I have related my aversion to sand before so it should come as no surprise, therefore, that it has taken my nine months (nine whole months?) of living in America for me to actually visit the Jersey Shore. I felt compelled to visit because Mr Pict and our kids all love going to the beach and because it would be silly to not take my parents to see the famed New Jersey coastline.
We opted for Ocean City beach which we had been told was a family friendly beach. I am not sure what that really means other than perhaps making explicit that there won’t be any naturist volleyball tournaments going on. It certainly didn’t mean there was access to clean bathrooms or places to change nearby. I had anticipated being charged to enter the beach since somebody has to fund the lifeguards but $5 per person took a considerable bite out of our day’s budget, especially since we had had to pay $15 to park the car. Visiting a beach is an expensive way to torture me. We set up our chairs and mat and the kids peeled their clothes off and got into their beach wear. They were down splashing in the waves before I had even so much as taken my sandals off. They love the beach. That is why I suck it up. The rule was that they had to stay in the area between two green flags as that was the area being monitored by the pair of lifeguards manning the tower. That was a considerable space and yet still my kids kept drifting towards and then inevitably past the green flags. I would no sooner sit down than I would have to trundle back down to the shore line to strip my throat raw yelling at my kids to get back within the boundaries (I had to screech because the waves were so loud) but even when they were chastised by a lifeguard they still insisted on playing right at the perimeter. Is it possible for parents to actually relax at the beach? Then someone spotted fins in the water just off the shore so everyone came back into paddling depth thinking it could be sharks. It turned out to be dolphins but nevertheless that was another reminder that I couldn’t properly relax.
I have become a bit neurotic about the beach since an incident last summer when the littlest Pict went missing on a beach in the south of England. The beach was a narrow strip between the sea and a road and that strip was crowded with people. In the blink of an eye, the small one disappeared. Two parents and two grandparents and still he slipped by all of us. He was gone long enough for us to have informed the police, for his brothers to be hysterical and for my heart to be pounding in my chest while I felt cold waves of nausea lapping over me. We walked the length of that beach shouting his name several times before, at the periphery of my vision, I saw this little head bob up like a meerkat from behind a windbreaker. There he was, happy as the proverbial clam, playing alongside another family’s kids while the parents sunbathed oblivious to the interloper. I was relieved, ecstatic and furious all in one giddy burst at the sight of him. He was gone for almost fifteen minutes. That seriously felt like a very long time. So that was another reason to hate beaches: sand and lost children.
Since I could not relax, my husband and father suggested (in a manner that approached an order) that my mother and I go for a stroll along the boardwalk to check out the shops. I am not especially into shopping but boardwalks don’t have much sand on them so I left the two men folk in charge of supervising the children who were intent on drowning beyond green flags and trudged towards the boardwalk. Crossing the boardwalk was chaos and reminded me a bit of the old Atari game ‘Frogger’. Two lanes in each direction were taken out for the use of cyclists and surreys so we had to cross four lanes of wheeled traffic as well as negotiating other pedestrians to get from the beach side to the shop side. We defied injury and popped to the public toilets. Grim. Definitely a hover and squat job. The shops were largely filled with the usual tourist beach trinkets. I did manage to buy a fedora which was a big deal since I have been looking for a summer hat in vain for eons. I have a really big head so normally have to resort to wearing men’s hats and often those don’t fit either so finding a hat designed for women that actually (just) fitted my bonce was a result. We also went into a Christmas shop just for the novelty of looking at Christmas ornaments in July. A lot of the stuff was lovely but a lot of it was also just bonkers. I even bought a couple of things to stow away until Christmas. Strangely, every second shop seemed to be selling pet hermit crabs. I get that they are pretty cool because they choose to switch into a different shell ever so often and these shells can be decorated to make the crab even funkier but I just don’t get having a crab as a pet. And we had pet cockroaches. We also passed lots of food places selling things that looked and smelled delicious, such as fries seasoned with Old Bay and gigantic pizzas. Tempting as they were, no way was I going to eat on a beach. Sand in the teeth. The horror, the horror.
My Mum and I returned to the beach just as everyone else was deciding it was time to depart so that was good timing on my part. The kids got dressed under their towels and then proceeded to bury each other in the sand once back in their clothes and we packed up the chairs and mat and swim bags and humped those back to the car so that Mr Pict, the kids and my Dad could also have an unencumbered stroll along the boardwalk. The kids loved all of the animatronic promotional gimmicks outside various fun parks and putting places. They especially enjoyed the thrill of a shark head suddenly emerging from a water barrel, two yapping alligators and some singing apes in a helicopter. Everyone also got to choose an icy treat to refresh themselves so we sat and people watched for a bit.
Leaving Ocean City, we headed to Margate City. I had low expectations for Margate because Margate in England is rather glum and neglected but this Margate was well-scrubbed and finely polished with some beautiful houses lining the streets. We were in Margate for something I wanted to see, since I had gone to the beach under sufferance. We were in Margate to see Lucy the Elephant. We had missed out on seeing the Elephantine Colossus of Coney Island by a mere 118 years but I had checked and double-checked to make sure Lucy was still standing. Lucy is a six-storey elephant built in 1881 under the auspices of a Philadelphian chap named Lafferty. I think his intention was to promote the plots of land he owned in the area by siting a building shaped like an elephant on one of them, you know, something to get people chattering, but I am not sure his plan was that successful in terms of a business venture since building Lucy cost a King’s ransom. Lucy was then bought by a family who turned her into a tourist attraction which she still is to this very day. The two other Elephant buildings – the one on Coney Island and the one at Cape May – were both destroyed not too long after their construction but somehow Lucy has survived. It was enough for me to see her. A combination of vertigo and claustrophobia meant I did not feel the need to ascend to the top of Lucy and admire the view. However, Mr Pict and the three younger boys decided to do so while the oldest, my parents and I waited at the bottom. They thoroughly enjoyed their visit around Lucy. They climbed in using one of her hind legs and out using the other. Apparently the rooms inside are more spacious than one might think. Soon they were at the top and waving from Lucy’s howdah. I sort of regret that I didn’t join them. It would be quite something to tell people I have climbed inside an elephant after all. Maybe next time I will find elephant-clambering guts.
So that little slice of Roadside America over and done with, we headed to Atlantic City. Mr Pict thought we should take my parents there just because it’s the place on the Jersey Shore that most people have heard of, whether because of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ or Monopoly. Driving to Atlantic City from Margate took us through a decidedly down-at-heel part of town. I had anticipated that Atlantic City might feel a bit seamy but I had not expected quite that degree of delapidation. We left via the route I assume most people take, with the tall, shiny casino and hotel buildings in our rearview mirror. That’s the image they want to project about Atlantic City but we had seen what was beyond that facade. It was not pleasant. Mr Pict was in charge of this leg of the day’s tour so he decreed we should take a visit into Caesar’s Palace. None of us are gamblers but the casinos are the culture in Atlantic City so it would have been preposterous to visit there and not visit one. I had been to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas back in 2000 and, unless my memory fails me, it had a bit more glitz and razzmatazz to it. Still we wandered around for a bit and my parents had fun pretending to play slot machines and spectating some roulette and blackjack games. I think we were all glad when we left though. I get that some people derive enjoyment from gambling and that some people like that sort of atmosphere but it is definitely not my cup of tea.
I am sure we will return to the Jersey Shore’s beaches many times in the future and I would like to think that we would pay a visit to Lucy another time but I am not convinced we will return to Atlantic City.