On the beach and the road to nowhere
August 12, 2022
I’ve loved the water since I was a kid splashing in the pool at the Y and the lakes around Kalamazoo, Michigan. In college, I was too uncool for spring break debauchery-by-the-sea, and never in my wildest dreams imagined actually owning a place at the beach. Then my future wife took me to Florida’s Emerald Coast, which was like the title of a Country Joe McDonald album: “Paradise With an Ocean View.”*
We bought a condo, got married on the beach, traded up to a house, and had a lot of great years. Eventually though, we lost our nirvana to the plague that’s upending beach life everywhere: Big money.
Our laid-back community of classic Florida homes was overrun by temples of excess like this one. Got seven million bucks? The building boom triggered a swarm of tourists who sat on the beautiful white sand staring at their phones, then spent their nights getting hammered, shooting off fireworks, and keeping us awake. Since we sold our house, the area has gotten so choked with traffic that there’s talk of building a parking structure. That’s right. They’re literally going to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.
Sadly, the Emerald Coast is far from the only place in this situation. As reported by a recent New York Times story, people all over the country are throwing money into beachfront palaces — which may soon be washed away or knocked down by climate change. One reader commented, “We once owned a three-generation little beach house…a place from which to explore the world of sand and sea…We no longer own it and it’s been “renovated” into a monstrous home…right at the lip of the Atlantic.”
The Times article raises the disgusting prospect that, through federal flood insurance and erosion control programs, “We Will All End Up Paying For Someone Else’s Beach House.” Nobody paid for our beach house except us. We put both our money and our hearts into it and got a lot back. That’s why selling was tough, but at least we left on our own terms, unlike the owner of the place in this viral clip.
Not being one for schadenfreude, I don’t relish the thought of all those huge homes meeting the same fate. I’ll be damned if I’ll pick up the tab, though. The only thing I want to pay for is a serious, urgent effort to halt climate change.
We can take a lesson from the prophetically titled ’50s novel and movie “On the Beach,” in which the last few survivors of a nuclear war cling to life in Australia until fallout kills everyone. The closing shot in the film is of a Salvation Army banner that reads, “There is still time…Brother.”
*Not to be confused with “Paradise and Lunch” by Ry Cooder, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by the late Meat Loaf, and definitely not “Cheeseburger in Paradise” from Jimmy Buffet.