With the heat of summer comes increased activity in bodies of water. Lakes, rivers, oceans, swimming pools, and even ponds see a huge surge in activity during the summer months here in the United States. And each body of water has its own culture. The ocean is for deep sea fishing, crowding beaches with inlanders, and hearing northern accents in places like Corpus Christi, Texas or Gulf Shores, Alabama. Pools are for college kids in apartment complexes and high school kids in neighborhoods. Ponds are for fishing, rivers are for jumping in after working all day. And then there are lakes.
Lakes are interesting because they normally include people who live on the lake, but there are so many different types of townies and tourists that lakes can be a veritable melting pot of American culture. With that in mind, let’s talk about the people you’re likely to run into at the lake.
The Leathery Local
To start off, you’ll almost assuredly run into a local who has spent so much time in the sun that their skin looks like Pudge Rodriguez’s catcher’s mitt. You know the type. If they’re old enough they’ll have the California Raisin look about them. They’re normally wearing shorts, bright flip-flops, and a neon shirt with something vaguely inappropriate on it (e.g. “We’ve Got the Biggest Dock in Town at Lakeside Cafe!”). They grew up on the lake and were one of the six people in their high school class to stay in town and not get addicted to meth. They’re weirdly rude but helpful at the same time in that they’ll get you where you need to go, but it will dawn on you later they were being condescending and judging you for not knowing your way around the lake yet. Often found at restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores, and anywhere Marlboro Lights are sold.
The Reformed Criminal
Reformed criminals are found almost exclusively at on-the-water gas stations and boat rental companies. At the gas stations they’re pumping gas and dropping not-so-subtle hints that you need to tip them an obscene amount on the already obscene price of gas ($4.56 a gallon in North Texas this past weekend!). At the boat rental companies they are mechanics who don’t have enough to do so they sit up front and chit chat with customers as the rental agent makes sure all the paperwork is in order. They’re always friendly, but they always look like someone who’s been to prison before. But they’ve been clean and sober since they got out of jail in 2008, and other than the fact that they still use a flip phone there’s nothing truly suspicious about them.
The Fish Bro
Fish bro comes in two trim packages: Douche Lord and Mellow Man. Mellow Man is a guy who enjoys fishing because it’s relaxing. He’s in a bass boat cruising slowly in shallower areas of the lake trying to catch catfish or striped bass. Maybe he keeps them, maybe he throws them back in, depending on whether he plans to eat one of the fish. Mellow Man is dressed modestly and wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. Douche Lord is the opposite. They run their boat at full throttle at 5:00 a.m., are dressed in designer swim trunks and $75 Columbia fishing shirts, they’re wearing white sunglasses and take fishing way too seriously. They will signal other boats to slow down so as not to disturb the fish, and if you make small talk the only thing you’ll ever hear from them is how a preposterously large bass ate the worm clean off the hook and got away but they’ll swear that bass was six feet long.
The Rich Dick from the City
Ah, the aristocrat who gets away almost every weekend. They’re normally more red than tan, and their Oakley glasses and Patek Philippe watch are always on display. Their dad made a bunch of money investing in shady-sounding foreign deals, but it paid for lacrosse lessons and private college so they don’t ask any questions. Their boat is too big for the lake but they spent $800,000 hard earned dollars on it so they will take it out no matter how inconsiderate and unnecessary it is. They also think that they have first preference at gas stations and are generally very rude. If they are married, their spouse and kids (if they have kids) are all on the boat and equally unpleasant to be around. If they’re not married they’re generally surrounded by younger folks who would not be anywhere near them if it weren’t for the signs of fat pockets. This person is wearing $250 flip-flops and has a baseball cap with the name of his boat (Lake it Easy) on it, and he absolutely will cut in line to buy sunscreen and Michelob Ultra at a lake gas station.
The Water Sportsmen
These are the young men and women who want to be out wakeboarding or wake surfing all day. They get upset if the water is too rough, and they have bruises along their rib cages where their life vests have pressed into them with great force during a fall. No matter what color their hair actually is, it appears blonde on the lake. You’ll run into them grabbing a burger and fries in the early afternoon as they wait for the afternoon crowd to die down so they can get back on the water when it’s calmer. Normally the sportsmen are friendly, but they don’t want to do anything other than the sports stuff. They’ll also be the folks sitting around a fire and playing games on the crappy lake beach late into the night.
The Winter Traveler
This person is a white as the freshly driven snow because they haven’t actually truly been outside since the Reagan administration. They’re likely from some northern town where family vacations were taken in the winter and planned around snow skiing or something less likely to result in a tan. But as they’ve gotten older they have come to appreciate the sun enough to enjoy summer vacation, but not enough to take their skintone from alabaster to heavily creamed coffee. If they’re not under a canopy, they’re in a large hat and remnants of poorly rubbed in sunscreen can still be seen where their nose meets the rest of their face. They’re generally friendly but they think 83° is too hot for humans to handle so they take their nature in small doses.
The Party Brigade
The Party Brigade came to the lake for one reason only: to drink as much alcohol as they can between the time they get to the lake on Friday to the time they leave the lake on Sunday. Sometimes otherwise unacquainted Party Brigades find each other in a cove and use mooring line to tie their boats together. The boats hold a combined 25 people, but there are easily 35 or 40 people there, and each one is at least six or seven Busch Lights deep. The music is crappy Billboard Hot 100 pop/rap, with the occasional atrociously stupid country song sprinkled in for some variety. Approximately 10% of the Party Brigade will vomit before the sun sets, and all of them will have at least one part of their body that didn’t get enough sunscreen and showers will be uncomfortable for a few days. Sunday mornings will find many of the Party Brigade sleeping outdoors, puking into toilets, still a bit drunk, or so sunburnt they look like the offspring of the Kool-Aid Man and a raw ribeye. These folks are really fun to be around for about an hour on Saturday afternoon, but after that they are insufferable.
The Unmolded First Timers
These are my favorite people on the lake. These are folks who were normally dragged to the lake as part of a group but have found themselves really enjoying things. They haven’t quite fit into one of the lake people molds yet, but they’re finding their way. Soon enough they’ll be a regular visitor who transcends the stereotypes and just enjoys the time they get to spend away from their desk and on the water. Sometimes they’ll overdo it their first time out and end up hungover by 2:30 p.m., but on Monday morning at the office they’re still talking about what a great time they had.
The Young Family
It’s a mom, a dad, and their two small kids, taking the first family vacation that both kids are expected to remember. Normally the parents are equally torn between wanting to relax and party a bit and not wanting to let the children out of their sight for fear they will fall in the water or accidentally provoke a wasps’ nest or something. They’re dressed in whatever workout clothes they had lying around the house, but the kids are in cute semi-matching swimwear and the dad will have some Kohl’s or JCPenney floral-patterned trunks on. The funniest part of these folks is how much stuff they bring with them. It’s been so long since their last real vacation that they’ve forgotten exactly what to bring so they just brought everything. Tubes, skis, enough food to feed twelve people for a week, too many towels, umbrellas, eight gallons of SPF 50 sunscreen, thirteen suitcases, and random groceries like condiments and seasonings that they don’t really need. But it’s a proud moment for the parents and probably feels like a healthy bit of real adulthood stuff mixed in with the sun and fun. Oh, and the kid’s names are definitely something like Kaden and Kynzleigh or something wild like that.
There are other, more obscure lake people. The skinny-dips-during-the-day guy. The pro-marijuana-and-weirdly-proud-of-it-to-the-point-of-having-a-giant-pot-leaf-flag-on-his-boat guy. The cougars who are on a girls’ weekend and try to pickup college boys at the local bar and grill. The guy who is clearly a cop on vacation who’s trying not to be too much of a fuddy-duddy when he sees people drinking and behaving like idiots. The lake wouldn’t be the lake without these kinds of people. It’s what adds to the cultural element of the vacation, and we should embrace it if not celebrate it. However you choose to enjoy the lake, just make sure you take plenty of sunscreen, because in a fight between you and the sun, the sun will win every time.