I spent last week with my wife and 12-year-old stepson vacationing in Grayton Beach, Florida. We rented a little house, three bikes, and a kayak, and turned off the outside world for seven days. Sort of.
On the beach, as in many other places, people are creatures of habit. You find a spot on the first day — in our case, near the state park boundary — and you return to the same place each morning. I started noticing a cast of regulars. There was puka-necklace boy and his girlfriend, a pair of leather-tanned teens who ambled by holding hands several times a day. There was smoking lady, who went through a pack of Marlboro Lights while tanning the 97 percent of her flesh left exposed by her tiny, bright fuscia swimsuit. And there was the couple from Atlanta — let's call them Bill and Ginny. We even got semi-social with them, since they plopped down near us each day.
I met Bill when he asked about my fishing luck when I returned to the beach in the kayak. "A few skipjack," I said. "No big ones." We chatted amiably. Yes, I'm from Memphis, I said. They were from Atlanta, etc. etc. The smallest of small-talk. Later, Bill came back after chatting with my stepson Roman in the surf. "I'm really impressed with Roman," he said. "What a bright kid." Thanks, we said. What a nice guy, we thought. We didn't have long conversations, but we shared pleasantries throughout the day.
On the third day, Bill and Ginny were joined by another couple. After saying hello and being introduced, my wife and I turned back to our reading. Then we listened, amazed, as our lovely beach pals and their friends turned into monsters. Well, not monsters, really, but big-time right-wingers, at least. They discussed how Obama was probably born in Kenya and how the new health-care plan would kill grandma and make them pay for healthcare for people who were too lazy to get a job. They liked Sarah Palin and thought Glenn Beck was "telling it like it is." I should mention they were sitting to our right, but a lot farther in that direction than we thought, apparently.
But hey, we were on vacation. We stayed friendly with Bill and Ginny for the rest of the week and had several more nice, chatty exchanges and, thankfully, politics never came up. I'm sure they would have been as shocked to learn our views as we were to learn theirs. But we didn't go there. Like I said, we were on vacation.