travel & foreign lands

MartyDigs: Shore Enough

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The Jersey Shore, contrary to popular belief, is not crawling with spray tanned, STD-ridden, greasy haired, foul mouthed, borderline date rapists. My family owns a home in Margate, New Jersey, so you can rest assured there are at least six people along the Jersey coastline who possess reddish hair, pinkish skin and are of a strong moral fabric. I was lucky enough to spend the past week down in Margate my own little family, my sisters and my niece, and my parents. It was a fun filled, great time – despite the weather for the week that made it seem like we were in rainy and foggy ol’ LondonTown (sans the riots, of course). Ironically, it was the closest vacation I have had since visiting London back in 2006.  

When we left Margate yesterday, Jack freaked out. He wanted to stay, and I can’t blame him. He also told me he likes Grammy and Poppy (my parents) better than he likes Cailin and I. And for that, I can’t blame him either. The entire week he was showered with gifts, new clothes, cookies, kisses, popsicles, boardwalk rides, love, and crisp dollar bills (for using the potty) from my parents. So who can fault the kid from living like a king for a week and spending his days splashing around in the ocean and building castles in the sand.

I didn’t want to leave Margate either – Margate and I have had a love affair since my birth. My grandparents have owned a place there since the 60’s, and my great-grand parents even owned a place there before that. So my summers have always consisted of trips to Margate. When I was a small child, we would actually live with my grandparents all summer and my dad would work as a waiter and bartender for extra cash. There is a famous family story that the one summer we left, my grandmom Jackie cried because she was going to miss us so much. I have a feeling because of my wild-n-crazy, erratically sleeping, messy son, that my parents high-fived and breathed a giant sigh of relief when we left .      

My personal opinion is that Margate is far superior to other shore towns. I will tell you my reasons why – it’s less than an hour drive from my front door to Margate. So for people who crow on about how great Florida, North Carolina, or Delaware beaches are – while I am sure those beaches are nice, have fun driving 3 plus traffic filled hours, or flying there. Margate is also a ten minute drive to the excitement and blinking lights of Atlantic City, where the streets are lined with cash for gold stores, hookers, and lost souls. The bar scene in Margate is perfect for me also – at Maynard’s in Margate, a pitcher of Bud Light is five bucks, the place is open until 4am, and I have never once seen a fist fight happen there. (Suck on that, Sea Isle and Avalon) Also, I have never had to park my car any farther than eyesight to our house, and while Margate can get busy – it never gets out of control crowded like Ocean City or Wildwood.   

 Granted, as a kid, sometimes I sort of hated going to Margate. My grandparents house had one TV, no air conditioning, and I wasn’t allowed to bring my bike because my grandmom compared the street they lived on to the Autobahn in Germany. For our annual two week trip, we’d go out for ice cream once, mini golf one night, and the boardwalk one night. So there were 11 nights we would be bored out of our mind in a house that was hotter than a giant oven. I longed to visit Wildwood, which in my youth was a desirable destination and its where most of my friends would vacation, but my Gramps would tell us “that’s where the wild people go”. There was a movie theater in Margate two blocks away, but apparently it was the most expensive place on earth because we never once went there. When he gets older, I don’t think Jack will be bored when we go, because he will have video games and technology that wasn’t around in the 80’s to entertain him. Plus, his daddy doesn’t have any plans to grow up any time soon, so I will be just as eager as him to hit the amusement rides on the boardwalk.

By no means do I hate the other Southern Jersey shore towns, for the most part, I love them. And I am fascinated and oddly obsessed with Wildwood. Mainly because I never went to Wildwood until I was about ten or eleven years old. And it wasn’t even with my family – it was with my friend Kevin Cleary who I used to go on family vacation with in Stone Harbor. Until my first Wildwood trip, it was a place of urban legends and folklore in my mind. It still is in a way, I have really only been there about 30 or so times, scattered over the past 24 years.

When I get to Wildwood, it is a dizzying experience of looking around everywhere because I don’t want to miss a thing. Once you pull into town, you see seedy motels painted sea foam green with family vacationers hanging their towels over the railing and relaxing on the porch outside their motel rooms. And the boardwalk is almost a religious experience, it’s nearly impossible to take everything in. Boardwalk carnies questioning your manhood in feeble attempts to get you to play a game of chance, pizza shops, t-shirt shops, and an endless sea of people.  You’ve got dads wearing light denim shorts, Tap Out t-shirts, and crisp white sneaks so bright that they can be seen in space by NASA. On my trip last week, I saw a pudgy 12 year old girl trotting down the boardwalk wearing a DTF shirt. (For those unaware, it’s a quote from Jersey Shore, and means Down to F—K) Nothings shocking and I am never disappointed by a Wildwood trip. However, my parents took Jack Thursday night, and he told them (in a hilarious twist of irony) “I don’t like this carnival”.

I also love visiting the Ocean City boardwalk, and while it’s not as big or visually entertaining as the Wildwood boardwalk, it does have its merits. Both boardwalks have the beloved Kohr Bros. soft serve ice cream, which is 75% more expensive than my local ice cream parlor. And both boardwalks now have local Philly institution Chickie and Pete’s, where their famous crab fries can be bought for a mere seven dollars and fifty cents! If my ancestors who made it through the Irish Potato Famine heard this news, they would surely be spinning, sizzling, and deep frying in their graves. And while Ocean City has Mack and Manco’s, where for 3 bucks and a half hour wait you get a scalding hot delicious slice of pizza- Wildwood has Mack’s, which is equally delicious but apparently Manco wanted nothing to do with this establishment and must think he is too good for Wildwood.

The Ocean City boardwalk is a bit calmer than Wildwood – the roving packs of teenage kids don’t seem as anxious and rushed to get laid like the kids in Wildwood. Earlier this summer, my mom and I witnessed two goofy kids trying to pick up girls and it was a train wreck from the get-go. First off, they made a teenaged me look smoother than Luther Vandross, second they were bragging to the girls that they were trying to get into a fistfight, and third, my mom whispered “these guys are dorks” to me. Other than horny high school kids, the boardwalk is a great place to visit. But dads in Ocean City, regardless of how out of how shape they are, seem to love wearing Under Armor clothes. As if they are just getting back from doing wind sprints and pushups under the boardwalk. The major overall problem with Ocean City- in the O’Connor family eyes, is that it’s a dry town.

My favorite thing about the Wildwood and Ocean City boardwalks are the screen print t-shirt shops. My friend John L and I have a yearly discussion about what tv personality/ slogan/ fad is going to be prominently displayed on boardwalk t-shirts. For the past three years, Jersey Shore has been the overall champion. Lately, the scary thing for me though is that I find myself asking teenagers, “what’s that mean?” Because I have no idea what some of the shirts mean. There is a shirt that says “Taylor Gang Or Die”, that I first thought must have something to do with those vampire movies but actually refers to something that rapper Wiz Khalifa says. And there are these creepy faces that mean “internet troll” that I have never once seen on the internet. There is also the “Everyday Im Shufflin” shirt, that I am dying to get Jack, but the screenprint doesn’t come in a kid’s size. I have to admit, I am loving the resurgence of the neon color font on shirts like the Free Hugs, or Wildwood 2011. It harks me back to the 80’s when I would get a shirt made with a Duran Duran logo on the back, and Marty in puffy letters ironed on the front. My buddy bought the greatest boardwalk shirt ever at a thrift store back in college – it was a baby blue shirt with a picture of Billy Idol all dressed in his leather and spikes, with “Flesh” in puffy letters under the picture. Totally classic.           

 T-shirts and people watching aside, the reason for my vacation was to be down the shore for Atlantic City’s “Thunder Over the Boardwalk” air show. For the past three years, we have joined a bunch of family and friends on the Atlantic City beach for it. I have to admit, it’s really cool to see fighter jets whizzing over your head as you sip beer and relax on the beach. I just can’t keep the Kenny Loggins Top Gun theme from running in my head the entire time, and I wonder if the pilots will be playing volleyball shirtless later that day, or if they will be engaging in a disagreement and near scuffle while they are changing in their locker rooms. But Goose, Maverick, and Iceman all did a great job of entertaining 800,000 plus people over the skies of Atlantic City last week.

My week was good – I did my boardwalk bike ride quite a few times, and once got caught in a rainstorm. Which totally sounds like something out of a Chicken Soup for the Soul book – like, “get caught in a rainstorm and be happy about it”. We took Jack to see the Smurfs movie, which was really funny and he sat through the entire thing. Cailin and I also had a good night at Robert’s in Margate. It’s a little bar owned by an alumni from my college (Mt. St. Mary’s in Maryland) and they have buffalo wings that are better than most anywhere around. And Jack is like a different kid from the beginning of summer down at the beach. In June, he was very hesitant in the ocean and didn’t like getting hit by waves. Now, he crashes right into them and spends almost the entire day in the shallow ocean water. Oh, and he has a 14 year old girlfriend too, sort of. At the playground, on two different occasions, I could overhear a very sweet teenage girl commenting about how cute and adorable Jack was. And that she wanted to be his girlfriend. I am not going to lie- it’s very flattering to hear that kind of stuff from someone when they are not saying it just to be nice! I just pray that in ten years puberty doesn’t rock Jack like it rocked me!

So with a sad heart and an angry three year old, we left the shore yesterday. And in true “back to reality” fashion, my 1999 Nissan Altima broke down on the Atlantic City Expressway 20 miles after cracking the 171,000 mark. In a rainstorm, in summer traffic, on a busy highway, with no A/C, with a sleeping Jack who wasn’t wearing a diaper because we are trying to potty-train him. Awesomeness.  My friends Mark and Joanne came to our rescue and got Jack out of my car and we got the car towed to their house. It looks grim for my Altima, because I think it’s the timing belt. To get that fixed would could more than what the car is worth. So reality has indeed struck, and vacation is truly over. Can anybody lend a brother a dime, or a couple grand?

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