Enjoying the umbrella boy lifestyle
mercredi 15 février 2017
Posted by: Dan LaCombe (La Chât '78)
Dan Lacombe attended the Lycée des Nations in the 1970s, when that school moved to the campus at La Châtaigneraie and became part of the International School of Geneva. Having taken journalism and photography in college, he worked as a reporter and photographer early in his career. Now a modern day nomad with no permanent address and minimal possessions, Dan is documenting his travels to share his rewarding unconventional lifestyle with others.
A version of the text below appeared in the Huffington Post last October. Dan is now bound for Southeast Asia and we hope to feature him again soon in the AlumBlog.
Last Sunday, the last day of summer, was also my last day being an umbrella boy on Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Not your typical job for a recently retired 56 year old, but why should kids have all the fun? It’s the greatest job ever, as my customers regularly remind me. I get an awesome workout (hauling and setting up umbrellas and chairs), swim, visit with friends, relax and listen to the radio, read, or simply watch the dolphins go by – all the while making good money (especially the tips!). It truly feels like a paid vacation.
Living the dream
I didn’t want the summer to end; I was having too much fun. It’s not like I had to do this. My state pension pays most of the bills – I want to do this. I drove all the way down from Maine to do this. That’s the beauty of early retirement. That had been my dream and now I’m living it. It’s not like I had always dreamed of being an umbrella boy. I dreamt of being able to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to, and being young enough in good enough shape to do fun things like this (I plan to be a ski instructor this winter).
I had never thought about doing umbrellas until three years ago when a friend, who took her vacation time to work an umbrella shack, told me what a great job it was. Knowing that I was retiring the following year, I thought this would be a great way to supplement my income while having fun once I was free from a job that never quite fit. I contacted Mr. Lynam (the owner) and was lucky that he had an opening for the last two weeks of the season. I took some vacation time myself to try it out and get a foot in the door and I’m so glad I did. I was hooked. Toward the end of each summer, when the kids go back to school, Mr. Lynam needs people to fill in for the balance of the season. That’s perfect for me. Four to six weeks being an umbrella boy – living the dream.
This was my third year and I plan to return for years to come. Business slows down significantly after Labor Day and when Mr, Lynam starts paying out more in wages than he’s making, it’s time to close for the season. I’m not the only older guy working on the beach. There’s another older umbrella boy and a couple older life guards too (retired state cop and teacher) – even older than me! So I’m not at all freaky unique but am among a select kindred few. We sometimes get together for a beer after work, share beach stories and generally rejoice in our lifestyle. It’s like we’ve somehow figured about how to beat the system; having uncloaked a secret.
Leaving the norm behind
The last day was sunless and windy and I had sought refuge in my shack from the stinging sand. I had cursed the crappy weather, but upon reflection it was for the best. Another beautiful sunny sky would have made the last day even more difficult. I had the Phillies game on the radio and sat reading The Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux. It wasn’t happenstance that my housemate Kay had handed me the book saying, “you gotta read this; you’ll love it.” I felt like I was reading about myself!
The main character was fed up with the materialism and conformity of America so he packed up and boarded a freighter bound for some yet unnamed foreign land; rejecting convention and starting a new life on his own terms. I too had sailed away, metaphorically, from a norm that had left me empty and longing for change. It was nice knowing some others felt similarly, even this fictional character.
A few rays of sun and an easing of the wind had been teasing in the late afternoon when Mr. Lynam came by a little earlier than usual to collect my money belt. He asked about my plans for next year and if I’d like to do it again. I told him that when the kids vacate their shacks, this is where I want to be again. We shook and said goodbye.
I packed my belongings into my backpack – radio, towel, sunscreen, long sleeve t-shirt, and book. I stepped out of the shack, closed its large wooden doors, secured the heavy hasp and squeezed the master lock closed with sad click. I felt like I had locked summer safely and securely away in that umbrella shack – from where it would surely re-emerge next year.
Dan LaCombe (La Chât '78)
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