Monday, July 11, 2011

Space Ghost, Coast-to-Coast

I spent much of yesterday on the North Shore of Massachusetts Bay, an area north of the Cape that a friend once described as the Massachusett’s elephant’s brain. I suppose, if you squint, the shore of Massachusetts might look like an elephant, the Cape itself serving as a curved trunk, and if you screw your face up to the point of tears, the peninsula that is formed by Gloucester (pronounced Gloss-ter, for those West Coasters out there, or gloss-tah if you’re a Southie) and Rockport may just be considered that elephant’s occipitofrontal.

But this isn’t about elephants, or about borrowing jargon from the doctors I often spend my weekends with. This is about beaches. And the issues I tend to have with East Coast beaches, to be specific. Beach culture on the East Coast is surprisingly different from West Coast culture. You may think that water + bikinis and suntan lotion is always going to add up the same way, but it doesn’t. Especially when you throw thousands of people, hundreds of beach umbrellas, and a twenty-five dollar entrance fee into the mix. I’m going to be honest with you. I’d never even seen a beach umbrella in real life before I moved to the East Coast.

But it’s more than just the ubiquitous umbrella of the east juxtaposed with the basic beach towel of the west. The relationship that people have with the beach is drastically different on each coastline. One of the most noticeable differences is the sheer number of beach visitors on the East Coast. An utter lack of lakes (or perhaps, lakes without too many mosquitoes…) means that the coastline is one of the only places for the millions of New Englanders to beat the summer temperatures (you thought I was going to say heat, didn’t you?), which means beaches that are literally covered in humans. Two summers ago, when I first saw an East Coast beach, I must admit I was a little grossed out.

More importantly than quantity, though, is quality. And—for once—I don’t want to only endorse West Coast beaches and shout for the death of all things East Coast, because you can’t beat the sand they’ve got over here. A friend explained the difference by saying that West Coast beaches, and the Pacific in general, is just a more intense experience than the Atlantic and the coastlines of the East. The West Coast is craggy and the water is cold and often…I wouldn’t say angry but just unforgiving, perhaps. The Atlantic Ocean, with the sand on its shores and its temperatures that are actually swimmable, is a place that people use. The Pacific is a place that (and maybe this is getting back too far into my West Coast snobbery) that people respect.

While I will certainly will miss spending more than a hot freezing minute in the ocean water, and the feeling of sand instead of sharp rocks under my feet, I’m looking forward to views like this, something you just can’t find on this other coast.

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