With no preliminaries or even a “How do you do,” a man walked up to me as I was looking at the surf on Sunday afternoon and asked, “Can anyone be here?”
I knew what he was trying to say, but being in somewhat of an ill temper at the time, I played dumb. “What do you mean?” I said.
“Can anyone surf here or is it just for fishermen?” he asked. Then he proceeded to follow up with a number of questions, trying to find out exactly where he might go, under what conditions, and which parking permits he might need. To say that my responses were vague would be an understatement.
As I was heading away from the beach, another guy turned to ask, “The surf’s pretty bad, right?”
“Right,” I said, and kept walking.
On my way west, I stopped at the Montauk 7-Eleven for a liter of seltzer. My mood brightened considerably as a man of about 30 on the line behind me whipped out his cellphone and loudly related a story about a friend whose dance-floor misadventures the night prior had resulted in his going home alone once again.
The phone call was loud and inappropriate and out of place, and the guy was speaking clearly enough so that no one on that side of the store could have missed a word. Still, it was a downright funny story, and I walked out with a grin.
Within a half-hour, I was parked at another ocean beach. There, a woman about to go body-boarding started talking to me about the waves. As she went off down the beach, a man came around the side of my truck to do the same. I had recently had a haircut; could it have been a special style that fairly screams, “I welcome all questions from strangers?”
In times past (and here I go sounding like a geezer), it was unthinkable to walk up to someone on the beach and expect to get all the local knowledge just for the asking. Surfers, like hard-core anglers, were traditionally protective of their secrets and those who wanted a peek behind the curtain had to pay their dues before even a little would be revealed.
So what has changed? My guess is that it has a lot to do with the Internet, where just about any question that might pop into a person’s head can be answered in an instant. Combine that with the false familiarity of Facebook and other social media, and you have a brave new world in which it’s okay to expect a stranger to spoon-feed you with the information you require. On the plus side, though, you overhear a lot more funny stories.