Vacationing In The Good Ole Summertime!
By Rick Alexander
There are three types of vacationers: those who go to the same place each year, those who vary it up and go to different places, and those who don’t go anywhere. Growing up, I was in the first category. During our years together, Lisa and I have generally fallen into the second category. And if we don’t soon figure something out, we’ll end up in category three.
When I turned four, my parents took me on my first vacation to Wildwood New Jersey. My mother loved to go there when she was a young single woman. I wonder if there were tales to tell from those days? No, not my mom !!! She somehow convinced my dad, who was not as nearly as beach friendly as my mom, to continue the tradition.
The first time we went, we borrowed my grandparents air conditioned Cadillac as my parent’s cars weren’t up to the trip. It was strange driving with the windows up as our cars did not have AC. I remember thinking that it seemed that the ocean was FOREVER away and we would never get there. My longest trip up to that point was the 13 miles trek from Hershey to my grandparents’ house on Harrisburg’s West Shore. I would finally fall asleep, then wake up shortly before we would arrive, having peed my pants. Yeah, doing that was a thing until I was much older than I care to mention. But that is a subject for another blog. I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on the ocean and the beach. Up to this point, the largest body of water I had witnessed was the Susquehanna River. I couldn’t get my head around that I couldn’t see what was on the other side. I could always see Harrisburg across the river from the West Shore. And the sand…i mean the SAND. There was about a gazillion times more grains of sand than in my sandbox at home.
That year, a tradition was born. We went to Wildwood every summer since I was 4 until I was 17. I think the rest of my family continued the tradition for a few more years after that. The trip was pretty much the same one, with slight variation, year after year after year. And in all those years, except for one, we never missed any beach time because of the rain.
Here’s how it went down: We would always leave about 7 AM on a Tuesday morning in early to mid July. It was always Tuesday and always July. I don’t know exactly why and I won’t as both parents are now gone. Maybe it had to do with a midweek rate reduction. After a couple of hours, we stopped for breakfast, often times at the now defunct Zinn’s Diner in Lancaster. Then it was non-stop to Wildwood. In our early days before my youngest brother Ken was born, my brother Steve and I would be lying stretched out in the back of our Rambler station wagon with blankets and pillows, the tailgate window partially open. How safe was that? All of our stuff was sandwiched on the seats between my parents in the front and us in the back.
We’d arrive around noon and check in at the King’s Inn on the Boardwalk. That was our place. My mother always made reservations after the one year she didn’t. There were no vacancies and we ended up staying in a fleabag tourist home that year. After check in, we got dressed in our beachwear and grabbed a hot dog or Taylor Pork Roll (a big thing in Wildwood) on the boardwalk before heading to the beach. If you’ve ever been to Wildwood, you know it has a very wide beach, unlike Ocean City Maryland. You either like that or you don’t, depending on what your beach experience was growing up.
After three hours of sandcastle building, wave jumping and frying on the beach, we headed back to the motel to shower and try to rinse off the sand, an effort that was mostly in vain. Then it was off to Groff’s Restaurant, which was actually a PA Dutch restaurant owned by a family out of Lancaster that served amazing food. Located on the boardwalk, there was usually a long wait to get in. My dad, my brothers and I would pass the time with rounds of rock, scissors and paper.
After dinner, we would stroll the boardwalk, enjoy amusement pier rides, ride the boardwalk train with its signature warning “watch the tram car please”! We might grab a Lime Rickey, (not named after me), a refreshing Wildwood drink. Then we might play a skeeball game or two and at some point, buy that year’s souvenir: a hat, a tee shirt or a pair of sunglasses that would get lost or broken before we left. We would then head back to our room and watch some TV. It seems we often went the week of the Major League Baseball All-Star game as my dad would want to rush back to watch it.
You can probably guess how we started the next morning, which was Wednesday. Yeah, that’s right, requisite bicycle rentals and rides on the boardwalk. Seems like every year, someone would have a near miss! Then breakfast on the boardwalk, at a place called Pierre’s. They had the most amazing chocolate chip pancakes. Then it was back to the room to change and pretty much repeat the exact same sequence as the day before, beginning with the pork roll. That night, my mom would always buy Douglass Fudge for us and salt water taffy for some unsuspecting relatives. Mom would guard that fudge like it was gold from Fort Knox, doling out only the tiniest slivers when we begged. I never knew where she would hide the fudge when we got home and I wonder if she ever secretly bought another pound just for her own guilty pleasure? I’ve learned over the years I’ve been with Lisa that women actually do that kind of stuff. Then, Thursday morning, up early, breakfast at Pierre’s and back on the road to Hershey. That was our summer vacation …year after year after year! Nobody complained and we loved the tradition. As I got older, we would go to other places in addition as my dad was a teacher who had summers off. But we always did Wildwood. I’ve been back a couple of times since then, but it’s not the same. I now choose to visit Wildwood in my heart where Pierre’s, Groff’s and my mom and dad still live.