By Tracy Middleton
The penultimate landing on the south staircase at Woods Cove offers a panoramic view of the most cherished morsel of California coastline imaginable. Scenic rock formations? Check! Curvaceous shoreline of sparkling, golden sand? Check! Sheltered swimming and snorkeling with an absence of surfers, spongers and skim-boarders? Check! Restrooms, snack bars and other amenities? No way!
And thank God for that! Despite many locals’ complaints, comparatively few bona fide tourists crowd this tiny beach except for a few summer months. Oftentimes those who do come are “regulars” in their tourism, renters of the same cottage every year for a month at a time, or second homeowners. Their children are often well-grown hardy types: good swimmers with large bladders, able to withstand the steep staircase as well as the absence of snack bars and restrooms. It is not to say the other kind of tourists never come here. They do, providing the “floor show,” a source of continual amusement to the locals, whose suggestions go unheeded and watch the inevitable unfold. It goes like this: Dad arrives dragging a large ice chest and a folded canopy. He scopes a spot, sets up the canopy too close to the water line, then goes upstairs. Soon Mom comes carrying a folded stroller in one hand and a small child and diaper bag in the other. Their clothes and accessories look like a Lands End catalog shot, except the baby is crying. Two other children walk behind her, drop the sand toys and towels they have been charged to carry and run straight toward the waves. Mom starts to holler. The kids holler back. Dad, red-faced and sweating, reappears with folding chairs and a playpen. He hollers at the kids to bring the towels and wait for him near the camp. A wave crashes into the two kids whose backs are turned while listening to Dad. They all holler. Dad pulls them out and makes them sit close to camp until further notice. They all holler. Dad goes to find parking. Mom belatedly rubs sunscreen on the sandy kids. They holler. Once settled, the kids begin to dig and play. Sand fight between the sibs. More hollering. Mom changes baby’s diaper. Gulls steal unguarded snacks. Dad returns – he parked three blocks away. Yet more hollering while Dad sits, tries to eat a sandwich, the wrapper pecked by a gull. The tide subtly turns and a rogue wave exceeds all its predecessors by three feet and saturates the large blanket, up-ends the canopy and threatens to drown the baby. Everyone hollers. By now someone needs a bathroom. You got it. Hollering. It’s been just a few hours, and everyone has had enough of this “fun” except the locals looking on. To them, it’s reaching the climax of entertainment.
Dad leaves the camp to bring the minivan. Mom begins to pack, wishing all were in diapers. In the course of three trips up the stairs, leaving dancing, busting, crying kids on the second landing for safe-keeping, the fatigued parents drag ice chest, canopy, chairs, playpen, blanket, towels, diaper bag, toys and all other such accoutrements of civilization back to the van double-parked and ticketed on narrow Ocean Way. Thus ends today’s installment of the “floor show,” re-enacted with slight variations in cast and props every May weekend until Memorial Day, after which it runs daily until after Labor Day. Usually one such adventure either convinces parents to hit the county beach further south, or forget about playing “Oregon Trail” altogether. Though often unswimmable with an abrupt shorebreak, Aliso County Beach has ample parking that is level to the sand, a snack bar, showers, and a “sandbox” all within a short walk. The latter choice eventually prevails, whereby the parents resolve to visit Disneyland, Legoland or some other self-contained land of consumerism, thus completing their vacation. These valiant parents will then be able to sip tequila on the patio deck of their hotel while the children vegetate in front of the television – just like home!
Laguna Beach resident, Tracy Middleton, is an artist, writer, high school English teacher, and mother of two grown children.