When we were teens in New Jersey, summers were highlighted by going to the beach or “down the shore”. This is the very same shore which has given us the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Snookie. Ponder that for a moment. We were old enough to drive at age 17 or had boyfriends who were. Down we went from Bergen County in North Jersey to the Shore via the Garden State Parkway, a serpentine toll road about which everyone asks “which exit”? This hilarious question is intended to mock us Jersey people because, in fact, the state is a complex shit show of highways crisscrossing the 3rd smallest state in the nation. Existing only to be a butt of New York’s jokes and to provide shopping malls where New Yorkers pay 0 tax on clothing, New Jersey is actually very pretty and has a nice shoreline, or it used to, I haven’t been there for 35 years. We were from exit 166.
While driving to the shore, we had to pay a toll about every 10 miles or so and threw a quarter into a basket in the automated tollbooth. Some of the guys could skillfully throw quarters from the back right passenger seat, and usually got them in. When the quarter goes into the basket, the gate is raised. I believe it took about 2.5 hours to drive down from our town and cost several dollars each way. We would leave early and stay as late as possible.
It was very hot and humid in River Vale and a trip to the shore was a huge relief. Every spot of sand was occupied on the weekends. It was packed blanket to blanket, replete with New Jersey citizens with umbrellas, coolers, beer, picnics and boom boxes. It was loud. The only brand of suntan lotion was Coppertone and it smelled like coconut. Some women used baby oil and were extra shiny.
My last summer after high school was 1982. One of my friend’s sisters was living in one of the beach communities and had a shitty apartment. She was probably working as a waitress but I can’t remember anymore. We visited her with too many people and she couldn’t accommodate us, so we had to stay either in the corner of her tiny, hot apartment or sleep on the beach. Sleeping on the beach is illegal so Frank dug a hole in the sand and buried himself to hide from the cops. He was discovered multiple times and kicked off. It may also have been illegal to sleep in the car, not sure what was up there. We were a nuisance, and I don’t blame the cops for looking for stupid teens who were sleeping on the beach.
In the morning, we could get breakfast at one of the greasy spoons for 99 cents. Two eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. Even 35 years ago, this was a very small margin and the restaurant wasn’t making any money. I mean really. Now a glass of orange juice is about $5 anywhere in the Bay Area.
The ocean was lovely even if the beach was too crowded. It’s a nice temp and has rolling, gentle waves to play in for hours. Beaches are either private or there are a few public parks which had free entrance. There were times when we couldn’t go in because thousands of hypodermic needles were washing up on the shore but that was a long time ago. They might have a grip on that by now.
I now live in the Bay Area and the Pacific Ocean is so cold, I think I have only been in twice in my life. We go to the beach rarely, and when we do I put my toes in and go numb. The water is nice in LA and we fly to Mexico and Hawaii to enjoy the ocean. Maybe the two and half hour drive to the Shore was pretty short after all.