Monday, January 15, 2007

Off Season

My wife is going slowly insane as a result of her enforced inactivity. However, this same lack of activity has enabled her to indulge daily in one of her greatest weekend pleasures: sleeping late. My daughter shares this particular genetic abnormality. Typically, I don’t sleep late. I get up on weekends around 7:30 and tiptoe around the house, forbidden from making any sound until the two of them stagger out of bed around 11:30.

But a month of sleeping late and vegetating in front of the TV are starting to wear on her. This week, she told me she wanted to go to the beach on Saturday. I started naming beaches with boardwalks or piers, but she told me in no uncertain terms that she doesn’t want to go TO the beach, she wants to go ON the beach.

I immediately pointed out that wheelchairs won’t roll in sand. But she is desperate, so we decided to go to Daytona Beach, where the sand is hard-packed, and you can drive a car on the beach. This may make it possible to wrestle her down to the water’s edge, although it will be tempting to leave her there as the tide comes in.

So when Saturday arrived, I got up at 7:30 and waited until 11:00 for the two of them to slide out of bed. By the time we got on the road, it was already well into the afternoon. Halfway to Daytona, we realized that we had forgotten to bring two important items: A beach chair (my wife hates sitting in the wheelchair), and the digital camera. As it turned out, I would regret these oversights.

My wife said, “It’s OK. When we get to Daytona Beach, we can stop in one of those beach shops and pick up another beach chair. You can’t have too many beach chairs.”

I didn’t respond to this, but of course you can have too many beach chairs. We’ve already got too many damn beach chairs, which are supposed to fold up into compact, flat shapes, but never do. It’s like trying to stuff a live flamingo into a suitcase.

So we have a shelf in our garage devoted to the storage of beach chairs, which are jammed in at awkward angles, most of which won't be used in my lifetime. It’s like we’re planning some huge luau that will never happen.

We stopped at the first beach shop, and I helped my wife out of the car, into her wheelchair, and then into the shop, where we found a pathetically small display of uncomfortable, cheaply-made beach chairs leaning against a wall. Of course, we didn’t want just ANY beach chair. We wanted one that will be comfortable for my wife.

“It’s off-season,” the clerk told us. “We’ll have more in the summer.”

The story was exactly the same at the next beach shop, and the next. Eventually, I stopped taking my wife out of the car, I’d just leave the engine running, dash in, find no beach chairs, and dash out. Finally, we stopped at a drugstore and found an enormous selection of beach chairs. Of course, we disagreed on which one would suit our needs, but my wife had the final say. So we bought one that doesn’t fold flat, and will be an ongoing storage problem in the years to come.

By the time we got to the beach, it was already 4:00, and the beach access gates had a sign that clearly informed us that the beach closes at sunset. This time of year, sunset occurs at 5:45, which meant we’d have about an hour and a half before the beach patrol guys would kick us out.

For those of you who have never been to Daytona Beach, the beach slopes very gradually to the water, and is made up of very fine sand, which is packed quite hard below the high-tide line. You can drive on it easily. But above the high-tide line, it gets all fluffy and soft, and if you’re driving a minivan, you’ll get stuck. We were driving a minivan. We got stuck.

I was able to rock it out, using my Boston snow-driving skills, turned the car around and got stuck again. Eventually, I was able to park in such a way that we could get my wife out of the car and I could drag her wheelchair down to the ocean’s edge.

Despite the frustration and effort needed to get her there, the experience was rather pleasant. The temperature was perfect. People of every description walked, biked or jogged past us, seagulls fought each other for Pringles we had brought, and at one point, a wedding party from one of the high-rise condos came down to the beach for photos.

But the best part of the afternoon began when my wife noticed a small rainstorm approaching the shore. We began to make friendly wagers on whether it was headed towards us, or would run south of our location. As it drew closer, and the sun sank lower in the sky, a rainbow suddenly appeared, but it was like no rainbow I’ve ever seen. Instead of materializing slowly in the typical arch shape, it grew out of the sea. It began as a glow on the horizon, then rose slowly out of the water like a broken (and gaily-decorated) Grecian column. It was intensely bright, glowing like neon. It grew higher and higher, arching as it went, until it was almost half complete.

At that point, the beach patrol came by and announced that it was time to leave, so I began packing my wife into the car. As I did so, we continued watching the rainbow phenomenon, which grew longer and longer, arching over the ocean. The moment we got everything packed away and started the car, the rainbow completed its arch, and it began to rain. So we drove home marveling at the sight we had witnessed, and lamenting the fact that we didn’t have a camera to record it.

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