OCEAN CITY - Talk to Drew Haugh for a while and you're pretty sure that life really is a beach, convinced there can be an endless summer. You might even catch yourself slapping one of those wavy "Local" bumper stickers on the car and vowing to never go home.
This guy has it made in the shade - literally.
For 25 years, Haugh has been manning pale blue beach rental boxes, dispensing canvas folding beach chairs, umbrellas and body boards to hordes of tourists who cram Maryland's ocean resort.
"I am a true beach bum; if I could stay barefoot all year, I would," says Haugh, decked out for work in a sleeveless T-shirt, shorts, an "Ocean City Boxing" cap and ever-present dark shades. "When I tell people I've been at this for 25 years, they think I'm lying. Or crazy."
Every day is dress-down day for Haugh. He sits on the sand with nothing more stressful to do than to scan the horizon for squat folding chairs and blue and yellow umbrellas. On special occasions, he might consider wearing shoes.
Sounds great? Consider facing that routine every day, seven days a week from early June until the end of August. Then, add a month or so of busy weekends in the fall.
Try scrambling in hot sand for 16 hours straight on the Fourth of July, renting out 150 umbrellas, rocking each umbrella into the sand for customers, collecting them all again, then starting it all over again at 8:30 the next morning.
Haugh, 43, is also a physical education teacher and coach at Boys' Latin school on West Lake Avenue. As a student there, he was a standout lacrosse defensive lineman.
He says one of the reasons he decided to teach was because it allowed him to have summers free to indulge his passion for the beach.
Haugh had little trouble persuading his wife, Laurie, to go along with his sand-swept addiction. She grew up in Ocean City. The couple is downright beach sappy.
They met at the beach, where both were working rental stands. Haugh proposed by hiring an advertising banner helicopter to hover over the beach while he flashed handmade signs to Laurie - "Laur, Will, U, Marry Me."
The wedding, of course, was out on the sand, complete with palm trees that friends carried out from the boardwalk.
When it came time to baptize their three boys (12-year-olds Pierce and Charlie, who were adopted from a Russian orphanage) and 5-year-old Colton, they were sprinkled with ocean water.
When Haugh's beloved 17-year-old golden retriever Shane died a few years ago, his ashes were scattered in the ocean.
"I still have friends from high school who are closer to me than anybody I know from college," says Laurie Haugh. "I went off to college in Florida, then came back here to finish at [Salisbury University]. This is home."
The couple says this summer has been perhaps their best. After years of running more than 30 stands, they've cut back to three.
The move was prompted by a change in the way the city awards 70 beach rental franchises to operators like Haugh who bid from $475 to $26,000 for the season.
Business is booming
With a couple of employees and a booming business fueled by the driest summer he has ever seen, Haugh says his profit has been higher with far less work.
After many years working the stand at Second Street, Haugh has staked out his spot at North Division Street, a move that makes sense to his longtime friend, Lt. Ward Kovacs, a 20-year veteran of the city's beach patrol.
"We're both guys who like it downtown in old Ocean City," says Kovacs. "Drew's always worked this end of the beach. Up north, all the big high rises cast a shadow in the late afternoon. Drew's really an old school businessman who takes care of his customers."
Life outside the beach
The beach stand seems like a world away from the family's suburban house in Phoenix, and from the classroom and green playing fields of Boys' Latin school that straddle the Baltimore city-county line.
A lacrosse player at Salisbury University in his college days, Haugh keeps in game shape and plays in an over-35 league. He coaches the junior varsity lacrosse team at Boys' Latin and is the varsity volleyball and wrestling coach.
"He's had tremendous success as a coach," says athletic director Hugh Gelston, who remembers Haugh from when he was a student at Boys' Latin.
"He's always coming up with goofy slogans to put on T-shirts. The kids love him. Three or four seniors who spoke at graduation this year mentioned him."
Haugh will be back at school Monday to begin preparing for the academic year and will work the beach stand on weekends through next month or early October.
Then comes the season the Haugh family cherishes the most. Every weekend until Thanksgiving, they will head to the beach. "We love it in the fall," Haugh says. "It's really the best time to be here because we have the place to ourselves."