When I was a little kid, my family used to make a trip or two to the beach every summer. After packing up the van with food and towels and extra clothes and all manner of shovels and buckets, after stuffing five squirmy kids into five vinyl car seats, after enduring three hours of howling, kicking, and shrieks of “ALEX IS PUTTING HIS HAND TOO CLOSE TO MY KNEE!”, after stopping three different times for three different kids to puke on the side of the road, my parents finally deposited us on the vast strip of gray muck known to all us Northwesterners as The Beach.
If you are eight years old and you live in Washington State, going to the beach is not unlike going out to play in the snow. You must wear seven layers of shirts and a hooded sweatshirt on top of that because your mother doesn’t want your ears to freeze. You are directed to crawl into the deepest mysterious parts of your closet to find the scummiest pair of shoes you’ve ever owned because no, you can’t wear sandals, what are you thinking? You must also borrow a pair of your brother’s disgusting sweatpants and wear your thick red Christmas-dress tights underneath because everyone knows it’s cold at the beach!
Then, once you’re there, the ocean is frothy and vicious and the beach is like a windtunnel and nearly empty. There might be a few other brave families gritting their teeth and braving the wind, maybe some people throwing Frisbees to their dogs, possibly an older couple bundled up in matching parkas strolling along the surf. Your mother won’t let you dip a toe in the water, but the entire beach is a quarry for the most fantastic sand castle the West Coast has ever seen. At least until your brother stomps gleefully on the tallest tower and shouts, loud enough for your parents to hear, “It was an ACCIDENT! I SWEAR!”
This is all to say that I’ve never quite experienced the beach as a warm soothing vacation spot. I’ve attempted it- we drove down the coast for our honeymoon, but the weather was gloomy and stormy and my hair is flying sideways in all the pictures. Then I flew down to California this weekend and spent the greater part of Saturday on the Santa Cruz boardwalk. And now I understand. The beach! It is beautiful!
Okay, I’m still not a beach person. I can’t lay out for longer than 20 minutes because, oh, the boredom. I don’t like the whole sand-gets-everywhere-and-I-mean-everywhere issue. I’m also a few years older than eight and there are dismal things like bikinis and tans to consider. But Santa Cruz had that whole happy Disneyland thing going on and it was hard not to be in the Beachy Spirit. I mean, Santa Cruz was even hosting the USA Spirit Competition! There were corndogs and boogie boarders and bikini-clad volleyball players galore. There was also a rickety uninspiring roller coaster called the Big Dipper on which I was forced to experience two and a half minutes of Sheer Unadulterated Terror. (For the rest of the weekend I used the Rickety Roller Coaster Ride of Horror to my distinct advantage. It almost made those few fearful seconds worth it. “You made me ride a roller coaster so I get the last cookie.” “You made me ride a roller coaster so I get to listen to the country music station.” “I so get to watch this 1988 episode of Full House. YOU made me ride a roller coaster!” And repeat.)
We spent the entire morning pretending we were back in junior high, blowing our allowance inside the arcade and indulging in a little heretofore unspeakable PDA along the beach. Santa Cruz was a cheerful and suntan-friendly 85 degrees, full of families, gangs of half-dressed teenagers, and hordes of cheerleaders wearing fake curly ponytails. A few times I even caught myself wondering what it might be like to be a permanent resident of the Bay Area. And the best part? I totally felt like I was an extra in The O.C.
There was also a wedding, the last one of the season and the purpose of our little jaunt down south. The prettiest brides are the ones who really truly mean it when they say, “I don’t care about the wedding as long as I get married!” Congratulations, Shi.