Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Day at the Beach

There was a story in the news this week that the Seaside Heights amusement park at the Jersey shore is experiencing reduced attendance, and a number of concessionaires complained of financial difficulties. A TV reporter interviewed visitors to the park who reminisced about their childhood days going to Seaside Heights in the summertime. Children should have memories of magical places like Seaside Heights that defines what it means to be a kid and to have a place that is special in your life. For me it was Coney Island (see 10/6/08 post on Spaldeen Dreams...."Coney Island - Land of Enchantment" View

I can't think of anything as an adult that generates the kind of excitement than a trip to the beach did when I was a kid. (Winning the Mega Millions drawing might get the job done, but I'm not holding my breath.) You woke up feeling different knowing that in a few hours you would be splashing in the waves with your cousins, or building sand castles waiting for that interminable hour to pass after eating so it was safe to go swimming again. I don't know if there's any scientific evidence that it's unsafe to swim on a full stomach, but mothers firmly believed it and that's all that mattered.

We would ride the Brighton line elevated train to Coney Island or Brighton Beach. It was a couple of blocks walk to the boardwalk, but then the real work began. How to get from the boardwalk to the water's edge over baking hot sand without scorching your feet. Our family liked to camp near the water so they could watch the kids swim. Keeping your sneakers on helped, but walking was tricky and very slow going in the soft sand. Usually we did the "blanket walk", stepping other people's beach blankets and towels (excuse me, sorry) as we traversed the hundred yards of desert down to the cooler sand near the water.

We always set up a rented umbrella to create some shade for the younger kids to take naps between dips. I'm amazed that we traveled on the subway carrying beach blankets, towels, shovels, pails, gigantic lunch bags, drinks, and changes of clothes for when we hit the rides after spending the day on the beach. Nobody complained about not having a car, you just did whatever it took to get to the beach. This was an all-day deal; we got there around 10 in the morning, spent the day on the beach, and then hit the boardwalk and Steeplechase Park around 5 pm for another couple of hours of rides, games of chance, and of course frozen custard.

Every once in a while, we got a rare ride to Rockaway Beach with my Uncle Joe, (called "Buddy by his wife for some reason I never knew) in his '54 Chevy. See "Buddy and Mae"
View for more on Uncle Joe. Rockaway was different from Coney Island in that the waves were a lot rougher and the undertow trickier. I was pretty cocky as a kid and fancied myself a good swimmer. I loved diving into the waves as they crested just before crashing onto the beach. I remember one day trying to impress my older cousin Joan and her boyfriend Johnny with my diving prowess. As I entered one huge wave, it pushed me down. I struggled in the water not knowing which way was up. The next think I knew, Johnny had a vise-like grip on my ankle and hauled my soggy (and humiliated) ass onto the sand. I don't know if I would have made it without Johnny's help, but thank you Lord for the backup.

When I think back about Coney Island, I can almost taste the sea air, see the garish freak-show signs on the boardwalk, feel the hot sand on my feet and smell the Coppertone lotion. I don't know how the mind does it, but those special memories from childhood, like a day at the beach and on the rides along the boardwalk, are easier for me to conjure up than the names of people I met last week. That's what the people who were interviewed for the Seaside Heights story were remembering. The mention of that special place brought a dreamy look into their eye, and they were no longer just talking about Seaside Heights, in their minds they were there! Every child should be able to make memories like that, but it's getting harder as the amusement areas we grew up loving fall victim to the developers wrecking ball. That's progress you say...I think not.


Children's Craniofacial Association


joe del broccolo said...

I remember returning home, the sounds and smells of the beach still with me! The other thing I took home was the sunburn and sand, and the feeling of being very tired!

Jim Pantaleno said...

Tired, but happy!