We had one week of vacation when I was growing up. It happened in July and it was at the Jersey Shore. Seven days on the beach, seven nights on the boardwalk. Then we came home and waited for next year.
I remember staying in a number of shore towns. Some were for our week vacation and some were weekend jaunts. We went to Asbury Park, Belmar, Point Pleasant, Seaside Heights and Wildwood Crest. But eventually we settled on Wildwood for our vacation.
That was good with me. Wildwood had and still has the biggest boardwalk with the most amusement piers and most rides. It also has, if you can block out the tackiness that surrounds it, a stunningly beautiful beach. The Wildwood beach has very fine white sand and is the widest beach I have ever seen.
Somebody my mother knew, knew somebody who had a house on Wildwood Avenue and that was where we settled in a week at a time for several years. There was a big house on the property and a smaller unit behind which was what we rented.
I remember Wildwood Avenue because of two iconic stores. One is Laura’s Fudge where the poor guys who worked there had to constantly mix vats of fudge in the front window. Laura’s is still there. The other was the lobster restaurant, a predecessor to the Lobster Shack which on that location now. Much to my chagrin we would have dinner there once a year. I wasn’t much of a foodie when I was little and I was concerned the lobster dinner was cutting into my boardwalk time. My preferred dining location was the Mack’s Pizza a half block away on the boardwalk, where I could buy a slice or two and keep going without losing time by sitting at a table.
We were completely clueless about any dangers of sun exposure. We didn’t use sunblock, we used suntan lotion which was marketed as something that would make you tan faster and darker. Sometimes it was called “tanning butter.” Typically I would burn myself the first day out confident that the red would turn to tan. Or perhaps peel before the week was over so I could burn again before I went home and have it turn to a tan. Unfortunately my father hated the beach. He brought an umbrella which he sat under with a T-shirt on and never went in the ocean with us. I wonder if this week’s vacation was torture for him. My mom, on the other hand, was a Jersey girl.
Nightime was for the boardwalk. I would make a nightly stop at the aforementioned Mack’s Pizza and might spend a couple quarters on a game wheel, my preference being the one where you could win records. I went up and down the length of the boardwalk any number of times. But my two main boardwalk pursuits were the rides and the arcades.
Wildwood had four piers with rides, unheard of even for the Jersey shore. One of my favorites was the ride that spins in a circle both forward and backward to loud music. Sometimes this is called the Himalaya. But Wildwood used to have one that, much to the never-ending amusement of all shore-going kids, was named the Schlittenfahrt. I would also seek out the biggest, baddest roller coaster on the boardwalk and ride it once or twice a week. The biggest and baddest also meant the most expensive so I carefully managed my roller coast rides.
In the pre-digital boardwalk arcade, I zeroed in on skeeball and the pinball machines. I could play pinball for hours. While I potentially could see, hear and talk, I was that deaf, dumb and blind kid to the outside world. Skeeball was about winning tickets which you could redeem for a prize at the end of your stay. If you were on the boardwalk all season playing skeeball every night you might accumulate enough tickets for one of the higher end items like a framed bar mirror with the New York Giants or Philadelphia Phillies logo on it. Since I only had a week’s haul I usually came home with items like a pack of baseball cards, a balsa wood glider and a Chinese finger torture puzzle.
By the time I was eight or nine, my parents discovered that is was way easier to let me bring a friend with me to the shore rather than to hang out all night on piers or in arcades. So I’d head off with a friend, a 5-dollar bill and a curfew, and they were done for the night.
A little while later my parents bought a house in Seaside Heights, so we spent not only our week’s summer vacation but most of our summer weekends there. They had a similar setup as the house in Wildwood. They rented a two-family house on the front of our lot and we stayed in a small bungalow in the back. It was the rent from our Seaside Heights house that paid for my college education.
While I now take at least four vacations a year and travel around the country as well as to other parts of the world, I still never miss my summer week at the shore.