Summer is here.
Folks are flocking to the Gulf Coast.
One of the consequences of this crush of citizenry is that there are more people around to do stupid things — like go into the water when they shouldn’t.
As more and more visitors came to the Coast, the tourism industry, anxious to prevent problems, pushed for more and more rules to keep tourists out of harm’s way; harm’s way is bad for business. However, many tourists come to the Coast to get away from all the rules and regulations that kept them confined back home. They did not go on a coastal vacation to be told what to do.
However, when it comes to swimming in the Gulf, being told is what they need.
They need to be told when there are jellyfish in the water. They need to be told if there is a shark sighting, and they need to be told when the surf is dangerous.
Dangerous surf is a tough sell. People love the waves and are disappointed when the Gulf is calm. The bigger the better. They buy boogie boards. They body-surf. They play, cavort, get knocked around. Get pushed under. Get in trouble. Get caught in a rip current. A few even get drowned.
So the tourism industry, in cooperation with local law enforcement, set up a warning system — flags — to tell you what you should do.
Yellow means be cautious. Red means danger — swim at your own risk. And two red flags means double danger, stay out of the water. Double red flags also mean that if you go out there anyway, you could be fined $100, which would put a crimp in any vacation.
There was an offshore storm a couple of weeks ago. The Gulf got angry and the waves came crashing. Up went a red flag. But onshore, on the beach, it was sunny. So some vacationers, down to do what they wanted to do, not what they were told to do, went out in the water anyway.
Meanwhile, the waves began to reshape the floor of the Gulf where people swam — moved sand around, piled up sandbars in some places, cut trenches in others.
Now, everyone knows, or should know, that the water that comes in waves onto the shore has to go back out. And water, being inclined to take the path of least resistance, will go back out in the trenches cut by the waves. The trenches got deeper and the outgoing water got swifter and pretty soon there was a first-rate rip current.
A rip current can pull you out. If you don’t know how to deal with it, if you fight it, you can exhaust yourself and drown. Most visitors don’t know how to spot rip currents and how to get out of one, so when rip currents start forming, the red flag goes up to tell folks to be extra careful.
Only some folks aren’t.
Late one afternoon, the emergency vehicles and lifeguards converged just down the beach from us. A teenager was missing. Despite the red flag, three boys had ventured out, and only two got back. Lifeguards searched until dark.
They found him the next day.
Then came the news that there had been another drowning further west.
With the Gulf still angry and rip currents roaring, the double red flags went up and the beach patrol began patrolling. It was a dangerous situation.
But some people went in anyway.
Tickets were handed out.
One of the ticketed was award-winning country singer Jason Aldean.
Aldean paid his fine and then went online to complain and to tell fans that he was “pretty sure” that he would not have drowned in knee-deep water and that he was “a little bitter” at the way he was treated by the local “Barney Fife.”
Well, a storm of comments followed — some siding with Aldean, but more chiding him for his lack of respect for the law and law enforcement. Aldean then posted an apology, which was followed by another storm of comments.
Well, this is what I think about that. If Aldean and all those posters had been down on the beach with me when they were searching for the 19-year-old who drowned, they might have seen things differently. If they had seen the lifeguards risking their lives in the twilight surf, had seen their shoulders sag in disappointment when darkness called it off, and if they thought about how long the night was for friends and family as they wondered and feared what the next day would bring, they would know that breaking the rules — whether one red flag or two — is more than an individual act. Others are involved.
There are times when knee deep is too deep.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: email@example.com.