To me, the beach is a place to be avoided at all costs. From an early age, I can remember the beach as a place where a guy was expected to remove his shirt and walk around in public. As if that weren’t bad enough, you were then expected to haul large amounts of crap across vast expanses of hot sand, set up camp (camping being another thing I just don’t do well) and proceed to bake in the sun, or try to read a book while being subjected to the myriad distractions of screaming babies, overweight people slathering themselves with lotion, and people playing football on sand, when everyone knows you’re supposed to play football on a gridiron. Perhaps you might relieve the boredom by attempting to “enjoy the water”; this entails wading—shirtless, again—into the ocean, stepping on horrifyingly spiny deep sea creatures, and ill-fated attempts at surfing with a blow-up raft. You end the day celebrating your love of the beach with a spirited and self-conscious shower in an outdoor stall by the garage, blasting sand out of your ass and ears. You spend the rest of the evening nursing a raspy throat, owing to the gallon or so of salt water you swallowed while out enjoying the water.

No, I’ve never quite understood the appeal of the beach in the summertime. But that’s not to say I don’t get the lure of the ocean. Sure, there’s something about the sound and rhythm of the surf that’s calming. There’s a definite leisure vibe that hums from the sand, and the houses on stilts tell you you’re not at home. I’ve often thought that the shore towns of New Jersey would be great to visit when there weren’t so many damned people running around, shirtless, trying to bake themselves to a nice golden brown.

This weekend, I got find out. It's great.

Brenda has been working hard lately, and a quiet weekend was in order. A family friend has a nice place on Long Beach Island. Connect the dots, people.

Long Beach Island is an eighteen-mile long spit of land off the coast of New Jersey, fronting the Atlantic Ocean. It is south of a good part of NJ, and many people from the Philadelphia suburbs also head there every summer, who roughly parallel the location. And yet, New Jerseyans north and south all describe the direction of their beach sojourns as going down to the shore. Never mind that just as many go over to the shore as go down to the shore. The inability of most New Jerseyans to accurately describe their vacation vectors is annoying enough, but most beach goers are also grammatically lazy. So, to New Jerseyans, the act of heading down/over/up to this beach resort in southeastern NJ is universally referred to as “going down the shore”. Not to the shore, just “down the shore”. This has annoyed me for decades.

The sights and sensations on the drive down to the shore were foreign; no traffic, no boats on trailers that take up a lane and a half, no tops down on the convertibles. Arriving at Long Beach Island Boulevard, we hung a right and headed south. At first, we thought perhaps a storm had damaged the traffic signals; they were all flashing yellow in our direction. Then it dawned on us: they must switch to a more pastoral traffic signal protocol in the off-season, adopting the small-town ethic of “just be careful” at the intersections. The roadway supported this, as there was scant traffic about. There was no one here. I was in love, in love with the shore. For the first time in my life, I was happy to be down (at) the shore.

Today Brenda & I walked on a nearly empty beach; when we first arrived at the waterfront, there wasn’t a single other person, as far as the eye could see, in either direction, and in the five miles of beachfront we covered during our walk, we passed probably a dozen people and about four dogs. In July, you’d be well past twelve people before you’d ever caught your first glimpse of waves. And while most of this weekend was overcast, for some reason the clouds completely disappeared last night, and we were treated to an amazingly brilliant night sky. I haven’t seen that many stars—and so bright—in a long time. Looking at the houses that evening I couldn’t count even one light on, in any homes. It was eerily cool.

We got a late start yesterday and wanted to get back early to give Emma her medicine tonight, so this was a very brief beach blitz. But it was a fun sort of time-out, and I have a new perspective on the Jersey Shore. I guess you can add this to my long list of oddities: I prefer the beach in the wintertime, and the mountains in the summertime.