Harvey H. Jackson: Spring break at the beach — No country for old men
Mar 27, 2013 | 3864 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Shayla Brown, a student at Tallahassee Community College, dances from a flag pole on the beach in Panama City Beach, Fla. Photo: The News Herald, Andrew P Johnson/The Associated Press
Shayla Brown, a student at Tallahassee Community College, dances from a flag pole on the beach in Panama City Beach, Fla. Photo: The News Herald, Andrew P Johnson/The Associated Press
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Spring break 2013 started out cold, so everyone with a car decided to drive around. You took your life in your own hands if you tried to cross the street.

Then the sky cleared and, with the sun, the Breakers left the roads and began wandering to the beach. It was still windy, so their numbers were not great.

I decided to go down, sit by the water, read and maybe let the sound of the Gulf lull me into a nap. I found a spot appropriately away from the few folks who were there and settled comfortably with my book.

For about 30 minutes I enjoyed my solitude, and then what seemed to be an entire sorority from one of our fine Southeastern Conference schools descended on my little spot, ignoring the fact that I was already there.

Now, I understand the desire of the young to congregate in a bumble; the girls spread their towels so close to each other that you could walk across the beach without touching the sand. However, somewhere someone neglected to teach these children about the territorial rights of folks they don’t know who have already laid claim to a bit of shoreline. Put simply, on the beach you don’t get any closer than 10 feet unless you are invited.

They weren’t invited.

Not invading the space of someone already there is a traditional beach courtesy observed by we older veterans. The tradition is ignored by Yankees who are used to packing together on the Jersey Shore and, apparently, by young women who could not imagine that an old guy with a book would mind them giggling all around him.

Besides, they were cute. Trim, lovely hair and skin, smiles that were tributes to the orthodontist’s art and Daddy’s pocket book.

Almost immediately, six or seven young men arrived. Wearing swim trunks in a variety of florescent colors and T-shirts that proclaimed that they had attended some sorority function, they began throwing a Frisbee. The girls coyly joined, making a point to emphasize their lack of skill, which was apparent, and their need for instruction — “Please, Rhett, show me how it’s done.”

If young women invading my space were not distraction enough, young women awkwardly throwing things near me meant that my eyes were on flying objects and not my book.

I began to consider moving.

Though the girls were wearing baggy T-shirts that they euphemistically call “cover-ups,” it was apparent that there were tiny bikinis beneath, though the boys seemed hardly to notice. 

(An observation. Girls coming to the beach in the spring prepare by going to the tanning bed. The guys do not. So girls are tanned and boys are pasty white until they burn, which does not take long.)

Then off came the “cover-ups” and everyone lined up for pictures — the girls making sure that the boys were arranged so that the colors of their swimsuits did not clash. Then someone suggested they go swimming. After the required “it’s too cold, no it isn’t, don’t be a wus,” one of the girls took the dare and into the Gulf she went. The rest, male and female, followed, though some more enthusiastically than others.

Coming out, the guys were red from the cold while the girls looked tanner and trimmer than before. Then it was “lay-out” time for the girls, and the boys drifted away for more Frisbee.

Had I been younger, I might have thought the whole thing was some sort of elaborate mating ritual, and maybe it was. However, what struck me was the innocence of it all. Though I could not help but wonder how the guys could seem so blasé with so many bikinied bodies around them, and how the girls could wear so little without the hint of a self-conscious blush, they could and they did.

Cousin Benny and I have marveled at this. Though we are both on the downhill slide from 60, we still retain our memory — most of it — and recall the beauties of our youth. However, we agree there were never so many as there are today.

Eventually, the girls lost interest in Frisbee flinging and went for a walk — which, next to “laying out,” seemed to be why they came to the beach.

The boys continued to toss the Frisbee until someone noticed that the girls were gone, so the boys went walking as well.

And I was alone. Just as I had been before they all arrived.

The beach is many things to many people, but young folks make it their own during spring break. When they are around, it is no country for old men.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: hjackson@jsu.edu.
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