Like Batman or The Shadow, I always did my best work after dark. I don’t mean journalistically. I mean beach-wise. Most folks who head down to the sand are looking for sun, but far back as I can remember, I was hoping to find myself looking up at the moon shining over the Pacific Ocean.
It’s still summer now, and Huntington Beach – and Orange County’s other beach cities – are beehives of surfing, volleyball, sunbathing and Frisbee-tossing. I can appreciate all those pastimes, but they pale (pun intended) next to the appeals of the strand when Sol sinks below the horizon.
My people are from Rhode Island, where the rocky shores lent themselves much more to fishing than swimming. That whole area has a history of hurricanes, so even before “Jaws” our tribe did not relish heading down to the pier.
Now, some people go to the beach to get a tan, but being of Italian heritage, I carry my olive skin with me all-year round. After a few days in the sun, I can pass for any number of minorities from the hot weather climes. I am effortless diversity.
All these and other influences tended to keep Jim from the beach during the day. But at night – as the song goes – “it’s a different world.” Lights twinkle along the pier. Stars gleam above and our evening friend Luna looks down on her cousin in the water. If it was hot during the day, it’s pleasant after sundown. If it was too-darned-crowded at noon, it’s wide-open at night.
There are few better places to be than a beach for reflection or romance. The vastness of the ocean, the infinite nature of the sands gives you the gift of humility. The size of the universe in the ebony canopy above you helps you put your worries in context. I can remember walking from the Huntington Beach Pier north to the breakwater and back, sorting out my conundrums and having an entirely necessary conversation with myself.
Taking a date to the beach at night is powerful medicine. Shorts and a sweatshirt. An ocean breeze makes you cuddle into each other. Without the distractions of the daytime, voices can become softer, more personal. Sitting around a fire-ring with the reflections of the flames making everything look romantically dramatic … well, who couldn’t fall in love at the beach at night?
And, of course, each beach has its own personality. Looking for the real Surf City experience and lots of fun food and drink choices? Well, then the HB is the choice. Good first date pick. But when the relationship gets more serious, you may want to slide down to Laguna to tour its art galleries and fine dining. Show Your Person how classy you are. Got grandkids and get cranky in crowds? Haul the crew down to Seal Beach for paddleboarding and Coldstone’s.
There have been a lot of changes to downtown Huntington in particular, many of them good and praiseworthy. But for me, the best thing about sandals and ocean breezes has been around for a long time, and returns every night.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears every Wednesday.