Things I recently learned:
1. Bonfires are badass (relearned)
2. Bonfires on the beach are SUPER badass.
3. Drinking beer on the beach is frowned upon legally.
4. Pallet wood is not allowed to be burned at SoCal beaches.
5. To avoid an open-container violation you can plead guilty in “Beach Court” & join a beach clean-up chain gain of sorts.
6. Bonfires at the beach are still badass even after you get ticketed for open container and have to explain why you’re an adult who can read, but didn’t read the sign about pallet wood to an officer who really doesn’t care because he’s already written the ticket.
Bonfires are badass. Simultaneously, explosive, manly and also meditative. Sitting next to a bonfire, campfire or even charcoal grill in the park with a can of cold beer isn’t so much a right of passion as just a passion humans instinctively share. In the Mid-West we’d “go up-north”, light a fire, crack a beer and listen to the croak of bullfrogs near a lakeshore. In SoCal, we head to the beach in hopes of being one of the lucky ones to find an open concrete fire-pit, light a fire, crack a beer and listen to the lapping of the waves. On the East Coast…well who knows.
This Friday, a hot day tempered by a cool breeze and the discovery of a trunk-load of fencing & pallet wood inspired a trip to Crown Point Shores for just such a bonfire. Rolling into the park after 5pm is risky since spots are limited and we’re entering tourist season, but luck was with us. The first spot we looked for was available, and in one of our favorite park spots facing downtown, Mission Bay Park and the shoreline of Fiesta Island. Within minutes a half dozen other groups pulled up looking for spots but it was too late. Apparently, we got the last one.
A fire was lit and life slowly settled down. A breeze was coming in consistently from the North West blowing the smoke out at the lake. We aligned our chairs appropriately, and shared the snacks we had, and just enjoyed the last warmth of sunlight. Fish were jumping, and across the bay we could see the flickering of other bonfires reflecting off the water. All was right with the world.
Next to that campfire, any campfire, it is easy to look past the regular stresses of life. Just stare into the flame and let your brain wander. You can talk, sit quietly or sing just for the hell of it and it would all seem to be the right thing to do. It is a weirdly magical thing that happens to us when confronted with fire. Even the raucousness of the neighboring fire-dwellers seemed a small irritation when the flames in front of us were dancing and the leisurely waves lapping the shore soaked in most of the noise.
We were a small group with no plans to get to rowdy but we had brought a long a few specialty brews along to share including our last bottle of New Glarus Belgian Red Ale. We dug out the camp mugs and poured a share in each. We were telling stories, and about the time I pulled the ale back out of the cooler bag a flashlight shined on my hands and a voice casually asked, “You guys drinking out here?” Oh, shit. It’s the cops.
It was hard to deny since there was a giant bottle of the stuff in my hands, but teenage instinct kicked in for a second. RUN! Just kidding. I would never. Bad knee. We weren’t causing a scene or being loud, and we mistakenly assumed our politeness would mitigate the legality of our beach imbibing.
“Is that a BT?” was the next question from the cops. We had no idea what he was talking about. “A BT? Is that what that is?” Honestly, he could have been talking about some sort of street drug we’d never heard of or some sort of new Chrysler. No idea. But what we was referring to was our Boston Terrier, Dilla Mac Diesel the Third. Yes, that is her full legal name. “I love BT’s!” The cop liking our dog had to be a good sign.
It wasn’t. The cops explained to us that drinking is illegal on the beach. So are glass bottles. And burning pallet wood. Basically, we were hardened criminals. After a long discussion about why burning pallets are illegal (nails, chemicals?) we were given our options:
Option A – Show up to criminal court and plead to the crime. Be given a fine or jail time if determined to be guilty.
Option B – Participate in Beach Area Community Court. Sign up for a two hour court session in which you are lectured by a local cop, a nurse and community members on how beach crime affects the community, and then participate in a four hour beach clean up community service session.
We have five business days to choose our fate. I’m assuming you’ll see me wearing an orange jumpsuit doing beach clean-up soon. The jumpsuit will be mine as a protest that responsible adults can’t have a beer at the beach. The beach clean-up we’re all in favor of, and would likely have been doing anyway!
After the tickets were written, there was one last important question. Could we, at least, finish what remained of our open bottle of glorious Belgian Red Ale? The answer was “Yes” and “No.” Yes, you can finish it because you make your own choices. And “No, because you’ll be risking another ticket from another cop.” Then the cop wrote down the name of the beer on his pad so he could look it up later. Apparently, he likes the craft beer too.
We chose to risk it. That beer is just too damn good. We didn’t burn any more pallets though. We stuck to the fence posts though I’m not sure yet if that was any better. After the beer and cops were gone we were left with just our thoughts and the fire’s flames. We stayed and sat for a long time listening to the crackle, watching the flames shift from white to orange to blue, and zoning out to the lapping of the waves. Bonfires are super badass.