Archived Story

Spring break on the beach is as expected

Published 10:31am Friday, March 22, 2013

Column: Notes From Home, by David Behling

Last week I did something I had never even considered doing before: take a trip to the beach for spring break.

All through my years of high school, college and grad school, I had not participated in the traditional experience of a frolic on a beach in Florida or Texas or Mexico.

Why not? Well, that week off from classes seemed like an excellent time to pick up extra hours at work or extra time sleeping. And as a student at the University of Arizona, I guess I thought that I was already far enough south to enjoy activities like biking and hiking without having to share a room (or bed) with three or more friends.

Plus, as a scholarship student, I felt like I was taking the higher “moral” path of thriftiness while all of those rich kids from back East or California spent their parents’ money on a week of irrational exuberance. I was young and arrogant, passing judgment on people I didn’t really know all that well. And if I had been completely honest back then, I would have had to admit how jealous I was of their freedom to travel (even if I would have gone to Montreal or Vancouver instead of Cancun).

This year, however, I finally took that trip to the beach, only not for vacation. I had to travel for college meetings about federal compliance, accreditation and faculty development. The hotel where the college put me up was not on the beach (four miles away), but there was plenty of evidence that it was close by: a certain quality to the air, the palm trees, the sand, the artificial friendliness of clerks at hotel desks.

Down that close to the Gulf of Mexico, it was obvious that spring had not just kissed the earth, but fully embraced it in a great big hug. There wasn’t any ice on the streets or snow in the yards, and flowers were blooming everywhere.

Stuck in meetings all day — often in windowless offices and conference rooms — my hosts still made sure we finished with “official” tasks early enough a couple of afternoons so we could spend a few hours on the beach before the sun set. I did not bring a swimsuit (intentionally), but I did bring shorts, which I wore as I strolled on the beach, shoes in hand, hunting for seashells and watching the many different kinds of birds swoop and quarrel in their own hunt for supper.

Since it was spring break for great numbers of colleges, my walks on the beach involved contact with vast swarms of drunken college students. Many of them, to my dismay, were drunken northerners.

I kept my eyes focused on the shells and the sea, avoiding eye contact with them. I could not avoid hearing them though, and at one point, a young woman began chasing after me. I suspect she’d been dared to do it, but she may also have been hoping to provoke the terror, which I could not help but show in my facial expression. Her laughter followed me down the beach. I still have nightmares.

The only really unpleasant part of the walk on the beach, however, happened after the students had fled the beach for their hotel rooms and the various bars and restaurants in the area. These young men and women were messy guests, leaving bottles and cans and other kinds of debris behind. A few of us, among them some families with younger kids, helped pick up some of the garbage. While it was a mess, at least they had obeyed the rules about no glass bottles.

By and large, spring break as I witnessed it was pretty much what I expected it to be. Nice weather, some bad behavior, but mainly crowds of people doing what people do everywhere when they are on vacation: enjoy themselves.

Spring break at a beach always means at least one more thing: We have to return home.

For me that meant returning to a place that felt more “real” to me, but also to a blizzard. With wind chills. In March. The gods of winter will have their fun with us.

 

David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea.