Chasing the Muse: Summer means relaxation

"It's summer time, and Laguna is easy ..

"Skim boarders are jumping, and the tourists fly high …"

with apologies to Sam Cooke

"Let's go to the beach!"

Those musical words echo through the canyons and hillsides on the voices of all ages. It is a sure sign that summer has fully made her presence.

Except for the persistent fog, summer vacation at the beach remains one of life's greatest pleasures. The thought of umbrellas and beach chairs, picnic baskets and fat paperback novels can make even the most serious of stressed folks contemplate relaxation. We are drawn by the lulling sound of the surf into that "laid back" space. Everyone hunkers down in the sand and celebrates long days in sun.

For locals, it's a season of great change — some good, some frustrating. The frustration? Traffic, traffic, traffic. I could say the word a few more times, but then my column would look like Laguna Canyon Road in the late afternoon.

No one in town needs a calendar to remind them of the shift to vacation drive tactics. Locals simply start driving the back and side streets, weaving up and down hillsides in an attempt to get in or out of town.

The good? I think most everything that comes with summer is good. Warm weather (darn fog), warmer water, south swells and long days that end with golden sunsets. There is a plethora of new faces, the healthy hustle and bustle in the retail and food services sector, and the chance opportunity to make new friends from far-way locals.

Tourist watching is a kind of sidebar to being a resident in town. With all grand affection, we watch as they join us in the search for the never-to-be-found perfect parking spot. And because our local lots are rather oddly placed, streets like Forest Avenue turn into their own kind of "beach highway," as families unload their cars and head down the sidewalk.

Babies are secured in strollers, which double as beach-furniture carriers. Chairs pile high on towels, toys spill from the sides, and coolers balance precariously on top of everything. Walking children are often given the task of carrying some part of the burden — usually with a sour and often whiney face.

What makes a street like Forest or Ocean avenues interesting to watch, is that the sidewalks are narrow. Add a few trolley loads of sightseers to the mix of stroller-beachgoers, and yep — it can be a pretty tangled mess.

Once they get to the beach, tourists set up the next part of the show. Tents and billowing umbrellas seem to sprout like weeds after rain. Main Beach becomes a collage of colors to replace the neutral sand that is hidden beneath the visitors.

Out come the hats, the sunglasses, the suntan lotion. OK, mostly that happens. Often enough, the suntan lotion seems a dire application to already burned skin. What is it that makes folks from Iowa, Kansas — or anywhere in the breadbelt — who come to the beach with very white skin — imagine they can spend a full day in the sun without consequences? And why do they always look so surprised? It is hard not to feel empathetic as they moan while trying to put clothing over their already reddened bodies.

This summer, finding any beach away from downtown has been a bit more challenging. The huge winter and late spring storms washed most of the sand from Thalia Street south to Brooks and re-deposited much of it the south from Mountain Road to Pearl Street.

Rocky ledges, once covered with sand, are about the only place to sit during the recent high tides. But tricked by the low, the tourists come in droves and plant their umbrellas, set up small picnic tables and lay down on their blankets. Nasty locals (we aren't really — we try to share our knowledge) can't help ourselves as we take bets on how long before their lunches are washed to sea and their towels soaked through. Just to put us all in perspective, the only reason we can laugh is because we have been there ourselves.

Errant waves catch those sprinting for the safety of stairs and toss them like bowling billiards. There should be some kind of a sign: Do not walk in the face of an oncoming wave. You will be knocked down!

Yes, it's all good. Locals and tourists. Kids and oldsters.

Summertime in Laguna … and the living is sweet.

CATHARINE COOPER is truly a beach girl. She can be reached at catharinecooper@mac.com.

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