I moved to Redondo Beach a year ago, into a condo that's a three-minute walk to a strip of sand called Burnout. Don't read too much symbolism into that, though. Because as my neighbors are getting brain-freeze from drinking margaritas too fast, I've been engaged in an anthropological study. And as my first summer on the Strand draws to a close, I have concluded the following: People bring way too much junk to the beach. Especially people who don't live here.
Now, I'm not one of those leather-skinned "locals only" types, ready to beat up anyone who lives east of Pacific Coast Highway. If you are perky and from Pacoima, so be it. I welcome you, as long as you look where you are going before, during and after you cross the bike path. But if, in order to maintain your perkiness, you must bring a 94-quart ice chest, a 10-by-10-foot shade tent, a folding chair or any form of luggage, please stay away.
You might think the luggage part of that list is a joke, but it isn't.
Last weekend, I saw a woman dragging a very sensible carry-on suitcase behind her. Well, it would have been sensible if it had been in the Southwest terminal at LAX and had passed all required security screenings. But out on the sand, its wheels weren't doing a whole lot of good. The woman was struggling just to keep it upright, and the suitcase left a jagged trail on the beach. I'm not quite sure why, but the spectacle reminded me of a scene from an old Duran Duran video. ("Her name is Rio, and she dances on the sand / Pulling her Samsonite across the dusty land....")
This was merely an aberration, I thought. Until 15 minutes later, when another woman, unrelated to the first, wandered by, wrestling with a similarly sensible carry-on. Would it have fit snugly in an overhead compartment? Absolutely. But it did not fit at the surf's edge. It looked positively Nixonian, in a black-wingtips-on-the-sand way.
Far more common, but no less insidious, is the tent phenomenon.
There was a time when, if you wanted to protect yourself from the sun, you'd slap on some SPF 40 or whatever and be done with it. Even better, you'd have someone you really liked rub it on you. And maybe, if the ozone layer were particularly thin that day, you'd bring a large umbrella for extra shade.
Not to sound like a grumpy old man, but these days, it's all about tents. Big, multi-poled, full-on canopied tents. Some even have walls. Lugging one of these around and setting it up looks like an operation by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Is the tent really just for shade, or is it more of a territorial thing? Perhaps there's something more grandiose going on. The occupants could be running a small farmers market inside, or a rogue art fair. If I were to actually get near one, maybe they'd sell me a nice ear of Olathe corn or a Thomas Kinkade knockoff.
More than likely, though, the tent is just a place for one's stuff, to paraphrase George Carlin. It's where people keep coolers so large you need three guys to carry one. It's where the folding chairs have footrests and cup holders that look as if they belong in an Escalade, and some even come outfitted with big fanned backs that would've done Morticia Addams proud -- if she had been into blue nylon instead of white wicker. Worst of all, it's where you'll find small generators to power televisions and stereo systems -- you know, to drown out the sound of those totally annoying waves.
Lost in the clutter of latter-day beach-going, in the fervor to bring it all with you, is the simple idea of getting away from it all. This is no mere academic argument. Because when the tents, chairs and assorted other pieces of paraphernalia inevitably break down or become disposable, they often get left behind, to sit and rust until the locals or the lifeguards pick them up. Some weekends, it can look like a war zone.
Thank goodness, summer is almost over and people will go back to forgetting about us down here till next year.
Scott Sandell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org