Dinosaurs is the name given to Atlantic City Beach Patrol members when they decide their carefree days have come to and end.
Where do all the ocean lifeguards go when they leave the beach? Well as my old pal, of fifty plus years, Joe Rush puts it, we fold our tents, take a last look at the ocean, turn into dinosaurs and make way for the next generation of King Neptune’s guardians.
Possibly our most difficult and saddest decision is the day we realize our romantic and exciting world of lifesaving days are over and it’s time to lay down the mantle, pass the baton and explore other horizons.
For me that came at a relatively young age, while still in my early thirties. For Joe, his beach patrol career carried on for many years. Still the sense of loss one felt was no different whether a young dinosaur anxious to get on with life, or seasoned veteran who would not know the term dinosaur for many years.
In my case I married during my last summer on the beach and when the season ended moved to New York State where my wife and I pursued teaching careers. After twelve years in New York I moved back to Atlantic City where my brother and I opened a seafood bar and restaurant.
During the summer I would make it a point to visit the beach and spend time with Joe who was now a captain, commanding his own stretch of men, We would spend time visiting on the tent porch, reminiscing fondly about days of daring rescues, countless beach characters who made life interesting…and of course the beautiful women. But Joe was drawing ever closer to the day he would attain dinosaur status.
Joe had married years before and like my wife and I, he and his wife Nancy both taught school. The situation was perfect for him to continue working the beach, something he looked forward to every May. In the ensuing years he and Nancy were blessed with a couple of children who spent summers on the beach and acquired the same kind of love for it as Joe.
My life had reached a dead end in Atlantic City and I saw an opportunity to move to Arizona which I welcomed enthusiastically. After I’d been in Arizona for a few years I received word Joe had retired. Whereas I had moved almost the length of the country, Joe had moved no further than to a place called the Ocean Club at the foot of the boardwalk. Joe only had to fall out his front door to be on the beach, where I was almost as far away from the Atlantic Ocean as one could get. But regardless, we were both, now officially, dinosaurs
That about closed the door on my Atlantic City beach days, except at times in the summer when I made the long trek east for a vacation.
I didn’t know if Joe and I would get to see each other again, but last summer I received an email saying there was going to be an 80th birthday surprise party for Joe right outside his Ocean Club condominium on the boardwalk.
I had a couple of other reasons to go back to Atlantic City and decided to make the trip, knowing seeing Joe would be a highlight of that visit.
I arrived at the boardwalk meeting place on the designated date and time. As I walked toward the crowd surrounding Joe, I reached for my camera, to record for posterity the meeting of these two old dinosaurs.