Beach Day

Am I ever going to catch up writing about vacation? Do you ever have the intention of writing deep, soul-searching rambles, letting your mind wander and return refreshed? Would you ever let your mind bend, commit a perambulatory dimension shift, jump up an energy level or two to uncharted parts of the brain?

You would? Good for you. I’m just going to talk about the beach.

We decided to go back where it all began, at Jacksonville Beach, where Reilly proposed to me.

When we got to the parking lot near the pier where we lost Jenny’s keys, it had started to rain. We waited for a little while then headed to a nearby gas station to get something to drink. When we returned to the parking lot, it was raining even harder. Because we are supreme nerds, both of us brought books to read and talk about. We cracked a window and read while it rained.

About 45 minutes later, the rain stopped, and we carried our books, drinks, and towels and found a nice place on the sand. The sky was still overcast, so it wasn’t very hot.

THE pier.

We stayed at the beach for the next two hours. Here is a list of things we did while we were there:

  • Applied sunscreen
  • Read and talked about books
  • Remembered seagulls from our engagement day
  • Drank our drinks
  • Got sandy feet
  • Took photographs
  • Watched people
  • Made fun of people
  • Peed in the ocean

Squinty photo

More clouds

Still more clouds

We only peed in the ocean because we’d been drinking those drinks from the gas station so we had to go, and the parking lot bathrooms were locked, and we thought it would be sort of fun to pee in the ocean. I mean, let’s be honest. We walked casually enough to the water and allowed enough space between us so that we wouldn’t by grossed out by the each other’s warm current. We walked to where the water was about to our hips. We didn’t talk to each other for a few seconds, then I asked Reilly if he was done. Then we let the ocean gently roll in and rinse us.

But here’s the thing: Do you know what acid rain is? So, because people pee in the ocean, and water from the ocean evaporates and forms clouds, and some of these clouds make rain, I wonder if we often think about how often we pee on ourselves. Despite this, I still and will always love the beach.

After a couple of hours it was lunchtime, and we decided to eat at the Metro Diner. It’s a small Jacksonville chain with some distinct charm. It’s just a few blocks from the beach. If it weren’t for my friend Jenny’s recommendation, we wouldn’t have thought to go there.

Yummy food here

Reilly had a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, and I had an enormous fish sandwich. The staff was really nice, and I took half my sandwich to go.

It was a sunny December afternoon when we got engaged a year and a half ago. As is typical for Florida summer afternoons, it rained on our way back to my parents’ home. But not very much. And maybe we had driven far enough away from the ocean and the wind hadn’t blown the clouds to where the familiar smell in the rain wasn’t my own urine.

Christmas Day, 2011, at Jacksonville Beach

I check my pockets.

I check them again.

I check the curb.

We had finished brushing the sand off our feet and rolling down our pants legs. The sun was setting, and the air was cooling considerably in the past hour. We are in Florida, and it is December. Christmas, in fact.

Familiar white noise of my childhood somehow keeps me calm. The shore froths and foams at low tide. The beach stretches for miles, and the horizon produces muted purples and blues with a backglow of pink. Flat clouds gather and blend into the greying blue above us. Seagulls congregate along the softened zig-zag margin where the rolling waves stop on the sand. We know those birds are wondering why we are there. They probably already know.

After we put our shoes back on, I tell Reilly that we have to walk on the beach again, because I don’t have the keys.

He checks his pockets, too. We spin in place and look at the asphalt and adjoining sidewalk; the keys could appear as quickly they disappeared.

We had walked a least a mile on the beach. The sand, the sea, the pelicans could have swallowed the keys. We need to retrace our steps.

We start on the land bridge connecting the asphalt and the great expanse of sand. I look up the coast to the pier where we started walking.  We begin our search together then decide it might be better to divide and conquer.

Just minutes ago we watched a parascender float through the air while a speedboat pulled him, and now our eyes focus on the sand, and I try to recall our exact path. I realize that I didn’t really pay attention to our steps, because we were lost in conversation, in each other. My heart pounding in my ears matches the volume of the ocean waves playing Yahtzee on the shore. White and static bounced and tumbled in different combinations. Did it ever roll all sixes? On a day like today, I would say yes.

On our walk down, we occasionally noticed the sun’s descent, the temperature’s decrease, and kids running around or writing in the sand. We had walked mostly on the packed sand, and the balls of my feet had nearly rubbed raw until we walked up toward the dunes where the sand was softer.

On the walk back, Reilly is 50 yards ahead. While we scan the sand, I sometimes look up the miles of coast. I notice certain landmarks that we passed the first time: sandcastles, holes and little plastic shovels, piles of seaweed, where people had written in the sand, a jellyfish.

The worst-case scenario crosses my mind. I am not worried that we wouldn’t get back to my parents’ house.  I don’t have anyone’s number memorized. If we could get into the car, then maybe I could get my cell phone and get a ride back to the Westside.  That would be easy enough.

But that is not the worst-case scenario.

The lost keys aren’t mine. They don’t belong to my family. I have them because I agreed to housesit and dogsit for my friend Jenny while she went on a Christmas trip with family. And she let us use her car. So I imagine having to explain how I lost the keys and why the dog is dead. I imagine poor little Henry the wiener dog lying stiff and unconscious by the front window of Jenny’s home waiting for Jenny’s car to pull up. But it wouldn’t be me in the car, because Jenny would have killed me for losing her keys. I would be dead. My ragdoll body would wash onto the shore days later while kids played catch with the keys we were looking for. And Reilly would have to explain awkwardly to my mom what happened.

This situation would be a much smaller deal if the keys were mine.

I have a feeling we wouldn’t find them on the beach, but at the same time, I want to get to the first part of our walk, where we rolled up our pants and let the water wash over our feet. I know that if the keys happened to drop into the water, there would be no chance of retrieving them. Not exactly a reassuring thought, but it is what I want to do.

We see a man scanning the beach with his metal detector. I ask him if he came across a set of keys. He says that he hasn’t. He asks if we lost them along the beach. I say that we did. He suggests we retrace our steps, to follow our path exactly the way we walked. That’s something we had never considered.  We know he is trying to be helpful, but we are just frustrated, and Henry is waiting for us. My brother is waiting for us. When he finishes talking, we thank him for his advice and part ways. The coast looks as long as ever.

We finally come to the spot by the pier where we stood in the ocean. Of course we don’t see any keys, and I hope that a seagull would drop them into my hands. The seagulls mock us instead. They would never lose their friends’ keys.

Then we start up toward the parking lot. We check by the sidewalk where we originally took off our shoes.  We reach the car and check the keyholes of the doors after we tried opening the doors.  We talk about making another sweep of the beach, and I sigh at the cooling breeze and darkening sky.

Reilly walks up to the pier’s entrance, to a small parks and rec office where people can buy fishing permits and supplies. I check the sand again where we first took off our shoes.  I keep wondering about Henry and having new keys made for the car and Jenny’s house and I kept telling myself how irresponsible I am and that I should have secured the keys instead of putting them in my back pocket.

Reilly comes down from the pier. I look at him, and he smiles and holds up a set of keys that I immediately recognize by the leather Harding University keychain. He says that someone found them and turned them in. We walk quickly to the car, and it feels so good to be able to unlock the door, text my brother to tell him we are on our way to dinner, and look forward to Henry’s tail wagging when we returned to Jenny’s house. It feels good to live.

Just before we put back on our shoes and started our search, we stood on the sand and watched the ocean. Our conversation had gotten quiet and after a few moments, Reilly said he had never been happier in his life and I began crying and he said that he really enjoyed spending the past few months with me and he wanted to spend his life with me, and he asked me for the chance to make me as happy as I’ve made him. He said, “I would love for you to have this” as he pulled out of his pocket a little black velvet box. I said that I would love to give him that chance, and I kept crying as he took the ring from the box and put it on my finger. I wiped the tears from my eyes.  We hugged tight and gently kissed. With his arm around me, we continued to stare at the ocean.

We put on our seat belts. I turn the key in the ignition. I check the side and rear view mirrors. I check the time, the headlights against the dusk. I check my phone after sending a mass text to all my friends. I check myself in the eyes of the man sitting next to me.

As we pull out of the parking lot, I check my hand.

I am engaged.

Australia Trip, Day 1: Sometimes Glitches Are Paradise, Too

The plane flies from SLC to LAX and arrives around 1pm on August 12. I get to the international terminal around 2pm. So far, so good. The kiosks reject my attempts to check in: they keep telling me to see my V Australia attendant, but the counters haven’t opened yet. So maybe that’s part of the problem. And maybe it’s eight hours before the flight leaves. Yeah, that might be part of it, too.

I sit in a waiting area, and before too long, one of my attendants comes and asks me if I’m flying to Sydney. I’ve been watching her and another person set up the queue corrals. My head stops mid-nod as she tells me the flight for tonight has been cancelled due to mechanical issues and is rescheduled for tomorrow morning. She tells me I can still check in, and they can put me up in a hotel for the night and give me a food voucher.

Checking in doesn’t take very long, and the girl in line ahead of me takes a change of clothes from her suitcase and stuffs them into her backpack. I do the same, and we don’t have to lug around our … luggage. The hotel shuttle drops us off at the airport Holiday Inn about 10 minutes away. The helpful hotel staff assign me a room and hand me a $25 voucher for dinner at their restaurant. Cool.

The room is pretty nice. Big TV, nice desk, coffee maker, king-size bed.

I make some coffee because I like the smell. I talk a little with friends and Mom.

The people I wanted to hang out with for the evening are unavailable in different ways. I know people, and I know people who know people here. They have parties to go to or are out of town or just won’t pick up the phone. The one day – the first day – I’m in Los Angeles as an adult, I get to spend on my own.

Dinner is salmon with salad and garlic mashed potatoes.

Then I ask the concierge how to get to the beach. He tells me to hop on the trolley bus, hands me a brochure, and says it costs $5 round trip, which is so much cheaper than taking a taxi.

He wasn’t lying.

The sky is overcast at Manhattan Beach and the sun starts to set. It’s fitting I find myself here. The air is chilly as I walk by the upscale shops toward the pier. People are still swimming. I stroll to the end of the pier and back as slowly as I can. I don’t want to go back to the hotel, so I take off my socks and shoes and roll up my jeans to the knees.

Soft, fine sand massage my feet as I approach the ocean. It still holds the day’s warmth. The water reflects the now-lit pier, and I’m taking pictures of everything, making sure to keep the camera strap around my neck.

The Pacific washes over my feet. The sea’s temperature doesn’t agree with the air’s, and it surprises and delights me. All of a sudden, I’m in love with Southern California’s beaches.

This isn’t a bad way to spend a delayed flight at all.

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In Which I Could Have Gotten Into All Sorts of Trouble

Was it only two months ago when I declared this?

I really have no excuse, other than my blasted cowardice.

The intent was to go skinny dipping. I’ve always wanted to go, and I already packed my swimsuit and sent it to Utah. It was 80 degrees in St. Augustine this afternoon. I dug around and found some black bottoms I could swim in, and I also put on a sports bra and a t-shirt and jeans.

The non-interstate way to the beach is so much more scenic. The first stretch of FL-16 heading east features cattle grazing pasture on the north side and banana trees along the fenceline on the south side. A1A toward the beach suggests a safe and lazy 30mph, which is slow enough to notice all the attractions and fast enough to escape the tourists’ pull.

Anastasia Beach is a state park. It’s clean, and on this December weekday afternoon, it was relatively quiet.

I planned on jumping in the ocean, getting neck-deep, and removing the sports bra and bottoms. I looked at the ocean. I took off my t-shirt and jeans. This is all you’ll get:

At the park entrance they posted high tide sometime around 6:40pm, so when I got to the beach I noticed  the waves:

I walked out to the water in what basically looked like a (relatively modest) bikini. The waves rolled in, and I felt their particularly strong outward pull. This was why I didn’t go out very far. As some of you may know, I’m not a strong swimmer, and while in theory I know how to get out of a rip current, I didn’t want to test it.

Also, the cold water made me shy. I stood knee-deep for 15 minutes, trying not to freeze.

Then, I just dove in.

Then, as usual, the water was bracing for only a few minutes, and it helped that the air above the water was still warm. Still, the waves were high and I stayed pretty close to the shoreline. No one else swam. A few strollers passed, but I ignored them and dismissed my self-consciousness of my near nakedness. Because I look great. According to me.

I splashed around a bit and body-surfed for another half-hour, then I decided to dry off and warm up. And, get dressed.

Don’t ask how I got dressed in the middle of a not-quite deserted beach during a Florida winter.

As I left the beach, I noticed the flags indicating beach conditions:

Needless to say, I would not have gone in the water had I seen the warning flags first.

So, to recap:
1. I could have been arrested for indecent exposure (though I was very, very, very careful).
2. I could have DIED, either by drowning in a vicious riptide or by a shark during snacktime.

My flimsy little excuse came in handy.

Kids, do NOT try this at home.

More photos at flickr.

When It Feels Like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Except It’s the Hamptons, Not Montauk

Day out on the Long Island. This photo was taken at Tiana Beach. Hamptons. It didn’t rain, but the fog was thick and cloaked the sun all day. The whole day was like a dream, one of those dreams where you or someone in your body walks into or out of a thick, yet gossamer mist and you or your clone has a message to convey, and you or your doppelgänger could have come from down the beach or from the ocean, whose hypnagogic rhythm of the crashing waves enchant and entice, and you or your transcendental twin has no idea those selfish waters will never give you back to dry land, because you or your impostor is obedient, in a deep trance, and the magic is calling, faintly, alluringly. It has its own request. 

IMG_7228

Really fun day. Laughed and ate and sang and laughed while screaming with glee until I nearly peed my pants and now all I want to do is sleep. My subconscious yearns for the ocean’s ether, to follow its hushed, iambic echoes, to sublimate and interfuse with the mist, to tread like a ghost.

More photos later.

Proof I Was at the Beach

I went to the beach for about 17 seconds on Saturday, April 25, 2009.  It was at Jacksonville Beach. It was a little bit crowded, the sun was high, the sand wasn’t too fine, and the water was perfect. For some reason I didn’t bring a swimsuit. Maybe I thought the water was going to be too cold. Anyway. My brother and I played in the sand for a little bit. I took some pictures. Mom and Tom went for a walk. My brother and I tossed around a frisbee. I waded in the ocean for a while, then people were hungry and wanted to go out to eat. Then we ate. Then we went home. I wish we would have been able to spend a little more time there. Here’s a photo of me at the beach as we were about to leave. I haven’t shown this much skin since the last time I went to the beach, a little less than a year ago. Children, cover your eyes.

IMG_6978

Ha, just kidding.

I took quite a few pictures in Jacksonville, but ask me how motivated I am right now to post them.