Jam Daze With the Flow Gang

Written By: Bryan  Newell

It’s a beautiful drive. It never seems to be the same drive but that’s not what matters. It’s the time of day. The whole landscape and you in it seem to exhale a sigh of relief as the blistering sun relents in its descent. Rose tinted clouds reflect in rippled water just beyond the guardrail as you cruise along and the honeysuckle hit’s the air, wafting you on your way. Soon you trade yawning vistas for winding corridors of meticulous hedgerows looming like sentinels on guard. You make it to the beach(this week it’s Indian Wells) in time for a grand finale of crisscrossing gashes of colored cloud mingled with golden floating puffs all set against a blue sky that glows in gradations from deep navy at it’s zenith to a thin azure where it meets the waves.

You grab your gear and flip off your flops, sinking into the sand like a weary traveller slips into his bed at last after nights spent dreaming of its soft warmth as he tossed and turned on the forest floor.

You’re home.

You scan for familiar faces but at this hour on the threshold between day and night everyone is a silhouette. You don’t see any particularly large crowd and begin to worry you’re too late, that you missed it and everyone has packed up, gone home, or that you’ve got the wrong beach. But to the left is a handful of people around a fledgling bonfire and so you shuffle through the sand in that direction.

As you get closer you see two hula-hoops, each with 5 evenly spaced attachments jutting out, leaning against a cooler. Somehow you’re early. You don’t recognize anyone but you say “Jam daze with the flow gang?” They nod enthusiastically and welcome you into a circle that hasn’t quite taken shape yet.          Slowly night settles in as people begin to arrive, dropping blankets and coolers as the stars pop into place overhead. It took two brown paper bags and a hell of a lot of lighter fluid but the fire’s roaring now, sending up a trail of smoke into the night sky and setting the faces around it aglow.

The crowd is eclectic, ranging from groups of young kids home from school, or maybe even a few who never bought into the idea of college at all, to families who’ve been there for hours but stuck around a little longer just for this. Libations of rosé are lapped up like the waves that slap against the shore and all around lighters hiss and spark as a new scent mingles with the burning fire. You twist open a growler of Golden Tale from the Publick House and tip it into a small plastic cup you’ve brought and that you’re sure to take with you when you leave.

A hush settles as everyone faces the water to watch. To the right, a blanket of drummers send up the beat and an appreciative applause joins it as a shadowy figure takes center stage.

She’s a rail of a girl, no bigger than a street sign. She ties up her hair and takes a deep breath. In her hand is one of the hula-hoops. The drums race to a frenzy as they light it on fire. She’s an avid hula-hooper, a burgeoning recreation among her peers helped along by workshops and YouTube tutorials. Though capable and in her element, she’s never hooped with fire before and you even overheard her telling the ring leader, the “Burner” of the group, that she just bought it that day.

Her composure and confidence is incredible. You never thought such a small frame could contain a spirit far more courageous than you could ever hope to be. But why should that surprise you? You forgive yourself momentarily for this misperception, promising to come back to it later, wanting for now to give your whole concentration to the girl standing with a ring of fire around her waist.

She whips it into motion and the flames gutter softly over the sound of the rumbling waves behind her. The drums resume a more gentle beat, varied and complimentary as the drummers dance in and out of one another’s thumping. They establish something she can groove to and help her body keep rhythm with the hoop.

For the audience the drums lend the whole spectacle a tribal quality. This is her initiation, offered up voluntarily for our enjoyment, set against the backdrop of a velvet sky sprinkled with glinting shards of light and an invisible but undeniably present ocean, glimpsed only here and there as the whitecaps roll in.

She eases herself into it. Seemingly untroubled by the fire, she forges a new equilibrium as she adjusts to a hoop that has the added weight of lit wicks. She stumbles imperceptibly, her feet forgetting for a minute that they are on sand and not solid ground. She spins the hoop faster and faster, whirling it from her sky beckoning wrist down to her ankle. The drums keep pace. A lone spectator whoops and she erupts.

What follows is a spectacle for which words are no match. A mesmerizing display of skill and daring, her bravery only surpassed by her grace. She spins, dancing inside the whirling, flaming, hoop, leaving behind streaming tracers against the pitch-black night like an afterimage you might see behind your eyelids from staring at the sun. She lifts it overhead and twists it in her hands, careful to keep them between the flames but singeing herself anyway.

Undaunted by the discomfort, she spirals it back in a descent to her waist, but your gaze follows the downward arc it’s on and you can barely make it out in the flickering light but you start to see the pattern mapped out by her feet as she dances in the fire. Even if given three weeks to learn them and nothing else to do, those steps alone­­—no fire, no hoola-hoop to spin—would elude you. And the full admiration for what she can do and the moment she creates hits you and you’re filled with gratitude. For her, for the beach, for this group of people you are now a part of. To us there is nothing else in the world. Just this girl, her ring of fire, the drums, and the beauty of the earth. It’s what you came here to do, to share in.

She spins in one last frenzy, the flames chasing one another around her body. The first goes out, two more follow in quick succession. Piff, piff. Two more revolutions and the fourth is extinguished. She goes faster, but the fifth is stubborn and she dashes it out instead in the sand. The drums stop and applause splinters the brief silence that weighed in their absence.

Everyone is abuzz and chatter fills the air as you pack up, hunting down your flip flops in the dark. You say your goodbyes as people stream back to the parking lot and as you leave you see a family lingering, sitting around the fire roasting hot dogs over the open flame.

You grab your keys from the cup holder and start your car. You roll the window down all the way so you can rest your arm and you think to yourself: This is what happened in the Hamptons when they were looking the other way. When they were too busy berating waiters for bringing them the wrong glass of Chardonnay or haggling with landscapers to sculpt their lawns into pristine patches of emerald just so they can spend all their time inside with the central air. This is the real lifeblood of the east end, composed of the people who live here all year and make it the wonderful place worth visiting that it is.