“The boardwalk bewitches us with lost scents and sounds, reminders of why we went in the first place: to belong, to escape, to watch the parade, to feast, to fall in love.”– James Lillefors
“No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.”– Elbert Hubbard
If you grew up in southern New Jersey like I did, you come to understand there are a few truths about the world:
1 – Living in New Jersey will forever ruin food for you. Everywhere. I’m not talking about going into a Michelin-star restaurant and dropping three bills on dinner; that will still be awesome. But New Jersey and its surrounding areas have the best Everyman food I’ve experienced anywhere else on the planet. The greasiest, shittiest New Jersey delis will make you a sandwich you’d launch a thousand ships for. If you don’t believe me, try ordering a “Philly” cheesesteak somewhere you can’t see the top of Billy Penn’s head; it’s a mistake you only have to make once.
2 – Living in New Jersey will forever make the pronunciation of the English language a moving target. Just watch the confusion that crosses your co-worker’s face when you tell him Cholly the Deer Park wooder guy won’t be delivrin’ until Thursdee.
3 – Living in New Jersey means you will forever equate summer with the shore.
Long before Pauly D and Snooki, the Jersey shore has been a place where Mid-Atlantic youths come of age. There wasn’t a single summer of my childhood where I didn’t go to the shore at least a half-dozen times, whether it was to Stone Harbor or Ocean City for the day or spending the week at my grandfather’s RV in Cape May Courthouse.
When I got older and could drive, my friends and I would pile into a car after dinner and spend a few hours playing guitar on the boardwalk, trying to collect tips and sell our band’s CDs. I even lived there during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, the dawn of my adult life peeking over the edge of the Atlantic as my friends and I roved the streets and diners of Ocean City until 4 in the morning.
But then I moved to Maryland for college and discovered with some dismay that, despite only relocating 120 miles to the south, the shore was no longer within spitting distance. The place I once assumed would always be there to lift my spirts, to give my summers a much-needed shot of sun and sand and French fries doused with malt vinegar, was now a trip that required a travel agent.
My summers began to fill with adult things: internships gave way to jobs gave way to kids. But still, the memory of the shore, the carefree feeling of the surf lapping at my ankles, the evening breeze ruffling my hair in the neon lights of the boardwalk, tiptoed around the edges of my brain each time the calendar turned to June.
So when my wife told me this year our daughter’s dance competition would necessitate a week’s stay in Virginia Beach, I just about lost my shit.
Finally, a chance to reconnect to the sights and smells of my youth! An opportunity to sit with my toes in the sand and re-live the summers I once took for granted!
I told Melinda to spare no expense. I wanted the best hotel with an ocean view, so I could awake each morning with the rising sun, feeling its rays of nostalgia on my face as it crested the waves of the mighty ocean. Virginia Beach wasn’t the Jersey shore, no, but maybe if I squinted hard enough and threw enough money at it, I could recapture those old feelings I’d so longed to feel.
This plan worked for about 45 seconds, until Melinda showed me what it would cost to live in a four-star beachfront hotel for a week. For those who have never price-surfed themselves, I’ll say it’s somewhere between the down payment on a Honda Civic and the down payment on a four-bedroom house. Still, I wasn’t ready to let my dream die.
“What if we just don’t eat for a month?” I asked Melinda. “Do you think the kids would mind?”
She did not dignify my query with an answer, only looked at me like she’d smelled a particularly repulsive fart.
I was crestfallen. For years, images of the shore had just been fond and distant memories, thoughts yellowed by the passing of time. But this impending trip brought all of those feelings flooding back, only to dance just within my reach. Was I really going to be satisfied by staying at some Motel 6 off the highway, 20 minutes from Paradise?
Melinda was not as deterred. She spent the next four hours scouring the far reaches of the internet for an ocean view that didn’t cost as much as a G6. Lo and behold, she did: the Beaumont Towers on 9th and Atlantic. Each unit was a two-room suite with a kitchenette and a balcony facing the ocean. It was still on the pricy side, but much less than its neighboring hotels.
“How did you find this place?” I asked Melinda.
“I just kept looking and it popped up,” she said.
“It’s a beach vacation miracle,” I said.
I’d love to say my week on the beach was everything I dreamed of, but, as with most missions to recapture the magic of youth, in many ways my experience fell a bit flat.
Since I am the type of human whose disposition alternates between nostalgia and anxiety, I knew that my beach vacation would provide some pretty hilarious and relatable scenes. As such, I took notes over my five days in Virginia Beach, and the story that follows chronicles those adventures.
I’ll post a new chunk each day over the next couple of weeks so you can follow along.
Part one drops tomorrow.