Snowbirdwatching: Beach Walkers

By Grandpa Jack*

Observations from the North on the various species of Beach Walkers, noted while snowbirding on South Padre Island, Texas:


These folks are most often seen with a fanny-pack, water bottle, long-bill cap with appropriate logo, wrap-around sunglasses, expensive running shoes, and bright spandex — in at least three colors. They are tanned. They swing their forearms perpendicular to the ground to achieve maximum benefit, which is measured on their pedometer, stopwatch and/or heart monitor. Normally you do not speak to these folks, nor they to you. They may occasionally acknowledge you with a nod, but seldom with eye contact. Increased fitness in always their goal. These folks attract attention.


They also swing arms like the Speed Walker, and may or may not use a pedometer while wearing favorite walking shorts, special shoes, or colorful cotton sweatsuit. They usually are alone or in pairs — rarely in threes, and almost never in fours. Sometimes they carry water and will say, “Hi,” as well as respond to your greeting. Sweat, as with the Speed Walker, is their goal.


They have good intentions, but usually no distance goals. They walk together. Conversation is as important as movement. They like company and will adjust their pace to you — if they like you. Generally they are not in great shape and secretly aspire to the Exercise Walker rank, but never “find the time” nor make the mental commitment. If they walk too far they sit down and would call for a ride if they could. They are often sunburned and are usually under- or over-dressed for the weather.


This species is outside mainly to be out of the condo — or they have been forced out by their spouse or significant other. They go along to get along. They are pale, bucolic city dwellers on the hefty side who only walk parks back home when forced to put down the remote. Although often a solitary male trailing a wife, they can be seen in multi-generational groups, smiling at their grandchildren. They tend to walk a fairly straight line most of the time. But they will stop to pick up shells, ask questions of a kite-flyer, toss popcorn to the seabirds, or point at a far off ship, or cloud formation, or spindly-legged birds that they have seen a hundred times.

This is the group that has a coffee cup in one hand and a dog leash in the other. Both genders can be seen in bright WalMart crocs. They often take pictures facing the sun that do not turn out well. But as couples, especially newlyweds, Strollers often hold hands and speak quietly. However, if several of them know each other and are walking abreast, they have been known to step on small children and their sandcastles. These are the environmental equivalent of mall-walking window-shoppers. They often do not last long and wish for the camp chair back at the condo — just like they do when strolling the Mall of America back in Minnesota.


They move slower than the Strollers because they never go far in a straight line, especially if they have a metal detector. Their wandering also is determined by (1) the surf, (2) the civic-minded practice of picking up refuse to throw away in trash cans along the way, and (3) by the many shells beckoning to be picked up — just like the twenty pounds picked up last year that are still in a box in a basement drawer. Many Meanderers are seen in street shoes and slacks, as they have forgotten their tennis shoes back home — or they just arrived and rushed to the beach to see the ocean. Occasionally, the portly male meanderer is seen in knee-high black nylon socks with his cargo shorts hiked up a bit too high — or wearing wide, garish suspenders that proclaim, “Home Depot Lumber.”

Meanderers, like Strollers, are often in family groups. However, if out in the sun and wind too long, they are not happy. Then they attempt to assuage their boredom via conversations with adult children, their housesitter or stockbroker — talking on their cellphones a bit too loudly over the sound of the surf. Too often the grandmother is fussing about the wind damaging her new permanent, her daughter is worried about her toddler’s sunburn, the son-in-law would rather be golfing or watching “the game,” while Grandpa is thinking about how much this adventure is costing him and if the airline will lose his luggage on the return trip to the Twin Cities — as it did on the way down. To watch them on the beach is like watching the phlegmatic, lumbering Lundberg family, of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, sleepwalking its streets on a warm summer’s night.

But then again — all is well when there is no snow to shovel!

* Every winter for years, Jack Neely and his better half Raita migrated from their home in St. Paul, Minn., to South Padre Island, Texas.

By Jack Neely Ÿ Ÿ © 2019