Social Detective

By staff December 1, 2008

I’m so glad this issue is about beaches, because I’ve always preferred the edges of continents to the middle. Middles are so…so totally land-locked. Know what I mean? One Christmas I was persuaded to visit the Middle, which can be anywhere from New Jersey to Las Vegas, but in this case was Wyoming. We landed in SaltLake instead of Jackson Hole because a plane skidded off the runway in a blizzard and the airport was closed. I had to take a bus for many terrifying hours in the dead of night through mountain passes where avalanches threatened every second of the way. I couldn’t wait to get back to a coastline, with lots of water and sand for relaxation, where everything seems right with the world. 

I know that other Sarasotans completely agree, including all those who went to

New York for Presidential fund-raising events and other important stuff last summer and fall. I won’t tell you who got a new heart valve, or face lift, or texted endlessly every single campaign fact and fiction that came out, or attended the Broadway opening of A Tale of Two Cities.

All right, I will tell you about the opening of Tale. It was very exciting. Lots of Asolo supporters, like Carol and Howard Philips, Ulla Searing, Virginia Toulmin and Elita Kane were there, along with recognizably famous actors. It was a Broadway first for a Sarasota production. The Herald-Tribune theater critic Jay Handelman was there to write it up, and I got to ride in Gerald Schoenfeld’s crossover Mercedes to the after-party at the Wall Street Cipriani, where we were deluged by the paparazzi (not really). Gerald is a big theater producer, though, with 17 shows on right now, and the uncle of our own Jamie Schoenfeld.   

But we’re back from all our travels, and now even in a time of political and economic turmoil, we can rejoice that we live on the Edge instead of the Middle. Let’s hear it for our beaches. We may pretend to be in Sarasota for the Kulcha—the opera, the ballet, and theater, theater, theater; but the truth is we’re here for the beaches.

Consider the sand on Mediterranean beaches like St. Tropez, Cannes, Nice, Ostia (which is the Galveston of Rome)—even the beaches on the Costa Brava in Spain, the beaches of New England and the Pacific Northwest. People flock to tiny, gritty, gravelly patches you can’t even sit on. Stone gardens, some of them. Tourists go for brief periods to look at other people pretty much naked. Many famous beaches, even in the glorious Caribbean, are too short for even short walks. There are those in Hawaii with waves too high for swimming. On Northern shores the water’s too cold even to dip a toe.

What Sarasota has is a different league of beaches altogether. How many areas have such a variety of water views and more than one beach that happens to be listed on the world’s top 10? Where the walks are long, the sand is like powdered sugar, and it’s not for enjoying for only a few days or a few months of a year? People come to Sarasota for a short visit, take a walk on one of our beaches and end up buying property. It’s not just love at first sight here—it’s purchase at first sight, even when the economy is bad. It’s just a fact. We’re beachies, like some people are foodies, and others are wine-iacs. 

On the other hand, we don’t always indulge our inner beachie, especially after we’ve been here a while. On Siesta, Lido and Longboat beaches you see the same people walking every day at a certain time. They walk early in the morning before work, or late in the afternoon to decompress. You know it’s the retirees and tourists who are walking out there during business hours.

The Sarasota beachie’s experience is private, not like Laguna Beach, where there is a ritual gathering every night. People with their portable cocktails come to drink and watch the sun go down. That’s so California. Meet you on the beach at six? I don’t think so. By then we Sarasota beachies are having our pre-theater/opera dinners, or going to fund raisers.

And we think of our beaches as for the entire family. When thongs came in, they were banned on Lido Key. Remember that? Never mind if you don’t, it was a long time ago. Family values didn’t permit the kind of display that might lead to South Beach-like excesses and the need for crowd control. The ban made national news, so it had to be lifted. Now you can see everybody’s everything, but no one cares.

Dog person Deb Knowles rants about a different ban. “What kind of beach won’t allow dogs?” she asked peevishly. Deb won’t go anywhere without Chiquita, her Chihuahua. Sarasota public beaches don’t allow dogs. I know my Rocky would love to go to the beach. But no, it’s out for him, too. Sometimes we walk on the sidewalk along LidoBeach. We get as close as we can.

“I take Chiquita to Susie Karp’s beach,” Deb told me. 

She lives in a private beachfront community on Siesta Key. Susie Karp walks there with Dick Smothers. Deb introduced them, and now they’re beachcombers together. Over on Westway, Ron and Rita Greenbaum are still nutty for their beach after a couple of decades. But all they have to do is go outside.

When I asked Alexandra Jupin and John Bean if they went to the beach, there was a long pause. “The beach?” Alexandra said.

“Yeah, do you go to the beach?” I asked.

“I’m so glad you brought this up. I used to walk SiestaBeach at seven in the morning or at sunset four times a week. I loved it,” she said.

And before I had Rocky to think about, I used to go there, too.

“My mother used to say if everybody walked in the sunshine and dug in the dirt more we’d need fewer psychiatrists,” Alexandra added, and she vowed to get back into the habit.

Finally, I asked a visitor, Gordon Greenberg, who directed Working at the Asolo last season and returned this year to direct Barnum.

“Do you ever go to the beach?”

“Do I!” this upper West Side New Yorker told me. “I play tennis and go to the beach every day. Fantastic!”

Just when we Sarasota beachies have been so busy for months at a time to head out to the beach, we talk to someone like Greenberg, and then we’re off to the Edge again. It goes in circles. We come here for the beaches, look at them every day, walk on them often, forget about them, then come back to the water’s edge and fall in love all over again.   

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