THIS POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN JUNE 2011 on NOTES ON THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY (NSNJ). NSNJ is an online publication dedicated to keeping New Jersey’s history alive, while also preserving present-day New Jersey experiences for posterity. I have been given the privilege of writing for NSNJ and look forward to writing additional pieces in the months to come.
It’s a hot Saturday in July. Both my brother and I are seated in the back of the tan 1984 four door Corolla, flanking a large red cooler filled with meats from the local butcher purchased the night before. Despite the lack of room, the cold cooler provides relief from the lack of air conditioning in the car and serves as a clever barrier to deter any sibling quarrels. Under our feet are boxes of pots and pans and sheets and towels. In the trunk, suitcases and trays of baked ziti and sausage and peppers are meticulously arranged, while our backyard chairs and picnic table umbrella are strapped to the roof of the car. Remarkably, there is just a bit of room left for both my parents who serve as the driver and passenger.
Without any seat belts on, we take Route 3 to NJ Turnpike to the Garden State Parkway….Jersey Shore here we come! It is a trip we made every summer without fail.
The four-hour ride from Hudson County to Exit 4b on the Garden State Parkway came to be the epitome of my childhood summers. Along with extended family and friends, we would settle on Farragut Road and begin the arduous task of unloading what seemed to be our entire home from the car to our rented apartment. Most often, the women would send the children and their dads to the beach so they could tackle “cleaning” the already clean apartment. But back then, the notion that my mother would fill the tub with Clorox seemed very practical…”you never know who’s been here before,” she would explain.
Once the apartment was sanitized to their standards, our vacation would truly begin. Most mornings, we would be at the beach by 9am ready to set camp along what seemed the never-ending stretch of sand between our beach entrance and the surf.
Our beach chairs were heavy and cumbersome and the fringe from the patio umbrella, that doubled as a beach umbrella, mercilessly whipped the bare skin it was near.
The pools were for guests only, but if you entered through the parking garage and up to the main lobby, you could pass as a “guest”.
Our beach nights were just as memorable. Massive family style dinners, sunsets at Sunset Lake and mini golf in Cape May. On our special night, with coupons in hand we would dine at the Captain’s Table or Duffy’s on the Lake. Evening strolls for ice cream and visits to the Wildwood Boardwalk …vacations really couldn’t get any better than that. Day or night, we were loud, we were happy. The joy and laughter were endless.
Eventually, as we got older, the summer’s down the shore became less frequent. Instead, we replaced the family vacation with weekends at the beaches of LBI with our friends as our parents set their sights at more adult, childless vacations. But the pull to the Jersey Shore is strong.
Fast forward 25 years. The tiny hot 4 door car is now an air-conditioned SUV fully equipped with a dvd player for hours of children enjoyment. The roomy trunk comfortably houses suitcases, coolers, beach toys and golf clubs.
The beach chairs and umbrella are light and fashionable. Extended family and friends has doubled if not tripled. We apply sunscreen before leaving the beach house. We wear SPF bathing suits and hats. We rent a home that comes with its own pots and pans and sheets and towels (and yes, my mother still brings Clorox).
But one factor remains constant – the Jersey Shore.
Down the shore to New Jersians is more than a beach or a vacation. It is the family member we can’t wait to see year after year. It is the place our parents can once again see the smiles and hear the cackle of laughter that came from their children so many years ago. It is where we come together and feel at home – it’s the Jersey Shore.