The walk from 21 Sand Flea Drive towards the ivory sands of northwest Florida’s emerald coast is a quick but harrowing adventure. As soon as you exit the large wooden door frame of the three story bungalow, the first thing that hits you is the humidity. Yes, that hellish cloud of thick water vapor, enough to make even the toughest of men cringe as they venture through its hot and sticky grasp. Another obstacle you must overcome along the way is the one created by the Good Lord himself: nature. With every step you take along the way, a person must be acutely aware of their surroundings. This attentiveness goes a long way towards avoiding encounters with creatures ranging from minuscule but terrifying fire ants to the rare but equally dangerous encounter with a hungry seagull.
Another hurdle that must be overcome on your way to the beach is perhaps the most difficult one of all and it is the obstacle that is created in your very own mind. As you move along the concrete path to paradise you begin to realize that the cool, calm, and collective view you have of yourself may not be very close to reality. Instead you realize that you, a 17-year-old boy, are walking to the beach by yourself wearing a bucket hat that is as old as Billy Joel’s last studio album, enough sunscreen on your nose to make any lifeguard jealous, and sandals that could belong to any suburban dad in the United States. You also have to resist the urge to hide in shame since the beach chair you are carrying has a rainbow design and your accompanying beach towel features not one, but two characters from Disney-Pixar’s 1998 cinematic masterpiece: Toy Story 2.
All of these barriers, both physical and mental, stay with you as you near the boardwalk which takes you to your desired destination, but as you near closer and closer, you begin to notice something very strange. Despite how you felt as you made your trek from house to beach, you start to see how everyone around you isn’t so different after all. Everywhere you look you see all sorts people who resemble yourself. People who are struggling under the weight of beach towels, umbrellas, and tents. People who have on enough sunscreen to appear as pale as ghosts. People who seem to be exerting massive amounts of effort just to get down to the beach, but are happy working this hard because they know it will all be worth it when their toes are dug comfortably into the sand. Before long, you start to believe that you are now part of an exclusive social club with all of these strangers just because you share a community of relaxation.
As you get closer and closer to roaring waves you also begin to notice the subtle differences between you and your newfound friends. The person to your left appears to be carrying an Igloo cooler branded with the flag of Quebec. The person to your right is sporting a shirt that describes their fan hood for the Boston Red Sox. The couple in front of you is trying desperately not to wake up their infant child as they just got it to fall asleep for its afternoon nap, while behind you an elderly woman tries to help her husband down the boardwalk stairs with an equal amount of desperation.
I am always blown away by the fact that no matter where you are in the world, every single person you come across has a story. Every individual, no matter how different they look, has their own set of hopes, ambitions, desires, and struggles. Although this is not an original thought by any means, it does not take away from the beauty of its principle. Take the beach for example. Here you have a place where individuals from all walks of life, differing in background, circumstance, political, moral, and religious beliefs are able to come together and swim in the same water and bask under the same sun. Here it does not matter how much money you have or what color your skin, the only thing that matters is that you are there to have a good time and relax far away from the blues that you left at home. The beach therefore, may be one of the purest melting pots of human interaction that this planet has to offer.
When you finally reach the point where you want to set up camp for the day, you start by kicking off your shoes, putting down your towels, and placing your chair in the optimal location for your enjoyment. Before long, you forget about how much turbulence you went through to get down to the beach and instead focus on how your feet feel as you stroke them through the sand, each grain looking remarkably similar in terms of appearance, but differing greatly in terms of shape, makeup, and how they got to that very beach in the first place. A lot like the people who now walk over them.