A day at the beach

I don’t go to the beach anymore. 

That beautiful place that was a constant in my life has lost its allure.   

I grew up ‘beachside’ – the sand and waves just a block away from my parents’ front door in Ormond Beach – the soothing background music I could hear and smell as I went to sleep on cool evenings with the jalousie windows open. 

In my younger years, it became an almost daily escape – with no tolls, signage, or physical barriers – a time when one could drive from Flagler County to Ponce Inlet anytime of the day or night and everyone knew the rules because there were so few of them to remember. 

The unique beauty of the barren windswept strand in winter, standing on an approach to marvel in the froth and churn of a wild ‘Nor’easter,’ taking in the silent beauty of an Atlantic sunrise. 

Vivid memories etched in my mind’s eye.

Childhood walks with my dad and our dog, surf fishing with friends, dragging a blue canvas raft to the water’s edge, the scream of seagulls and sandpipers scurrying from an incoming tide, the healing qualities of clean saltwater, the satisfying warmth of hot sun on tan shoulders, watching the ‘submarine races’ with negative ions creating an energy at the water’s edge. 

The fun, crowds, and music of spring break – the sights, sounds, and mix of aromas on the breeze – salt air mixed with the scent of tanning lotion, taffy, and footlong corndogs at the Boardwalk. 

If you know, you know

Going to ‘The Beach’ was an experience we shared – one that brought millions of visitors to our area when The World’s Most Famous Beach was recognized everywhere in the known universe.

But they went home, back to work and school somewhere “up north,” and we lucky few stayed.

We made our homes, families, and lives here on this salty piece of land – blissfully complacent in the knowledge our beach would always be there for ‘Us.’

Regrettably, I no longer feel welcome there. 

No longer at home.

On Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s outstanding columnist Mark Lane wrote an informative piece advocating for a recent state legislative push to ban cigarette smoking from Florida beaches – and while my contrarian instinct was to write a barnburner opposing further regulations which limit otherwise lawful activity in an outdoor public space – especially one that smokers and non-smokers alike pay for – I realized, what happens on the beach is no longer a concern of mine. 

Screw it.  Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em – or don’t – I just don’t care anymore. 

I’m a hardhead – a ‘one and done’ kind of guy.  You don’t get two bites at the same apple with me – and I’m perceptive enough to know when and where I am not wanted. 

Several years ago, just after I retired, a friend and I took a drive on the beach on a glorious summer day.  It was the first time in a long time, but that wonderful smell and the sun shimmering on the waves and ripples like a million mirrors brought so many good memories flooding back.   

I purchased an annual resident pass from a toll taker (my first), listened politely to the rules and regulations, rolled the windows down as instructed, turned on my lights, stayed in the traffic lane, no more than 10mph (“strictly enforced”), radio down, didn’t even think about texting, etc., etc.

Safe in the knowledge that after a lifetime of driving the beach I knew what I was doing. 

As we cruised north, two beach safety officers were stopped in the traffic lane in front of me – conferring door-to-door just like I have done thousands of times as a law enforcement officer – and rather than leave the marked traffic lane to guide around them, I stopped several car lengths behind and waited patiently.   

No big deal.  No rush.  Just enjoying the day.   

When the meeting ended, one of the officers pulled forward, stopping at my open driver’s window. 

At first, I thought he may have been someone I knew professionally, maybe worked or trained with in the past, but before I could exchange pleasantries, the uniformed officer angrily asked me what I was doing driving in an area marked for four-wheel-drive vehicles only?

Damn. 

It was the one directive in a forest of ‘do this/don’t do that’ signs, ugly wooden poles, and ubiquitous traffic cones that I missed – and my mistake infuriated this young law enforcement officer – who proceeded to put me on notice that if I became stuck in the soft sand, he “…will not help me.” 

Verbatim.  “I will not help you.” 

I never forgot that. . .

Having recently retired from over three-decades in the police service – I was privately bemused at how something this insignificant could trigger such a furious response – especially from an officer whose very job description includes being a good ambassador for Volusia County beaches.

I remained silent and attentive. 

Trust me.  I have lost my composure in uniform and acted less than professionally more than once.  As a young, inexperienced officer I could be “badge heavy” and cringeworthily officious. 

Given my time in service I understand better than most that everyone has the occasional difficult day when emotions are raw. 

But this officer seemed intent on punishing me for having violated a rule that, save for a temporary sign on the sand, I didn’t even know existed.  

And he succeeded.

Admittedly, I was embarrassed in front of my friend – and my feelings were hurt. 

Although he had no way of knowing, in my mind, a former “colleague” had treated me harshly for an infraction that could have been managed with an instructive, “The sand is getting soft ahead.  Follow me back the way you came so your vehicle won’t get stuck.” 

The ass chewing went on several minutes too long, and it became increasingly uncomfortable as my friend looked at me with a nervous “Is this really happening?” expression.   

In my mind, the interaction spoke to a culture within the various divisions charged with managing our beach – and, while I have no evidence of it, for some reason I came to the immediate conclusion that my experience wasn’t unique – an environment marked by harsh enforcement of petty rules that created an unpleasant and uninviting atmosphere. 

For me, anyway.  

When my tongue-lashing was complete – I responded with a contrite, “Yes, sir,” and apologized to the officer for my transgression – then asked him for the quickest way off the strand. 

I have never been back.  And I never will

I don’t belong there anymore.   

Sounds strange as I write about it – how something so insignificant could have such a lasting impact.

But it did.

In my mind, the beach I grew up on, that place I longed to get back to whenever I was away, is now the domain of a nameless bearded bully with a badge – and there is nothing the administration of the Volusia County Coastal Division, Beach Safety Department, or my strategically clueless elected representatives can do about it – even if they wanted to. 

Look, I know some outstanding current and former law enforcement officers who serve and protect with Volusia County Beach Safety, good cops and true professionals, who make a positive difference in the life of our community everyday – and things may have changed since the impressive Andrew Etheridge assumed command as our new Beach Safety Director – I don’t know.

And I don’t care. 

I was reminded of this experience last week as the Volusia County Council smartly voted to grant a ten-year contract to Beach Rentals & Refreshments of Volusia County, a local company who employs some sixty area families providing quality food, refreshments, and amenities to beachgoers from around the world. 

During the company’s presentation before the council, I learned that later this year, visitors will have the opportunity to rent cool beach teepees and fire pits, complete with a catered upscale dining experience, electric jetboards, ebikes, golf carts, and shop tony mobile boutiques, while enjoying exciting new food and beverage options without ever leaving their beach chair or pool deck.    

Why hadn’t I heard any of this before?

With so many wonderful new amenities and entertainment options coming to Volusia County beaches, many are asking how many more overpriced out-of-town “branding” consultants do we need? 

Maybe all the pieces and parts are already in the box if we just look close enough?

In my cynical view, it evokes the old idiom, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.”

Perhaps the Halifax Area Advertising Authority is so preoccupied with those things of singular importance to hoteliers in this multifaceted “hospitality market” that they cannot see the opportunities sprouting up right before their eyes.

My hope is that the HAAA Board of Directors, elected officials, and others in the industry will ensure that, as our beach management gurus negotiate the new contract, they establish a mutually beneficial working relationship with those concessionaires and entrepreneurs who are developing a fun and engaging experience for our diverse draw – vacationers, locals, and day-trippers alike – and work cooperatively to bring new and innovative recreation opportunities to the strand.  

__________________________________

My standing second Monday of the month visit to the local public affairs forum GovStuff Live! with Big John – the ‘fastest two-hours in radio’ – has been postponed until Monday, January 24, 2022, due my on-going bout with COVID-19.

I hope you’ll tune-in.    

Stay safe out there, y’all!

13 thoughts on “A day at the beach

  1. I know wht you mean. I grew up in Jacksonville and visited the worlds most famous Daytona Beach every chance I had. When I moved back to this area, I was so excited to be less than an hour from my favorite beach. What he hell happen? I no longer felt welcomed there. My last straw was when the county council gave away part of our beach to a hotel who staked their claim with posioned poles. So sad.

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  2. Born 73 years ago and grew up in Brooklyn N.Y .As kids our parents had to work two jobs so we got on a train or bus for our 20 minute ride to Coney Island for the beach and Nathans.We had great times with no crime.Today they call the area Little Odessa as the Russians took it over..Moved here 5 years ago from West Palm Beach and last year during covid we thought taking our all wheel drive Subaru Outback on the beach would break up the day and stay away from people and masks.We bought out yearly pass at Granada.We were only able to use it twice as we could never got on again because of soft sand and only 4wd allowed or go to Pt.Orange and start there.I took a razor blade and that sticker is gone.I dont even like driving a1a south of Granada as it is a shithole with garbage to look at.We go north as far as St.Augustine or a short run to High Bridge Road.Derrick Henry I pray you never win another election as I watch the crap who just got elected in N.Y.C.Mark love the blog and know how you feel.Still love the people in Palm Beach who are putting on cars with N.Y. license plates WOKE GO BACK NORTH WE DONT WANT YOU.

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  3. Mark, a day at the beach really hit home. I didn’t grow up here but New Smyrna Beach has always been my second home and have had family in NSB since 1928. I spent yearly vacations and many summers here growing up. I’m retired now and live across the street from the beach I used to love. I rarely venture over to it or take a drive on it any longer for all the reasons you mentioned and some more.

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  4. Your ‘Day at the Beach’, article took me back to my youth, having grown up in Ormond/Daytona area. Spot on! I don’t go to the ‘regulated’ beaches anymore. I do go to the nice beach, where I will not mention out of fear, it’s discovery will ruin my enjoyment. Those days are gone forever, sadly. The people in charge of how the beach is ruled, should be drawn and quartered, for they no not, what the hell they are doing. Thank you for making me smile. Your description of the ‘old beach’ was totally, spot on. Thank you for your 30+ years of LEO work. You are one of the good guys, that never fell to the hopeful prey, of the vultures’!

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  5. I have witnessed first hand the rudeness of the “Red Rangers” and if it weren’t for my cool headed better half I probably would have been “dealt” with for voicing my frustrations. I’ll still go to the beach but it’s not as enjoyable.

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  6. I hope you feel better soon. I got stuck in the sand once in my mom van when my daughter was a baby in the back- I never drove on the beach again- but this was 27 years ago and a couple of nice people came out to help me get out of the mess I was in- no police involved. I guess more signs, more rules, more cops? Maybe he was having a rough day or maybe you were the 472nd person to not comply? I guess we’ll never know. I used to love Ormond but they are slowly ruining everything about it- it makes me sad 😞

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  7. You just described my teen years and my early 20’s. I used to have an apartment on Hollywood off of Main Street and my days consisted of dropping my laundry off on Main St., walking to the beach, and picking my laundry up on the way back. Later I had an apartment next to the coquina church and spent many hours laying on the beach and grabbing a snow cone. I was there a few weeks ago and almost didn’t recognize the place. Very few people on the beach at three in the afternoon. How disappointing

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  8. I came to this town on 13 Jun 1973, fleeing twelve foot snowdrifts and lake effect snow from Indiana.
    I was 11. Soon, I will be 60. Been here the whole time. While my old man chased Nascar, we ended up settling down in the little burg of Holly Hill. I’m still in the same house. Mark, like you, I have tons of beach stories, hell, we probably can share a couple…bonfires behind the T.I. keggers at Days Inn, etc..c.b rabbit races.
    Sadly, I have to agree with you, I’m not at home there anymore.whole I qualify for handicapped status, my mobility is such that I can no longer enjoy the beach.
    I’ve been fighting, or spoken out against the way that beach has been handled since 1980.
    I will remain a member of SOBs, because I still care.
    But I see the writing on the wall. Have fun, kids.

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  9. Being a resident of Daytona Beach for 15 years I can honestly say it’s no longer “The World’s Most Famous Beach”. (I’m originally from Brooklyn and went to Coney Island.) Sad to say driving on the beach is not pleasant and dangerous with to many regulations. How come food and chair trucks can drive? They’re not 4 wheel and I’ve seen many very stuck. I haven’t been on the beach in Daytona for years. I drive up to Matanzas, ok can’t drive on the beach, but it’s nicer. I have little interest in the Concrete Walk, aka, boardwalk as there is no entertainment, except the Bandshell concerts in the summer. The big empty lot is an eyesore, there’s nothing for kids to do. Going back to Coney, yeah it was a durge in the late 70s-90s but it has become a mecca of entertainment, new rides, new shops. Daytona officials should take a trip there and see how well it’s going. Daytona, very sad, indeed.

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  10. Mark,

    Yes, I do remember the good old days when the beach was free and open. I remember driving on the beach at night, pulling up behind the Ocean Deck for a few beers and a meal. Those were great times. With the over whelming law enforcement presence on the beach these days one is left to believe criminal activity must be rampant – Quite Ridiculous. In my opinion the beaches are way overburdened with law enforcement which leaves these individuals with not much to do. I believe this is what sets up the situation where enforcement somehow becomes harassment.

    I too am no longer comfortable going to the beach the same way I was in my earlier years when there wasn’t such a heavy hand of rule and enforcement. Because I love the beach and ocean I still go but usually to Ponce Inlet or New Smyrna Beach where I can get on the beach and park quickly without having to drive much in an attempt to avoid any interactions with the beach patrol thugs.

    You should of flashed your retired law enforcement credentials and I’m sure the entire dynamic of your experiance would of flipped 180 degrees. Perhaps it might of given you the opportunity to educate that person a bit in proper public relations. Unfortunately most of us don’t carry those get out of jail free cards so we are left having to endure what you did during your last drive on the beach.

    Roger

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