The calendar says summer officially ends this weekend, late Sunday afternoon. But the truth is, summer doesn't really end until they turn off the Boardwalk showers on my beach.
Because the Boardwalk shower is one of the truly civilized comforts of modern life, particularly to someone who makes it a point to swim in the ocean every day for months at a time.
If you've followed some of these sandy-shoed columns for the past three years, you may remember that I do that. Today, barring a heart attack or a foreign invasion targeting my Ventnor beach, will be my 95th straight day in the ocean. And I'll keep bodysurfing, with no wetsuit, as long as I can stand it. That's an annual, personal tradition I call The Streak, my way of honoring and appreciating the Atlantic Ocean as the single best part of living where we're lucky to live.
It won't take much to get that run of wet days into triple digits. With a little luck it will keep going through most of October - although after a late start this cold, rainy June, it will be just about impossible to top the 148-day Streak of last year, before Hurricane Sandy came along to crush it, among other local dreams. (And realities.)
But now back to more pleasant topics: Obviously, those Boardwalk showers aren't put out there every few hundred yards for just one ocean-obsessed occupant, no matter how noble his quest. Michael Weinrich, a fourth-generation Ventnor homeowner and a full-time resident until a few years ago, now splits his year between the shore and Rydal, Pa. He was back on the beach for one of this week's spectacular September days, and naturally, he was back in the ocean. After that, naturally, he was back in his favorite Boardwalk shower to rinse off.
He had one small gripe: "This is colder than the ocean," he said - but that's only because the ocean was so beautiful. "I always loved September, October and November here. You get weather like this, it's less crowded - you obviously don't have to worry about parking - and there's as much to do as there is in summer."
Lorraine McPeek, a frequent shore visitor from Upper Gwynedd, Pa. - even when her homeowner-daughter can't be at the shore for McPeek to visit - is another shower fan. She used one to wash miles of beach-walk sand off her feet the other day, and she liked the idea these showers help keep summer flowing.
"They're wonderful," she said, as her feet air-dried in the warm sun. "I just love them."
A few miles of wooden walk to the northeast, Atlantic City Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise is happy to talk up the virtues of the nearly new showers right off the boards in his hometown.
They have four heads on one stand - which can be useful at livelier beach times of the year than now - and that's not the only reason you'd like to see them show up on your beach.
"They're all push-button. They have foot showers" - which also have several heads each - "and water-savers, so they shut off automatically," added Aluise, who also points out a few of the city's busiest beaches have two of those units each, for a total of eight full-body showerheads.
Of course, there aren't exactly long lines for all those showers in late September, but in the height of the season, public showers are "a great convenience," Aluise says. "People are always looking for showers, and they're grateful to be able to use them. They wash the kids off, they can rinse their beach chairs - I think they're a real asset."
(But most ACBP lifeguards don't have to depend on those outside showers, their chief adds, because they have showers in their tents - as their wooden headquarters/shelters are commonly called.)
Now some of you fellow, dedicated beach bums out there may be jealous about all this talk of public showers, because not every South Jersey town has them on its beach or boardwalk.
Ocean City, which also has been known to draw a crowd on summer days, has only foot-showers in four spots along its Boardwalk. And they're hit-or-miss in other towns along our local coast.
Back in Ventnor, Dave Smith, the public-works superintendent, adds the Boardwalk showers - which are a definite hit in his hometown - weren't always part of the city's seascape.
"We've probably had them the last 10 years, or maybe a little longer," Smith said. "Now, people love them. The only time we get complaints is when they don't work."
They also could hear at least one complaint if the town turns them off too early, but Smith said the other day his department usually leaves the showers on "until the end of this month, or early October."
As a frequent flyer, that sounds fine to me - especially the October part, because that's not a bad month for summer to end. But now, in the spirit of full disclosure, this shower seminar inspires me to come clean and pour out a dark, deep secret:
On lots of summer days, my Boardwalk shower is my work shower. In other words, I just rinse off the sand and the saltwater on the boards - where it's not considered polite (or ocean-friendly) to use soap and shampoo and such niceties - and then change and head to work without taking time for a real shower. But please, whatever you do, keep that to yourself. Don't tell my poor desk neighbors here at the office; they've suffered enough.
Speaking of suffering, if you are one of those unfortunates who lives in a beach town bereft of beach showers, I encourage you to encourage your town to add that amenity. Trust me, they're worth fighting for.
I also encourage you to let me know about your ocean and beach traditions and opinions - starting with this judgement-call question: How do you know when summer is really over, regardless of what the calendar says? Is it the old unofficial end, Labor Day? (My official answer: No. That's way, way too early. We can't afford to waste a beautiful month like this one). But when is the end on your end?
Just think about that and it may keep your summer going a few days longer. And that would help, because it's a long fall and winter - especially after they turn off the Boardwalk showers.
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