Life, that’s what all we shore denizens seek to preserve.
As I stroll our Long Beach sands and streets I observe, I learn, about life…about survival.
Sandpipers chase into the bursting surf, then chase out from the receding foam in order to harvest the tiny stranded crabs and other small crustaceans left behind.
It’s known as the wave chase. Back and forth, back and forth, tiny legs moving with the speed of hummingbird wings, a flutter of kinetic comedy. One cannot witness this surf scurry and not at least experience a mind-smile.
All life works its environment to survive. Through experience, life learns when an opportunity might arise and takes advantage of it, sometimes just a peck at a time.
Oystercatchers are known to chase into the waves as well:
The ubiquitous gulls put on a routine display in their harvest by the sea.
Sometimes we can witness singular comedy. One day I came upon gulls snatching clams from the surf,
only to discover one who missed the memo on crustacean identification:
Everywhere, life doing life. Staying alive: hover, twist, dive. Repeat.
Higher up an osprey hauls heavier freight from the sea:
The wave chase is not unlike the back and forth of steel-encased humans who “wave chase” the rush-hour highways to survive. Often a comedy can be witnessed there as well as this species sits in bumper to bumper traffic reading clever license plates. But they too are life, doing what life does to survive.
Just a bit inland, I see flightless denizens in various stages of this journey we call life. Let me share a few examples of their harvest techniques.
Lou Ehrlich, builder of bombsights and seller of sofas
Lou, a man who has seen many tides will be 100 this January. But he was a mere 97 when I first found him weeding the garden in front of his Shore Rd home.
Lou harvested well in his century-long, wave chase.
He is the oldest living lifeguard in Long Beach, serving from 1938 to ’41, making “ten or twelve bucks a week,” said Lou. During those years Lou saw the installation of the recently replaced old jetties.
The beach was much narrower back then Lou told me, the water regularly came up under the boardwalk. And “it’s so wide now,” Lou said. He remembers too that there were only two lifeguards, at Neptune and Pacific Blvds, “Now they have two or three lifeguards on each beach!” (There are now 160 lifeguards in Long Beach)
When WWII was upon us Lou worked for a company making bombsights. He went to enlist in the Army but they designated him 4F six times due to his hearing loss from high diving at the Lafayette pool of the forties. Lou told me, “They (the Army) said I was better off doing what I was doing with the bombsights.”
He later got a sales job for Vim Electronics then he bought a house. He saw a need for rentals in Long Beach so he bought more houses and rented them out.
Finally, Lou sold sofas for Castro Convertable where he even assisted that famous young girl who opened those convertible sofas on TV. He made sure the bed opened easily for the eight-second spot before the Milton Berle show.
Lou opened seven Castro shops himself. But he saw space-rental once again as his opportunity. He bought a huge warehouse and got into renting out space for famous shoe and sneaker companies, Rockport, Reebok and finally New Balance.
A Shucker Who Never Shirks
Another wave chaser is Greg LaPenna, owner and operator of Shakes and Shuckers at Lincoln Blvd.
In addition to Shakes and Shuckers, Greg owns The Shack at Pacific Blvd and is part owner and operator of Beach Burger at Grand Blvd on the boardwalk. On top of that, Greg has owned and operated the Whale’s Tale restaurant and bar in Long Beach for twenty years. I caught Greg at opening time while he was wiping sea mist off the tables with one hand and speaking on the phone with the other.
Roots in our sand
In the early fifties, Greg’s grandad, Louis Masur came to Long Beach. He owned Shore Park pharmacy which became King’s pharmacy and is now a beverage store. Greg’s dad, Jerry LaPenna, opened the beauty parlor, Marie Gerard, between Connecticut and Georgia Aves.
Greg said he started at his work career at Chicolinos in Point Lookout when he was nine through eleven years of age. He and his cousin, Jacob Parker, shucked clams in the back of Chicolinos.
Greg’s mom, Barbara, lives in Long Beach 67 years. She remembers the West End when it had a bowling alley and a movie theater, she recalls the games on the boardwalk: Tilt A Whirl, Fascination, among them.
Barbara graduated from Long Beach HS, the former Lindell school, in 1957. It was the Junior/Senior High School back then. Greg graduated from the same school in 1987. When Barbara’s husband closed his Marie Gerard beauty parlor he went to work for the NY Times delivery department. Barbara said he closed the beauty parlor because, “he said, ‘enough with the women!'”
She Loves Painting, Parrots too
I went to the Long Beach Rec Center recently and came upon Michelle Dodd painting the windows. Michelle, a Long Beach gal, worked as a bartender for twenty-five years at Hogs and Heifers in Manhattan. She’s a wave chaser, for sure.
She is now part owner in three restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Being partners allows her to only “chase” into Manhattan three times a week and paints between “waves.”
Michelle always liked to draw so when there was a lull due to building a new restaurant she took up painting windows, that was two years ago.
She also is a resin artist, she produces cups and other art. Catch her talent at the fairs on the Long Beach boardwalk or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mgascoignedesign/
In her “down” time Michelle cares for her seven Parrots.
Michelle’s husband gave her one for her birthday one year. “It’s the worst way to obtain a pet,” Michelle said. “It’s a lifetime commitment, but I fell in love with it.” She said, “People buy parrots as impulse buys then can’t handle it, and want to get rid of it,” she said. So Michelle started adopting parrots. She said the seven all talk, some whistle, but she said she trains them to be well behaved. One has behavioral issues and he sets the others off but she’s working on him.
The fledgling lifepipers
Sometimes at the shore, it’s not just sandpipers who put a smile on your mind. I came upon two “lifepipers” with their whole wave-chasing lives ahead of them.
I don’t remember the names of these shore sprites but may they live to be 100 in successful and happy lives. May they discover opportunities to prosper, but also opportunities to serve to improve this world in places where there is so much room for improvement.
Maybe just like Lou Ehrlich, may they look back many decades from now to these sunshiney days on Long Beach sands: their first splash, the sea under their feet, the loving hands under their arms, the scent of salt in the air. May they remember chasing their first gulls and watching the sandpipers running so hilariously, back and forth between sand and sea…in their perpetual life chase.