That’s the reason we couldn’t take the kids to the beach.
It was mid August on a Monday afternoon. It was hot, at least flirting with 90, and it was the kind of muggy north country summer day that just calls out for the cold embrace of Lake Ontario and the siren call of a good, cold beer waiting for you back in the cooler.
And I brought some pretty good beer.
I’ve been trying to load up on local and state beers lately, and one of the few great innovations of the COVID era has been smaller local breweries canning their own and selling them not just in house but in some of the local bottle shops. I had a good mixed six selection from Garland City Beer Works, Flashback Brewing Co. and Boots in Watertown; Skewed Brewing in Lowville (RIP Salmon Run Mall location); and Raquette River Brewing in Tupper Lake.
And I was ready for the beach. We all were.
John, the not-quite-6-year-old, loves getting out into the water, and Ben, the 3-year-old, at least pretends to love it so he can be like his brother. But recent trips to the beach have all been a bust.
A trip to Southwick in Henderson ... the beach is at full capacity.
OK, we’ll pivot to Sandy Island.
OK, fine. There have been more COVID cases in Oswego County than here in Jefferson, but we can drive up to Stevenson and at least check it ...
Oh full capacity, you say?
I think we did that same dance, or one similar, at least three times in August.
But that’s on the weekends. We thought we’d have better luck on an early Monday afternoon. So Christina called it a day early and we packed a few snacks and drinks, grabbed some pails and shovels and other assorted beach items and headed out to Westcott Beach State Park, hoping for a thin Monday crowd and a lazy afternoon with sand, surf and a cold one.
But blue-green algae, which of course is potentially harmful and toxic, was in bloom, so the beach was closed.
I asked the woman at the gate, “Do you know if we’ll have better luck anywhere else in the area?”
We briefly flirted with a plan B of making a first visit to the new city pool at Thompson Park, but a quick pass showed more heads bobbing up and down in the pool than I’d feel comfortable with in the middle of a public health crisis.
And how do you ask a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old to socially distance when they’re around the water? These are the same kids who spent much of a recent week bouncing around our living room/makeshift home office screaming at Alexa to play, I kid you not, “Who Let the Dogs Out” by Baha Men — which is even more annoying 20 years on than it was when I was 20, if you’re wondering.
So the pool was out. Christina came up with plan C.
The kids were still in their trunks, and at this point the afternoon had stopped flirting with 90 and decided to just cuddle up close, so we gave them the best beach experience we could. We had one kiddie pool filled with sand and toys and whatever weird stuff Ben had already decided to bury in it, so we filled another with water and hung out at our own homemade beach.
Christina opted for a white wine, sitting in a swing and drawing in her journal.
I opted for Weisse Grips (Blood Orange) from Garland City, a nice light, not too sour Berliner that was an absolute delight. The Blood Orange (4.2 percent) was exactly what I needed, and that tart, subtle orange cut right into the heat of the afternoon, sitting in a lawn chair with a book in my hands while the kids played and soaked in the sun.
And that’s what we did, more or less until it started to get dark. The kids loaded up water guns and ambushed me with shots to the face and neck, and I washed the taste of pool water out with a tall Lighthouse Lager from Skewed (4.8 percent). Crisp and light, with a nice dry citrus finish … remember, it was a super hot day, and I was not looking for something big and burly to knock my hair back. Something clean and crisp fit the bill pretty darn well.
At some point, Christina starts heaving buckets of water at me — the neighbors must think we’re insane, and the kids follow suit. I heave the book, to safety and try to protect what’s left of my beer. By now, I’ve given into the need for something darker and poured a tall pint from a big can of Firewatch Black IPA (6.5 percent, 50 IBU) by Boots Brewing Company. And it’s worth saving, honestly. Yeah, it’s rich and malty, with notes of caramel and roasted coffee, but it’s smooth as hell. It’s my favorite new to me (I’m sure some of you have tried it) beer that I’ve had of late, and I wouldn’t blame you for grabbing cans by the handful.
And I was feeling a bit bold, since my clothes were, by now soaking wet.
The kids played all afternoon, and they didn’t really even seem to notice that we didn’t really go anywhere. That’s kind of thing about this year. It’s all adaptation. John, who’s just this past week started first grade, is going to school online, and while I thought he’d hate it, he loves his Zoom meetings with his teacher and his classmates and he has been nothing but smiles and enthusiasm. Baseball stadiums are empty, so they’re filling the stands with cardboard cutouts … I’m pretty sure I saw the dead guy from Weekend at Bernie’s at a Dodgers game a few weeks ago. Fewer butts are grabbing pine at the local brewers, so they’re canning stuff for people like me who want nothing to do with a bar crowd, even a socially distanced one.
So while I hope you’re all out there being safe and I’m, you know, mostly just here being safe, drinking by the shores of Lake O’Brien, I hope you’re also out there improvising and getting in those last few good days before the mercury starts falling fast.
Follow Dennis O’Brien on Instagram at @obrien_abides and on Untappd at StanleyCup94.