The other day, a woman complained about the sand at Compo. Apparently, it had encroached on the boardwalk. She wielded an umbrella at the time, so I did not reply. But I sure wanted to. "Lady," I would have snarled, "this is a beach. Get over it."
Beaches are supposed to be sandy. That's their job. But for many years, Compo Beach was filled with rocks. That's natural -- this is New England, after all, where the job of rocks is to push to the surface -- but it did not make for a particularly pleasant beach-going experience. It took the construction of Interstate 95, and associated construction projects, to bring sand to Compo Beach.
That's just one example of the way Things That Once Seemed To Be Better In The Old Days Really Aren't. Long Island Sound is another. In the 1970s and '80s, venturing into the water off Compo was like swimming in Cleveland's Cuyahoga River -- the one that famously caught fire. You wouldn't burn to death here, but you were forced to dodge flotsam, jetsam, garbage and -- yes -- medical waste. Also the famous "red tide," an algal bloom that sounds way more beautiful than it looked.
Decades of hard work by a variety of environmental and governmental organizations have made the Sound safe for swimming again (including South Beach, near the picnic tables, where no one ever dared go in the water). The Sound may not be Caribbean blue, but it sure isn't red.
Folks are swimming off Old Mill, too. That's another beach that has cycled in and out of popularity. It was once a quaint neighborhood spot; then it eroded to a point close to disappearance. But Old Mill is so far back, folks now swim in areas close to Hillspoint Road where they never ventured in the past.
Back at Compo, beachgoers enjoy plenty of other amenities. The playground -- once the object of a lawsuit by neighbors, who feared it would destroy the "vista" while attracting louts like out-of-towners and drinking teenagers -- is one of the most popular spots in town. It replaced a tired old play area near the basketball courts, consisting of monkey bars and a carousel -- which in turn opened up that area for even more recreation.
The entire beach has a friendly vibe. Gone are rows of gross, dirty, dank and mildewed bathhouses that blocked views and frightened little kids worse than the flying monkeys in "The Wizard of Oz." (A few bathhouses remain. Though they're nothing to look at, the removal of the brick wall -- in the wake of Hurricane Sandy -- has made the area even airier than before.)
Several years ago, lifeguards acted like Sharia law enforcers. Beach balls, Frisbees, Kadima paddles -- all were forbidden. Sometimes, it seemed, the guards blew their whistles if kids ran too fast down to the shore.
Now, the fun is back. Balls are thrown, games are played, laughter is heard. And no one has yet lost an eye.
No one ever lost an eye on the rafts, either, but they're gone. And that's one thing the Good Old Days had on the Good New Ones. Three or four rafts were anchored offshore, and if you imagine a scene out of a 1950s beach party movie -- teenagers lounging, pushing each other off, and otherwise attempting to impress other teenagers -- you're exactly right.
Longshore is one more spot that's gotten better with age. When the town bought the property in 1960 -- snatching it from a developer who planned to build 180 homes on the site of a failed private country club -- it was pretty decrepit.
Decades of improvements have made Longshore a true town jewel. The pool is upgraded; there's a handsome new entryway (unfortunately an iconic -- though nonfunctioning -- lighthouse is long gone), and after a series of owners failed to make a go of it, the Inn is a place you can actually recommend to guests. Then there's the patio at Splash, a lively social scene we take for granted today but unheard of back when the Mad Men crowd would have romped.
One Longshore tradition that's fallen by the wayside was Monday night dances. Held on the patio between the entrance and the pool, they were a summertime ritual for generations of high school students. Live bands played (this was back before the invention of DJs). With the beach, woods and golf course beckoning nearby, by the end of the night crowds of hundreds would dwindle to two. Which, come to think of it, may be why the Monday night dances have fallen by the wayside.
Westport is blessed in many ways. Splendid recreational facilities top every list. They've always been there, but they've never been this glorious. Which is a good thing to remember the next time you're walking on the Compo Beach boardwalk, and a few grains of sand get in your way.