I have been obsessed with beach adventures for a couple of years. How many, how different, how unique. Not the fantasies of the Seychelles or Bora Bora that I had in my youth, but fun things I could do on the spur of the moment. Followers of this blog will recall last year’s attempt at The Quick Six.
At the time that jaunt was percolating in my mind, I also wondered how many beaches, in how many states, I could visit for a swim by taking public transportation only. I had lived for a good part of my younger adult life without a car, and used to pride myself on getting anywhere I wanted or needed to go by bus and subway. I used to take the bus to Marblehead, the subway to East Boston, and the train to Rockport just to go to the beach.
So, last Friday I set off to see if I could get in the water at three ocean beaches in one day (dawn to dusk) without entering a private automobile. I had begun calling this The Intermodal. I had downloaded the timetables, packed my kit, and checked the forecasts. All looked ripe.
Thursday night I called the local cab company to arrange a ride. Even though I am not a frequent rider, they had all my information in their database and promised me a taxi at 5:45 a.m.. (A note to the skeptical – while a taxicab is a conventional passenger car, it is also a part of the public transportation web. Cabs operate under various public licenses, have professional drivers with special licenses, and are available to all members of the public for a published fare.) I turned off the alarm, washed, and fed myself. When I looked up, the clock said 5:46 and the cab was at my door. I kissed my long-suffering and ever more beautiful wife goodbye, left my key ring on the counter, and off I went.
First stop was the AMTRAK station at Route 128. A license check and credit card swipe ($46.00) later I had a ticket on the 6:30 a.m. Northeast Regional bound for New London, CT. Bought The Globe and joined a few others for an on-time departure. At 7:30 we pulled in to Westerly, RI. Westerly features a pretty Mediterranean-style station house. After Westerly the train runs right along the shore, past salt ponds, marshes and small boatyards. At 7:52 we pulled in to New London.
At New London, I had (at least) two choices – the SEAT bus to Ocean Beach Park, or the Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point, NY. I decided to hotfoot it to see if I could catch the 8 a.m. ferry. The ferry dock is adjacent to the train station, but separated by a safety fence. I chose what turned out to be the slightly longer way around, but again, with a license check and a credit swipe ($25.00 for a same-day round trip walk on) I just made it.
The MV Cape Henlopen takes autos and passengers across the end of Long Island Sound from busy old New London to the relatively deserted dock at Orient Point. The day was perfect. 100% sunshine, calm seas, fair winds. Interesting views of the Navy sub pens and the Electric Boat works to port and the Cost Guard Academy to starboard. Had a bagel and coffee and cracked open a used Carl Hiassen novel I had picked up at the library fundraising sale. To my great relief, it was one I had not already read. Always chancy with guys who have published a lot, and whose books come out in a variety of paperback editions. Jacked into my iPod and settled down.
At about 9:20 the ferry docked at O.P. The “port facilities” here consist of a bulkhead, a paved road, and a small hut for tickets and coffee. That is it. Now I had been here twice before, so none of this was any surprise. I also knew that in addition to the official state park beach down the road, there is a little strip on the water just to one side of the dock. This is very unofficial. There are no signs (on that side anyway) which I interpret to mean that this is a public beach open to all. There are some No Trespassing signs on the other side, and I avoid it. I walk a couple of hundred yards down a beach consisting of tumbled whitish stones, park my gear on a weathered log, and wade in. A quick dip. My definition of “swim” is at least one full head to toe immersion. More as time and the inclination of the participants permits. I am alone. No-one else in the water or on the “beach”. I might be the only person who ever swims here.
There is a gated pedestrian entrance to the beach, and I had been informed that there was an entry fee for walk-ins. This must just be for weekends or something because there was no attendant and no charge. The day is bright and hot and the beach is well populated with families, couples, teens on the make. All shapes, sizes, and colors. In marked contrast to OP, this beach has facilities. Facilities to spare. It is under the jurisdiction of the City of New London, but has a surprising mix of public and private activities. The beach, of course, a long boardwalk with bandstand, restrooms, snack bar and the like. But Ocean Beach also has a bar (!), a Workout World facility, a swimming pool, miniature golf, and more. Sand is hot, water is cool and the quick dip is accomplished.
I use the restroom to change out of my suit and into a dry one for the next stage. This turns out to be a wise decision. I head back to the bus stop to catch the scheduled 1:30 back to Water Street. A short shady wait later, $1.25 into the fare box, and I am on my way. We arrive just before 2 p.m..
I had cut short having a nice time at Ocean Beach because I did not want to miss the 3:03 AMTRAK back to Boston. The last time I had to take the train from New London, I missed getting on a train that was in the station because you cannot access the northbound platform while the train is in the station. The 2:30 SEAT was supposed to arrive about 2:50, which I thought was cutting it too close. The 1:30 should have left me plenty of time to buy a ticket, grab a beer, and get on. Not so fast, pal.
The northbound 3:03 was showing a delay when I got to the station. Ticket agent said 30 to 40 minutes, so I bought a ticket to South Station ($55.00) and went around the corner for a beer. No DUI worries on the Intermodal! The bar was dim, not very cool, and deserted. I ordered a Sam Summer and watched the World Cup on two screens. Same match with slightly different feeds. Play was the same, commercials different. Barmaid’s friend came in to talk about shamrock tattoo designs. Lots of loud motorcycles with unhelmeted riders. Walked back to the station.
The delay is now an hour or more. Thank goodness for Hiassen’s enduring power to keep me turning the pages. Walk outside to see the swells getting off the Fisher’s Island ferry, some into a limo. Wonder if limousines qualify as public transport? The 3:03 finally departs New London at 4:25. This is not a serious kink, but wastes the effort to make the 8 a.m. ferry, and/or means I could have spent a lot more time at Ocean Beach. It also means there is no chance of trying to sneak in a dip at Westerly, RI, not today at least.
At 6 p.m. we roll into South Station in Boston. Lots of very dressy young women. Lots of romantic reunions. It is Friday night, and these young lovers probably haven’t seen each other since Monday morning. The longing is palpable. I buy a $5 Charlie ticket from an automated kiosk and I am on my way. Momentary thought of taking the Silver Line to Logan Airport, the shuttle to the subway and on from there. One stop on the Red Line to Downtown Crossing (will never stop calling it Washington Street.). Change to the Orange Line. One stop to State Street. Change to the Blue Line. Under the harbor, past the airport, (think about getting off at Orient Heights to hit Constitution Beach in East Boston. Remember that I did not like the water there much in the 70’s and decide I probably won’t like it any better now.) and on to the Revere Beach stop.
I go across the street to Sammy’s Bar. This is the place I often warm up in after swims at Revere in the winter. It has windows that look out onto the beach and the water. The TV set is tuned to the NHL Draft ceremonies. The two guys on the other side of the bar are talking very knowledgeably about Taylor and Tyler and several others.
Back to Shirley Avenue and the Blue, Orange and Red Lines. By this time I figure I will be catching the 9:15 commuter train back to my home in the suburbs. Lady Luck is smiling on me. Owing to seamless subway connections, I am there in time to buy a ticket ($4.75) and hop on the 8:10 MBTA commuter rail out of town.
Not very crowded. I exchange nods of happiness with a nice family whose kids have balloon animals, but have not been to a circus. Hiassen is finished, having dispensed a kind of rough justice to the deserving and undeserving. I dial the iPod to Geoff Muldaur as the sun fades. When I get off the train it is not either light or dark. I would say it is the time of day when a kid who was told to be home before the streetlights came on could still mount a pretty good argument, but might have to concede defeat. The gym bag weighs heavy as I walk the few blocks home. Muldaur buoys the spirit. I have to ring the bell when I get home. I turn to the west and see a faint brightness. Close enough for me.