Monday, March 23, 2015

Life's A Beach

Imagine living in a place where you are never more than a mile from the water, where pelicans and dolphins are seen regularly and wild horses roam the sand dunes, where you don’t need to build a pool for your kid or buy amusement park tickets because they play all day in the ocean.  This is where I live.  And I am very pleased and very thankful.

The thing about living in such a wonderful place is that other people hear about it.  Naturally, they want to experience it for themselves, if not just for a short week out of the year.  Understandably, places like this attract visitors.  I want to say, first off, that we are happy about that.  It helps our local economy.  It makes us appreciate what we are able to experience every day. 

BUT.  Everyone living in a tourist spot knows that it’s not a party all of the time. There are some weird and annoying things about being a local in a tourist spot.  Some people react to those things by getting angry, defensive, exclusive, and territorial.  Isn’t it better to laugh?  Why give yourself an ulcer when you could laugh it up instead?  Sarcasm is a great salve.  So for all of you who do not live in a vacation spot, these are some reasons why you might find locals not so, ahem, enthusiastic about your visit.

1. Crowds are scary.  The town we live in is actually quite small.  We only have two large roads, both running parallel to the ocean and sound.  During the off season, our community has about 30,000 people.  Works fine…miles of beaches, miles of road…plenty of space.  Suddenly, with the advent of spring break, our numbers swell to over 300,000.  Our two roads get clogged, grocery stores are flooded, and everything suddenly takes longer.  I don’t know about you but the last thing I ever think to myself is, “This restaurant is great but I just wish I could wait an hour more for my table.” 
Oh forget it, we'll go without milk.

Ok, big city people, this is normal for you.  Traffic, crowds, lines are a way of life.  But imagine your own family suddenly acquired 10x the members and your house had no room to expand. How jolly would you be in the bathroom line?

2. Brains like to go on vacation too.  Something about the euphoria of being on vacation sends the brain into a natural high.  This is great for the one who is high.  But for the sober person who just needs to get to the drycleaner’s before closing, stopping in the middle of the road to look at the scenery is kind of infuriating.  Green lights mean “Go”, turning lanes are for turning, and 20 mph is not the speed limit.  Do you know how many people will come to a complete stop on a highway and suddenly do a U-turn because Aunt Maggie saw a pancake house on the other side of the road?
Driving with tourists is like giving little drunk toddlers their own bumper cars.  And then trying not to hit them.

3. New experiences can be fun or dangerous … you choose.  The whole idea of going on vacation is to visit a place you don’t know much about.  Seems to me that tourists fall into two groups, the ones who want us all to know how they do things ‘back home’…the ones who do not eat seafood and constantly tell you what is special about where they live.  That group is not bad, just annoying.  The ones you have to shake your head at are the other group, the ones who go to the beach but do not bother to do any research about the beach.  Out here, we have things like tides, sand, and sun.  All fun things.  But, inevitably, every year someone’s cute SUV is overtaken by the ocean because it was parked on the sand and left, while the owners head out in the water, oblivious of the waves coming ever closer to their rig.
Who knew that would happen?  Everyone but you.

  I have a friend who works in the ER.  She says the amount of people who come in with burnt feet from the sand is staggering.  It makes one wonder…if you put your foot on sand and it is hot, why do you continue to put it there? Generally humans know not to keep their skin on something that is hot.  But those who do manage to protect their feet many times forget their lily white skin.  One local plays “Count the sun burnt tourists” with her kids to keep them occupied in the grocery store.  The biggest thing that gets me every year is fatalities from digging in the sand.  Yes, I said FATALITIES.  Something about coming to the beach seems to trigger a long forgotten urge in humans to dig. Grown men will dig huge holes or attempt to make a tunnel.  Sounds cute.  The problem is that the tunnel comes crashing down and you die before lifeguards can dig you out of your hole of stupidity.  Enjoy the new experience of the beach; just take a few moments to educate yourself about it first!

4. Have you ever found yourself apologizing for the weather?  Welcome to being a local.  During the course of my week, I will at least once be told that the weather was unsatisfactory.  And I have to stop and think, what was the weather like this week?  Ask yourself… what was your weather like this week? If you’re like me, you think… I don’t know. It rained a day and it was windy a day and whatever --I just worked and did school and I’m glad it’s the weekend.  Mostly a normal person under 70 does not think of the weather constantly.  Definitely we do not feel responsible if it does rain.  Somehow, though, when you are on vacation and it rains/is windy/gets cool, it is a BIG DEAL.  Your plans have been ruined. And as your hosts to this expensive vacation, we, the locals, are to blame. I feel badly but really what can I do?  Perhaps we should’ve held off on our ‘local’s only’ beach tribal rain dance. Oops.

5. You live at the beach? You’re my new BFF!  When you vacation, you know that one of your biggest expenses is a hotel.  Where do these places get off charging you for a place to sleep?  If only you could find someone who had a place and would let you stay there…it would save so much money!  Ok, I get it.  It is true that staying with a friend is a nice way to take a trip on the cheap.  And most people are happy to have friends come visit.  The problem is that when you live on the beach, the definition of ‘friend’ gets stretched pretty far.  “Hey remember me, I was friends with you in high school. Can my mom, husband, kids and I pop in for the week?” I’m not blowing things out of proportion. That happens constantly.  For the most part, it’s fine.  Gotta clean up the house at some point anyway, may as well have a reason to.  The problem is that few people who choose to crash with their Beach BFF are what you would call 'low maintenance'.  You could call them ‘thrifty’ which means that not only will you be providing shelter, but usually you provide food and entertainment as well. When it’s someone you love, happy to do it.  When it’s someone who met you once at your sister’s wedding, it’s not as pleasurable. Honestly it’s a whole lot of awkward.

And what will you be serving me this morning?
The awkwardness is compounded when your guest expects 5 star treatment at your no star abode.  (It’s no stars because you are NOT A MOTEL!) I once had a house guest berate me for not having Ranch dressing to go with his pizza. (Pizza that I supplied.)  One of my friends has a couple who brings a shopping list and hands it to her.  Or the family that brings four small boys and stays for an open ended week.  When are they leaving? Your guess is as good as mine.  Or the couple who always brings their large un-housebroken dog.

Not being a morning person, just getting up to feed someone breakfast about kills me.  I remember once I was trying to make coffee for a guest who was a coffee aficionado. I ran out of grounds and while opening a new bag, managed to spill them all over the counter.  As I’m running the dust buster over my mess, he calls from the other room, “Oh, how wonderful! Freshly ground!”  I didn’t even bother to contradict.  After having heard lectures on the correct way to make coffee for four days, I just smiled and poured him a cup.  I could go on. Yet, when you are a local, this is what happens week after week.

So we get tired.  After years of the same, it’s easy to get jaded.  But I must be fair.  I travel extensively myself and I have to be honest that there are times when I am the awkward tourist.  For the most part, I’d like to think of myself as savvy in all situations but honestly that’s just not true.  I, too, have been bitten by the crazy tourist bug.

For example, once I was shopping by myself in a cute little Mexican market in San Antonio, Texas.  I was enjoying it immensely but since I was by myself, there was no one to share my interesting thoughts with.  I didn’t realize how desperate I was for conversation until an unsuspecting shopkeeper got a tad bit friendly.  He asked where I was from and if I was enjoying my visit.  Simple questions, No? There are so many things I could’ve said…it’s beautiful, I love the culture, I love the silver in your store.  Want to know what I said? “I have a lot of friends who are Mexicans.”

I’ll just let that sit out there for a second. 

Inside my brain, shouts from all directions hurled accusations and insults.  “Racist much?”  “What are you trying to say? “  “What the heck? The guy is black! He’s not even Mexican!” “Fix it, fix it, FIX IT!”
But alas, I could not fix it.  I was stunned and ashamed at my extreme tourist-ness. To his credit, the guy seemed kind of stunned as well but offered no comment. I smiled and tried a feeble, “They’re going to love these gifts,” before fleeing the store.

Another time we were in NYC.  Hubby was working so I took the girls around the city.  We’ve been many times so I had fooled myself into thinking that I blended in. I’m sure I did.  Until we attempted to enter the subway station at Central Park.  This is an unmanned station where you swipe your card and then go through the one way bar door.  (I’m sure there’s a name for it but I’m from NC so let’s just call it the bar door.) 
Or the Devil's Gateway, your choice.
Cheapy-cheap traveler that I am, I only had one card.  So I swiped for one daughter, she entered through the bar door.  Swiped for the other daughter, she entered through.  Swiped for myself, reached for the bar door, pushed, nothing.

I figured I must not have been fast enough.  No reason to worry, I had more money on the card.  Swiped again, pushed, nothing.  Swiped again, pushed, nothing. 

Now by this time, people are starting to line up behind me.  Part of me has this urge to walk away and pretend I never wanted to go on that stupid old subway anyway.  But I look over at the big eyes of my two children on the other side of the bar door and realize that I have to see this thing through.  Swiped again, jumped for the door, the buzzer sounds to let me know my card is out of funds.  A kind New Yorker points to the wall of self pay machines and I step shamefully out of the way.  Meanwhile, at least one of my children feels it is necessary to shout directions for me through the gates.  (Since obviously Mom has no idea.)  Nothing like getting schooled by your seven year old while strangers look on in judgment. I clench my jaw, buy another card, and step up to the line trying to act nonchalant.  Swiped, pushed, nothing.  Someone suggests I try the next booth over.  I want to yell, “SHUT UP” and run away in disgrace but I smiled, nodded, and stepped over.  This booth looked exactly the same to me.  I took a deep breath, swiped, pushed, and Thank God I was through!!!!!  Immediately wanting to put the past behind me and get back to my city status, I just wanted to gather my children and head toward the train.  Unfortunately they felt that I needed a huge cheer for finally figuring out what millions of people do every day.  "Yay Mom!" somehow feels worse when they don't mean it in a sarcastic way.

What I’m trying to say, people, is that we all mean well.  Whether you’re just trying to live your life each day or you are finally on that long planned trip, remember that none of us are perfect.  So please feel free to act like an idiot as long as you forgive me for when I do.

The season is almost here and the wave of tourists is coming.  Nothing we can do but take a deep breath and dive under.