Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 5 – The Golden Nugget

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1980

My day in the summer of 1980 would roll like this. I would sleep in until noon unless my dad burst through my door telling me what a glorious day it was and that I was missing it.

“Early bird gets the worm, son!”

“Second mouse gets the cheese, dad.”

Then I would roll over and go back to sleep.

I would get out of bed sometime after that and put my bathing suit on and a t-shirt. I’d have a little lunch with my mom. I would grab my towel, a paperback, and my boom box and head to the beach. I would lie in the sun and tan and read whatever book I currently had going. When the sun became too hot, I would scan the beach nearby for an attractive girl on her own. I would pick up my radio and tune it to a local station that I knew was popular with most people. I’d head over to the girl lying on her blanket. 

“Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind keeping an eye on my radio while I took a quick dip in the ocean to cool off?”

“Sure!”

I was never turned down. I would head down to the water and dive in. I’d stay in for a while because I wanted her to become accustomed to having a radio playing on her blanket. I’d roll back to her maybe 15 minutes later and run the program.

“I’m Chaz, what’s your name. How long are you down for? Where are you from? Where are you staying?”

Not in that order or that fast, but you get the idea. It worked every time and I always got a date out of that system. I may hang with her there until maybe 3:00 and then walk her back to her motel. I’d get her details and make plans for later that night or that week. Maybe she and her girlfriends or sisters could come up and visit me at the ride and I’d get them on for free. (Louie was always in on the bit and wanted me to succeed with any prospective ladies I came in contact with at all times) I didn’t do this every day, but if I saw a girl I wanted to meet I’d run this program. (Future sales guy!)

Anyway, I’d get home, hop in one of the outdoor showers in the back of the house and head inside and get into character to work at the pier. Crisp white shirt, black tie, and slacks. I’d come down to the kitchen and my mom would feed me dinner. 

I’d head out early to work maybe a bit after 4 pm. I’d stop at Botto’s which was a little arcade and one of our main hangouts in town. I’d put a quarter in the jukebox and play some Aerosmith or whatever song I was into at the time. (Don’t Bring Me Down, by ELO comes to mind) I would go over to my favorite pinball machine, called FLASH, and play a few games. I was really good at that particular machine and had no problem wracking up free games on it. Some of the younger boys who hung out there would all gather around and watch me kick that machine’s butt. When you’re a young boy you always idolize older guys. I did it when I was younger and now I was that guy. I would tell the boys I had to get to work up at the pier and let them have all my free games. They were overjoyed because they didn’t have any money. I’d even leave them a few quarters on top of the machine and bid them farewell.

I’d get to the pier and run up the ramp to join the rest of the team at 5 pm. We’d figure out who was working where and just make that ride sing for the rest of the night. We did that night after night. Each night was similar but there were always different people and different girls to meet. It was an amazing place to be. It was the very best place to be at the shore for the summer. Everybody was happy and having fun. Can you imagine a job like that? You work all night, time flies by, and it is nonstop joy. The tourists are happy because they’re at the best amusement park in the world. (Their world) After work when we closed the pier we’d go out. 

Back when I worked at the Dolphin Restaurant as a busboy, my curfew was 11 pm, but once I started working at Hunt’s my mom lifted the curfew completely. So our nights in Wildwood started working at the circus that was Hunt’s Pier and then would continue on through the night on the boardwalk at another pier or down on Pacific avenue checking out the rock bands in the clubs. It was beautiful. And the amazing thing was, you knew you could wake up tomorrow and do it all over again. Again and again. Non-stop mayhem!

We had a good group of guys working on the Golden Nugget. This big blonde guy named Art was the manager, and he used to call me Peaches. I don’t know when that started but he was the only one who called me that.  There was another guy who’s name was actually, Danny Thomas. He was a short ginger guy, with a sweet disposition. Danny came to work one night and told me that he had just taken half a quaalude (714. The good ones from the ’70s) He said he ground it up in a beer because he couldn’t swallow pills. I knew from middle school what ludes were and told him to work in the back just opening doors. (The simplest and safest job on the ride for the night) There was another guy named Bill from Absecon, who was nice but a little full of himself. He was a good-looking guy, who was 5’10 with blonde hair and blue eyes. I made friends with him so I could borrow his ID to get into the nightclubs to see Witness at the London Ale House, that new wave band The Gang at the Club CasbaPegasus and Prowler at the Rainbow, or my favorite bar band of all time…  The Dead End Kids.  

Back then the drinking age in New Jersey was 18 and I wouldn’t turn until August 9th. The old Jersey licenses looked nothing like the modern laminated ones of today. It was just basically a piece of paper, no photo, and just your stats on it. So if anybody checked my ID going into a club, I fit his description and I never had a problem. I’m very grateful to Bill for lending me that for the month of July until my birthday.

We had so much fun working there. There usually was just Art and maybe another guy working during the day. The pier was always dead during the day, but you still got a few kids coming through so all of the rides were open. Completely different from what that place looked like at night.

The Nugget had five employees on deck at all times at night. One guy ran the brakes and watched the board to see where the cars were on the ride at any time. This was an important job. If you don’t get the mine cars stopped when they roll into the station, there’ll be a jarring accident. If the incoming car full of people crashes into the awaiting car to go out, it could send it up into the ride, with people half in it, doors unlocked, and could be a disaster. So that guy had to be on point.

The next station was the guy who threw the switch to send the car full of people up into the ride. That’s the job I liked best. I was great at it, and that was always my spot when I worked. It also allowed me to chat and flirt with the girls while they were waiting to go on the ride. If Louie saw one that I took a shine to, he would hand me the flashlight and tell me to take a ride up to “check on the ride.” This gave me a chance to possibly find out where the girls were staying, how long they were down for, and get a phone number. Every night was a new opportunity to meet new tourists. It was glorious. It got to a point, that if I hadn’t met a girl to go to the beach with and take on a date by Tuesday night, I thought I was slipping in my game. I kid you not.

The next spot was the guy across from me on the front platform. His job was to lock and secure the doors after the passengers boarded the ride. Very important gig.

On the back platform, there was another employee. When the ride was finished and the car would roll into the station, the doors would automatically unlock. He would hit each door and open them so the people could exit the ride. The last guy was up front at the top of the ramp that led to the ride. He collected tickets. I believe it was five tickets to ride the Nugget. He stood next to a locked three-foot-tall wooden box with a slot cut in the top. Inside was a canvas bag. As the people approached, he would take their tickets and drop them in the box.

That was the whole team. Louie was always there at night just to oversee the operation. But for the most part, Art and I had everything well under control. Louie would just chill in the background, puffing on his cigar. But it was good to know he was there… just in case.

Ahh… This song.

Wildwood in the Summer!

That song sounds like the theme of my teenage life in Wildwood, NJ in the summer of 1980.

 

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