In honor of our surf-themed issue, an ode to my Jersey Shore roots.
My vivid Jersey Shore memories began as a small child crammed into a single room with my parents and three older sunburned and sand-covered siblings at the Diamond Crest Motel in Wildwood Crest. It was there that our annual week-long family summer vacations took place. Space was tight but the vastness of those powdery beaches, what seemed like a limitless ocean and endless summers (not to mention a pool adjacent to the motel’s parking lot), more than made up for the stuffy sleeping accommodations.
In my teen years, these vacations migrated north to Long Beach Island and the aptly named, Surf City, where portions of my family spent time at the end of every August in a roomy, two-family beach house. I was always there beach combing, boogie boarding and bike riding, instantly transformed into “Shore Dude,” a look that spanned from my wild-hair to my tan toes. I would fantasize about never returning north to what seemed like a distant, tree-filled suburb that was worlds away from what was obviously, in my saltwater infested mind, a far better way of life. Those vacations were always topped off with a visit to the Freedom Surf Shop where I could stock up on the latest surf-themed T-shirts and OP shorts that served as a uniform of cool and validation upon returning back to school that, “Yes, I had been ‘down the shore.’”
For a few years during my roaring 20s, I graduated to renting various beach bungalows further north in Manasquan along with a revolving cast of beer buddies. One year, we rented what was considered by a few local historians to be the town’s original lighthouse, but any hint of splendor ended right there. This cramped and weathered abode that was literally the shape of a hi-top sneaker was packed with renters and, more often than not, plenty of unannounced guests (a.k.a. freeloaders) that on ocassion made me yearn for the spacious confines of the Diamond Crest Motel. However, this Jersey Shore period was all about location, location, location—as in beach front and a short walk to the local bars. No matter how crowded and toxic it got inside those bungalows, I could quickly escape to the beach for a little serenity.
Now, in my 40s, I find myself going back to my Jersey Shore roots, taking my Michigan-raised wife and young daughter on weekend excursions to Cape May and the nearby Wildwoods with its gentle surf and famous boardwalk attractions complete with carnival-like characters that, to this day, seem straight out of a Springsteen song. Seeing a smile light up my daughter’s face as she catches a wave on her boogie board brings me straight back to my childhood. And, as the Beach Boys song goes, that feeling of “sitting on top of the world” never ebbs. Neither do meandering walks in search of shells, sand crabs and sea glass. My daughter has also taken a fancy to playing skee ball, a fixture of arcades all along the Jersey Shore. She has yet to discover (more like care, really) that we are spending far more trying to win redeemable tickets for a giant stuffed something. The game’s lights, bells and whistles against a backdrop of raspy carnival workers hawking their games of chance is pure Jersey Shore. It can’t be replicated online or experienced through a video game.
Unlike Snooki, The Situation and the rest of the former Jersey Shore interlopers, the Jersey Shore runs deep in my bones. Come each summer I feel the urge, not unlike a sea turtle, drawing me back again. It’s not officially summer until I catch a few waves, collect a few shells and hit one of its boardwalks. (Let’s not forget the saltwater taffy, hot pizza slices and assorted other Jersey Shore delicacies that come with the territory.) There’s also the browsing in local surf shops for beach town-emblazoned hoodies and T-shirts as well as the latest board shorts, sunglasses, flip-flops, etc. One can never have enough of these summer wardrobe staples. The fact that my parents have retired to a town that’s a shell’s throw from Long Beach Island only makes the lure that much stronger. I didn’t really need a reason, but now I’ve got a really good one for many more Jersey Shore escapes. I consider myself lucky for having been indoctrinated at an early age to the enduring allure of the Jersey Shore where, as Tom Waits sings, everything’s all right.