Thursday, July 21, 2011
CoTW 108 - Jersey Girl
I've been going to Cape May, NJ since 1986, the year I met my own Jersey Girl at UMass. Despite growing up on nearby Long Island, NY, I did not know much about "the Shore," as it is known south and west of the Tappan Zee and north of Delaware Bay. As a teenager, my mother used to make occasional trips down to Wildwood and that town still retains its honky tonk boardwalk feel. It is similar in reality to what people now unfortunately picture, thanks to the MTV sensation, "Jersey Shore." Most, almost all, of the Jersey Shore is nothing at like that depicted in that unfortunate cultural blip. Wildwood, however, is the kind of place that has an insurance fire at the Pier almost every winter and continuously struggles to reinvent itself, whether it be a preservation and celebration of its authentic 1950 Doo Wop culture and architecture, or trying to lure a minor league ball team. I, of course, will always fondly remember the transvestite shows at the (F)un Spot Cabaret, recalled in this past post.
The city is so close to charming Cape May that is a jarring study in contrasts. I came to this town for the first time 25 years ago and fell in love with it. Shhh, almost no one in New England knows about it. People around here think the Cape has the best beaches, or shockingly, Maine. Sure, Maine is beautiful to look at. And I love the Cape and spend a lot of time there, the outer Cape beaches are stunning. They are just different from the Jersey Shore. See, I like to actually go in the water and enjoy it for more than 10 minutes without freezing my balls off, which I can not do in most of New England. I also like long stretches of fine sand and real surf. And I like being able to walk along a promenade and going for an ice coffee and a felafel roll-up. Not many would expect me to be a beach person. I dig the beach. I need an umbrella to keep my precious alabaster skin from frying like bacon, but I love the beach, especially with kids and boogie boards.
I look forward to going every year, despite the truly horrific traffic down the Garden State Parkway which usually turns what should be a six-hour trip into a nine-hour stop-and-go vein-popper. My kids are educated in the finer intricacies of profanity as I pund the steering wheel. We used to take Laura's Pinto down. It was white. Red bucket seats. No AC. No reverse. Then we graduated to taking the Impala I inherited from my grandfather. I would not be able to do that without taking out a second mortgage right now. Same goes for the old Buffalo Tom Dodge Ram van, which was our next set of wheels and was almost the length of Rhode Island. Wait a minute, when exactly did I go from aspiring to be Keith Richards to becoming Dave Barry?
We used to stay at my mother in-law's little house. Then the kids came and we needed to get our own place. We have been renting the same house a block from the beach for three years. We shake off the traffic nightmare with a gin-and-tonic or two, and leave the car parked for more or less the rest of the trip. Everything is walking distance down old gaslit (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) treelined streets of Victorian, Shingle-Style, and Craftsman homes, people enjoying sips out on the front porches. There are world-class restaurants, great cycling routes, arcades for kids, and bars with live music. In fact, there remains a pretty decent jazz scene alive in Cape May. On my last night there, I have made a little tradition of going our for a nightcap on my own after everyone else has gone to bed (I am the only night owl in the family). Last year, I stumbled into the famous Mad Batter, where we usually have brunch a couple of times a trip, shuffled up to the bar for a G&T and ended up staying for a few more, as this singer named Lois Smith floored me with her vocals. Check out that link. She just sat at the bar with a wireless mic as the band played behind here. There were maybe five people at the rectangular bar. We chatted between songs. Lois is also a gospel singer.
Here is my "live at the dining room table" version of one of Tom Waits' most accessible songs. This is a real Brill Building/Bert Berns-like number from Heart Attack and Vine. You can read my essay on the song at Allmusic.com from back in the old days. It will always have special resonance for me and any other Joe married to a Jersey Girl.