Promise you won’t tell?
OK, here it is.
October and May are the best months to go to the beach — if you like solitude and serenity, as I do.
October, with its blue skies, cool breezes and still-warm-enough-to-swim-in water is ideal. When I could, I’d save some vacation days and slip down there. Then schools began having fall breaks; educators said it would help students learn, businesses heard chi-ching. So much for serenity.
Elementary school urchins were the worst. They were loud and their doting parents let them run wild and disturb kindly old men like myself who wanted to be left alone. (“You fishing mister?” “No, you little brat, the line is to tie up kids like you. The rod is to beat you with.”)
By junior high, the kids are pre-Copernican. (Copernicus said the sun is the center of our universe. Junior high kids believe they are.) They are hormonal and self-indulgent. (Makes you wanta yell, “Turn off that caterwauling that you claim is music, you spawn of Satan, or I’ll see if an I-pod can float.”)
Happily, high school kids never made much of fall break at the beach, which was a relief for everyone. College students got no fall break, which may explain why the high schoolers found the coast less attractive than in the spring. In the spring, beach businesses throw the doors open for the college crowd and high school students tag along, fake IDs in hand. No one to tag along after in the fall, so they did something else.
Like go to a football game.
Football coaches hated fall break from the get-go, so games were scheduled anyway. That meant players had to practice — no break for them. Cheerleaders had to cheer, bands had to march and play. Most parents did not care for fall break, either. They had to work and cringed at the thought of Bubba and Bubbett home alone with time on their hands.
That left the beach to the parents of little kids who could afford to take time off. They pulled their darlings out of pre-school and kindergarten and took them to the coast in October to harass folks like me.
Coastal chambers of commerce quickly realized there was not much money in the little-kid crowd, so they lobbied the state Legislature to make summer longer rather than give kids a break in the fall. Not sound educational policy, but who said this break business had anything to do with education?
So October is getting better.
And if you can’t make it then, try May.
Think about it.
By May, the snowbirds have gone, not that they were much trouble anyway. A little slow at the grocery line, a little tentative on the highway, but mostly good natured and glad to be where the weather is warmer.
More important, by May spring break is over. No more college and high school students. This is a plus under any circumstances, but this year spring break along the coast was especially bad. The late-lamented building boom left a crunch of condo and home owners with heavy mortgages that must be paid, so they rented to anyone with the money and a tame adult to sign for them. The results were predictable. You might have seen news reports of a bunch of Mississippi students who trashed the fancy home they rented and tried to throw authorities off their trail by shouting “Roll Tide” at the camera. The authorities were not fooled.
Word is that those same authorities are planning a crackdown for next year that will include putting more police on patrol to enforce noise regulations and increasing coastal income from fines for underage drinking. Will it cut down on alcohol consumption, property destruction and noise? As the former police chief of Panama City Beach told me, “Those kids could get beer in Saudi Arabia.” And a drunk teenager is a loud teenager, and stupid. Good luck with that.
Meanwhile, most schools in the state do not get out until late May, and when they do, most students have summer plans that do not include going in gangs to the coast.
All of which is to say that when May arrives, no one else does.
So if you can get free in May, then go.
You might see me there, for as I consider retiring, as we all do, a free October and a free May have a certain charm.
However, if you go down then with children in tow and catch a glimpse of me, simply take the tots by the hand, point me out as an example of the sort of character they should avoid, and go your merry way.
I promise not to bother you if you don’t bother me.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.