city syndrome far outweigh the initial uneasiness:
- Take a lap around your neighborhood and soak in the calm.
- With all the out-of-town plates out of town, there are a million vacant parking spots.
- You actually have time and space to get some thinking and relaxing done on a park bench, without some macchiato-sipping toolbox attempting to scare you away with dirty looks.
- Biking is far less treacherous.
- Restaurants and bars that are typically cramped begin offering breathing room as a special.
- There’s no line at anything (except maybe this new place that offers sushi shaped like a burrito).
- Most vitally, many of those who stay back seem genuinely thrilled at the prospect of a quiet, streamlined city experience, and the feeling is contagious.
Considering the rare joy I associate with this long weekend, you might be left wondering why I bother living in a city in the first place. I love the day-to-day, but it’s the sheer novelty of access to a decluttered version of urban existence that’s so appealing to me. It’s like being turned loose in Six Flags after hours, with quick access to rides and no bros in basketball jerseys threatening to fight you because you accidentally grazed their calves waiting for Kingda Ka. Beach lovers might see the shore as the ultimate summer getaway, but that means the beachophobic get the entire city as a consolation prize. You won’t catch me complaining.
By this Tuesday, beachfeet seekers will be back on their work-a-day grind, marking off the seconds until it’s professionally appropriate to dip out of the office and back into the turn-and-burn shore cycle. If you need me, you know where I’ll be — holding down the fort, and having a hell of a time doing it.
Follow @DrewLazor on Twitter.