American Times: Greenwich, Connecticut - Private property is now the 51st state

AMERICA HAS an awful lot of shoreline, enough, you would imagine, to give everyone a spot to plonk down their deckchair and crack open the cool-box on hot summer days like these. You would be wrong. Nearly every oceanside state - Oregon is the exception - allows private homes, associations and indeed whole towns to section off beaches and headlands for the exclusive use of residents and locals.

One place, more than any other, has grown infamous for this less-than-democratic practice, and it happens to be where I live. Greenwich, Connecticut, has perfected the art of repelling the unwashed masses. (New York city is awfully near, after all.) I remember the first week we arrived, setting out for the direction of the ocean. I never got near the water. Every road was blocked by security posts and barriers declaring: "Private, Residents Only".

I was angered, but now my feelings about such obstacles are mixed. The reason is simple and inexcusable: it is called Greenwich Point, a beautiful finger of land, curling out into Long Island Sound, that only Greenwich inhabitants can enter. It is a 147-acre park with tranquil walks, a stunning view of Manhattan 35 miles away and, best of all, a fine stretch of gently sloping beach.

Of course we want it all for ourselves. And so, every spring, we follow the town's instructions and apply for our little beige beach passes. For $16 (pounds 10) and $5 for children the pass gives us access not just to Greenwich Point but also on to the ferry that scoots out twice an hour in high summer to the small island in the Sound that also belongs to the town. It too has a beach, an even better view of the city, soothing breezes and, best of all, a little bar with draught beer and a well-stocked jukebox.

These passes, you will begin to understand, are somewhat precious. True, we are allowed to take guests, as colleagues from several rival British titles discovered to their pleasure (I hope) when we barbecued lunch and sipped Buds on the island last weekend. But if your address is not in Greenwich and you have no friends here, you can forget such sandy delights.

None the less it came as a shock last week to read that our police department had resorted to entrapping folk attempting to buy passes on the black market.

The sting was set in motion when Victor Consoli, from neighbouring Stamford, placed a classified advertisement in the Greenwich Time newspaper, seekingbeach passes "for prof Stamford cpl w/child. $100 + expenses". Mr Consoli was invited to meet a would-be vendor at our local McDonald's.

How was he to know that some Greenwich busybody had alerted the police or that the man who met him was actually an undercover cop? Mr Consoli duly handed over the $100. "That's when I advised him I was, in fact, a police officer," our plainclothes hero told the Time. "He was more disappointed that anything else. Disappointed and shocked." Mr Consoli was also fined $60.

Since then he has not been answering his phone. Maybe he should. Surely there is some Greenwich beach-lover with the heart to invite the Consoli family to the Point from time to time? Perhaps I should be that person. I do have a guilty conscience about all this, honest.

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