Brown Man Tans On The Easy Reach Beach

It looks like I got back just in the nick of time, before you guys started fighting over whether Michael Jackson or Steve McNair should be named Father Of The Year. But it was hard to leave our little Georgia beach. It seems that every year on Sunday is when the sun shines the brightest, the water is just right for catching a few waves, and the people seem the friendliest on Tybee Island.

The Resident Diva and her buddy who had come along were moving real slow about midday Sunday - actually they weren't moving at all, their eyes glued to some reality show on MTV. So instead of taking our bags to the car, I scooped up a beach towel and a beer and headed to the beach.

S. decided she was hungry, so she joined me for the 500 foot walk to the string of restaurants on the strand that looked out onto the beach. I peeled off at the Seventeenth Street crosswalk, like I did every morning, while S. continued on to Fannies, a Tybee Island institution that has the best open air view of the Atlantic Ocean in town. By the time she was sitting down at her coveted spot on the second floor deck at Fannies, I had already dropped my towel and shoes and surveyed the landscape.

The thing about a little beach like this, which doesn't have the golf courses or entertainment venues or amusement parks of a Myrtle Beach, or the raw intensity of Destin, or the cachet of a Seaside or even Hilton Head, is the way it becomes a community beach, even though the people who come here are usually staying for a week or less. As I stood in the ocean, letting the water lap against my back, I could see quite a few familiar faces from the week, people who I talked to on the beach or stood in line with for breakfast or listened to music with at night in one of the nearby bars.

The building ordinance Tybee has that limits the heights of all buildings is probably the thing that has contributed the most to its character. There are no major hotel chains and no high rise condo towers, which means a large part of their tourists rent houses instead of rooms. So you see a lot of families, a lot of intergenerational groupings who come back year after year.

I thought about an exchange I'd had one morning at The Breakfast Club, another Tybee Island institution where you can get to listen to Muddy Waters while you eat your omelet. I was sitting next to a gregarious local builder, although in this place gregariousness seems to be a prerequisite to getting a highly sought after seat at the bar, where you sit a few feet from the backs of the finest short order cooks in town. The builder, after recently winding down his Michael Jackson harangue, had leaned over to me to express his condolences since I'd had to confess that I was from Atlanta.

"I got a brother up there," he said in a booming drawl, as if his brother was doing a bid in a state penitentiary. Then he lowered his voice. "You know what they call this place?"

I gave him the universal "I don't know" look, spreading the upturned palms of my hands apart slowly to cue him to go ahead with his punchline.

"They call it the 'Redneck Rivera'."

I leaned over towards him, my eyebrows raised high. "Redneck it is. The Rivera it ain't."

I thought about that exchange on Sunday as I stood there in the water, watching people do the the things that they normally do at the beach, and sorted through why I liked this place so much. Maybe, I mused, it allowed me to get in touch with my Inner Redneck. Maybe it was the prices, which were reasonable enough to allow men who painted houses and fixed cars and machined parts and assembled cars to treat their families to a nice time at the beach once a year. Maybe it was the way the public was as welcome to the beach as the people who owned the million dollar houses that overlooked the ocean. Or maybe it was the way most of the people seemed to fully and freely enjoy themselves without worrying about the time or the label on their swimsuits or the way their hair was cut.

I thought about all these things and more as I kept hearing about Steve McNair and Michael Jackson and their roles as father figures for their children. I thought about the men I'd sat next to all week, and drank beer with, and told stories with, men who planned their own itineraries, served as their own bodyguards, loaded their own bags into their own cars, found their way down the highway without the aid of GPS, men who looked into their wallets as if the money in it could run out if they weren't careful, and wondered why we allowed our media to repeat the kinds of meaningless platitudes about fatherhood they have been spouting recently about the latest deceased celebrity dads.

That's when I knew the Brown Man needed to bid the Easy Reach Beach goodbye for now and get back to work telling it like it is.

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