OLD LYME, CT. _ The coast belongs to the rich.
Of course, we'd known this before driving from Niantic to Old Saybrook, a stretch of Connecticut coastline where Long Island Sound meets the open ocean.
But seeing is believing, and in 25 miles or so, we saw mansions galore fronting the water, with little roadside signs warning passersby against coming any closer.
"BMW in the driveway," Uncle Chet advised as we approached another cedar-shake behemoth overlooking the slate-blue sea.
"I don't even think that's the house," Alice said.
"Look at that one behind it."
"Looks like a country club,"
I peered at an elegant three-story brick edifice surrounded by six-foot-tall privets and flower gardens.
"You'd need a staff just to keep the lawn mowed," Alice said.
"I'd be happy with the garage," Hon said.
"Me, too," Buddy said. "Can we buy the garage?"
"As soon as we find a million dollars," I said.
"Way off," Uncle Chet said. "Even a little shanty like the one we're in would cost a quarter million. I'll bet that garage and an acre around it would go for 10."
"One million, 10 million; what's the difference?" I said. "Buying anything within sight of the water is out of the question."
We kept driving, on our way back to the little rental cottage we had taken at Hawks Nest Beach. Here, the remnants of the middle class return each summer to recharge their batteries in the salt air.
Since the late 19th century, the Garvin family has held this precious waterfront, building efficient three- and four-bedroom cottages on the beach and in four rows behind it. If you want to go to sleep to the rhythm of the waves and wake up to an ocean view, you may pay $3,000 a week.
But if you're willing to walk a hundred yards, carrying your beach chairs and umbrella, a party of eight can rent a cottage for about $1,800 a week.
Naturally, we walk, and in our party, everyone contributes to the kitty.
It seems to work the same way in the other households here, as generations gather at the shore _ grandparents, teenagers, parents, toddlers _ down by the water during the day and sit on large screened front porches as the sun goes down.
No one locks their door. Kids run freely from yard to yard and ride bicycles everywhere as if this were America in 1955. Neighbors do look out for each other, and no one drives faster than a crawl on expeditions for groceries and sightseeing.
Our sightseeing jaunt took just an hour and a half, but we all breathed easier as soon as we got out of the car.
"Can we go to the beach now?" Buddy asked.
"As soon as you find your bathing suit and sun hat," I said.
"Who else is coming?" Alice asked.
"Bruce and the girls are already down there," Hon said.
"I'm going," I said.
"Me, too," Uncle Chet said and disappeared into his room to change.
A few minutes later, we grabbed some beach chairs and headed to the water, ready to soak up the sun and a superb view of eastern Long Island. Sailboats, kayaks and a few motorboats dotted the Sound, braving the white caps and strong current.
Our neighbors on either side of the little roadway were pouring out of their porches, as well, carrying towels, boogie boards and rafts, getting their money's worth in this hottest year in recorded history.
"Can you imagine if the whole world looked like this?" Uncle Chet asked. "Everyone in a similar house? I mean, some houses nicer and bigger than others, but nothing, say, 100 times better than average, and no one homeless. Would that lead to world peace, universal health care and longer, more contented lives?"
"It would, but they'd call it communism," I said.
"There's a dirty word," Uncle Chet said. "A much better one would be community."
Cooperstown Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit www.thedailystar.com/tomgrace.