Drawing A Crowd
By Kathryn Schoenberger
Hampton Union, Tuesday, August 8,2006
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Photo by Andrew Moore]
HAMPTON -- Hampton Beach is a tourist Mecca in the summer. The sun, surf, shopping are all attractions that provide plenty of entertainment for tourists day and night; or for my friends and me on an excursion to the beach.
During the day the beach was packed with families. The sand was awash in a sea of multi-colored towels and umbrellas.
Some people strolled Ocean Boulevard, amusing themselves at arcades or shopping, but most were content to play in the surf and bake in the sun.
Traffic was at a minimum (parking therefore at a premium), the noise was confined largely to the beach, and the atmosphere was relaxed and calm.
We lounged on the beach, soaking up the rays. When we started to overheat, we hopped across the sizzling sand to cool ourselves in the frigid ocean. After staying in the water for a few minutes (until just before hypothermia set in) we bounded back to our towels to thaw out. This cycle continued throughout the afternoon; heat, rinse, repeat.
After hours of sun-worship, we dusted the sand from our bodies, donned our street clothes, and headed inland (meaning across Ocean Boulevard) in search of sustenance.
It seemed that everyone else was hungry too as the sidewalks were becoming increasingly crowded. Kids dragged their parents around attempting to convince them that they should have ice cream for dinner, while parents looked for the best place to sample the local fresh seafood.
We let our inner-children take over and decided that fried dough would be a good meal. The sauce and cheese version is similar to pizza. Mom should have been proud that we were getting a vegetable and dairy serving, in addition to about 10 servings of fat and carbohydrates.
In addition we received a lesson in religion as the guy with the "Jesus Saves" sandwich board stood next to the fried dough stand. It combined two clearly compatible concepts, greasy bread and the salvation of your immortal soul.
After our extremely healthy meal, we wandered Ocean Boulevard. We checked out jewelry at the many shops that lined the street. Some of the sales were too good to pass up. Where else can you buy three pairs of earrings for $15?
Keeping with the spirit of adorning our bodies, we girls decided to get henna tattoos. The guys protested that wash-off tattoos were for sissies and wouldn't participate.
I decided to get a small design on my lower back that could be hidden, but also exposed if I so desired; a little experiment just to see exactly how much it would freak out my parents. The only problem was I had to walk around with my pants rolled down a bit while it dried, but at the beach that made me fit right in with the other scantily clad girls.
Since it was a fireworks night, the crowds reconvened on the beach for the show. The sky was alight with bright flashes of green, red and gold. Dazzling rockets whistled across the heavens before they exploded and the lingering twinkling specks floated down to earth.
After the fireworks the actual beach cleared out for the night and most of the families packed it in and went home (or to their hotel). Ocean Boulevard was gridlocked for at least an hour after the fireworks as half of the people at the beach tried to leave at the same time.
However, beach traffic is not just for those attempting to leave. It is also the place for guys to show off their tricked-out rides. The stereos blasted bass beats and underbody lighting glowed from beneath the cars.
The guys marveled at some of the high class cars, but snickered when they saw a white Honda Accord decked out in silver rims and a rear fin.
We avoided the traffic by exploring the strip for a while longer. However, we ended up stuck in the pedestrian congestion of the sidewalk. It was so packed that at times it was difficult to walk without being pushed into traffic.
With most of the children in bed (some are of course allowed up later, it is vacation after all), adults were free to take over the traditionally child-run locations.
We decided to take advantage of this and headed for the arcade. Instead of screaming kids running around, there were (somewhat) less noisy teenagers and adults.
It was nice not having to worry about accidentally knocking over some toddler who had run away from his mother or being forced off games because junior really really needed just one more turn.
We watched two teenagers battle it out in Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). They were good. Really good. The arrows flashed up the screen and they stomped around the coordinating ones of the "dance floor" like perfectly timed machines.
We decided to avoid public humiliation in DDR and stuck to skee-ball. After a couple of rounds we had some tickets, and checked out the prize counter. It turned out we only have enough for some Tootsie-Rolls so we donated them to some teens who had been playing skee-ball since we arrived.
Farther down the beach we came across a girl's favorite place, the faux designer bag stand. "Gucci" and "Burberry" and "Coach" oh my! It's a good thing Hampton isn't more like Hyannis as some people wish it were, or else those $30 purses would have cost upwards of $200.
The guys groaned at the sight of the bags and wandered off to check out sunglasses as we ogled the pretty purses. All of the other girls on the beach seemed to be appreciating the fine fakery too as the stand was overcrowded. It was every woman for herself in the search for the perfect purse.
Copy-right infringing purchases in hand, we noticed a cart proclaiming they could engrave your name on a grain of rice. I simultaneously wondered how they managed that feat and why anyone would want their name on a grain of rice in the first place.
One of my friends suggested asking for a long and complicated name, like Mephistopheles. However we decided the engravers had enough to deal with trying to please the tourists so we didn't give them any extra trouble.
By then the sidewalk crowds had thinned out even more. Tourists were either enjoying cocktails at the local bars or catching some sleep before another strenuous day on the beach.
We contemplated having our fortunes read by Stella the beach's resident psychic, but decided we were too tired to think about our future careers and spouses, so we headed for the car.
On the way back to the car a concert at the Casino Ballroom was just letting out. We were suddenly surrounded by loud, sweaty fans hopped up on adrenaline and alcohol.
Finally back at the car we breathed a sigh of relief knowing that our beds and sleep were not far away.
During the day Hampton Beach is a great place to kick back and unwind. There are always crowds, in daylight they are tamed by the sun's warm rays.
If you're looking for a place to relax at night however, the beach is not the place to go. It's a more fast-paced, in-your-face spot. It requires a certain amount of attitude to navigate successfully and not be overwhelmed by the tourists.
However it's definitely worth your troubles to visit the beach after dark. You'll either have a great time or be reminded why you are thankful that summer only lasts for three months. Either way, Hampton Beach at night is an experience that won't be soon forgotten.