Beach Bumming–Jersey Style

I moved to New Jersey on January 10, 2004, one of the coldest days of that winter, and five and a half years later, I still feel like a stranger in a strange land, especially when summer circles around. That’s the time of year when people go to the “shore” to enjoy some “pie,” a thought that conjures up an image of shipwrecked sailors breathlessly reaching land to enjoy crusted tarts filled with fruit.

Not so in New Jersey. The “shore” is the beach and “pie” is pizza–usually pretty good pizza too (Garden State pizza rocks from Fort Lee to Camden!). Since Anna was born here and I’m raising a Jersey girl, I felt it was important to give her the Jersey Shore experience we had heard and read so much about. I approached the trip with an anthropological curiosity–exactly what was the Jersey Shore experience and what kept people coming back summer after summer? To answer my own question, we spent three days in Point Pleasant and now I can officially say to my kid “Remember that summer we took you to the Shore?” and she’ll immediately know what I’m talking about and won’t confuse it with the other “shores” that we have visited, which include Jamaica’s, Galapagos Islands’, Maine’s, and Santa Monica’s.

The White Sands oceanfront hotel is the classic Jersey Shore family getaway. I would have readily booked a room at anyplace called Clean Sands Hotel, but no such facility was to be found. White Sands had a private beach and a pool and quite frankly, when it is 90 degrees out everyday, that’s really all you need.

One look at the swimming pool at 2 pm and you knew this is where people came to forget about their angst and agony for it was far more packed than the Garden State Parkway on a Sunday night. Competition for the perfect poolside lounging spot was ferocious–people staked their claims early and remained very territorial throughout the day. I questioned the strength of the chlorine used in this pool, but that’s another blog for another day. It might simply have been that there were too many people bobbing around this pool for the chlorine to have been effective.

The pool was also filled with more Anthonys and AJs than I cared to count–rambunctious boys who constantly swam into me and were frequently yelled at from beneath a cabana umbrella by irate-looking women with fierce French manicures. Mike and I concluded after this trip that Anna is not allowed to date anyone named Anthony or AJ (Anthony Junior for you out-of-towners) if he is born in New Jersey. I have a feeling boys named Anthony or AJ who come from say, Ohio, or perhaps Nebraska, are far more low-key.

I’m sure the Boardwalk in Point Pleasant is full of Anthonys and AJs, too, but they weren’t plowing into us, which made the Boardwalk a much more charming experience. Jenkinson’s Boardwalk is where it’s at every Tuesday because it’s all the rides your stomach can handle between noon and 6 pm for only $15. My stomach can’t handle much of anything, so Mike boarded every tugboat, swing, tilt-a-whirl, and rollercoaster that made our kid’s eyes light up. I watched from the sidelines and worked on my tan, which is now a burn. I loved that Anna referred to the Boardwalk as “the carnival” and pie as “pizza.” I pointed to the sand and surf and asked her what it was. She replied, “the beach” and I knew she was mine.

When the sun gets to be too much–and it will–the best place to enjoy air-conditioning is inside Jenkinson’s Aquarium, which for $26 for the three of us, was exceptionally delightful. I’ll admit there’s something unusual about admiring the beauty and grace of creatures you enjoy fried with a side of french fries, but that’s the luxury of sitting at the top of the food chain–you get to look down.

On the subject of food, Boardwalk food is good when you’re in the mood for it, but after two days of chili dogs, cotton candy, pizza slices, and lemonade, I desperately needed a salad and some fresh fish not coated in yesterday’s lard. So we ventured beyond the Boardwalk’s borders to Belmar, Spring Lake, and Neptune to see what else the Jersey Shore had to offer. Mike was disappointed by the local cuisine, but this isn’t gastronomy country. This is where people work up an appetite boogie boarding by day so they can nosh on pie by night. I have never seen so many pizzerias in my life and I’ve been to Italy. Unlike Mike, I enjoyed the lack of surprise in my food. I wanted to unwind and didn’t want to bite into anything experimental. Point Pleasant’s Red’s Lobster Pot served up fantastic plates of fish -n- chips and coconut shrimp. Yes, it’s been done, but it was done well at Red’s and I inhaled every morsel and managed to not dribble any tartar sauce on my favorite orange dress.

All in all, the Jersey Shore was a colorful family vacation. I may not be as tatooed as everyone else on the beach, but I can still wear a bikini without shame–and, really, that’s all the motivation I need to stop me from gorging on Oreos through the winter until the next bathing suit season. Mike enjoyed Boardwalk food without getting an upset stomach. Anna collected seashells, rode rides, and consumed a vacation’s worth of junk food and also managed to avoid an upset stomach.

So what exactly is the Jersey Shore experience? I’m still not entirely sure and may need to return to do more research. I do know it involves a lot of sugar, sunscreen with an SPF of 50, French manicures, tatoos, and kids named Anthony causing trouble. Will we come back someday? Absolutely.

Epilogue: Anna developed gastritis from what we suspect was the hotel pool water. It did feel, um, unclean. I blame Anthony and AJ. She threw up all night and then managed to start the first day of the kindergarten hours later without issue. We think she’ll do fine in college.

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