By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org
With Memorial Day now in the year’s rear-view mirror, summer has officially begun.
Millions of Americans will spend part of their summer at the beach — hoping to soak in the rays, play in the surf and enjoy the freedom that only a summer vacation can provide.
HEY KIDS: Got a building permit for that sand castle?
But lest you think a carefree summer getaway can be free of government nannies, we’re here to offer some examples of how beach towns are trying to control what you do and how you do it.
Ocean City, Md., made headlines earlier this month for instituting a new ban on profanity at the beach.
Though there is no legal punishment for mutter a swear word after being decked by a large wave or losing a game of beach volleyball, the town posted dozens of signs along its boardwalk and beachfront reminding visitors to watch their mouth.
How are the signs working? Well, not so great, if you believe the Washington Post.
By the looks of the boardwalk traffic Saturday morning, the masses had already begun to flock. Children on bikes with training wheels trailed their parents. Older couples casually strolled, unpressed for time. And (Tiiler) Irving and his friends sat taking in the fresh air, flinging curses back and forth nonstop just feet from one of the new, baby-blue no-swearing signs.
“We came here to unwind,” Irving, of Baltimore, said. Telling him not to curse, he said, is like telling him not to breathe. “You can take us out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of us.”
There might not be a fine for swearing in Ocean City, but in Wildwood, N.J., wearing shorts that sag a bit too low or skirts that officials think are a little too tight could leave your wallet $200 lighter.
The popular Jersey Shore town (not the location of the formerly popular MTV series, which was filmed in Seaside Heights) approved the ban and fines last year. The dress code also bans anyone from going barefoot on the town’s boardwalk and requires that shirts be worn after 8 p.m.
Mayor Ernie Troiano told The Guardian last year that the ban was intended to make the boardwalk a more welcoming place for visitors and were passed in the name of decency.
Earlier this year, lawmakers in New Jersey approved a statewide ban on smoking at all public beaches, something that most popular beaches had already adopted during the past decade.
But the state law comes with more serious teeth. Get caught lighting up at the shore and you could face a fine of up to $1,000.
The resort town of Bethany Beach, Del., took things a step farther this summer. With smoking already banned at public beaches there, city officials decided to extend the ban to electronic cigarettes as well.
We’ve covered the debate over e-cigarettes quite a bit here at Watchdog.org. The battery-powered devices allow a user to inhale a mix of water vapor, nicotine and flavoring — they contain neither smoke nor tobacco, making them both safer for users and less annoying for everyone else.
Even so, that hasn’t stopped towns and cities across the country from regulating them exactly the same as traditional, tobacco cigarettes.
Why did Bethany Beach decide to ban e-cigarettes too?
Vice Mayor Jack Gordon told WDEL-AM that e-cigarettes have made enforcing the current smoking ban difficult; he says unless you actually walk up to someone and look closely, you don’t know whether someone is smoking a cigarette or an electronic cigarette.
I suppose it’s only a matter of time until the town bans candy cigarettes, for the same reason too.
For their efforts to control how freedom-loving Americans spend their summer holidays, city officials at beach towns across the mid-Atlantic region are this week’s winners. For regulating public places so heartily, their prize is getting lots of sand in their, well, private places.
Boehm is a reporter for Watchdog.org and can be reached at EBoehm@Watchdog.org. Follow @EricBoehm87 and @WatchdogOrg on Twitter for more.