Coming In or Going Out?

Coming In or Going Out? Before we get to the riddle of the day let me make it perfectly clear that no one will likely ever confuse me with a marine maven. I’m a white potato City boy, with only a passing acquaintance with the great outdoors, though I’ve been coming to the Hamptons for decades because I love the beach and have learned to navigate around all negatives. Yes, from July 4th thru Labor Day, the generalities we all hear about the Hamptons – pretentious, crowded, expensive — all do hold up. Please, no arguments. These are legitimate generalities. But if you’re half-clever, learn the back roads, and know when to come and go, and which restaurants and shops don’t provide enough juice for the squeeze, you can dodge most of the silliness. In addition, if you practice bringing out the best in people – for instance, try shocking a harried couple into extreme expressions of gratitude by giving up your superior angle on a coveted parking space — your experience will improve still further. Random acts of kindness out here, especially in prime time, go a very long way, indeed. When everyone expects sour, sweet pays high dividends. And in and around all of the sturm und drang, forever looms the glory of glories, the beach. Do we have the best beach in the country, as some pseudo expert has recently announced? Who cares? Our beaches are divine, all 50 uninterrupted and uncrowded miles of them. Now, as I said, I’m no nature boy. But if you’re not deaf, dumb and blind, grabbing a little toes-up time and few rays on a Hampton’s beach, with maybe a little easy paddling around in the surf thrown in, or not, can’t help but provide a lift to anyone drawing breath. Even the “texters,” at the beach in body only while still immersed in their virtual world, can hardly fail to harvest a good time. Ok, so we can surely agree then that the beach, always there waiting for us, ever compelling in its variability, is clearly Numero Uno out here. But, you still need to know a very few basics to fully enjoy it, which brings us back to the riddle of the day: “What’s the first thing you should do when you arrive at the beach?” Well, if want to be as close to the water’s edge as possible, where no matter how blisteringly hot it may be, you’ll always find a sweet breeze, and where hopefully you can find a spot to light with no one in front of you, the first thing you must determine is whether the tide is coming in, or going out. I’ll admit to being a fanatic about this, but it really is essential information for anyone wishing to perch themselves, without interruption, hard by the water. How else can you avoid selecting a spot too close to the water and where eventually you’ll get swamped by an unanticipated incoming high tide? Or, staking out a claim too far from the water, making it possible for people to block your vista by setting up in front of you on new real estate between you and the water’s edge revealed by a low tide, thus having the original goal of getting as close as possible to the water foiled by ignorance? And so, when I first arrive at the beach, I immediately go down to the water and ask the people who have already set up shop there, “Coming in or going out?” anticipating a quick and accurate answer. Truth is, mostly they don’t even know to what I’m referring. “Coming in or going out???” “Yes, the tide. Can I trouble you as to whether the water is coming in or going out?” spoken in a deferential tone, under the assumption that they would naturally know the answer to this fundamental question for someone sitting low on the beach. And as many times as I have gone through this exercise (hundreds by now over my 35 year East End experience), even though I know what’s coming back at me, it always somehow surprises me when it actually happens yet again because, as it turns out, quite remarkably, nine out of ten people, have no idea in which direction the tide is moving. It’s as if, to them, there is no tide, or that the ocean’s movement is constant and doesn’t ever change. “Gee, I don’t really know,” they almost always say, very often surprised by my inquiry, and wearing a semi-confounded facial expression that seems to say, “Hmmm, that’s actually an interesting question, and relevant, too. Why didn’t I think of that?” And I rail silently to myself, “What do you mean you don’t know? You’ve probably been sitting here for hours. You’re whole encampment could be flooded anytime, and you haven’t thought to figure out which way the water is moving.” Or, I might get: “I’m not sure, but it looks like it’s coming in.” “I don’t believe you can’t tell by just looking,” I might offer in a subdued response. Trying to see if the sand is wetter here or there, and then concluding whether the tide is moving in or out, just isn’t reliable. Over short periods of time, waves are not perfectly progressive. Eyeballing it doesn’t work. Or, quite preposterously, some have even said, “Hmmm, I think it’s in between right now.” “In between? No, no, no, there’s no such thing as ‘in between’. There’s only two options here … in or out.” Even the buffed up, uber-aquatic life guards, at Main Beach no less, almost always fail to serve up the correct answer, the precise time of the next scheduled high or low tide. They are rarely ready with this valuable, threshold guidance. “Oh, it’s on the board up there by the deck,” they’ll likely say, which it often, in fact, isn’t. And here, because they’re getting paid, after all, and this is a topic that is highly pertinent to their basic responsibilities, I might get more impatient. “Ok, but I’m asking you! While you’re on duty, shouldn’t you know exactly when the next high or low tide will be? You’re the lifeguard, right?! And what I get back is usually blank stares, or condescending “have-a-nice-days”, as if I’m a nitpicking, tiresome crank, which maybe I am, but I’m also right about this. Still, despite the unsatisfactory consistency of these responses, I imagine I’ll continue to ask, “Coming in or going out? because I need the information, and also because I suppose I get a perverse pleasure from the, dare I say, “head in the sand” bewilderment that I predictably encounter, which almost always finds me turning away, scratching my head and mumbling to myself, “How can they not know?!!”