For three months of the year the Jersey Shore is the vacation destination for thousands of out-of-towners. Most of the year, we live in the shadow of Manhattan; we can’t compete with the culture, the food, and the overall coolness of living in the city. But every summer, we get our due. The Seaside skyline ignites and New York license plates fill the lanes of the Parkway as urbanites count down the miles to vehicular freedom. East coasters would be hard pressed to find someone in their inner circle without a shore memory, and thanks to MTV, the entire country can share stories of a beach they’ve never walked. Together we reminisce about giant slices of pizza, illegal jetty scaling, cheap games of mini golf, first kisses, kayaking, being just tall enough for the “scary” rides, outdoor showers, bike rides, skee-ball, seafood cookouts, Kohrs orange custard, unwinnable games, and the crunch of a sandy salami sandwich. In early September the shore transforms. The boardwalk quiets and traffic eases, as vacationers drag themselves back to reality and leave the beach behind. For those people, the Jersey Shore really only exists from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But for many others, it’s more than just a vacation spot: it’s home.
I’m what you would call a local. I grew up at the Jersey Shore, despite what my red hair and fair skin might suggest. I was born in Point Pleasant and raised in Toms River, right off Route 37 and a straight shot to the beach. In high school I would keep a towel in my car for impromptu trips, and to this day I still have a collection of shells and sand in the glove box of my 2002 Toyota Echo, carrying the shore with me wherever I go. Growing up my family would wake up early on Saturday, throw some sandwiches in a cooler, grab our striped umbrella, cover our delicate skin with layers of sunscreen, and drive to Island Beach State Park. On special nights we would drive to Seaside Heights to waste our money on junk food and claw games, and I watched with jealousy as my sister rode rides I was several inches from enjoying. Often my father the documentarian would tote around his enormous video camera, obsessively filming every trivial detail of our adolescence. I never thought I would appreciate his ridiculous commentary as he zoomed in on the Ferris Wheel perched atop the now crippled pier, but with the Seaside skyline now permanently altered I am forever grateful for his need to record.
We locals share many of the same memories as vacationers. We dine on the same Saw Mill slices, blow our allowance on the same unwinnable games, fearlessly charged into the same icy waters, and sit on our father’s shoulders watching the same fireworks. But for us, the beach isn’t just a three-month destination. We enjoy the quiet off-season months. As teenagers, we would drive to the beach after school (during school”¦) and soak in alone time and free parking in the warming weeks before the season started. We call people Bennys and are very possessive of OUR shore. We knew kids who came to homeroom with wet hair after a morning surf (or, we were those kids). We were the kids Bruce wrote about, combing our hair in the rear view mirror while the boys tried to act so tough.
It has been a difficult three weeks for the entire New York/New Jersey coastline in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. From Atlantic City to Queens, devastation has been vast and there are few degrees of separation between those who were mildly affected and those who lost everything. But being the strong, stubborn, and weird tri-state family that we’re all apart of, we locals send our support up north and hope that urbanites will not forget the summers they spent at the Jersey Shore and keep us in mind as we all rebuild.
Thank you to the Downtown Doodler for her photographs, illustrations, and memories. Buy the Jersey Shore prints in our Society6 shop.