Like most (if not all) Philadelphians, I have come to the Jersey Shore at least once a summer for every summer that I’ve been breathing. Like a favorite college sweatshirt or your breakfast cereal of choice, you just don’t feel the need to switch it up. It works. It’s rhythmic. It’s cozy. It’s just, well, you.
I’ve tried to make the fiscal and sensible argument about going to the same destination year after year after year.
“Blah blah blah for what we spend on this annual vacation to Ocean City, New Jersey, we might as well just go to a different island every year where the water is actually blue and never washes up used syringes on the beach blah blah blah.”
And trust me, it’s a solid argument with significant empirical evidence to support it.
However, I’ve learned that even if I went to Aruba, I’d still hanker for my dose of the Shore. Not to get all Jerry Maguire on you, but I’d feel incomplete without making the trek at least once annually.
Without question, it’s the nostalgia. I don’t recall my grandfather taking me crabbing over a back bay bridge in the Dominican Republic. Nope, I can’t recall my Dad jumping on roller coasters with me in Turks & Caicos. Mom never once challenged me to find 100 Cape May diamonds in the sands of Cancun (duh — ’cause then they’d be called Cancun diamonds — and that’s just silly).
And when I think of the childhood memories built on these beaches, one by one like sandcastles, I know that the primary reason I won’t ever buy that tempting timeshare in Bermuda is quite simple. I want my children to find the same happiness and peace that I’ve found along this beautiful coastline just a few hours east of their home.
But enough of that sappy sap sap.
Sure, my inner child lies at the Jersey Shore. But so does my inner class clown.
I have learned that I love the Jersey Shore for the same reason I love Vegas. There is an undeniable circus-like draw to this place — an abundant crack den for people-watching addicts.
To illustrate this attribute poignantly, I present to you the viral Shore phenomenon that is the T-shirt of the Year. The T-shirt of the Year is unmistakably declared after you see three teenage girls wearing it within seconds of stepping onto the boardwalk. This year’s winner is a tie between “Free Hugs” and “Free Kisses.” (You can already guess my retirement village-esque reaction to 13-year-old girls wearing these shirts en masse). Everywhere I go on the boardwalk, I have pre-pubescent and pubescent ladies offering me free hugs or smooches. (And I’m not so sure that the hugs and kisses they so generously offer are the ones you give Mom when she’s had a bad day).
Sadly, I have not seen any hot dads wearing the T-shirts of the Year.
Every time I pass one of the “Free Hugs”/”Free Kisses” ladies, I can’t help but cringe. There is such a large and diverse contingent of teenagers wasting their money on creepy T-shirts volunteers lining up to dole out affection, from the 14-year-old who looks 18 because she’s plowed her face with the Walgreens makeup aisle, to the tried-and-true My So-Called Life cast member emblazoned with braces and large, unattended-to whiteheads. They are all willing to give me some lovin’, and Mom and Dad must be A-OK with it since they most likely funded the walking billboard.
Truthfully, I really should get off my high horse. In 1989, when I was splattering my face with Cover Girl, making my hair defy gravity with Rave and turning my hair orange with peroxide-laced Sun-In, the T-shirt of the Year was “U Can’t Touch This,” inspired by MC Hammer’s ballad for personal privacy. If I recall, all of the T-shirts were neon in color with purple handprints on the boob area to denote clearly that “you, sir, cannot touch this.” I also recall a one-piece jumper available with a bonus set of handprints on the ass area. (Not a bad deal for the extra $5 when I think about it).
No, I didn’t own anything from the “U Can’t Touch This” series. Because my parents were so mean rocked. In fact, I never owned any of the T-Shirts of the Year. Not 1991’s “Hey Saddam, Kiss my Scud.” Not 1990’s “Farfrompüken” shirt, a spoof of Volkswagen’s popular Fahrvergnügen campaign. I never went out on a limb with the popular-in-Wildwood “We Trashed Room 214: Senior Week 1997” sweatshirts. And I can’t recall loving a boy so much that I wanted to don a fringed half-top bearing an airbrush of his name over an Italian flag with a seagull in the background.
But the sheer fact that I can recall all of this apparel in vivid color demonstrates my point. The people who flock to the Shore contribute as much to this destination as do the beaches, the ocean breeze, the comfort foods, the kite flying, the arcades, the bike rides, the sunsets over the bay and the fishing trips.
And folks, you just can’t get that in the Bahamas.