Monday, September 11, 2006

Down the Shore...

I'm a Jersey boy at heart--born and raised. So naturally I have a soft spot for the Jersey Shore where I've been spending a lot of time this summer. We finally had perfect beach weather this weekend so I headed back "down the shore" to make the most of it. In case you don't speak Jersey, "down the shore" is a local colloquialism that simply means going to the beach. I don't know the history of the expression, just that everyone in Jersey refers to it this way. Memories of "down the shore" are as integral to a Jersey childhood as little league or the first day of school and mine is no exception.

My earliest memories of family vacations were of rented cottages down the shore in Beach Haven, NJ, a quiet seasonal beach town with row upon row of simple, one story shingled houses spreading from the beach to the bay that separates Long Beach Island from the rest of the state. We went there every year until my family got a house "up the country" where we started taking our vacations instead--hot, muggy, poison-ivy filled vacations as I recall.

We still took occasional day trips down the shore every year however, usually to Point Pleasant, a nice middle-class beach community with a boardwalk full of amusements and kiddie rides. When we got a little older and the kiddie rides didn't matter so much we started going to Island Beach State Park which is miles of unspoiled dunes and white sandy beaches with no boardwalk.

I think my mother used to look forward to these day trips as a welcome respite from having 5 kids cooped up in the house during the summer months, although they were usually more work for her than anything else. She would be up late the night before making dozens of hero sandwiches of different varieties to suit everyone's tastes. Next she and my father would pack the station wagon full of everything we might possibly need for a day at the beach: umbrellas, coolers, beach towels, sand chairs, sand toys, rafts, floats, blankets, suntan lotion and usually a playpen as there was always one of us who was still young enough to have to be penned in at the beach. My mother would get us all up early the next day to start the two hour drive "down the shore" braving Parkway traffic all the way. When we finally got to the beach extensive set up of all our accoutrement was required and then my mother would spend the day making sure we all had the necessary sunscreen, refereeing fights over floats, picking sand out of sandwiches and her favorite part, sitting at the edge of the waves in a sandchair keeping a close eye so that none of us would drown.

Naturally, by time I was a teenager it was no longer cool to go down the shore with your parents. You went instead with your friends as soon as someone in your group was old enough to drive. But my very first outing down the shore without my parents was the annual altar boy trip with our church to Seaside Heights, NJ. Seaside was Point Pleasant's tacky, wrong-side-of-the-tracks, honky tonk cousin. In retrospect, it was a curious choice for the altar boy trip. I was too young at the time to know of its seamy reputation, all I knew was that it was where all the older kids went when they went down the shore. We always had fun though and I'd come home every year loaded down with junk I'd won on the boardwalk which I would put on proud display in my room.

When I was old enough to drive to the beach myself my friends and I had become far too grand and sophisticated for the likes of Seaside. No run down, honky-tonk beach town with its Camaro driving guidos and big-haired Jersey girls for us. No, indeed! We preferred the beach at Deal, NJ. Deal is a very affluent town with huge homes and mansions on nothing less than a 2 or 3 acre lot all along the beach. The houses ranged in style from 80s modern to glorious old Victorian. We would go to the Deal Casino which was actually a beach club, not a casino with gambling as in the modern sense of the word. The casino was something out of the 1920s with striped cabanas and lounge chairs and waiters to deliver your sandwich or a tall drink which always came with a cocktail umbrella no matter what you ordered. We loved it! We'd congratulate ourselves on our good taste as we sat in our lounge chairs sipping our umbrella drinks exchanging catty remarks about those poor slobs down in Seaside.

The after-prom custom for any New Jersey teen is also to go down the shore. Most kids went to Seaside or Wildwood and would show up at school Monday morning with fresh sunburns and tales of the prom. But once again bucking the trend, my "sophisticated" friends and I opted for a friend's mother's corporate apartment in the city on Central Park South rather than cramming 10 of us in one fleabag motel room down in Seaside. We spent a worldly, metropolitan weekend as only 18 year olds can do buying hotdogs from vendors in the park and taking pictures of the lights in Times Square like tourists.

When I was just out of high school and had my very first boyfriend who was just my age, we heard there was a gay beach at Sandy Hook. A gay beach. Can you imagine? Well, the first good beach day we had we set out to find it. It was easy to spot. It's right next to the nude beach. Sandy Hook is a National Park so again, the beach is unspoiled and it's one of the closest shore points to North Jersey so it was always an easy trip. I made trips to Sandy Hook almost every year since then. In fact there is even a ferry that leaves from Manhattan on the weekends and delivers you right to Sandy Hook. It's a beautiful trip past the Statue of Liberty and under the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. It sure beats Parkway traffic and you don't have to worry about parking. I am reminded today that I had planned to go to Sandy Hook that fateful September 11th a few years ago with my boyfriend at the time, Jim and my dog, Sadie. We never made it there that day, but it was perfect beach weather.

Below are some shots from down the shore.

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At 6:23 PM, Blogger Carol said...

I've come via Spider's Tell Me Tuesday. I really enjoyed your story and I enjoyed your writing style. I live near Byron Bay in Australia and we have a very long stretch of coastline, complete with gay sections and nude sections. If you ever get to Australia be sure to take a look.


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