Summer always begins and end for me at the New Jersey shore. The real one.
Come Memorial Day, that line from the song “Jersey Girl,” written by Tom Waits and released as a b-side by Bruce Springsteen in 1984 inevitably pops into my head. “`cause down the shore everything’s all right…”
As a teen, I couldn’t wait for that first trip “down the shore,” which is how I grew up describing a visit to my state’s wonderful beaches. Once I crossed the bay bridge to the barrier islands, everything did seem all right.
Each summer, my family rented a beach house in one of New Jersey’s small coastal towns. Ortley Beach, Lavalette, Ocean Beach, Seaside Park. These are the towns directly north and sound of the one-mile strip of boardwalk in Seaside Heights made popular and distorted by Snookie and her intoxicated entourage.
I never watched the show, but my memories of my teen years spent at the New Jersey shore are no doubt very different from what people think they know.
Here’s what I remember most.
Mini-golf and the arcade at Barnacle Bill’s.
Breakfast at the Sunny Hunny pancake house.
Hoping to get stuck at the top of the Ferris wheel with a cute boy.
Fourth of July fireworks on the beach.
An outdoor shower after a long day in the sun. The smell of shampoo mixed with sea air.
Soft ice cream at Charlie’s.
Sunsets on Barnagat Bay.
Bike rides on the boardwalk.
Teen night at the Surf Club.
Shopping at B&B Department Store.
Buying Boogie boards and just about anything else you could think of—from sunscreen to refrigerator magnets—at the Ben Franklin five and ten.
Riding the Himalaya to the sounds of 80s metal.
Meeting at the “Bon Jovi stage,” where the band filmed the video for “In and Out of Love” on the Seaside Heights boardwalk.
Reading Seventeen magazine on the beach and dreading the arrival of the back-to-school issue.
Sadly, these memories have been made even more poignant in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. The rides pictures on this blog became iconic images of the aftermath of the storm. Most of this summer will again be spent “down the shore,” a different one from the place where I spent my years. But even in recovery mode, it’s still the place where everything feels all right.