Every beach has its diehards. They’re often alone, sometimes with a significant other. They carry just the essentials—chair, towel, book, possibly a beverage—and know whether the tide’s going out and when the wind will change, bringing the little black flies. They know everyone on the beach but not by given names: there’s Umbrella Man, Beer Guy, the Lady that Lives Back at the Bay Who Goes to 10 o’clock Mass. They come early and stay late even in variably cloudy conditions, waiting patiently for the peace of September.
We skip Oktoberfests and pumpkin spice for the warm ocean and cooler days. Often called the second season, fall is the adults-only all-inclusive resort of the shore. You may see a few kids, but they know the score. Possibly future diehards themselves, they calmly play in the sand and take screech-free dips in the ocean.
And yet, this past weekend, over the bulkhead in the distance appeared a family. First one small person, then another. Then the adult dragging the beach cart. Chairs, boogie boards, toys, towels, coolers: the hallmarks of beach spreaders. They always sit a little too close, and the group always expands as the day goes on. They come late and their stay is brief yet chock full of tears, wayward footballs, and seagull feeding frenzies, a trail of goldfish crackers in the wake of their march home.
In the summer, we accept the large groups from far and wide enjoying Mother Nature. In July or August, we may even have our own guests with coolers and tents and grills. But September is not for your screaming children. Children in groups have volume levels of suspiciously silent, loud, and blood-curdling scream. This weekend’s group grew to seven noisy children. Their games included dropping the hot dog in the sand and screaming at seagulls, getting sand in their eyes and screaming, and hopping in a line screaming while not respecting personal space. As I looked around for reactions, I shared eye rolls with my fellow regulars who even at times shooed the oblivious children away. The children obliged, hopping away while screaming “that man is mean.”
To an outsider we may seem like curmudgeons, but we all understand the unwritten rules of the beach: September is for solitude. For many, hours of alone time seem like a nightmare, but from now until Columbus Day, me, Umbrella Man, Beer Guy, and Church Lady will be wrapped in our sweatshirts and towels, sitting an appropriate distance from each other, soaking up the final rays to carry us through winter.