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Steal the Beach

We drove onto fine powdery sand that had been stirred up by the wind, hesitated--and into this fluff our tiny Opel sank

By Novella Carpenter

With Labor Day weekend come and gone, and the kiddies back in school, we can all look back on our summer and ask ourselves the tough questions: Did I have enough fun? What did I accomplish? What did I learn? Don't be too hard on yourself--mixing the perfect mojito is a skill you can use the rest of your life. This summer, I learned two key things: getting waxed doesn't hurt as bad as I thought it would, and when a car is stuck in the sand, the best thing to do is let the air out of the tires.

It's an embarrassing story, the sand story, but here goes.

St. Pierre, France, 10pm, three days before the wedding. My sister is feverishly fashioning boutonnieres; my mom is drinking pastis; and the groom is pacing the apartment. The question he is pondering (but in French): Where will people dance? In France it's traditional, in between courses of the big outdoor wedding dinner, to get up and boogie. It's a brilliant concept--especially considering the feast lasts five hours and has eight courses. Problem was, there was nowhere in the garden to dance. That's when Benji hit on mental gold: sand! We would build a sand pit for dancing! But where would the sand come from?

Before you could say, "Oui," I was in the passenger seat of the Opel, and we were on our way to the beach to--well, shucks--to steal sand.

Driving on the beach seems wrong, doesn't it? Where I grew up, though, near Long Beach in Washington state, it is legal, and encouraged. Pacific County considers the peninsula shoreline a state highway, and its tourism website extols this oddity: "For years, beach-goers have enjoyed a leisurely drive on the wide, hard-packed sands. Here, you can drive your vehicle along many miles of accessible beach as you search for that perfect fishing spot or explore our pristine beaches, as the waves lap at your tires." Whoa, how can a beach be pristine if a minivan can roar by at any minute?

Anyway, it wasn't out of the ordinary for me to be driving on the sand, except I was in France, and we were going to steal the beach.

After one minute of driving, the long arm of karma came snaking out of nowhere, and Benji and I were stuck. If only I had read the Long Beach tourism board's tips for driving on sand! They are:

1.) When pulling onto the approach road you should decrease the air pressure in your tires to 20-25 pounds.

2.) Stay on the hard pack and out of the "sugar sand." This soft sand is like quicksand, and driving in it is a fair guarantee you will bury your car to the axle.

3.) When driving through the softer sand between the approach road and the hard packed beach, do not stop.

4.) In the event that you do lose traction, DO NOT spin your wheels to try to dig out of it.

Of course, we didn't do any of these things. We didn't deflate the tires; we drove onto fine powdery sand that had been stirred up by the wind, hesitated--and into this fluff our tiny Opel sank. Then we spun our wheels until we were in the sand up to the axle.

Luckily, we did have one shovel (remember: robbers!), and we spent a good hour digging a large square around the car. I got on my stomach and pawed sand away from the bumpers. Then, Benji had me drive in reverse while he pushed. No luck, no way.

But wait! There was a young man strolling on the beach! He came over and put his shoulder to the Opel's hood. The car's right wheel showered him with sand, but then I
was out!

We came home that night with sand in every crevice. When I took my braids out I had sand in between the folds. And yes, we did fill up the trunk with sand for that dang dance floor, and returned again and again.

Three days later, the guilty pleasure of sand between my toes as I danced to some hot Caribbean dance music was somehow tempered by the thought that I deserved it.


What did you learn this summer? Email Novella at novellacarpenter@yahoo.com.

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From the September 22-29, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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