Wildwood Daze – Overcast Skies

North Wildwood, New Jersey – 1977-1978

Every morning when you woke up in your bed at the seashore, normally the first thing you heard was the distant cry of a seagull. It was a grounding sound that let you know you weren’t in the city anymore.

Back in 1977, I’d get up every morning, 7 days a week, and go to my job at the El Morro Motel where I worked as a pool boy. It was my first job, and as much as I liked having a job and not being grounded, I always hoped for rain.

But to the best of my memory, it only rained a couple of days that summer. Which is great for the local resort community’s economy, but I rarely ever got a day off. I mean, I only worked from 7 am to noon each day due to my age, but a guy needs a day of rest occasionally. But, I didn’t really mind. I had boundless energy back in those days at age 14, and once I finished at the motel, had the rest of the day to play.

When it rained at the shore it always felt a little sad. The island relied on the sunshine to provide the one thing everybody who came to the shore was looking for. Go to the beach, sit by the pool, hit the boardwalk, and go on the rides at night. If it rained the tourists would be pretty much holed up in their motel rooms, watching television, eating, drinking, and playing cards.

Some folks would put on their rain slickers, grab a couple of umbrellas and head to the movies for the afternoon. There were plenty of theaters in town. The Hunt’s Corporation owned them all. The Blaker, The Strand, and The Shore Twin, just to name a few. I would later work for Hunt’s in 1980.

Blaker Theatre in Wildwood, NJ - Cinema Treasures

Others would brave the wind and rain and head up to the boardwalk to play in the arcades because all of the rides were closed. All the shops were open, and people could buy souvenirs or try their hand at a few games of chance.

I will say, after a good thunderstorm, the ocean was usually still a bit angry. The wind and surf could be a bit wild. I’ve experienced some of the best body surfing in the waves after a good rainstorm. The feeling of that powerful, bubbly water washing over you was better than any spa treatment you could get today.

But, I couldn’t go to work because the pool was closed and people couldn’t go to the beach. So what to do on a rainy day?

My friend from next door and I would take a walk along Surf Avenue. We lived on 8th street and would make the trek down to 17th street. The only time I ever saw my neighbor wear shoes was if he was going to the boardwalk at night. Other than that, we all spent the summer barefoot.

The reason we went to 17th street was that there was a big open shop that carried all of the usual things most resort community stores provide. It not only served as a huge newsstand where you could get newspapers, cigarettes, and candy, it pretty much carried everything you’d need for a day at the shore. Sunglasses, beach towels, t-shirts, paperback books, magazines, suntan lotion, beach toys, and all of your other seashore and beach needs. But the only reason my neighbor and I would go to this particular shop was that they had not one, but five racks full of comic books!

Back then comic books only cost twenty cents. So, if you had a dollar in your pocket, you could buy five comics! So between the two of us, we’d usually leave that place with ten brand new comics! That was an entire afternoon of reading quality stories together. Our favorites were horror comics!

Mixed horror Comic Books (Lot of 6) Vintage 1972-1974

We’d normally park ourselves on his big porch. We’d sit on the astroturf covered floor and lean on the support posts across from each other. Once you were finished reading one, you’d simply toss it over to your friend. We’d do this for hours as the rain beat down on the metal awnings around the porch.

Sometimes we’d get together with my sister and her friend Sandy and break out the board games. Our go-to game was Monopoly. That game was amazing. We’ve all played it and it’s based on the streets in Atlantic City where the game found its origin.

We’d pick our little playing pieces and off we’d go. I always liked being the car, and I think my friend was the hat. I don’t remember what pieces the girls picked but, I don’t think either of them really cared.

During one part of the book they play monopoly every night and the games would get very heated and the pieces would g… | Monopoly pieces, Monopoly game, Game pieces

We loved playing monopoly because it was such a fun competitive game. The object is to become a giant property owner and destroy your opponents financially. Pure Americana right there!

But before each game, my friend and fellow comic book and Mad magazine fan would sing a little song. It became a ritual before each game. I loved doing this so much, I never forgot any of the lyrics we sang about the game of Monopoly. The melody of our little song came from the United States Marine Corps Hymn. So, this was a serious moment before each game in an attempt to beat the girls and win all the money.

You can pick this tune up at the 0.40 second mark to hear the melody.

Here’s the lyrics we sang before each game of Monopoly.

From the slums of Baltic Avenue to Boardwalk and Park Place.

We will buy up all the properties. Put hotels on every space.

We will drive our foes to bankruptcy if they fail to pay the price.

But we cannot even start the game, till someone finds the dice!

Then we’d start the game. It was a riot.

We’d play as two teams. This way we could share ideas and strategies. There were times we’d have to take a short break from the game and go in another room and have a conference about what was to be our next move. Should we attempt to acquire all of the railroads? What about the utility companies? Is there any possibility that cheating could become an option to win?

We’d return to the table and carry on. I don’t know if the girls needed these little meetings. I think they were just happy to play and have something to do on a rainy day.

The game takes hours to complete, so we’d have these marathon gaming sessions. The girls were good. Too good. They made wise financial decisions and thoughtful, methodical moves. On the other hand, my friend and I were a bit more reckless with our money. Our only object was to win and destroy our opponents. But the ladies were slow and steady. They were slightly older than we were and patient in their approach. Great development skills for the future I suppose.

We've All Been Playing Monopoly Wrong Our Entire Lives | Vintage board games, Childhood games, Childhood memories

If my friend and I were ahead, we’d gloat and act like idiots. But I suppose that’s just typical teenage boy behavior. We’d have moments of glory and bask in the victory of our decisions. But, slowly the girls would basically take us apart. I don’t mean the occasional win by some lucky roll of the dice. The girls would systematically annihilate us on the board. We’d be mortgaging our properties and facing bankruptcy, as the girls calmly moved forward with their program. Being testosterone-loaded boys we didn’t take kindly to their evil, diabolical schemes against us.

Was this really happening? Were we being faced with the stone-cold reality of being beaten by a couple of girls? Well, you don’t know my sister. While my friend and I were laughing and thinking we could ace the game, she was probably thinking three moves ahead of us. Classic ant and the grasshopper level stuff going on here on the floor of our living room.

Things would begin to look a bit bleak for us financially, as the girls rolled the dice and hopped around the board. The pressure was on. We had to turn this situation around. We had to win. Losing was not an option.

Our financial world was beginning to crumble before our young startled eyes. What to do?

It was time to take one of our many breaks to reassess the situation and our assets. This was serious. The girls would relent and let us go into another room to discuss our future game plan. They’d get up, stretch their legs, grab a soda and a snack. They’d then resume their positions around the board and patiently wait for our return. They knew it was just a matter of time before they would grind our dreams of being land barons into dust.

Knowing the losers would have to clean up and put away the game for next time was too great a punishment. How could we dig our way out of this seemingly hopeless situation?

A bit of time passed, and we weren’t back from our closed-door meeting to discuss our plan. So the girls called out to us to come back and finish the game. When we didn’t respond, they came looking for us. But we were no longer in the other room.

We did what any teenage boys would do with the threat of being defeated.

The girls heard the sound of us outside and saw as we ran past the front porch windows.

They did what any victors would do in this situation. They chased us both all the way down the street until they caught us. We would both sheepishly march back and have to clean up the game like good boys as my mother looked on. Like a warden, she made sure the escaped felons were brought to justice and made sure we cleaned it up properly and not just dumped everything back in the box.

The best part for us was being chased down the street by my sister and her friend. It was all in good fun. We were all laughing hysterically, and it was just another rainy day at the seashore.

Tomorrow the sun would return and we’d all be back on the beach where we belonged.

 

 

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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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Wildwood Daze – Kites – Part 2

So I needed another kite. I knew my mom wouldn’t spring for it. So I used what little allowance I had to get another one.

It had to be this:

The Baby Bat! This was a cool kite. Probably the coolest kite Gayla ever made. Black, with flaming eyes, and the lower edges looked like real bat wings. It too was only a dollar.

I loved my new, cool black kite. The eyes were stickers you had to put on yourself, so the spacing had to be perfect upon application. You didn’t want your bat looking cross eyed or weird. It needed to be cool and menacing.

In hindsight, I think the better name for this kite would have been the Manta Ray, because it better resembles a ray than a bat. Just saying…

Our next idea was to buy more twine. Let’s connect two or more spools of twine and make the tether even longer than 200 feet. Let’s go for 400 feet of string. It became less about the simple whimsy of flying a kite as a restful activity, and more about let’s see what these kites can withstand.

But, this is what boys do. Let’s just see how far we can take an idea before something breaks, or we’re injured. As kids we used to engage in activities that endangered our health and welfare on a daily basis.

It was called the 70’s! Nobody wore seat belts in the car, and nobody wore helmets when they rode their bikes. It was like the wild west back then. Look at jaw breakers candies. Perfect choking hazard for any child. But when you’re young all you ever think of is “I”.  I’ll be fine. I’m Indestructible. I’m Immune. I’m Immortal. You never think anything you do will have any consequences, until you start seeing kids wearing casts on their arms and legs for broken bones.

Good times!

So, I tied the string together, and wound the second spool of 200 feet of string to the first one. Now I had 400 feet of tether. My kite will go higher than ever! My kite is going to go so high, a plane or even a helicopter could crash into it. Now that would be a spectacular day of fun for a couple of boys. Nothing like causing a good old-fashioned air disaster to get the blood up.

We head down to the beach with my new Baby Bat kite and a giant spool of string. The wind is up and blowing north. We follow the path through the bushes to the open beach.

Once there, we let it rip. The string is going out like mad and the kite is rising high into the twilight sky. The sea air is invigorating as I watch as my great ebony vessel rises higher and higher. I decide to place both of my index fingers into the ends of the spool and just let that sucker spin. The cylinder of twine is a blur in my hands as the line goes out like mad. It’s as if I have a fish on the line. (That, or a giant bat!)

The bat is going so high, it’s getting smaller and smaller. Soon it’ll be just an inkblot in the sky. I’ll have flown the highest kite ever!

Now, you have to keep tension on the line so that the kite stays up. If that pressure is off the kite could fall. But the wind is carrying my kite higher than I’ve ever seen a kite go. The spool spins on my fingers.

The line… still going out.

Once it reaches the end, it’ll stop, and the kite will soar even higher. 400 feet is just seconds away! My beautiful brand new kite soars like a bird.

But that didn’t happen.

What I failed to realize was that the string on these spools isn’t tied to the spool. It’s simply wrapped around it by a machine when it’s manufactured.

The final feet of the twine go out, and I’m left standing with what would be equal to an empty role of toilet paper in my hand.

The kite is so high it continues to fly. But it’s so far away and we’re on a beach, so I can’t even see the string as it slips away at high speed. I watch as my brand new  Baby Bat flies away on it’s first, and final mission. My friend is laughing hysterically as we watch the kite fly over the channel as it heads out to sea.

It probably crashed somewhere across the channel in Stone Harbor, five miles away.

So, that was the end of that kite.

I owned a few more Baby Bats that summer. I think it was my favorite kite design. Most were destroyed in sky battles or tangled in electrical lines and lost. I remember my mom saying, “You went through a kite a week that summer!”

Ahh, what a grand time we had as children each summer. Living by the sea, in the sunshine, and getting our exercise. Those experiences build strong, healthy minds and bodies. Better than any video game you could imagine.

One night, there was a land breeze from the west and my friend and I were flying the latest kite. It was a red Sky Raider.

Exciting fun for all ages! Boys, girls, and apparently old guys who smoked pipes! (for only one dollar!)

We were sitting up in the lifeguard chair. Which is the coveted spot to sit on the beach at night. You’re probably 7 feet in the air and it definitely feels like a position of power for a couple of kids.

Ogunquit Beach Lifeguard Chair at Sunrise Ogunquit Maine Photograph by Toby McGuire

I got tired of holding  the string of my kite, so I tied it to the chair. The red kite sailed high over the Atlantic Ocean. Normally you don’t stay long on the beach during the day when there’s a land breeze. It brings all of the green  flies from the bay to the beach. They aren’t like the annoying pests you get in your house in the summertime. These suckers are bigger and ‘bite like horses’, as my dad would say. But by nightfall they’re usually gone.

So my buddy and I are just chilling in the lifeguard chair and chatting. We’re watching the red kite as it flies and dips over the sea. But at some point, the wind died down, and the kite vanished below the waves. At that point we didn’t feel like hauling in all of that wet sandy string, so we just broke the string and let it drift away. I remember before it sank it looked like a big red shark’s dorsal fin before it slipped away.

Another dollar and a half well spent. Taken by Neptune.

I wanted to change up my game. I needed a better kite.

I had heard from one of the other kids that there was a bigger and better kite that was made by Gayla. It looked like the Sky Raider, but it was bigger and had a metal controller you held to maneuver your kite.

Kind of looked like this, but much bigger. It had a six foot wing span. It was called…

The Invader!

Rare 1962 vintage Gayla kite The Invader Kites with box | #1821116875

I had to have it. It cost a whopping six dollars!

I scraped together what little allowance money and change I had to get that kite. It was bigger than any kite on the beach, and it had the cool metal controller included. I scampered over to the store and bought it.

I quickly assembled my great bird and was ready for action. The controller is simply a wire frame shaped like an hourglass that you hold horizontally like an airplane controller. (Don’t get too excited. Think, cheap-ass, coat hanger bent into a metal bow tie.)

Flying Fish Kiting Team: Radcliffe Conversion

You actually needed two spools of twine to operate the kite properly. They were both hooked to the controller and the other ends were attached at two different points on the kite’s brindle. This is so you could steer and maneuver your amazing kite.

I was about to become the Lord of the Skies in Wildwood.

I made sure the string was securely tied to each spool before I hand wound them both back onto each cylinder. I affixed the ends of each cord to the appropriate spots on the kite.

I was ready.

We took my vinyl Phoenix to the beach for it’s maiden voyage to the heavens. The wind was blowing from the south which was perfect. This way, if anything happened it wouldn’t crash in the sea. It would land on the beach north of where we were standing.

I slowly let out the string, and my great winged toy was carried upward. It looked enormous. Some people who were still on the beach at dusk, looked on with pride and amazement at the kid with the amazing kite.

I was so proud as I watched it sail higher and higher. Such an enormous pull on the strings. Huge kite. More wind resistance coupled with great aerial strength and elegance. My beautiful winged beast flying high. It’s glorious six foot wing span, like some great albatross, controlled only by my willing hands. I held the controller and watched as my kite flew higher and higher. We were coming to the end of the string.

This was it.

That moment where the line would become taut and the kite would fly even higher on the tension of the lines. I would proudly steer it along the beach as startled onlookers watched the glory of my passing.

The Sky King.

The Invader!

The anticipation was exhilarating as the end of the spools approached. Within seconds, the strings went taut.

The force was so great it yanked the controller from my tiny hands.

I watched in mute protest as the controller flew from my grasp and bounced down the beach.

My friend and I gave chase. Running as fast as we could in an attempt to catch the bouncing metal frame as it bounded down the beach. It had enough weight to keep the kite aloft, but was light enough to escape from us.

We eventually ran out of energy as the kite flew further and further away.

Another kite had made its escape. It would probably crash like the last on the other side of the channel in Stone Harbor.

My kite…

Snatched from my hands like my fleeting childhood.

 

I’ll always look back on my times at the shore with fond memories. Some of my greatest moments happened on that sandy stage.

 

Here’s a great song that serves as a soundtrack to this story.

 

Here’s one gentleman’s obsession:

http://gaylakitememories.blogspot.com/2012/07/introduction.html

 

Why couldn’t this have happened to us?

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