Labor Day. In other parts of the country, people are thinking about autumn, looking for the leaves to change, and getting ready to pull down their winter wardrobe.
In Florida, that's not how we do it. Sure, it's Labor Day this weekend, and the kids are back in school, but we'd all be kidding ourselves if we even tried to pretend it was the same thing as autumn up north.
Me, I usually get a touch of melancholy, a gray pallor that starts to come and go like a set of clouds drifting past the afternoon sun. It's not so much that summer's ending – because it really isn't, not in Florida – but because I start to regret all the days I've wasted already. I mourn the loss of days spent working, made longer by my affinity for Facebook and the Internet in general. If I could just have my June back, I think, I'd log off at noon and hit the sand.
When I first left my pantyhose-and-health-benefits job, that's what I did pretty much every day. I wrote when the mood suited me (or as my budget dictated) and spent plenty of time walking the beach, watching the sunset, or just enjoying the feel of the sun on my ever-more-tan shoulders.
As I found more and more work as a freelance writer, I still made time for the beach, scooting down to the beach at the day's end, rushing to the water's edge to watch for the Green Flash, spending those 20 glorious minutes of sunset afterglow reminding myself what really mattered.
This summer, though, I'm ashamed. I've not spent nearly enough of my sunsets on the creamy grit by the Gulf. That's why I'm determined to enjoy the beach this afternoon, but I want to watch the sun from a different vantage point.
Our beaches and bars are empty, and I have no trouble at all finding a seat facing the beach atop Jimmy's Crows Nest at the new Pier House 60 Marina Hotel . I let my gaze sweep the marina, the beach, and the parking lots – all pretty much deserted. The sun is still there, though, and a few lone waves break over a sandbar just south of the pier.
It's nice, way up here, looking down at the world. The beach – and not just the sand, the entire town – looks so well kept. I sigh, take a sip of my beer, and lean back in the warm chair. There's no obnoxious band, no boisterous drunks, just me, a few friends, and an afternoon in the sun.
As I gaze down and across Clearwater Beach, I see the houses on the north beach. I wonder how many of those people let the summer slip by, living on the beach but never really enjoying it. I vowed never to be one of them, yet here I am, three months of summer gone and I’m taking the paradise around me for granted, caught up in the minutiae of life and missing the big picture.
The more I watch the deserted sand, the more I think about how Labor Day doesn’t mark the end of summer. It’s more the end of the beginning, or maybe the end of the middle. By next week everything will clear out for a few months, tourist-wise, but the sun will still bake the streets, the tide will still wash over the sand, and the air will still reach 90 degrees by midday. There’s no reason I have to join the army of folks below, the legion of folks who never quite make it down to the water’s edge, although they believe they really want to be there.
People, I used to tell my friends, do what they want to do, and if someone really wants to do something, they’ll make it happen somehow. I look down at the water, then around me at the Crow’s Nest. I drain the last of my beer and head for the elevator.
I’m going down to the beach.