City Lights: Amid sharks, plastic

HB Independent

At least one Huntington Beach resident didn't have a relaxing Memorial Day weekend. But he wouldn't have had it any other way.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about Tom Jones, an athlete who planned to paddle from Florida to New York to raise awareness about plastic in the ocean. Jones, who described himself as "the Red Cross for the ocean," set his sights on raising $500,000 to fund clean-up efforts.

It's not the first time Jones has undertaken an epic journey. In 2007, he ventured 1,250 miles from Oregon to Mexico.

This time he is seeking to exceed that distance by 250 miles, traveling six hours every day. If Jones' trip goes according to plan, he'll arrive in New York in mid-August.

So how is the mission going?

Very well, as it turns out. I called Jones on Tuesday afternoon and caught him after a strenuous, 15-mile paddle. He had nearly reached the central coast of Florida and removed innumerable pieces of plastic from the water. And he'd recently gotten lucky in an encounter with a shark, which he spotted 150 yards away and, he surmised, left him alone because he was in shallow water.

"The sharks are out there, that's for sure," he said. "Especially in South Florida. They're out there feeding."

Jones sounded more concerned about his environmental mission. Paddling by the copious amounts of trash in the water, he said, he realized more than ever the importance of garbagemen. And it was that cause that he expected to sustain him for the many miles ahead.

"It's hard, but I'm here, and we've raised several thousand dollars," he said. "But that's not nearly enough."

Speaking of Memorial Day, I took an hour Monday to attend the annual Huntington Beach ceremony, in which politicians, veterans and others gather at Pier Plaza to pay tribute to locals who gave their lives in combat.

When I was writing a preview about the ceremony, more than one person noted that Memorial Day has become a two-faceted holiday in our culture — part solemn remembrance, part bonanza for businesses who see it as the kickoff of summer. I could see evidence of both. As "Taps" sounded and the speakers gave heartfelt accounts, the beach swarmed with surfers, volleyball players and other revelers.

Was the setting inappropriate? I don't think so. The freedoms we enjoy in Surf City, from FM radio to swimsuits, are the envy of many parts of the world. And they've been threatened more than once over the years.

So I spent that hour at Pier Plaza appreciating two miracles: the bravery of those who gave all for our country and the vibrant, hopeful society they died to protect.

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