So, I’ve spent some time this month at a tiny beach cottage my step-father owns. It has been in his family a long time, and it’s really a cool place. It’s in the town where I went to junior high, high school, and college- a town with many beautiful beaches. A town I love. And going back there always makes me nostalgic.
I spent almost my whole life in that county, near the water, but when I first moved to that particular town (holy shit like 26 years ago!!!!), it was smaller. Less developed, less populated. We had two movie theaters, and even in summer we could maybe pick from three different movies on a Saturday night. Nothing was open on Sundays, except restaurants. At night, you could probably walk down the center line of our widest road and not see a car. In the summer we had tourists, and in the winter the college kids, but the town was ours. I was part of a super-cool club: I was a local.
Now? Multiplex cinemas, car dealerships, twenty-four hour stores, people coming and going at all times of night. Many of our old wild places have been turned into housing developments. My old jr/sr high school was torn down, and a middle school was built, with a separate high school, because there are so many more kids. There isn’t much empty land left, in my old town.
And as I sat in the little beach cottage, listening to the waves crash on the rocks and the foghorn blow in the night, I realized that soon this town will be out of my reach.
Even when I was a kid, there were a lot of rich people there. It’s a gorgeous town, and we had lots of million dollar homes. But there were also regular houses, regular families. Not many poor people, but plenty of middle class, some working class. And okay, a lot of upper middle to wealthy. Now? Almost all upper middle to wealthy.
The little beach cottage is a good example. It’s a tiny place, in a tightly clustered “village” of other tiny cottages, right on a bluff. There’s a private beach you can get to via a staircase down the cliff-face, and that’s it. Just like a trailer park, really, only these are “real” houses. The house we use hasn’t really been updated in fifty years. There’s electricity, and heat, but it’s pretty rustic. It’s not much better than a crappy RV. It is still what it was originally intended to be, a vacation “camp” home for a family who lived in the city. Nothing elaborate, just a place to enjoy the beach.
Many of the houses in this village, though, have been upgraded. Majorly upgraded. So on either side of our little shack, there are gorgeous homes. They’re still small, the footprints haven’t changed, but in every other way they are a world apart.
Instead of silvered cedar shingles, they have slick “cedar-look” vinyl, or at least impeccably maintained new cedar. Our windows are open, with oscillating fans in front of the screens, while their windows are closed to keep in the central air. For a yard, our cottage has grass, part of which I park my car on. Their tiny yards are well planned to maximize every inch, with granite paved patios, bubbling fountains, hot-tubs, outdoor showers, and mahogany decks to catch the view.
Sometimes I sneak glimpses of interiors with big plush furniture, stainless steel kitchens, and flat screen televisions. I wave to people on their decks as they sit on teak lounge chairs sipping wine, while I walk by BMWs, Mercedes and Audis parked in their little well-manicured driveways.
For now, this place is still ours to use. But for how long? Already, I can’t really afford to buy a sticker to park in my old town beach parking lot (I can still swing the state beach fee, thank goodness). I feel like access to this natural beauty is slipping away from me. Like someday, I won’t be able to buy my way in.
It reminds me of the oil spill, when I was a teenager (which inspired my WIP, by the way). I remember sitting on the shore, watching the oil slick move across the water, and bawling like a baby. Because something I loved was being destroyed, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. That’s the same feeling I have when I see a new housing development, or a new shopping center, built on previously wild land in my old hometown. They can call it “improvement”, or “development”, but to me it’s just destruction.
It’s wealthy people seeing something beautiful and changing it, and it makes me sad.