I've gone to the beach every summer since I was born. I am pretty sure I was a newborn in my mother's arms under the Boardwalk, where all 1970s wholesome families went for shade because a beach umbrella was a luxury item and you had no extra cash because you spent it all on tanning oil, cigarettes (which you smoked under the boardwalk) and gasoline (I think there was an energy crisis, but I was just a baby, so who knows, there is always a crisis!).
Most of my beach time has been at the Jersey Shore. However, you will rarely hear me say down the shore (or the ear splitting "downdashore"). I usually talk of the beach--because there are so many glorious beaches, why limit yourself to just one shore. I grew up spending summers at Wildwood Crest (My dad grew up there, too), spending at least 2 weeks (and sometimes, when we were flush) a month in half of a Victorian house a few blocks from the bay in the Crest. Then, my Dad decided the Wildwoods were getting too wild for his teenager daughter and we made a switch to Ocean City, NJ as our family shore destination for overnights.
When it came to day tripping, which we always did a few times in June and July, we'd hit whatever beach my Dad felt like. I think I've been to them all from Point Pleasant on down to Cape May. Last summer, I discovered Fortescue beach, which is at what appears to be the very end of the earth. You go to Fortescue between horse crab mating season and biting flies (check the wind direction!). The strange nature negotiations are worth it for all the sea glass, the gentle bay waters, the birds and the sunsets.
And of course, there are all the other beaches everywhere else, too.
Mike grew up in the Midwest. He went to lake beaches. When I met him, his ocean beach experience was rather limited. He's since become a total Jersey boy and religious follower of the rules of the beach.
Yes, there are rules! None of these rules are written down anywhere, until now. So if you are an out of towner or you have midwestern company coming this summer, you can hand them this Yoke!
Here are the official Jersey Rules of the Beach:
1. The first rule of the beach is that you don't ask any questions about the rules of the beach.
The beach is a place of relaxation and incessant questions are the ultimate buzz kill, man.
2. There is not a time we are leaving.
Don't bother asking (see number 1), because there is not a designated time we are leaving. When we go to the beach, that is what we are doing--going to the beach. It is not like a children's birthday party at a bowling alley with a clear start and stop time nor is it a university lecture that has to end on time for the next class to begin. We leave when the spirit moves us. Do not ask! There is not an answer!
3. No boredom or complaining.
My children would never dare say "I am bored," or "there is nothing to do," because then they have to endure the following lecture:
"YOU ARE BLESSED TO LIVE BY THIS OCEAN AND HAVE THAT BATHING SUIT ON. THE OCEAN IS YOUR PLAYGROUND AND THERE IS SAND AND THERE ARE LITERALLY 47 SAND TOYS AND BALLS IN THE GIANT BEACH WAGON. PLAY WITH THAT. OR GO MAKE A BEACH FRIEND!"
4. You eat what I packed.
We pack or pick up food for the beach and bring it with us. There is no leaving to find a meal or to sit down in a subpar restaurant for French fries. There are hoagies and hoagie-adjacent food like chicken cutlet hoagies. There are Jersey peaches and potato chips and candy that melted in the sun. If you are lucky, the ice cream person rolls by and I'll let you get that. But otherwise, you eat what we have, because there is not a time we are leaving.
5. You are allowed to leave for the bathroom.
Bathroom breaks are permitted! If you choose to use the ocean toilet, don't tell me and certainly do NOT DO NUMBER 2. You would think this would go without saying; but alas, I've seen some things.
6. Swim between the flags!
For the love of God, everyone needs to swim between the flags, right in front of the life guard station. DO NOT swim outside of the flags and certainly do not ride your broken boogie board in outside of the life guard marked area!
I am sitting in that unmarked, danger area in my beach chair, enjoying the tranquility of the waves, reading my book and drinking my "water" in my red solo cup.
I do not want to watch you or be touched by your boogie board or have my "water" spilled, because the beach is a place of relaxation, with rigid rules to keep everyone in that spirit of relaxation for as long as the spirit allows them to stay or I say it is time to go.