TTC-L-PerkinsGator-0830

PEG DEGRASSA--- DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA John Perkins of Springfield drives passengers right to their chosen spot on the beach. The Long Beach Township Gator program provides all-terrain transportation, over the high sand dunes, to those who are elderly or disabled in some way, so that the beach is accessible to everyone.John Perkins, of Springfield, drives passengers right to their chosen spot on the beach. The Long Beach Township Gator program provides all-terrain transportation over the high sand dunes to those who are elderly or disabled in some way so the beach is accessible to everyone. PEG DEGRASSA — DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA

It happens every summer. As soon as the back-to-school talk starts or we begin to notice little phrases like “fall fashion,” “football season” and “pumpkin spice” popping up everywhere, many of us fall into what I traditionally call “summer panic mode.”

Summer seems to have just zoomed on by and, if you’re like me, you feel as if you neglected to take advantage of half of the summer activities and opportunities that you “should have — would have — could have.”

When the calendar turns to this last week of August, we often regret not going to the shore or mountains as many times as we could have or taking all the day trips that we had daydreamed about during the preceding year. Often, we already start making a mental bucket list for next summer, such as “I didn’t get to many of the outdoor concerts in Rose Tree Park this year, but next year, I plan on going to lots of them” or “I didn’t get to the swim club as many days as I should have this summer, but next year, I am going every weekend that I’m not away.”

The good part of going into the “end-of-summer regret” mode before September is that, even though school begins, there is still another month of warm weather so we can quickly fit in some of the activities that slipped by us in June, July and August. When the school bell rings, it should not only signal the start of school, but we should hear it as a wake-up call to get moving while the sun and fun opportunities are still before us. The weather is still cooperating to squeeze in some time for cookouts, boating, road trips and backyard swimming pools. The local farmers markets will still be going strong in many of Delaware County’s communities for another month or so, the Phillies are still up at bat and Dining Under the Stars in Media continues through September.

At the shore, everyone knows that it’s “better in September” as the ad slogan reminds us. The water is lukewarm, the sand is toasty on our toes, not scalding hot, the crabs are still running and the crowds are less intense with school in session and most vacations over.

I was feeling the nearing-the-end-of-summer blues last week, so I joined my sisters on a little impromptu day trip to bring my mom down to the shore to celebrate her birthday. My mom, who just turned 88, couldn’t go on the beach all summer because it’s just too difficult at her age to climb those steep sand dunes anymore. Hey, it’s difficult for many people over 50, so I get it. However, thanks to the Gator Program of Long Beach Township, N.J., my mom was able to spend the day on the beach. I have to share how the innovative thinking by folks in this town helped to make this happen for my mom, and hopefully, others can convince the leaders of their favorite shore towns to come up with a similar service to enhance the lives of their residents and visitors who are elderly, disabled or handicapped in some way.

John “Perk” Perkins, of Springfield, whose name many may recognize because he used to take really terrific sports photos for Springfield Press, drives one of The Gators on Long Beach Island. The Gator is a free service offered in the township that transports people to their spot on the beach, making the beach accessible to all people who want to go there. You call up the township and state the exact location where you want to get picked up, and then Perk or one of his fellow drivers arrives in an all-terrain, cool-looking vehicle. He not only picks you up, but he gives your chairs, umbrella, cooler, beach bag and other equipment a lift, as well. He drives you up and over the dunes and right to the selected spot on the beach of your choosing.

After getting dropped off, you tell the driver what time that you want a return pickup, or else you call him, and he arrives right back at your spot at the designated time. You really can’t beat this service, and someone like my mom couldn’t really get on the beach without it. It is a Godsend and, I think, every beach town should copy Long Beach Township to institute a similar program. Beach lovers should write or call the leaders of their favorite beach to tell them what an important service this would be.

Perk calls his Gator driving gig “the best job I’ve had in all my 81 years.” Tanned and relaxed, he said that his passengers are always in a happy mood (after all, they are heading to the nice, sunny beach, so who wouldn’t be happy?). He gets to laugh and talk with the people that he picks up, while enjoying the fresh salt air working outdoors. His workplace surroundings include the sand and ocean, which we all know beats office cubicles and conference rooms.

Honestly, I wish I had brought my mom for a ride on The Gator sooner than last week so she could have enjoyed more time on the beach. All summer regret aside, however, at least now I know about the excellent program for next summer. I do truly hope other shore towns will look into adopting a program similar to LBI’s Gator because it is really beneficial for countless people who can’t navigate the dunes, which seem to all have gotten noticeably higher since the restoration that followed Hurricane Sandy in 2012. People are living longer in recent years so there will be more and more people in the coming years who want access to the beach but will need that little extra help to get there. For more information on LBI’s Gator program, call (609) 342-2111.

With Labor Day weekend on the horizon, I am going to focus on some remaining summer opportunities and try to take advantage of them and I hope you do, too. I often hear people saying that they regret that they didn’t take a vacation to this place or that place, but, to this day, I have never heard anyone say that they regretted any vacation that they did take. Don’t pack away your barbecues, bathing suits, flip-flops or beach chairs yet. Instead, slap on some sunscreen and a floppy hat and remember, summer doesn’t officially end until Sept. 22. Whatever you do and however you do it, don’t let that back-to-school stuff fool you, making you think that one of the best seasons of the year is over when we still have over three weeks to go!

Readers can reach Peg DeGrassa at pdegrassa@21st-centurymedia.com.

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