The lifeguard stood atop his chair and surveyed the ocean. For five more minutes, this was his - his strip of beach, his stretch of sea - and then his shift would be over. He would blow his whistle, clear the water, let the swimmers know he was leaving - a routine end to an ordinary day.
On the last day of summer, nothing could be more appropriate. Even for 20-year-old rookie lifeguard Graham Hermanns, who could say without hesitation that this had been the best summer of his life, the last day of work -- and the season - came and went yesterday without fanfare. In a way, Hermanns admitted, the summer had reached its natural end. He felt ready to be done: to turn in his orange flags and first-aid kit, to drive home to his parents' place in Pennsylvania, to find a job and start the rest of his life.
That's the thing about the end of summer. It's a date on a calendar, but more than that, it's a state of mind, and one that often arrives well ahead of the autumnal equinox. Maybe it was the first day you put on socks instead of sandals, or the first time you ordered hot coffee instead of iced. Maybe it was the day your kids went back to school, or the first time you got stuck behind a school bus, or the first time you noticed it was dark out during dinner.
Or maybe, if you're Graham Hermanns, it's the last day that you came to work barefoot, wearing one of the two pairs of red Ocean City Beach Patrol swim trunks that were your uniform all summer. Most of the Beach Patrol student staffers returned to class after Labor Day, but Hermanns, who's taking a break this term after two years at Clarion University, was free to finish out the season in the job of his dreams.
If there is such a thing as a perfect last day of summer, surely this was it: Sitting atop the tall white lifeguard's platform, scanning the waves and beach, Hermanns kept a keen eye on the swimmers and surfers, occasionally blowing his whistle to guide them away from riptides. He was proud to have made 14 rescues in his first year on Beach Patrol. But today, there were no emergencies or mishaps, just a brilliant blue sky and a blazing sun that by 5:25 in the afternoon was well on its way to the horizon.
At 5:30, the radio crackled: "Ocean City Beach Patrol is now off-duty for the summer of 2002," a woman's voice said. Hermanns - and the more than 40 other lifeguards still on duty - blew their whistles for the last time and motioned the remaining swimmers toward the beach. Some came to shore, others stayed in the water, not quite ready for summer to end, no matter what it said on the calendar.