Ocean City, New Jersey is comprised of hordes of people who come to the shore for endlessly varying reasons, but ultimately get lumped into groups that lord over the territory of their respective times of day. With a few grey areas, the tourists, aka “shoobies” (myself included), and locals tend to gravitate towards the time of day that speaks to their interests divided into morning, day, evening and night.
When I was a child the day was certainly mine as I staked my claim on the beach from about 9:00 (my dad would have been there since 8:00) until 5:00 when the sand crabs washed ashore and dug themselves into the sand where the water could reach no further.
As I got older my early beach days began to wither into afternoons and I found myself more excited for night time where I could venture into the parent-less freedom that was the boardwalk night life, looking for spontaneous friends or relationship prospects. It actually worked for me one summer and I began a year and a half long distance relationship that started in a chilly boardwalk night.
Alas, it was inevitable that I would also shed those nightly interests and as I grew and matured the excitement and ego gratification that came with boardwalk nights became less and less..well…exciting. Suddenly, I had grown up.
Then I started running again and where it seemed I had no personal place in the 24 hours of a vacation day, I ran into, quite literally, a secret society just as bonding and defined as the beach days of my youth and the nightlife of my teenage years…the morning. But not just “the morning” that most in this beach town would use to define the start of their day, that early morning sun of 8 am – 11 am when Brown’s wafts their sweet donut aroma onto the boards, the surrey’s begin to flood their lanes, and the rent-a-cop’s start kicking the cyclists back onto the streets at 11 so the day tourists can storm the beaches. No, this is a different morning, where a certain type of vacationer pulls their heavy bodies from their beds to see a part of the day that often goes unrecognized by most. It is the golden hour of the athlete and the fitness-head, which starts sometime around 5 am and ends before the boardwalk is swarmed with recreational users like seagulls to dropped curly fries.
I have shed my urge to sleep in so that I can enjoy both the time of day where the humidity is quelled and the runners lane on the boards is opened enough to ease a quickened pace if necessary. It is a vacation town time of day that hosts a unique breed of person and inherently forms a common bond through our activities. We see a commonality in our absurdity, in getting up at the same time our work day dictates, but to engage in something physical and rewarding instead of the forced march of the bosses.
Our interactions are quick and fleeting, accumulating about 3 full seconds of abbreviated communication each morning, but in repetition throughout the week we form a unique friendship unlike most others. We pass each other 2 to 3 times each run, depending on the miles we have in our log and with a nod, wave, or sometimes an audible “morning”, we come to know each other by not much more than our appearance and speeds.
This week alone I have befriended a handful of new athletes I look forward to seeing before the rest of the town rises from their passive slumber. There is the tall runner adorned with enough accoutrements (fuel belt, spandex shorts, sleeveless shirt, visor) to give away his ironman ambitions. There is the curiously skinny woman with brightly colored workout clothes seemingly dripping with wealth and makeup, but consistently putting down mile after mile. There is the somewhat chubby younger girl with spiky hair and a spunky smile that leads me to believe she truly enjoys her morning routine…I’ve made the assumption we like the same music. There is the young skinny kid with a gangly stride that at first glance would make any coach cringe at the wasted efficiency, but who continuously keeps one of the faster paces on the boards for extended distances. Watching him run I feel like I’m watching a replay of my earlier running days. Then there are so many more that come and go with the weather or their motivation, but we all comprise a secret culture of athletes that own the boards before anyone else, before the breakfast restaurants open, before the lifeguards take their post and before enough food drops on the ground by distracted tourists to attract the gangs of gulls.
We are a fleeting culture of athletes and although we probably wouldn’t recognize each other during any other time of day (stripped from our superhero outfits), whether on the beach or people watching at night, we all know our routines will hold steady and we can expect to see each other bright and early each morning. This real morning is where I’ve jabbed my flag into the ground and laid claim to a continued tradition of vacationing days, and I look forward to seeing my newfound if fleeting acquaintances every day.