Boardwalk buddies create upbeat daily tradition
Waves crashing against the shore and seagulls cawing in the air are not the only sounds and sights that fill the town of Bethany Beach each morning. Augmenting these daily components of the beach, a group of about 13 men spend every morning chatting with one another about a variety of topics, exchanging jokes and greeting residents and visitors.
All year ’round, except in snow or heavy rain, from around 6 or 7 a.m. until about 9:45 a.m., the men sit on the benches underneath the iconic clock on the boardwalk, beginning their days with sea breeze, sunshine and social interaction.
Setting the tone for the rest of their day, the meetings leave the group members in high spirits, which is why the men said they find themselves continuing to congregate on the boardwalk every day.
“It cheers me up, coming down here,” said Vinnie Esposito. “I try to leave all my troubles at home.”
Since around 1997, the gathering has been a daily occurrence. The affiliate with the longest membership, Esposito, started walking with a friend every morning, until another group member, Bill Gullickson, joined. As more and more people expressed interest in the group, the morning walk extended into a daily gathering in town.
Due so many years of spending time on the boardwalk, meeting new people and maintaining old friendships, the men said they have gained insights on life, knowledge about the town of Bethany and positive attitudes, which they want to share with others.
“We are trying to solve the problems of the world,” Esposito said.
To begin that process of improving the world around them, the men said they enjoy sparking conversations with people.
“It always starts with ‘Good morning,’” Esposito said.
From there, the gesture often turns into a longer and deeper conversation. Sometimes, people will ask the group members questions about Bethany, due to their daily experiences in the town.
After seeing the group make friendly remarks to Bethany townspeople every day on her 7 a.m. walk, Bethany Proper resident Kathy Thornett said she decided to ask the men for advice when her garage door broke.
“What better place to go than to people who appear to be living in the Bethany area, rather than a phonebook or the internet?” Thornett said. “You’re just up there with them and engaging with them.”
During the exchange, Thornett said, one of the group members gave her the name of a company to contact and also wrote down his own phone number, in case she needed additional help. After she contacted the company, workers repaired her garage door that same day.
“They were really helpful, and they were not hesitant,” Thornett said. “I just thought, they are really pleasant guys, and they’re really upbeat.”
To those passing by, including Thornett, the group of men helps contribute to and enhance Bethany with their optimistic approach to life.
The newest member of the group, Bob Utter, said his positivity stems from appreciating many aspects of his life. For him and the other members, being upbeat is never a challenge, he said, because their mindset has become an ingrained part of their existence and lifestyle.
“Every morning, when my feet hit the ground, I want to have a good outlook,” Utter said.
During the offseason, the men share their perspectives with people who pass regularly, but in the summer months, they see a variety of new faces. Group member Al Staingo said he and the rest of the group always remember those with whom they interact.
“We notice the same people year in and year out,” Staingo said.
Not only have the men become well-known for their attitude toward others and their lives, but they have also gained recognition from the beach webcam on the Town of Bethany Beach’s website. The camera displays a live broadcast of the north view of the boardwalk, which is the location in which the group sits every morning.
Those who have watched the men on the webcam often want to meet the group members in person and take their picture.
“We tell people, ‘No autographs,’ as they walk by,” Utter said.
Since Gullicksen spends winters in Florida, he often watches the live broadcast of his friends during his time away from the group, to stay connected.
“It’s a nice group of people who know each other and get together,” Gullickson said.
In addition to their conversations with other people, the weekly get-togethers include catching up with one another and joking around, which establishes camaraderie among the men.
From politics to personal anecdotes, their conversations always keep the mood light and humorous.
“We complain about our aches and pains,” Utter joked.
Before each of the daily conversations begins, the men all grab coffee, for energy to jumpstart their days. Some of them bring hot drinks from home, while others purchase their coffee at the Turtle Beach Cafe, Wawa or McDonald’s, among others.
“We are just a bunch of old men who want coffee and like to have fun,” Esposito said.
The daily meet-ups also feature physical activity, since a portion of the group members often walk down the boardwalk for a change of scenery and some heart-healthy cardio.
The men said Bethany Beach, with its natural beauty and amiable people, has helped shape their enthusiastic viewpoints, so they look forward to spending all morning on the boardwalk. They said they anticipate continuing their meetings for a long time and encourage anyone to join their mornings of conversation and laughter.
“Come and join us,” Esposito said. “We have openings.”