A Pre-Old School Jersey Boy
Shortly after commenter BobN mentioned Guido Beach in response to my post on reality TV, I came across this related post by Ed Driscoll. Driscoll points the way to this early/mid-’90s video about Wildwood, New Jersey, which as it happens was the specific site of my own early-’90s Jersey Shore romps.
It’s all coming back to me, now.
The summer after I’d decided to drop out of college was the last during which my friends and I made the three-hour trip down the Garden State Parkway to Wildwood, and the reason, as I now recall, was an abrupt shift in the character of our summer getaway. While we were in high school, Seaside Heights (closer to the New York City suburbs) was the sleazier location. Wildwood was not yet done frightening away families and was fertile ground for the independent middle class teenage boys in search of the teenage daughters thereof.
As the ’90s made the transition from early to mid, one of those jumbles of social cause and effect escalated the town’s deterioration. That’s about the time that the above-linked video appeared. Rolling Stone magazine chipped in with a profile of “The Prince of Wildwood” — a sex-crazed late-teen to whom I unfortunately related, back then. The gates of North Jersey hell opened, and we young, male, middle class predators — more interested in coming-of-age adventures than self defense — had to look elsewhere. As I wrote, in a song lyric, at the time:
Smiling faces are just a memory
And there’s a battlefield where the party used to be
What used to be a beach is now a city street
Soldiers marching to a different beat
They’ve taken over Wildwood
Just like they ruin everything that once was good
They’ve taken over Wildwood
And I won’t be here next year
The boardwalk’s garbage from end to end[Chorus]
Flapping on the sea breeze in this two mile long pig-pen
All the promdressed teenagers that used to laugh out on the street
Must have known before I that it was time to retreat
I remember fireworks on the balcony
Our cheers together, ears ringing with the sound
All the ashes now falling as glass
Raining shards of broken ’40s on the ground
Dreams of margaritas frosted with ice
Whatever happened to our summer paradise?
Floating on the sea breeze somewhere before sunrise[Chorus]
Feels just the same if I close my eyes
Spent this vacation looking for a place to hide
But clientele means nothing to the rhythms of the tide
Just when we’d found Point Pleasant, as the place of retreat for those whom we’d helped to chase out of Wildwood, I departed for Rhode Island, and New England and adulthood pulled me in.
To some extent, these are observations of a cyclical nature. On a personal level, people’s interests tend to mature as they age, although adolescence is creeping further and further into adulthood and the level of maturity ultimately reached is arguably diminishing. On a social level, different clienteles consider a parade of locations fashionable, in keeping with their interests — with families seeking safe respite from hectic lives, young professionals edging in that direction, younger student-types following the older children of the families and emulating the young professionals, and the crowd deteriorating from there; the leading edge moves on, and the cycle starts again. But the speed of the cycle and the depths of deterioration appear to be escalating, in part because families do not appear to be keeping together as long or as thoroughly, and with fewer children, they no longer require vacation entertainment to span from pre-school through high-school and beyond.
To another extent, though, the same cycle appears to be happening on a much larger scale — that of the civilization — and civilizations do not merely ebb and flow in location and superficial details, as from one Jersey Shore boardwalk to another, but to change their character in the process. Some of us think that the character that is ebbing is worth fighting to preserve.