For the past couple of years, it was the elephant in the room.
Finally, people are talking about it. Over the past week or so, at least a dozen people have mentioned it to me. Some asked me to comment on “06880.”
The subject: non-Westporters at the beach.
Okay. To be perfectly honest: the increase in New Yorkers and New Jerseyans at Compo.
Particularly those with foreign accents.
I first noticed the phenomenon 2 or 3 years ago. Nearly every day, cars with out-of-state plates would park at South Beach — the part closest to the cannons. What looked like several extended families stayed all day, playing and swimming and cooking out.
They seemed to be Russian — Ukrainian perhaps, or maybe Georgian — and they were there on weekdays as well as weekends. They were there when the weather was gorgeous, and when it was not.
A group commandeered the grassy median between the South Beach parking lot and the sand. They sat under the shade trees, enjoying themselves. They too were there almost all the time, usually late in the day.
This summer, I — and many others — have seen more groups coming to Compo. There are the soccer players — all men, of all ages — on the grass near the softball diamond, and closer to Compo Beach Road.
There’s a group that plays dominoes in the pavilion by the volleyball courts, and spreads out on the beach nearby.
Others find other spots. Some set up tents or canopies. The groups are big. They speak a variety of languages.
I like it.
Their presence — and activity — adds flavor and energy to the white, suburban scene I’ve grown accustomed to. There’s enough room for everyone, and the out-of-towners certainly enjoy themselves. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be back.
I’m sure they’re good for business at Joey’s.
And, at $20 a car — $40 on weekends — the revenues certainly add to town coffers. I can’t imagine the added cleanup costs aren’t covered by parking fees.
But I know I’m in (ahem) a minority.
I’ve heard complaints about “out-of-towners” taking over our beach. (And no, this does not refer to folks from Wilton and Ridgefield.)
I’ve heard questions about why “they” don’t go to Sherwood Island.
I’ve heard criticism of “loud music,” large groups, big tents and garbage. (You want garbage? Take a stroll through the brick pavilion any weekend afternoon — or walk along Soundview after the fireworks.)
And yes, I’ve heard dismissive comments about “all the different languages” spoken at the beach these days.
I’m glad our beach is not exclusive. I’m glad “out-of-towners” find Compo attractive enough to keep coming back. I’m glad we’re collecting entrance fees at the gate.
As I said, I know my position is not shared by many Westporters. I’ve heard enough tsk-tsking to realize the “Welcome” mats we place on our doorsteps don’t always extend to our shore.
Comments, as always, are welcome.