Down the Shore

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.

12 Responses

  1. OMG this brought back all the memories, all the feels. Don’t forget slathering one’s body with Johnson’s baby OIL. (no sunscreen! SPF zero!) I loved that thing about throwing the quarter in the toll basket, and YES it was a thing for boys to throw it from the opposite side of the car, over the roof…. this post brought tears to my eyes. Beautiful nostalgia.

  2. We were from exit 166. Your reverie–this one line really got to me. Where I grew up, Glendale, CA, there were no freeways; I walked to the bus in 2nd grade…things were slower, and perhaps in some ways, safer…

    It cost me (Scott, my brother as well) 10 cents to go to a little theater called Show Shop and 25 cents to go to the Alex and see 15 cartoons.

    I don’t yearn for it, but remember with fondness the streetcar we called “The Red Rattler” that took us into LA to shop at Bullocks and other large stores.

    We rode surf mattresses in the Pacific Ocean (summer) at San Clemente, and my parents rented a canvas cabana so we could change our bathing suits. They loved Laguna (pottery).

    Thanks for your thoughts.



  3. Hi Susan, I just changed that line–should have said suntan lotion. There was no SPF available yet except very expensive lotion that smelled horrible which we used when we were sailing. My dad still got a bunch of sun cancer spots on his head. Yes the oil! I did it, too. There was an ozone layer still.

  4. Hi Danielle,
    My shore was the church swimming pool in Tucson.
    Baby oil and Coppertone were our application of choice.
    No wonder I had to deal with skin cancer at 30! We were
    at the pool morning, noon and night life guarding, swimming, playing chess,
    Friday night dances, giving swimming lessons, making snow cones for sale
    at the snack bar. I remember dancing to Louwi Loui (sp?), the early Beatles,
    Beach Boys, etc. those were my high school years 1963-1967.
    This October Igo back to Tucson to celebrate 50th high school reunion.
    Seems like yesterday!

  5. Never made it to Joisey from The Bronx but spent many a day at Glen Island, Orchard Beach and at times even made it out to the island (Long) for those long sandy beaches. Loved those baskets and the embarrassment of missing and having to get out of the car and crawl around looking for the quarter. Coppertone was certainly on most summer billboards, never used the stuff myself but am very familiar with the smell. LOVE the ocean yet like you, after a toe is in I get the shivers-Mexico/Hawaii/Etc. to swim! I have a small vial of Orchard Beach sand I’ve kept for all these years that brings back those days of convertible Chevy’s, white castle hamburgers, Carvel ice cream, orange creamcycles and bit too much testosterone!

    1. I bet you tanned up real nice being eye-talian. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Didn’t even talk about pizza!! I loved Carvel ice cream too.

  6. I grew up in a suburb just east of East Los Angeles. My mom worked, but Audrey’s mom, Lane, would pile us into her station wagon and take us to Santa Monica beach. We would fight over who got to sit in the backward-facing bench seat. We would slather on the baby oil or lanolin, burn to a crisp, then later try to peel the skin off in as big a piece as possible. I once got my chest (above the bikini bra top) to peel off in one giant piece! This past Monday, I had three skin thingies burned off my face.

  7. Have to respond to this one, being a “down the shore” girl myself. In the mid- 50s through the 60s, all seven of us (5 kids, two parents) would cram into either a VW bug (3 “little girls” in the “way back”, which was barely able to fit anyone) or the VW mini-van or the Ford station wagon, and even though we probably only lived 50 miles away (exit 140 to route 22), for the pre-air conditioning drive that took 2 hours because of terrible traffic all weekend. Jews were only allowed at Belmar Beach (the next town over had a large sign that said “No Jews Allowed”), so of course that’s where we went.

    The most bizarre thing that can barely even be explained when one lives in California is that you literally had to squeeze your towel in between other people’s towels, sort of like going to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and trying to find a place to sit. For an entire family to do that, particularly if you didn’t have the money to stay down there so you got there after noon, was awkwardly social, to say the least. And yes, forget sun protection of any kind. I had one sister who stayed in the water the entire time, and had a melanoma at age 50 to show for it. Good thing we tended to tan, not burn! Dairy Queen (DQ) was our big thrill, if my parents had the bandwidth to treat us on the way home.

    1. jesus (irony) I didn’t know about the no Jews thing. I think that was gone in the 70s. You are right, I did not stress how crowded the beaches were. I really like each commenter’s similar/different memories.

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