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November 23, 2014

Hardy Jackson: The most dangerous beach job

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Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 6:25 pm

They don’t have an official name.

On the South Carolina coast, they are called beach monkeys.

My family and I call them “chair guys.”

They are the young men who arrive at the crack of dawn to put out the chairs and umbrellas tourists have rented for the time they are at the beach. They return at sunset to pick them up and park them at the foot of the dunes — way back in case a turtle wants to come up and lay its eggs.

Occasionally, they cause consternation among folks who carry their own chairs and umbrellas down to the beach, only to discover the shoreline lined with chairs and umbrellas set out at the crack of dawn by the chair guys.

Personally, I have no problem with them. I also arrive at the crack of dawn and put out my own beach gear before I go for my morning walk. We each carve out our space, and we happily coexist. They are there to make money, not trouble. One told me he had a degree in education but can earn more as a chair guy than he can in the classroom. I am not sure if that is a commentary on the profitability of chair-guying or on how little Florida pays teachers.

Carrying chairs is an art. A chair guy arranges them around him, hooked together, so he can stand in the middle, pick them up and carry them off. One evening we saw a master-carrier scoot across the sand with 24. We applauded.

However, the other day, chair-guying got really dangerous.

Let me explain.

Competing with chair guys for tourist money are people who plan, put on, participate in and photograph beach weddings.

On many a summer evening, folks dressed in all sorts of wedding finery (khaki and white seem to be the colors this year) assemble on the beach to tie the knot.

It is a pretty scene. The bride walking down the dune-stairs and across the sand to her waiting groom. Friends and family standing to honor her, recorded music playing the wedding march, and the setting sun coloring everything red and rosy.

It is also the time of day when chair guys scurry around to pick up their chairs and umbrellas.

Last week, over at Grayton Beach, a wedding planner and her crew arrived to find chairs and umbrellas where they wanted to set up for the ceremony. So the wedding planner and her crew moved the chairs and umbrellas and piled them out of the way.

A word here about beach courtesy — you don’t move someone else’s stuff.

But the wedding planner and her crew did.

When the chair guy arrived, he found his chairs and umbrellas shoved off to one side.

So he did what he was supposed to do. He picked up the chairs and umbrellas and carried them back to the foot of the dune.

Unfortunately, while he was doing this, he inadvertently appeared in the background of some of the wedding photos.

Now, folks, you know that photographs are the most important aspect of any wedding. They are visual proof that the deed was done and done right. They are lovingly preserved in fancy albums so children and grandchildren can see what started it all.

To have a sweaty chair guy laboring away behind the happy couple can destroy the mood.

Seeing this, members of the wedding party got verbally abusive. Told the chair guy to get out of the way. But the chair guy had a job to do, a schedule to meet, so he went about his business, figuring to get it done and get gone.

No such luck. When he did not do what the wedding party wanted him to do, members of the wedding party, including the bride, charged across the beach and (per the police report) “began beating on him.”

To protect himself and his property, the chair guy ran to his truck and grabbed a filet knife.

According to witnesses, the chair guy did not threaten the wedding party. He simply made it clear that he was armed and if they wanted to resume “beating on him,” he would defend himself.

Meanwhile, someone called the law.

An officer arrived promptly, talked with witnesses who confirmed that the wedding party caused the ruckus and the chair guy was innocent.

That done, the chair guy (according to the newspaper account) “didn’t want to press charges; he just wanted to be left alone.”

Besides, he likely figured that the bride, who in the melee landed on her butt in the sand, did not want to add a visit to the Walton County, Fla., courthouse to her memories of the day.

So the chair guy went on about his business, warily watching for wedding parties.

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