Not yet 8 a.m. Vacation Man heads to the beach to set up camp for the day. He’s not the first. He has been spurred to action by another Vacation Dad hauling beach gear down the street. Yesterday, he set out after eight and barely found a good spot. Today, while he claims his turf, the procession of Vacation Dads begins, probably spurred on by seeing him. Half a dozen WonderWheelers lumber down the street. Not on the sidewalk, mind you, but down the middle of the street. It is that early. They rumble and creak, piled with chairs and umbrellas and boogie boards.
Toys and towels will come later, with the women and children. But we are hours away from that. Lifeguards won’t report for duty for another two hours. Sleepy-eyed children are still slurping cereal while watching cartoons. Comatose moms nurse their coffee. Early risers are just now coming home from their runs, coffee and even newspapers in hand.
But Vacation Dads are out providing for their families.
A good beach position is important. You want to be juuuuuuust beyond the high tide line, at the crest of the rise of soft, fluffy sand. Not only does this put you in front position, but this is where the breezes are best. For families with young children, this position enables parents to supervise children from their beach chairs. If they are too far back, some parents will still try to supervise their children from their chairs, but their cries of supervision can only be heard by the annoyed adults sitting around them.
Yesterday, it went something like this. Little Dillon (never saw the boy in my life but I know his name now like I know my own) wanted his cousin/aunt/young female adult person who was used to doing his bidding to come out of the water and tend to him. He is maybe four years old.
“Emma, I need you!…Emma, I need you!…Emma, I need you!” He shouted this over and over and over and over again. Louder and louder and louder. But still, his little voice did not reach Emma, who was rolicking in the waves with other young ladies her age. We (and the couple next to us) could hear him because he was sitting in front of us. Mom was behind us, in her chair.
“Dillon! She can’t hear you!” Yeah, well, Dillon couldn’t hear Mom either. “Dillon! Dillon! Dillon! She can’t hear you!” This went on like a recording on repeat.
Oh. My. Gosh. It was all I could do to stay in my seat. I wanted to tell the mom to get off her butt and talk to the boy quietly. Or tell Dillon to quietly wait for Emma to come out of the water. Or even go into the water myself and tell Emma that Dillon needed her.
No, one does not correct other families at the beach, anymore than one gives unsolicited advice to people being attacked by seagulls while eating. It is, however, perfectly acceptable to laugh when a teenage girl’s cry of “Gack!” is followed by “And this is why I hate the beach!”
Beach rules: Don’t correct other families. Don’t give unsolicited advice. Stake out your spot early.
I don’t know that other beaches adhere to the early stake-out rule. It might be unique to the Cape May neighborhood we frequent, where families rent by the week or month and have routines. It reminds me of Baltimore rowhouse neighborhoods during snowstorms. There is no law that says you can stake out your parking spot with lawn chairs just because you shoveled it out. But woe to the obnoxious neighbor who parks in a spot that someone else shoveled.
Like parking spots after snowstorms, people at our Cape May beach generally accept that the early bird gets the prime location. Even if the early bird won’t sit in it for hours. It’s part of the beach culture here. And astute Vacation Dads pick up on this quickly. Is it a desire to keep the Woman happy? Or is it a testosterone-driven competition? Whichever, with every successive day, the WonderWheeler parade gets an earlier start.
Based on the number of prime spots already taken by 7:45, today’s parade must have started at dawn.