I love the boardwalk along the Jersey shore, in all its regal tackiness. Part of it, I suppose, is childhood nostalgia. Our family used to rent a beach bungalow — a converted garage really — in Bradley Beach for the month of August. Era 1950’s. The place cost $35 a week, and the ice man came daily with a big chunk of ice for the old ice box. The place had a tiny tacked-on kitchen, two bedrooms, a covered front porch to sit on when it rained, and a toilet outside in a stall attached to the main house. My father spent the week working in Kearny, and came down on Friday nights on the train. We went to the beach every day, except when it rained. Some nights, when my father was there, we’d all go to the boardwalk in Asbury Park. I remember a roll of tickets costing about $5, and we were able to go on the rides all night.
The boardwalk nearest Ron and Linda is in Seaside, and a night there costs a family a small fortune. I don’t really go on rides, but I love the whole atmosphere: the games, the endless food stands, the young couples walking along the boards hoping to see and be seen, the little Italian grandmothers in black sitting on benches to rest. I splurge on a Kohr’s frozen custard. One year I decided that having an Italian sausage sandwich with onions and peppers wouldn’t kill me, so I indulged in that long remembered treat from my younger years. The indigestion from all the fat and grease actually did about kill me.
Most of all, I love what I call the “Diane Arbus moments”. I’m not a professional photographer with license to invade the privacy of strangers, so no D.A. moment pics. But trust that I am taking it all in: the kids with spikey green hair, the Nicky Newarks wearing muscle shirts and gold crosses with scantily clad girls hanging off their bulging biceps, the small town families who’ve rented something for two weeks in Seaside Park and are there to walk the boards and go on rides and spend hundreds of dollars winning a huge stuffed animal that could be had for a fraction of the cost at any big box store.
After dark the lights go on, and the boardwalk seems magical. Waves crash in the background, and if there’s a moon you can see the glinting white sand. People walk up one side of the wide boardwalk, and back the other side, looking, watching, hoping to be seen. Young people working summer jobs manning the games shout for people to come in, promising that for this one night, everyone has a chance to win.