Best Laid Plans: A Beach Date Gone Awry

Beach Blanket Bingo starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello was playing in theaters in 1965. Although I’ve never seen the film, this trailer
seemed appropriate for introducing today’s Andy’s Corner.

It seems that photos have become a flashpoint of inspiration for my Andy’s Corner pieces. In my previous post I wrote about how a photo from the 1950’s brought back memories of my Boy Scout past. Ann’s photo of our grandson and his girlfriend at the beach that she posted in today’s blog stirred up memories of a beach date from my U C Santa Barbara days when I was about our grandson’s age (and Beach Blanket Bingo was a big hit). It also brought to mind a well known Robert Burns poem and kindled an urge to sociologize a bit (yes, sociologize is a real word).

I’ll begin with the poem. If any poetry speaks to the experience that I am about to disclose none does better than Robert Burns’ “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785.” I’m sure you’ll recognize the well-known part of the poem that I find so apropos.

The original is on the left and the translation on the right. Burns’ entire poem is linked here.

As you may already suspect (and as I will reveal a little later), my “best-laid scheme” for an ideal beach date managed to go “awry.” But awry or not, it provides me with an excuse to introduce you to some key principles from one of my favorite sociological perspectives, Dramaturgical Sociology. In fact, I’ve shared my beach-date story from the lectern many times with my captive student audiences over the years. Even now as I contemplate telling you this story I have to resist the urge to tell you to turn off your smart phones and to at least act like you’re interested.

Dramaturgical Sociology was introduced in 1959 by Erving Goffman’s “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” He used a theatrical performance metaphor to explain much of the behavior we find in everyday life. He argued that when interacting with others we try to project an “idealized” image of ourselves that we want to be taken seriously- much like an actor on stage tries to portray a character that the audience can find believable. And, also like theater actors, before the curtain is raised we prepare for our performances back stage (or in the “back region”) out of sight of our targeted audience.

Editor’s note: Obviously the above overview only scratches the surface. For greater detail, I recommend Goffman’s book which I included on my required reading list throughout my 39 years of teaching. The only complaint I ever got was from a female student at Sonoma State who marched into my office and announced that she “would rather face a firing squad than read another word of Goffman.” She was offended by his “sexist” prose. I tried to explain that like many scholarly writers of that era (1950s) Goffman was not sensitive to the issue of using gender-neutral language but nevertheless had given us many useful insights. She dropped my course.

So now let’s turn to my beach-date. It took place during my second semester at UC Santa Barbara. I had transferred there as a junior from a JC and was living in San Miguel Hall, an all-male dorm. Mixed-gender dorms weren’t an option until a few years later. Not only were males not allowed to visit residents in the women’s dorms, the women were bound by a strict curfew, which was 10:30 pm on weeknights and midnight on weekends.

I don’t recall in which of my courses I got to know Lana (I think that was her name) but I do remember that I found her to be attractive and friendly and that she lived in Santa Rosa Hall, a female dorm not far from San Miguel Hall. It took me some time to work up enough nerve, but I finally asked her if she would like to go out to dinner with me. To my surprise she said yes.

UCSB campus (the arrow points to my dorm, San Miguel Hall).

I was stoked that she agreed to go out with me, but it put me in a bit of a bind. I had no car at the time and the fine-dining options within walking distance of campus were slim. Keep in mind that this was way before Uber and the likes. Plus, I had assumed that no young woman worth her salt would want to go out with a loser who had no car. So I had to come up with something creative to compensate for that tactical disadvantage.

Then it hit me – why not have a “spontaneous” and romantic picnic on the beach? One of the bennies of being at UCSB was its location on a beautiful stretch of the Pacific Ocean with what was then the equivalent of a private beach for the students. What could be more perfect?

Back Region Preparations.

The first thing I did to prepare for a “spontaneous” picnic was catch a bus to downtown Santa Barbara (which was about 12 miles away) to do some shopping. At a deli I bought an assortment of cheeses and cold cuts, two different bottles of wine (a chianti in a very cool straw basket and another kind that I don’t recall), and a French baguette. Next, in a kitchen shop I found a red-checkered table cloth (a proxy for a beach blanket!), a couple of inexpensive wine glasses, and a cheap cork screw.

Chianti in a bottle with a straw basket (aka “fiasco“) was very trendy in the 1960’s (and the empty bottles made hip candle holders).

I lugged my “picnic” ingredients back to the dorm, being sure that our RA didn’t see the wine – no alcohol in dorms in those days. Then, on the morning before the date I went on a reconnoitering hike down the beach in search of a good picnic site. When I found what looked like a promising location I foraged for driftwood that could be used to build a cozy fire and stashed it behind a sand dune. I was ready for curtain time.

Front Stage: The Performance

I arrived at Lana’s dorm at 6:00 pm and asked the RA at the reception desk to let Lana know her date was in the lobby. I had a Berkeley book bag stuffed with the picnic goods slung over my shoulder with the baguette peeking out suggestively.

This was the best image I could find on the web of the then popular “Berkeley book bag.” Try to imagine it slung over my shoulder with a French baguette peeking out.

When Lana came into the lobby I told her that it was such a nice evening that rather than going to some stuffy restaurant I thought it would be fun to have a picnic on the beach. She seemed ok with that (thank goodness!), so I suggested that we walk down the beach to find a good spot for a picnic.

It turned out to be a lovely evening with nobody in sight and a hint of an upcoming beautiful sunset. As we arrived at the site that I had previously scouted out I said that this looks like the ideal place and I whipped out the checkered table cloth, spread it on the sand, and laid out the food, pulling out the bottles of wine last. Then I uncorked both bottles asking her to taste each, suggesting that we would share the one she preferred (knowing that I could later claim that once a bottle was opened it had to be consumed).

Watching from the beach as the sun slowly sinks into the Pacific Ocean.

By now the sunset was in full bloom and it was cooling off. I told her that it would be nice to have a fire with our picnic and that I would see if I could find any wood. I walked behind the sand dune where I had my stash, waited a minute or two, and came back with an armful of wood exclaiming “we’re in luck!”

So far everything was dramaturgically on script. What was left of the sunset was slowly fading, we had a crackling fire, and were sitting side by side sipping wine and watching the waves roll in. It was about then that she started telling me about the problems she was having with her boyfriend who had transferred to another university. Before long, she was in tears explaining how much she missed him and how guilty she felt for not being more supportive of him. I don’t recall much about the specifics of her boyfriend-relationship issues, but I do recall watching the fire going down along with the prospects for a romantic evening.

This looks like the “woody” that got us back to the dorm.

Lana was still going on about her boyfriend and we had just finishing the second bottle of wine when I realized that it was perilously close to curfew time and it was a long hike back to the dorm. We threw the remainder of the picnic stuff in my bag and started running up the beach. Fortunately, we came across a surfer who offered to give us a lift back to campus in his “woody” (my first and last time in one of those). With his help we managed to get to the front door of her dorm with about 3 minutes to spare.

I didn’t see Lana after that night but I heard through a friend that at the end of the semester she had transferred to the university her boyfriend attended. I always wondered if, over a glass of wine with her boyfriend, she ever told him the story about our beach picnic date. And if she did tell that story, whether she portrayed me as a sympathetic listener or as a loser who had no car (or maybe both). I guess I’ll never know, which is just as well.

6 Comments

  1. David Ewing says:

    I’d bet $6 to a cookie that the second bottle of wine that day was a Mateus Rosé, which was de rigueur back in the day, at least in Boulder. I thought it was nasty even then, but some of the girls (ooop, women) liked it.

    Like

    • theRaggedys says:

      Glad to be the source of triggered memories. The beach culture of that era even snuck into my prose when I used the word “stoked” in the blog. According to Ubandictionary.com “stoked” was a “word used often in Southern California by most surfers and skateboarders.”

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  2. Larry Squarepants says:

    Andy, I gotta think there’s a good chance Lana’s boyfriend transferred to a different university to get away from her.

    Like

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