Go to the Beach

The Happiest, Mellowest Bird Flipping I’ve Ever Given

My sister and I have burned a square of two blocks by two blocks in our search for a parking spot. Ocean City’s near beach streets are notorious for being void of a parking spot and traffic lights, so we have to eke through each intersection as cyclists mosey through and beachgoers or leavers stroll past with dopey, relaxed mugs and a minimum of clothing.

We are mildly grumpy. We have been on the Atlantic City Expressway. We have been in beach traffic. We are ready to be there. We are cursing a little bit.

When we find a spot, we pull over under the shade of a tree and do a five minute inspection to ensure there is no reason for the police to ticket her car. Ticketing is another aspect for which beach streets are notorious.

We gather our gear and walk the four blocks to where my mother, my other sister, and her two kids have an apartment ten steps from the boardwalk. As we walk, the unmistakable taste and (as no doubt) scent of ocean wind eases our grump. Our car mood dissolves, we tell light stories, make funny observations, and aim our cheeks to the sun.

My mother looks like a beach bum. In the first place, she is garbed in a light serape and a straw hat. More noticeably, she is at rest, leaning against a wooden post and, not buzzing around fixing, cooking, or organizing things. She is the picture of relaxed. She greets us warmly, as usual, and her face looks as though she has just been sampling the goods at a Dead show.

‘Hey,’ she says.

‘Hey,’ we say. ‘You have assimilated,’ I add.

She smiles. ‘Yeah.’

My sister and I exchange a look as my mother brings us up to the room. Her quiet and peace of mind are evident in each tuff tuff made by her flip flops. We drop our bags in the room and head out to the beach.

If you have spent any time at an ocean on a beach, then you should not be surprised at my mother’s temporary transformation. You know that there are things about the beach that relax us and quiet our minds. This may be, even though you might not be able to put your finger on exactly what those things are. The calming effect of a blue expanse, the sounds of the water ebbing and flowing, the air, the smell, the sand beneath your toes.

Science backs this up, too. The color blue is not only calming, but also bolsters creativity. Listening to the ocean destimulates the brain, allowing it to relax from the constant assault of everyday noises such as cars, phones, televisions, and asshole colleagues. Taking in an ocean visually can actually put us into a meditative state. These influences together stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is “responsible for slowing us down and allowing us to relax and feel more engaged.” (NBC News, July 29, 2017).

If I have ever been known for one thing, it’s the under utilization of my parasympathetic nervous system. The guys used to make fun of me for that in high school. So the beach has its work cut out for itself when it comes to relaxing me.

Cue to meme of beach saying ‘hold my beer.’

In three days, I have undertaken a similar transformation. Each morning is begun with a walk in the sun on the boardwalk. I stretch and listen to the water and breathe in deep, pleasant breaths. In the afternoon, stepping onto a beach is so instantly relaxing that I don’t even mind that I’ll be spooning sand out of my navel for a week. The ocean’s meditative effect on me is such that I feel my shoulders loosen and my back kinks dissipate. I am less irritable and go with the flow much more. I feel like a new person.

But then again, so does everyone else. There don’t seem to be many arguments or fights here. The pace of life has slowed down for those down here. Of course they are on vacation, but I have also been on vacation for a month before I came down here and I wasn’t this relaxed. It’s no accident that island dwellers such as Jamaicans and Hawaiians are portrayed as a mellow, happy-go-lucky people. They are!

There are subsidiary relaxing effects as well. First off, I don’t see any electronic devices on the beach. No doubt people are concerned with sand and grit gunking them us, so everyone is reading books on the beach. Books plus no phone = relaxing more and stimulating the brain in a positive rather than negative way. Additionally, good-looking lifeguards and a million bikini-clad women can’t hurt your mood either.

I wonder, as my sister and I wave ride one afternoon, if all the world’s problems couldn’t be solved by sending people to the beach. I live in a country renowned for its grumpiness and sour demeanor, which also happens to be landlocked. Is there a connection? Perhaps. Taking it a step deeper, maybe the world needs to intervene and chip in to send Trump and Kim Jong-un for a long week in Hawaii. As a ten foot wave tumbles me towards the beach, I reflect that I may have just saved the world. I don’t even care that the Atlantic Ocean has stolen my Philadelphia Eagles hat.

My brother joins the party one evening and we go out for an evening of drinking. An evening combining alcohol and all of my siblings in Philadelphia would have certainly seen at least one argument raised out of the hidden and rusty sibling chest of beefs. But at the beach pub, we are as gentle as lambs and as good natured as children.

We find the car the following morning right where we left it under the tree. We inspect for tickets and I make a sarcastic joke that there are none. We turn on the GPS, worry about where to stop for gas and food. And I scrape some sand out of my bellybutton.

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