An impactful lesson I learned while on a recent vacation.
It was last year, and I was lounging with friends on the soft, sandy shore in St. Pete Beach, Florida. We were wholly relaxed and spent our time between reading, telling old stories, and laughing at our shared histories. We lounged in those rented blue chaise chairs, covered by the bright yellow umbrellas, ubiquitous amongst most beach shorelines. It wasn’t entirely clear who the provider of the seaside loungers was (the city? a nearby hotel? an ambitious local entrepreneur?), but we paid the asking price and set up shop along the sun-drenched Gulf.
A few hours into our morning bask, a couple (of middle years) appeared and sat atop one of the chaise chairs not far from our camp. They talked in seriousness for a few moments, juxtaposed to our frivolous, airy conversations. After a few minutes, the man (presumably the husband) walked away. The woman paused a few minutes and then shouted over to us.
“Do you know if you have to rent these chairs?”
We responded in unison, yet in different affirmations, “Yeah.” “Unfortunately.” “Sadly, yes.”
I continued, “Someone will come along and you can pay him.”
She grimaced, pained the way we all are about paying for chairs, and said, “How much?”
“I think it was $20 for each chair and $25 for the umbrella,” mentioned one of my sun-bathing cronies.
The woman glanced around for her absent companion but continued chatting with us in vacation-style language: Where are you from? What have you enjoyed about the area? Where are you staying? and so on. Once the brief pleasantries ended, the man reappeared. She reached for his hand and introduced her husband, who waved and smiled warmly in our direction.
After our return wave, we eventually continued on with our nostalgic conversations. Regaled by my friends’ tales, I still eyed the couple as they resumed their solemn discussion. They were dressed not in swim wear, but definitely in beach attire. It seemed as if they planned to spend some time, though probably not a full day, taking in the beauty of the Gulfside beach. After a few minutes of gazing at the blue-green water, they got up, held hands, and walked away. My friends and I assumed the couple weighed the cost of the chairs against their limited time at the beach and decided it wasn’t cost effective to rent the short-term, over-priced “luxury items.”
As they departed, we continued hashing over the price ourselves. We agreed it really was ridiculous what they charged. Plus, it mattered not if you occupied the chairs for thirty minutes or six hours, the price remained fixed. And who wants to pay $40-$65/couple to sit at the beach for an hour?
If you could judge someone by their looks, they seemed like they could afford the beach amenities, so I don’t think money was the issue. Principal, most likely. They probably could afford the chairs and the beach vacation because they worked hard all their lives and saved money. People like that can be reluctant to spend money on over-priced luxuries. Trust me! I get it!
They drifted away, however, as did our thoughts of them. Until….
Later that night, returning to our beach-front accommodations after dinner, we came upon a road closure and a variety of first responder vehicles. We had to re-route ourselves to find a side road back to our lodging. Concerned that something very bad happened, one of my companions grabbed her phone and instantly started some research.
Apparently, the road closure had been in effect for about an hour prior to our arrival. The headlines were already being made public: “Middle-aged couple from Michigan hit by car, killing both, while crossing the road in the St. Pete Beach area.”
“Oh my God,” I shrieked. “That couple from the beach this morning was middle-aged and from Michigan! I think she said they were staying at a hotel right in this area!”
“What are the chances it’s the same couple?” responded one of my traveling mates with a sorrowful look upon her face.
“Oh God,” another whispered. “That’s heart-wrenching and just awful.”
It was silent in the car for a long moment. Each of us replaying our early-morning encounter with the amiable couple and lamenting over the possibility that we had met them only hours before their fateful tragedy. We were motionless in silence and heartbreak.
Breaking the silence, from the backseat I heard my friend express, “They should have gotten the chairs this morning.”
While it turned out not to be the couple we met, still, this was somebody’s couple. A couple who probably was just like the pair we met. A couple who decided, for whatever reason, not to pay for what we sometimes perceive to be a lavish and unnecessary expense. If they only knew….I’m sure they would have indulged.
Needless to say, this tragic tale gave us pause and certainly taught us a profound lesson: Live a little bit more for today. Reward yourself more often. Get the chairs.