Like you, I just got back from the beach and, for that reason, I have, of course, been thinking a lot about exactly how wildly important beaches are to all of us North Carolinians.
In my case, I was down at Atlantic Beach – Indian Beach to be exact – with my extended family. While there, I got to enjoy some sun and sand and surf and turf, and I even had dinner at the Crab Shack with Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson and his fine family, who were at the beach at the same time I was.
Usually each summer, my family goes to Atlantic Beach, and sometimes we also make a trip to Oak Island – so those are the two beaches I know the best. When I was a kid growing up, my parents used to take our family to Long Beach, but at some point years ago we stopped going there. You never hear people talk much about Long Beach but, for some reason I’m not sure of, Oak Island reminds me of Long Beach, and someday I’d like to go back to Long Beach to see how it compares to Oak Island these days.
Once in a blue moon, my family would go to Myrtle Beach, and I like that beach too, but my only complaint about Myrtle Beach is that it doesn’t have enough Wacky Golf courses.
But, all in all, most beaches are fun and it’s not just Alan Branson and me who go to the beach each summer with our families. In July and August, just about every single human being in North Carolina goes to the beach.
For instance, when I called Guilford County government’s main number recently, I wasn’t surprised at all to hear the recorded message that said: “All 2,334 Guilford County employees are at the beach for July and August. Please call back on Monday, August 28 to speak to a county employee or to access county services. If this is a life-threatening emergency, we are really, really sorry.”
As longtime reporters at the Rhino Times, we here know very well how virtually impossible it is to reach local government employees in July or early August – or, really, to reach anyone else from this area for that matter during that time.
They’re all at the beach of course.
So my point is this: As North Carolinians, beaches are very, very important to us. I can say that, personally, if I don’t make it down to the beach at least once a year for rejuvenation and recuperation, I’m just not right in the head for the rest of that year: I need the restorative powers of the cool ocean water and the sand in my toes.
It’s not just North Carolinians who consider beach vacations an essential part of life. One thing I heard on my vacation last week really drove home for me how important beaches are to everyone. While down at Atlantic Beach, my sister Sharon, who now lives in New Jersey, told me about how Gov. Chris Christie closed the beaches in that state last month.
Now, I had, of course, seen that story on the news a few weeks ago, and I’d gotten a laugh out of it – but I hadn’t given it much thought since then. However, my sister had given it a whole lot of thought. She explained the whole thing to me from the point of view of a New Jerseyite, and, when it all sank in, I realized the story might be the most amazing story in the history of modern politics.
The first thing I didn’t realize – something she pointed out to me – was that Christie didn’t just close the beaches – he closed them on the Fourth of July weekend.
Think about that.
And did I mention that temperatures were at about 90 at the time.
“And it was for some petty political reason,” my sister added.
She said he clearly just closed the beaches to get back at some other state leaders because he couldn’t get his way.
Now, that right there, alone, would have been enough to make the entire state of New Jersey as angry as wasps; but then there was, of course, the absolutely monumental kicker to the whole thing: On that steaming hot weekend when Christie had closed the beaches to everyone in the state, he and his family went out on the beach and enjoyed it, with the beach all to themselves.
If you think about it, that is an almost unimaginable act of hubris, hypocrisy and entitlement.
“Oh, people were livid,” my sister said. “They were soooooo mad.”
The Star-Ledger ran a big picture of Christie looking like King Louis XIV eating pheasant and cake while countrymen starved around him, with the pointed headline: “Governor soaks up sun on beach he closed.”
Her description of events really got my mind whirling and I started to think about the situation, not as some abstract news story on TV but as something that actually happened in real life. I tried to imagine what it would be like if it had happened here rather than New Jersey. Just suppose if, on the Fourth of July weekend, Gov. Roy Cooper had closed all North Carolina beaches because of a disagreement with Republican legislators on some stupid issue – and suppose Cooper told everyone in the state they were banned from the beaches.
And then, say, Cooper secretly took his family out for a day of fun and sun on the beach and it was caught by cameras. This is like pitchforks and torches stuff – and no beach-deprived jury in the state would convict you if you used the pitchforks on the governor and burned the governor’s mansion to the ground.
By the way, when Christie was asked, before the aerial photos were revealed, if he’d gotten any sun that day, he said “I didn’t … I didn’t get any sun today.”
When the pictures of Christie and his family soaking up the rays on the otherwise empty beach were released, a spokesman clarified that the governor didn’t get any sun because, “He had a baseball hat on.”
It got so bad that even the Republican lieutenant governor of New Jersey tweeted, “If I were governor, I sure wouldn’t be sitting on the beach if taxpayers didn’t have access to state beaches. It’s really almost beyond words.”
Exactly. I mean, who does that? I almost think Christie should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
Because relaxing on the beach is a nearly sacred event and we all have a right to do it.
When I was at Atlantic Beach, Gov. Cooper didn’t close the beaches, but a bridge construction crew just north of us did close the beaches by ramming a steel casing into the underground power transmission line that provided power to the entire coast north of us. Talk about angry people. All along the coast, everyone was wondering how in the world that could happen – and it’s a very good question.
In my back yard, workers all seem to know exactly where my Time Warner line is buried – and I’m just one person and the only consequence if they dig in the wrong place is that I don’t get to watch Game of Thrones that night.
But, when it comes to the power line that’s the sole source of electricity for the entire northeastern coast of North Carolina, apparently no one had a clue where it is. They were like, “Let’s just shove pylons down there and cross our fingers.”
I’m sure you read about it – it made the national news – but what didn’t make it into the news is how much aggravation that mishap caused me, even though we still had power on the Crystal Coast. Those 50,000 vacationers ordered to evacuate didn’t just pack up and go home – they all came south to exactly where I was, causing massive lines at movie theaters and bike rental shops and generally inconveniencing me at every turn. The more the merrier is an out and out lie when it comes to beach towns in summer.
Isn’t it nuts: Turn out the lights and the power – and people still won’t leave the beach.
A couple of years ago, just about every day that summer, swimmers on the North Carolina coast were eaten by sharks and the attacks were plastered all over the news, but people just kept coming to the beaches and jumping into the ocean like nothing was happening.
The best way to see how crazy that is is by imagining describing it to aliens who know nothing at all about beaches. You might say, “Well, the constant breeze is really terrific and the view is spectacular, and there’s a lot of sunshine. And there’s cool, salty ocean water, with great waves you can play in. And every so often these terrifying steely-eyed killing machines with massively powerful jaws and razor sharp teeth shoot in and rip you apart limb by limb, turning the ocean blood red while your horrified loved ones watch on.
When they heard that, the aliens would be like, “Er … OK, well, thanks anyway.”
But not us human North Carolinians. No siree. We couldn’t care less about the waters being filled with deadly killing machines ready to tear us to pieces on a whim. We just jump right in.
Because, hey … it’s the beach.
Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson and his family dining with Scott Yost in Salter Path.