Friday, July 21, 2006

Beach Blogging

The highlight of my broadcast career (such as it was) came about 15 years ago, when I co-anchored a location shoot for Gay Fairfax, a weekly news magazine show that originated on the Fairfax Cable Access Channel (FCAC) in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Under the leadership of producer Bill Horten, a team of Gay Fairfax technicians, camera operators, and on-air talent spent a weekend in "the Nation's Summer Capital" -- Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, known as the most popular gay and lesbian beach resort between Fire Island and Key West. I remember, in particular, interviewing the owner of the Blue Moon, then (and perhaps still) a hot spot for happy hours, and the new Rehoboth Beach chief of police.

Although I worked on Gay Fairfax for more than a year and had, in the process, interviewed people like Congressmen Barney Frank and Jim Moran and D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, the Rehoboth shoot was the most memorable -- definitely the most fun -- and the only one I retain on a VHS tape.

When I was younger and still living in the D.C. area, it was not unusual for me to make seven or eight trips to the beach each summer. There were a couple of years when I even joined in on a group beach house. During the pre-Internet summer of 1992, in an effort to get away from the election campaign, I spent 10 straight days -- two weekends bookending a week -- at the beach house. Even then, though, the campaign intervened: George F. Will's article about Libertarian Party presidential candidate Andre Marrou, based on an interview with Andre in Will's office (at which I had been present as the campaign's foreign policy advisor), appeared in the Washington Post that week. So I had to read it -- but that was my only dose of political reality during that whole week.

To escape from Washington so thoroughly was a difficult task, but I aimed high. My romantic notion of beach life was informed, perhaps too much so, by Ethan Mordden's stories about Fire Island (which I have never visited) in his Buddies tetralogy. For example, in a story called "And Eric Said He'd Come" from the first book, I've a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Mordden wrote:

After lunch I excused myself for a solo flight in the Island manner and headed for the Pines, my favorite place. Here I learned to admire or tell off, here comprehended the pride of the beauty and the passion of the troll, here conceived the classes of gay and learned the nuances that separate tough from stalwart. I was a kid here, and grew wise. There are a number of stories that are assigned to each gay man's collection whether or not he'll have them: "The Day I Told My Parents," for instance, or "What I Saw in the Bars." There are perhaps fifteen such titles, and I think it notable that those with an urban, rural, business, or family setting can take place anywhere in America with acceptable resonance, every beach story must take place on Fire Island. For here we find gay stripped to its essentials. The beautiful are more fully exposed here, the trolls more cast out than anywhere else -- thus their pride and passion. The beguiling but often irrelevant data of talent and intelligence that can seem enticing in the city are internal contradictions in a place without an opera house or library. Only money and charm count. Professional advantages are worthless, for, in a bathing suit, all men have the same vocation. Yet there are distinctions of rank. Those who rent are the proletariat, those who own houses are the bourgeoisie, and houseboys form the aristocracy.
Romantic, yes, but with a certain tartness. Yet appropriate to the time-stands-still climate of a beach resort where ritual demands relaxation, sunbathing, riding the bumper cars, and taking advantage of happy hour drink specials.

I remembered those days, and particularly the Gay Fairfax shoot, yesterday and today as I came back to Rehoboth Beach after a long absence. (I think my last trip here was 1999, perhaps 2000.) Many things are the same as they were, but there are a lot of new things, too.

So here are some random photos from my brief, midweek stay at Rehoboth Beach.

I'm safely returned to Charlottesville now; my wi-fi connection at the beach was too weak to accommodate Blogger's demands. I had hoped to post this on Wednesday but it is already early Friday morning. But it's the beach -- who cares if it's timely or not?

Update: I found this great summary of Rehoboth's charms in the New York Times travel section:
On Fridays, the exodus from the nation's capital to the nation's summer capital, Rehoboth Beach, begins in earnest by 2 p.m. Back-ups are commonplace along the nearly 125-mile route, culminating in a final five-mile crawl along Route 1. Rehoboth, with its cedar-shingled cottages sheltered by tall pines, still has echoes of its beginnings as a Methodist camp. But its proximity to Washington's affluence and diversity has spawned a sea change in real estate values and its cultural landscape, too. Increasingly, the resort resembles Washington's bikinied and tight-T-shirted alter ego. During the day, straight and gay singles congregate on the town's public beaches. At night, they meet and greet at house parties or frolic in the nearly 75 restaurants with bars that blanket the one-square-mile town. Rehoboth's year-round population of about 1,500 swells to as many as 80,000 on a summer weekend, but, as its biblical name connotes, it does have room for all.
The article goes on to describe various restaurants, bars, and other attractions.

1 comment:

Conrad said...

uzAsbury Park NJ is another gay friendly destination that has its beginings as a Methodist Camp.

I wonder if any Baptist Camps have become gay destinations.