If you haven't yet picked up a copy of my dear friend and Jersey Shore defender Jen A. Miller's latest book, put it
on your list of essentials. The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May isn't just an updated version of the one she wrote a few years back, it's a total overhaul, stuffed nearly to bursting with planning tips, reviews and Shore secrets that only she could pull together.
It's not only a good read (and it is), the book is a must-have if you're planning a trip to the South Jersey Shore. I'm proud of her, and was flattered to be asked to write an essay about the Wildwoods for it, which I'll share with Citizen Mom readers here. Enjoy my essay, then buy the whole book!
By Amy Z. Quinn
In fact, if we’re imagining the Wildwoods as a quartet of sisters, the Crest is the one who left Senior Week behind and settled down with a family. But every now and again, even a grown-up lady likes to party.
For me, it’s impossible to think of that clutch of towns along the 5-mile island near New Jersey’s southern tip as anything but members of a family, with similar features -- the broad, ever-growing beaches connected by that great spine of a Boardwalk -- yet each a somehow distinct, unique version of the other. It’s a collection of flirts and matriarchs, of immigrants and visionaries, living in a world of both grit and luxury.
And always, of possibility.
In the early 1970s, my parents, an industrious blue-collar couple from Philly, saw possibility in a rambling, Depression-era Dutch colonial up the block from the Firehouse Tavern on Pine Avenue. Behind this big house, ringing a cement courtyard, stood three small cottages, which my parents -- their creativity tapped out after selecting names for their six children -- dubbed A, B and C.
For nearly 30 years, they rented the cottages to a rotating cast of characters, usually young people, some looking for a vacation place and others who stayed the summer, working on the boardwalk spinning prize wheels or twisting custard cones. My older sisters, already teenagers in the ‘70s and ‘80s, each took their turn living and working in Wildwood, tasting independence for the first time even as my Dad hovered protectively nearby.
For part of each year, my mother would install herself in the Big House, her cooking sending the smell of spaghetti sauce wafting through the wrought-iron air vents. She’d spend her days sprucing up the cottages or shopping along Pacific Avenue, leaving my brother and I just enough freedom to roam the neighborhood, which forever smelled of burnt toast owing to the bakery a few blocks away.
In the evenings, we’d all sit on the front porch, bodies sunken into aged red-painted wicker rockers, beholding a predictable yet ever-changing parade of people making their way along Pine Avenue toward the beach and Boardwalk.
As dusk fell, it would be parents pushing strollers or holding the hands of little ones impatient for that moment when the Tilt-a-Whirl makes its first furious spin. Next would come teenagers, hair-sprayed girls dressed to impress the boys in gold chains who’d have to be home by curfew. Still later, the strollers came back bearing toddlers overtired and cranky or already sound asleep, and young adults would head out for the night, bound for Kelly’s Cafe or the Stardust or the old Penalty Box, where the bartenders wore striped shirts and whistles like NHL linesmen.
Of course, everyone knows the island’s more recent story, how through a mixture of poor planning, mismanagement and changing tastes, the good times waned in the Wildwoods. Like an aging party girl, things along the Boardwalk became less fun and more tawdry, and Pacific Avenue’s charms fell away like flakes of sunburned skin.
These days, I’m happy to say, the things are coming around again in the Wildwoods. Simple economics have led many people back to the island, though of course keeping them there is always the trick.
It surely sounds overly simplistic to say things just feel good again in Wildwood, but there it is. I catch the expectant, excited look on my son’s face each time we cross that bridge into town and the giant Ferris wheel comes into view, and I know. I see the young couples touring condos for sale, and families pouring out of minivans into neon-lit hotels, and I feel it.
Like I said, possibility.