Jersey Shore vacation, Part II
You know you're Type A when you find yourself describing a vacation in terms of what you got accomplished. But I must say, our two-week stay at the Jersey Shore did bring about everything we wanted it to, and more.
Family. My wife and I each have many relatives in New York City and surroundings, but none of them live in quarters big enough to put up a visiting family of four. Moreover, they're spread out around that metro area, and so picking a hotel location isn't easy, either. Taking a hotel room in Manhattan means that a rental car is not realistic, but without the car there's no way to see the folks over in Jersey. Hotel it in Jersey, and you've got to get in, around, and out of the city with two kids. Again, a car is dead weight against you in the city, and mass transit back there isn't really cut out for the double stroller set.
I've always said, One of these summers we'll get a house at the Shore, and invite everybody down to see us. And so we did. The New Jersey Transit train station was a block from our beach place, giving denizens of the city the option of driving down the Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, or taking the train for $10. One guest had to take a quick, unplanned train trip back to the city to audition for a play -- she did it with aplomb and was back to the beach house in time for dinner at the house that evening.
In one fell swoop, we saw my mother, my sister, my brother, his wife, three of his four kids, my sister's two close friends, the two kids of one of the friends, my wife's niece, her aunt, two of her cousins, the cousins' husbands, and the one cousin's two kids. (The latter would be my first cousins once removed in law.) Most of the foregoing stayed at the house for a couple of nights with us. We definitely tested the sleeping capacity of the place, and we had some spectacular visiting time as a result.
My brother cooked dinner for us twice -- capably, masterfully, nonchalantly. Delicious stuff, and in each case the leftovers provided the base for two additional meals. One evening the most ambitious member of our Brooklyn crew (who knew his way around the Shore) went out foraging and brought back the makings of a feast for 10 hungry adults, including live lobsters, steaks, shrimp, scallops, fresh corn, and about a case of wine. Good wine. We didn't have lobster tools, but my spouse improvised with a tiny hammer out of a portable tool kit, and a pair of pliers borrowed from the neighbors across the street. She shelled the lobster, and our chef served it over pasta. The place rocked with laughter much of the night. It was unforgettable.
I've got a few long-lost cousins in that general vicinity, two of whom read this blog from time to time, and I'm sorry to say we didn't work them in. We had only one full weekend, and it was like Grand Central Station at times, and so we couldn't accommodate them. But that moves them to the top of the guest list for next time, and we're hoping that will be next summer.
Beach fun. As mentioned here earlier, we partook of a lot of what the Shore has to offer -- sun, sand, surf, great food (particularly seafood), amusements for the kids, and a serious change of scenery from Portland, Oregon. Our kids are avid beachgoers, and they'll even splash around in the surf a little. I got to load up on the SPF 30, put on the garage sale Oakleys, grab a $20 boogie board (which my wife picked up at a drugstore), and get my a*s knocked around in the surf for long stretches. I can't think of too many other things in life that I enjoy more. And when I took one of my daughters on the kiddie ferris wheel, and we looked out over the nighttime boardwalk scene, it was a spiritual moment.
Work. What prompted this adventure in the first place was a speech I was to give, in the middle of our stay, to a group of estate planning accountants from all over the country. The conference in question was held in a big hotel in Philadelphia, about an hour and a half away. I headed over in the rented Ford Taurus and delivered my hour-long address to a couple of different sessions of this friendly group, and I thought it went over pretty well. We were then treated to a fine speakers' dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant that was really humming.
On the ride over to Philly from the beach, I drove roads that I'd never been on before. This is central Jersey, places like Freehold and Jackson, which, along with the beach towns along the ocean, produced such great figures as Jack Nicholson and Bruce Springsteen. Bruce still lives in those parts, and I kept looking around on I-195 to see if he'd cruise by. I wondered what kind of vehicle to look for -- probably some SUV, van, or other rig big enough for his wife and kids.
No sighting of the Boss, but on the trip back to the Shore, I did manage to catch an hour or so of WMMR, the legendary Philadelphia FM radio station that supported him so strongly in his early career, just before I moved out of that neck of the woods and he took off for stardom. The station is still offering classic rock fare -- in fact, it seemed like every other station on the Philly dial was classic rock -- but the music was interrupted by live cutaways to a local bar where the station was sponsoring something akin to a wet T-shirt contest that night. The voices at the bar all sounded like they belonged to 20-year-olds; what that had to do with the classic rock, I couldn't figure out.
Downtown Philly looked pretty good on a bright, sunny, not-too-muggy summer day. I crossed the Ben Franklin Bridge and got caught in a little downtown traffic before arriving at the hotel. I found my way around with the help of Mapquest, never once stopping to ask where the heck I was. It was about a 15-entry list of Mapquest directions, too, so I was pretty proud.
While I waited to "go on" with the speech -- always a nerve-racking time for me -- I walked over to a place called the Reading Station for lunch. This was an old train station, I assume, converted into a gigantic indoor market, including all kinds of food. I ordered a turkey sandwich made out of fresh turkey, carved before my eyes. I took it over and sat down at a nice table near the sandwich stand, and got all the way through my lunch before realizing that I was sitting in another restaurant's space! O.k., I'm back east, I just did a very stupid touristy thing, I expected to be read the riot act by the manager of the establishment. But she didn't say a word. Finally, I told her, "I just realized I wasn't supposed to be eating food from another stand in here. I'm sorry." She was so gracious about the whole thing. Indeed, everybody I encountered in the City of Brotherly Love lived up to the name that day.
Nostalgia. Perhaps the greatest benefit of the whole trip, a benefit that has provided a major alteration of my consciousness, was getting back in touch with my youth. There are enough layers to that aspect of the vacation that they merit a post of their own. I'll get to that one shortly, and then I promise I'll stop boring you with my Jersey Shore stories.
At least for a while.