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The Villages
Sunday, June 19, 2022

Crowded beach can make staying home a better option

Lisa DeMarco

If you believe there are two sides to EVERYTHING, is there a negative to living in paradise? Unfortunately, in my world, the answer is yes. I recently became privy to that fact. Much like the saying, “The honeymoon is over,” it was not a happy moment for me.

My husband, Joey, and I decided to celebrate our first Memorial Day weekend on the beach. Our community has a spacious pool, patio, sundeck, and outdoor barbecue area. My sister-in-law, Dina, was in town from Jacksonville visiting other family and friends and decided to spend an afternoon with us. “Joe Number Four,” as his family calls him, her big bro, wanted to show off and give his baby sister a worry-free, fun-filled, sunny day at the beach – DeMarco-style. We have so many more toys than we will ever need: chairs, floats, goggles, noodles, towels, and sunscreen. Between my OCD behaviors and Joey’s “GI Joe” mentality, it is rare for us not to have all we might need, yet we rarely have anyone to share it with.

Other than the winter holidays, we have not lived in Manatee County long enough to celebrate summer festivities yet. We moved from Lake County last year in mid-July, and by the time we got settled in, it was the beginning of August. Jeremy, my grandson, was already starting first grade, and our family beach trips quickly got shortened to weekends only. 

I’m learning, though, that “In-season” on the Gulf Coast beaches is very different from anywhere I’ve ever lived or visited – including summertime at the Jersey Shore! Understandably, on a Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in the Sunshine State during the holiday weekend that marks “Summer Has Begun,” we expected the roads to be crowded. We were prepared for slow-moving traffic over the causeway, and we knew it would be a chore to find parking. Even with all of our experience, we still never expected the chaos we somehow got ourselves trapped in.

The beauty of living 15 miles from Anna Maria Island was that we could dart off to the beach and enjoy the surf and sand at any time year-round. Unfortunately, because our beaches are rated high in the top most beautiful places to visit, it’s hard to keep even the “local’s hiding spots” secret for long. However, mayhem was certainly not part of my expectations for the day’s itinerary.

Fortunately, we really didn’t have anything better to do, so driving slowly down Gulfside Drive looking at all the spectacular scenery from the 64-causeway in Bradenton to nearly Sarasota, wasn’t too horrible for us newbies to the area. It was time-consuming, nearly two and a half hours worth. It demanded Joey’s skillful maneuvering to make it in and out of alleyways we thought might have a vacant spot but did not, and “roads” also that lacked adequate space to turn around to exit. We were all impressed with how well Joey navigated his way out of a few tight spots.

Right before we were about to give up, we noticed a lovely pull-to-the-side-of-the-road, public beach access with an open parking spot waiting for us to use. What Luck! Sure, we drove double the intended distance from our original parking destination, not to mention we wasted two and a half hours sightseeing. But, when we finally plopped ourselves on our rafts, we were just grateful to finally have found a safe and legal place for my hubby to park his pride and joy. At least we weren’t getting one of the thousands of parking tickets I am sure local law enforcement had written that day.  

The beach spot was actually perfect, too. The water was calm and reasonably shallow, and there was plenty of sand to set up our camp. We were parked close enough to go back and forth for things as we needed them instead of dragging them all at once. There was also enough natural shade from the tropical foliage, so we didn’t need to pull out the tent or the umbrella to keep us all comfortable. Unlike mine and Joey’s olive skin tone, Dina and Jeremy need a lot more sunscreen and a little less direct UV rays. This was indeed a “win-win,” as I like to say. 

Shout out to all my Lake County buddies who always waited until after the snowbirds left each year to come out and visit me at Billy’s Cafe. Those of you year-round Villagers, who preferred to come out and play when the crowds were less crazy, and traffic wasn’t at a standstill. Heads up, in Manatee County, when the snowbirds leave for their northern homes for the summer months, tens of thousands of tourists come from worldwide to vacation on our shores. I thought the Villages’ squares got packed. That’s nothing compared to the traffic on the three bridges that link Anna Maria Island to Bradenton, Cortez, and Longboat Key. Here, traffic can back up for miles during holiday weekends. Sometimes resulting in wait times of more than two hours at peak arrival time. Then, between pedestrians, trolleys, buses, golf carts, bicycles, scooters, and nearly 40,000 visitors, one would expect chaos. Now I know if we want to go to the beach these days, we either need to get to the beach at the crack of dawn or stay in one of the resorts within walking distance unless we plan on spending most of our day stuck in our car along the causeways and hunting for a legal parking space! 

We could buy a boat and float around undisturbed like all the “cool people” we watched anchor their watercraft and play off their decks. When more so, what are the chances of us finding a public boat ramp with a parking space to accommodate a trailer? Especially on days that cars are triple parked everywhere, for miles along the coastline, even where it is clearly marked “NO PARKING AT ANY TIME!” 

Next year, we will just have to party at home and barbecue at the pool. Then we can always celebrate the next day at a discount, like a retail sale the day after the holiday. This way, we won’t waste any time. We can stay safe, play hard and simply leave our cars in the driveway. 

Laugh on. Peace Out!

Lisa DeMarco is a columnist for Villages-News.com

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