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Keeping the Beaches Safe for Democracy

by sandy feet

Security is an important word these days. New terrorism threats splashed across the headlines; warnings that increased airport security measures may slow down the already painful airline check-in process... makes me double-glad that my summer job of teaching sand castle lessons just involves a stroll down to the beach.

Except that the long fingers of security are stretching out there too. Over the past 6-7 years, I have been hired to give lessons at pretty much every condo complex along the beach. It used to be a fairly simple matter to park and walk across the property grounds to the shore to meet my students on their home beach. The few gated properties I went to did not pose much of a problem - the gate codes didn't change very often and once the security mechanisms corroded in the Gulf breeze (doesn't take long at all) their use would be abandoned and the beach would once again become freely accessible.

Now that the summer of 2002 is in full swing and there are lots of lessons to be given, I have had a chance to see what some property managers have been up to the past few months. I try not to take it personal - why would anyone want to keep ME off their beach? But the mazes of gates and fences recently installed at some of the larger beachfront properties seem calculated to make my life difficult. It is no longer a simple matter of memorizing a few codes - you have to have a property-issued magnetic card to get to either the parking lot or the beach.

One place in particular (I'm not going to mention any names) really mystifies me -- you need a card to get from the property parking lot through three (3!) locked gates to get to the beach, but the gates are only locked from the building side. In other words, the property is protecting its wide-open beach from hardworking entrepreneurs, but allowing unimpeded access to its multi-million dollar facilities to any potential beach hooligans.... go figure.

Of course, smart sand castle instructors such as myself eventually work out a way to bypass these types of obstacles, and at some point (one can only hope that) the corrosive Gulf breezes will do what they do and open everything back up again. But the obstacle course does not end at the beach; between the vegetation line and the shore stands yet another line of defense.

Surely you've noticed it as well: Jillions of brightly-colored umbrellas have started springing up like mushrooms every weekend, marching up the beach and jostling each other for position. On some properties they are planted so closely together that only the tiniest slip of a girl could slither between them. When I am confronted with one of these fluttering walls - in my wide-brimmed pith helmet with an armload of buckets and shovels and carving tools - I can't help but wish I'd brought a machete to hack my way through...

My first solution to these aggravations was a simple one - entice my clients into meeting me at the public beach access closest to my house by dangling a hefty discount for their trouble. In the process of congratulating myself on this brilliant business maneuver, I happened to notice that this summer the Umbrella People have started invading the public beach accesses as well.

Now I am thinking about offering lessons in my back yard sand box -- at least I have a key to my own front door -- but without those lovely Gulf breezes the heat becomes a major issue and (oops!) what would I do for shade?

See you on the beach!

There are five (5) ways to submit your questions/comments for future Ask Sandy columns: In person; by phone (761-6222) or fax (761-8930); the US Postal System (box 2694,spi,78597) and E-mail: (sandyfeet@unlitter.com). Visit my web-site (http://spionline.com/) for tips on sandcastling, contest info, recent Ask Sandy columns, and my reviews of local businesses.

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