Dan Anderson can't honestly say he has sand in his shoes. But he can't deny that he has sand in his cabinet, either.
That's the cabinet by the main door of Sandi Pointe Coastal Bistro, the restaurant and bar named for both Anderson's wife and co-owner, Sandi, and Somers Point, the hometown of their family business.
That cabinet has jars and vials and flasks and tubes and more containers of sand from all over the world. There's sand from Aruba, sand from Bali, sand from Maui and sand from a bar in Key West, Fla. And just to show that as "curator of sand," Dan Anderson doesn't limit his selection to sand from steamy, swanky beaches, there's also sand from such tourist hot spots as the Sahara Desert and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A lot of those 50-plus containers come with a family story, which is how the stockpile started in the first place. The top shelf of the glass cabinet is centered by a spice rack filled with identical jars of widely varied sand that Dan and Sandi picked up themselves on the kind of warm-weather, beach-chair trips that Sandi - a lifelong lover of the sand across the bay in Ocean City - often gravitates toward at vacation time.
The jar from Aruba on the top left of that rack isn't just first alphabetically, Dan says. It was also the first sand the two brought home from a trip - after Dan got the idea to start selecting souvenir sands when he catered a party for a nice Ocean City couple in his 25 years years of working at the Ram's Head Inn in Galloway Township.
The customers had decorative jars filled with sand from around South Jersey. Dan liked the look and borrowed their system - but dramatically expanded its reach.
It helps the geographic mix that close to half the sand now comes with a good story from friends. A lot of the containers marked with more-exotic, less-Caribbean locations in the spice rack were donated by people who cover different parts of the world in their wanderings.
The sand that Suann and Joe Goss, of Egg Harbor Township, brought back with them from a trip might not sound so exciting to veteran travelers. But Anderson remembers it was the first sand any friends contributed to the cause.
"We'd been to their house and seen the collection of sand, and when my husband and I went to Jamaica on vacation, a light went off," said Suann, who figures she's known the Sandi Pointe owners more than 20 years, from those Ram's Head days.
So the Gosses filled up a "little, tiny container" to bring back from their beach, but when they got in the customs line at the airport, "All of a sudden, we said, 'Uh-oh. Are we going to get in trouble for bringing in sand?'" she continued.
For the record, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol addresses that very issue on its web site in answering a frequently asked question.
"Can I bring seashells, sand, driftwood or other beach mementos into the U.S.?" The answer, the agency says, is that "Stones/Pebbles/Sand are generally acceptable in small quantities as long as the item does not present a threat to American agriculture and the harvesting of the item was not detrimental to ... any species and/or the environment."
So that should ease the minds of contributors. But to these friends, bringing back sand to the collection said something else about their minds.
"It shows people think of Dan even when they're not with him," Suann Goss said. "I'm sure the collection is quite a conversation piece, and I think it's really cool how he has it displayed."
Anderson agrees that the sand stock does get people talking - and the other night, it got him teasing a couple other friendly regulars who have traveled widely, but never brought back any far-flung sand to his shelves.
Ed and Debbie Fitzpatrick, of Somers Point, admit they could have brought back samples from the wild coast of Oregon, or from some travels around remote beaches in South America.
"But I just don't think of it when I'm there," Ed explained, with a smile. "I don't think of Somers Point at all when I'm on a beach somewhere, to tell you the truth."
Travelers who have thought to bring sand back with them clearly show that all sand is not created equal, though.
The color of much of Sandi Pointe's sand stash looks like it could have come off any local beach in South Jersey. But other samples, like a jar from New Zealand and another from Kona, in Hawaii, are so dark and coarse that the sand looks more likely to have come out of a pepper mill or jar of poppy seeds than off a beach. Other samples are closer to the color of paprika or cayenne pepper than they are to an Atlantic City or Wildwood beach.
"They could have gotten that from a coal mine in Pennsylvania, for all I know," Anderson jokes, pointing at one of those volcanic black sands. "I'm trusting."
Another couple of contributors to the cabinet, Somers Point's Nick Regine and Kathy Arleth, are also fans of Sandi Pointe's sand - even if they are partial to the jar they brought back from a beach in Cornwall, England. (And they're fans of Cornwall's sand even if it brings back bad memories of Kathy actually accidentally flushing a perfectly good camera down a toilet there. Seriously.)
But Regine, who's also president of the Somers Point Jazz Society, sees plenty more reasons to like Sandi Pointe than just its stock of strange sands and sometimes stranger stories.
He's happy to point out that the ballroom next to the bar - which seats about 150 people by Dan Anderson's count - usually either fills up or comes close on the first Monday of each month, when the Ed Vezinho/Jim Ward Big Band takes over the stage to play a hot mix of jazz classics and originals.
And there's more jazz every week at Sandi Pointe's Tuesday Night Jazz Series, when bassist Tim Lekan and drummer Bob Shomo make up the rhythm section for a string of special guests, anywhere from one to three soloists with prominent local reputations - singers, pianists, horn players, guitarists and more.
"It's important to have a room like this," Regine says, "and an inviting host. Dan is such a hard worker and a class act - it's a great marriage for us."
Plus jazz is not the only music in the Sandi Pointe lineup. Anderson says the Dan Burke Band - which plays an acoustic mix of rock and folk tunes ranging from the Grateful Dead to The Band to Bob Dylan to Old Crow Medicine Show to REM - is now working every Friday night in his bar.
By next month, he expects to have live music four nights a week - or five nights in the big-band weeks. That's notable in Somers Point, which built an entertainment reputation years ago partly based on the music offered in its bars and clubs, but now has far fewer live-music venues than it once did.
And if you stop in to Sandi Pointe for some food, some music and/or some beverages, make sure you check out all the sand collected and catalogued in that cabinet.
You won't be the first person: Anderson hears a lot about all his sand, and he knows people are paying attention to his cabinet even when they aren't asking him about it.
"I notice I have to clean the glass more often these days," he says, smiling. "It gets a lot more fingerprints than it used to."
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