Hunt’s Pier – Epilogue

Philadelphia, PA – 2021

The reason I’ve struggled with writing this story is that it can’t really be written. It has to be felt. To be lived.  It was just a summer job on the boardwalk in wildwood. But it was something else. We did the same job over and over every night. It was us on the ride, and the people lined up and boarded the ride and we sent them up. That’s it. Over and over again. A sea of faces. Thousands of happy smiling faces night after night. Non-stop. We keep loading them in and they keep coming back for more. They’re on vacation. We’re there to serve them entertainment. Welcome to the show, I’m Chaz and I’ll be your host. It’s a circus. A carnival. A place where the freaks run the rides and you enjoy the show.

But it’s more than that. We sell happiness. Joy. Excitement. Thrills. Anticipation. The list goes on and on. What job have you ever had in your life where you can deliver that to your clients every single day? That’s the only product we make and our customers can’t live without it.

I’ve never ever had a job like that again. I can name every job I’ve ever had and none of them will be any of the things I just mentioned. That’s why many of the people who work there never leave.

There are worse vocations in this world.

It’s as if we worked in a place that existed in another world. A sea of joy and happy faces. Of children giggling and laughing and having the time of their lives. we’re the hosts bringing them fond memories. The type of memories they carry with them forever. The old memories. The ancient senses developed in our species millions of years ago. 

The excitement in the air crackles around you with your every move along that boardwalk. The music that fills the air whether it’s something on the radio or the crashing symphony of the calliope from the merry-go-round. That merry-go-round that you only get to ride once in this world.

One time around. Maybe you catch the brass ring, maybe you don’t. Maybe you rode all the way home on that mighty steed or maybe you didn’t. Maybe you fell off the horse a few times but you had a good time doing it. You get one ride in this life and we all have to make it. Make yours count. Maybe not for yourself but for someone else in this life.

 

Can you smell it? Is that Curly fries, or is it the sweet fragrance of a fresh funnel cake? When you bite that soft pretzel and the mustard drips on your polo shirt, and your wife pulls out a tissue to clean you up. She and the kids are so happy you’ve got a job where they can take a vacation for a week at the seashore. To play with the kids on the beach and swim in the sea, and see things you never imagined come to life. The stroll on that boardwalk, where you stuff your head with delicious pizza from Sam’s or Mack’s. 

I’m here to help. I will facilitate your joy, sir. We all will. And we’ll deliver you a show you won’t soon forget every night. That game you played. That teddy bear you won. We’re here to deliver.

But all the while we’re loving our very existence. Really living. The sun shines above our young heads. Our skin browns in the sun and our hair turns a lovely flaxen color. We feel it too. You’re here for a week or two. But we’re here every day. We get to live this life for two months every summer.

And when the shadows grow long in the autumn twilight, you’ll remember us. Because we’ll always be with you in your memories. A place that can’t be seen or touched, but you can feel it. You can smell and taste the memory. That first bite from your favorite burger spot. That first kiss of that person you just met on the beach today or this very boardwalk. The possibilities that can happen. It’s all yours. But only for a week. I get to do this every day.

It’s my life.

For now.

But one day I will join you in your world. But, we’ll all be able to look inward and feel that bit of magic in our hearts that came to life when we were young. That place that you loved that you can never revisit. 

Only in your dreams and memories.

Other people have written about Wildwood. I’ve read what they’ve written and it’s been simple documentation of what the place was like. But not how it felt. That’s what I’ve tried to describe here.

You don’t know it if you didn’t really live it. My sisters and I really lived it.

Every summer in Wildwood was different. The weather was the same and some of the things stayed the same but that was the beautiful constant.

It was always Summer there. Eternal. I only felt its dark side when I spent my first winter there. That was when the spell was broken. But only for a while. Every summer we spent there we changed. Because we were growing up. It’s not like now when another year goes by and you’re feeling the same as last year. We were growing. We were growing up. From little children to teenagers to adults. You spent your winters in Philly and went to school in the cold and waited for the bus. But in the summer you returned to a magical paradise with days filled with sunshine and joy. Only joy. You can never get that back. Those formative years are fleeting, and once they’re gone… they’re gone forever. 

I finished writing this series after a long time. I covered everything but I knew something was missing. I scheduled it and put the finishing touches on my work because it was done. I would only return to it in a month to do final edits.

But one night I was sitting in my room watching my show, and it kept gnawing at me. Something was missing from the long series. That’s when I stopped watching TV and opened a new doc and started pounding out these words. This may not even be enough. But maybe it’ll be enough for now.

The carnival. The amusement park. The sweet sea air as it blows in warm from the beach onto the crowd as they laugh and sing through the night.

The more I wrote the more I realized it’s almost something that can’t be written about. It can’t be documented. It’s a feeling. You can write what you saw and what you did, but it’s not the same.

You have to remember the feeling. 

A dear friend once told me, “It’s not what you said or what you did. It’s how you made them feel.” 

Thanks to everyone that follows my blog and also to everybody who dug it from Facebook and Instagram. I reconnected with some old friends from these posts, so it was totally worth it.

A book about my youth in Wildwood entitled, Down the Shore will publish in 2023.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 10 – End of an Era

Philadelphia, PA to Wildwood, NJ – 2009

I awakened in my apartment in Philadelphia with my girlfriend Allison. We had been together for over a year and had moved in together. Christmas was over and it was the end of January.

We got some breakfast, hopped in my car, and drove to Wildwood on that bitter cold January morning. January 30th to be exact.

After the hour and a half drive, we parked on Schellinger Avenue in Wildwood. We bundled up and headed for the boardwalk. Being from Delaware, I don’t think Michelle had ever gone to Wildwood in the summer growing up. 

We trudged up the ramp that led to the boardwalk and a flood of memories came back to me. We stepped onto Hunt’s Pier. It no longer looked like it did back in its heyday. Granted, it was winter and the pier was shut down until summer, but it was a stark model of a once-thriving, living entity. 

The angry cold sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky as we met up with my sister near the back of the pier near what was once a place I described as the greatest job I ever had. It was an emotional day. Nearly 2000 people had gathered to witness the event.

We had long lines of people waiting to get on the ride back in the day, but I wasn’t expecting this.

People gathered in front of, and on the old platform where I held so many rich memories. As I stood looking upon my paragon, I felt like an anachronism. 

The proclamation from the City of Wildwood that officially declared January 30th “Golden Nugget Day” cited the estimated 1.7 million adventure-seekers who enjoyed the landmark over its nearly four decades of operation.

The iconic centerpiece of Hunt’s Pier, the Golden Nugget Mine Ride was a hybrid dark ride/steel roller coaster attraction that changed the landscape of the Jersey Shore’s amusement scene when it debuted in the Spring of 1960.

Designed by John C. Allen of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and produced in conjunction with the renowned outfit and the skilled Hunt’s staff (led by general manager Vince Kostek), the Nugget evolved into a bona fide landmark over time.

It would thrive during the “Oceanic Wonderland” and Wildwood’s glory years of the 60s and 70s, then survive through several post-Hunt’s incarnations and a dinosaur-theme adoption, running for the final time in 1999.

Its impressive frame, built to resemble a western mountain with a mining outpost and shafts built-in, was hollowed out to accommodate a farewell ceremony hosted by the Morey Organization on Saturday, January 31, 2009.

A sad day indeed.

The weathered structure was demolished shortly after. Its track system and trains were acquired by Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA, where its legacy lives on in the form of the Black Diamond.

 

Things in this life come and go. Friends, family, and loved ones appear in our lives and eventually, our time here is scattered by the sad wings of destiny.

Hunt’s Pier.

Twilight is upon it now.

Night will fall, and with it… The Golden Nugget Mine Ride.

It seems fitting…

Slipping into oblivion to the lilt of rippling waves.

All that remains are the memories of what once was. It’s really all we have as people. Memories we can wrap ourselves in for the rest of our lives.

But sometimes, you’ll hear that familiar cry of a lone seagull… and as those memories return…

You smile.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

If you think this is over, it’s not. I have one more thing to say next week.

Wildwood Daze – Maritime Fun – Part 2

Philadelphia, PA – 1976

My father was a Vice President at the Provident National Bank in center city. In his time with the bank, he had risen up the ranks and had made dozens of friends and contacts. My dad was a charming and effervescent guy. Everybody liked him. He was the “cool” dad to my friends. A guy who shot from the hip and not afraid to tell it like it was. I think my mom and I would disagree with some of that.

He had a diverse set of friends and acquaintances around Philly. One of his friends was this rich lawyer who drove a Rolls Royce. He’d get drunk and stay in the city at his apartment at The Drake. He’d tell my dad to take his Rolls for the night and bring it back to him the next day. I remember getting driven to school in a Rolls Royce one morning and it was like sitting in my living room.

This lawyer guy was a total maniac. One night he was hit by a drunk driver in the Rolls. The drunk guy who hit him was killed instantly in the crash, and the Rolls was the only thing that saved my dad’s friend’s life. They took him to the hospital, and while he was waiting to go in to get checked out, he bummed a cigarette off of somebody in the lobby. (You could smoke anywhere, anytime back in the 70s!) As the man is puffing away on the cig, he notices that smoke is coming out of the side of his shirt. In the accident, his lung had been punctured and the smoke was leaking from his wound. The man told the doctors not to put him under anesthetic. Just sew him up while he was fully awake. He said, “If you put me under, I’ll die.”

Yea, this dude was a wildman. He would be speeding down the Garden State Parkway with my dad in his Rolls, and my father would warn him to watch his speed. The guy would simply say, “Let the cops mail me the ticket.”

Lunatic.

But this story is about another friend of my father’s. He owned/managed a restaurant that my dad and his friends would frequent in the city. It was called Davinci’s. My father became friends with the man, and they’d chat at length. We’ll call him Steve, and leave it at that.

He loved hearing about my dad’s place at the seashore, the sweet sea air, and the sheer bliss of having a shore house. Steve wanted this for his family.

Steve had a hot wife who was a slender redhead with an unforgettable bustline. His eldest daughter Jaime was a slightly curvier version of her mother who was blessed with the same assets. He also had an adorable younger daughter Stacy, who was a delightful, hip kid despite her young age.

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1977

So, Steve decides to buy a shore house right around the corner from us on 9th street. It was nice hanging out on the beach with this family. Steve was a charming guy. Picture Lou Ferrigno but without the speech impediment. His wife Jackie was a lovely woman who became fast friends with my mother.

My friends and I, being 15-year-old boys, were instantly enthralled in the presence of daughter Jaime. She exuded raw sexuality and aloofness which fascinated us. (In hindsight, I think it was just that body) Jaime wanted nothing to do with twerps like us. She was already dating older dudes.

Here’s a photo I found of me and hot Jaime.

This is what we’re dealing with. That girl is only a year older than me. She’s built like a woman and I look like a twink next to her. What made things worse for us guys was, she and her friend Debbie would go out into the ocean up to their necks. They would then proceed to remove their tops and swing them around their heads. We were like… “Are they trying to make our brains explode?”

My bathing suit was wet when this photo was taken, but there was endless ribbing from my friends about how it looked like I was “sportin’ one” because I was standing next to her.

Here’s another shot of me with Jamie and Carol. (Sandy’s older sister from the previous chapter)

The struggle was real.

Sigh… I need to move on.

Their house was nothing like ours because they were obviously wealthy. I remember seeing a french phone on a fancy table in their house. Who has a $100 phone in their seashore house in the 70s?

French Crystal Telephone | French Phones at NoveltyTelephone.com

We just assumed they were loaded. They owned a restaurant in Philly. They must be rich. We don’t know anything.

One day, we’re all on the beach and Steve tells my dad that he’s acquired a little boat. (Like the one in the photo above) He’s determined to firmly ensconced himself into seaside living. Apparently, he had won the boat in a card game in Philly. That’s some high stakes, I thought. (I think the boat was worth $12k) He told my father that he could use it any time he wanted.

It was a cool little boat to have access to. My father of course got me a little book to read about boating. I like how before my dad took on anything new he tried to learn all he could about it. He passed that good trait onto me. I read the book cover to cover. I knew starboard from port, and bow to aft. I also knew that if the tide was going out that you had to give the boat that was traveling with the tide the ‘right of way’. All of these things are as important as rules that apply to the road when you’re driving a car.

I remember the boat being up on its trailer in our yard for a period of time. Somehow it was my job to scrub the barnacles off the bottom of the hull and paint it with a special blue paint to keep them from getting back on there.

I also studied the steering mechanism of the boat and rewired the whole thing with fresh cable to fix the steering. That was my contribution to our new shared toy.

Before we ever left the dock my father would always make his presence known with someone on staff. He would tell them where we were going and how long we expected to be out. Safety first!

On the property of the marina was this goose named Thor. He was like the watchdog of the whole place. I had seen him on several occasions squawk and chase hapless mariners around the property. Head down, wings out, at a full angry run.

We’d take the boat out and dad taught me how to drive it. It wasn’t like the boat I had previously ridden in. This had a steering wheel and a throttle. (Way cooler!) You’d get it out in the bay and gun the throttle up, and the nose of the boat would rise up as the boat went faster. I still had much fear about the ocean and water in general, but I really enjoyed driving the little speedboat around.

Once my dad took my sister and me out of the bay and across the channel into the ocean. We were across from second and JFK Blvd at the northern point of the isle. Once we crossed the channel, (which I was told had been dredged to 40 feet deep so the bigger boats could travel through it!) he drove us out to a huge sandbar 100 yards offshore. This amazed me at the time. One always thinks that the farther you go out into the ocean the deeper the water becomes. This is true, unless there’s a sandbar.

He beached the boat and tossed out the anchor. So we were far from the shore and standing on dry land because the tide was low. It was like being on a small desolate island offshore from Wildwood. My mother had packed us all lunches and we had a little picnic out there that afternoon. Everything always tastes better at the shore!

Dad would get his fishing rod out and cast a few times back into the channel. Normally, if there is a sand bar, the bigger fish hang out at the edge of it, waiting for the little fish to come across the sand bar as the tide rolls in.  As they reach the deep water they get eaten by the bigger fish. My dad was hoping to get one of those fish to fall for his lure.

I walked on the sandbar away from shore. It’s so cool because if you walk east you would think the water would suddenly get deeper and you’d go into the sea. But I could walk really far out into the ocean and it only remained a foot or so deep. It was weird to be so far offshore and only be in water up to your knees for 50 yards. But of course, the idea of all of this went against all of my instincts and I didn’t stay out there long. That coupled with my active imagination. I had remembered reading that most shark attacks against humans occurred in less than three feet of water. So I was pretty sure, even though I was in shallow water, I was really far from the shore. I was positive there were tons of big sharks out there just waiting to kill and eat me there. So, I quickly got back to the safety of the sandbar and my dad.

We had some good times out in that little boat. I have another story about our fishing exploits on that boat in another post.

The tide would start coming in and we’d head back to the marina. We took care of that boat like it was our own. But that’s how our parents raised us. You clean up after yourself and you take good care of things that don’t belong to you.

However, this wasn’t the case with Steve’s family. His daughter Jaime and one of her boyfriends would go out in the boat on occasion. We’d find trash in the boat and things in just general disarray onboard when we’d go to use it.

I remember finding a bottle of men’s aftershave stowed under the dashboard of the boat once. I was looking for something when I came upon it.

“Hey, dad. Now we don’t have to worry if the boat sinks.”

“Why not, son?”

Amazon.com: Canoe By Dana For Men. Aftershave 8-Ounce: Beauty

“Because we can just hop into this!”

I don’t think my dad really liked having to share the boat with Jamie and her friends, but it was Steve’s boat, and she was his daughter, so there was little we could do.

I was once sitting on the beach with my next-door neighbor. We were just minding our own business and chilling on the banket. Jaime’s boyfriend comes rolling up to us. He was this big, tanned, buffed-out dude named Rocky. We used to refer to him as “Rocky Berufi” because it just seemed to fit him. (Happy Days TV show reference) He was just a big meathead.

So he comes over and says: “Where’s Jaime?!”

“We don’t know. Isn’t it your job to watch her?” (Me, always the wise guy)

This response only serves to infuriate the brute even further. He grabs our little bag of pepperidge farm goldfish crackers and proceeds to crush it in his hand, turning the contents to dust.

This is like being in a cartoon. Are we supposed to be afraid of this guy?

“Where is she?”

“We really haven’t seen her, Rocky.”

And off he goes down the beach looking for her. I’m sure Jaime was probably out somewhere with a new suitor. We got a fit of laughing after his dramatic exit.

At some point, Steve started giving me $5 a week. He told me that if it ever rained, I was to promise to go out to the marina and bail the water out of the boat. Back then, I was happy to have the free cash and it seemed like an easy gig.  But I was young and busy with my life at the shore. Things slip your mind when you’re a teenager. Too many distractions!

I also wondered if he has the disposable income to pass on to me, why doesn’t he simply invest in a tarp to cover the boat?

Well, one day it really rained hard and I totally forgot to go check on the boat.

It flooded and sank to the bottom of the bay.

He came over to our house and gave me an earful. I was sure that I was in deep trouble. But the gods were smiling upon me that day. My father snapped at him for going behind his back and giving his son money to bail out his boat instead of buying a tarp.

All was forgiven, but we really didn’t use the boat much after that.

I really liked that family. They were really fun people to be around. Much different than my family. My favorite memory of Steve was when their dog once ran away during a thunderstorm. They were from Philly, so the dog probably spent its life in a nice apartment in a building in center city. But at the shore the weather was wild, and thunderstorms on the cape could be intense.

So, their dog panics and gets out of the house, and takes off. I’ll never forget that night. Hours passed and Steve came back into the house after looking for the lost dog. He was soaking wet and quite agitated, but happy he had located his lost dog in the storm.

But here’s the thing. It wasn’t his lost dog. It didn’t even look like his dog. It had short hair and was obviously an older stray.

“Steve… I don’t think that’s your dog. Your dog had longer fur than that dog has.”

“What kind of sicko steals another man’s dog and shaves his fur off to make him look different?!”

“Yea… I think it might be time to lay off the coke, dude.”

The family only kept their shore house for a few seasons before they sold it and didn’t return to the shore again.

But with every encounter in life, a story is born.

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Wildwood Daze – Maritime Fun – Part 1

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1975

One summer day my family were all at the beach together. This wasn’t uncommon, especially on the weekends. My dad was off from work, and we’d all make our mandatory pilgrimage to the sea. Everybody had their job. Each member had to carry a different object. My job was carrying my father’s binoculars. I loved those field glasses. You could just see so far on the beach. If something was happening you could see it before anybody. Those binoculars were so powerful. I always hoped I’d witness a shark attack.

My father was frolicking in the surf with one or more of my sisters when he noticed another girl playing and swimming in the water by herself. Somehow a conversation ensued and introductions were made. She was the same age as my older sister. Her name was Sandy, and her folks had a house about four blocks west of our house up above 8th and New Jersey Avenue.

Sandy was sort of a plain teenager. She was from Warrington, PA, and seemed like a simple country girl. A kind of naive chick that appeared to lead a sheltered life. She had an older sister named Carol, who was tall and beautiful. Odd thing was they appeared to come from humble beginnings. Sandy wore the same bathing suit every day and I think her sister Carol only owned one yellow bikini. They both seemed nice, but maybe they were poor.

We eventually met their parents and that was quite the contrary. They were wealthy and misers. My parents did everything they could for us kids. Sandy’s parents were sort of wrapped up in their own lives and did little for their daughters. Bordering on neglect. They were pretty basic, simple people that saved their pennies, and lived an itinerate life of church and faith. Sort of the opposite of my parents.

Sandy’s dad seemed nice enough and volunteered to take my father and I out in his boat. It wasn’t a ship or anything. It was more like a skiff.

Even though I didn’t really like deep water and could hardly swim, he said we’d just cruise around the bay and do a little fishing. I knew the backwater was calm so I wouldn’t lose my mind or get sick with fear. Unlike an incident a few years earlier.

Wildwood Daze – The Big Flamingo

So my older sister had a new friend, and they seemed like nice people. I’d get some time out on the man’s boat with my dad, and everybody wins.

Now, I don’t know if this incident happened the first time we ever went out on his boat or on a subsequent mission. But I’ll tell the story as I remember it.

We would drive with the man in his jeep back to 5th and the bay. There was a big parking lot there, and a concrete ramp where you could launch small boats. He would have the boat on a trailer, and back his jeep down the ramp to the water’s edge. Then he’d get out and crank a handle that would slowly launch the boat into the water while it was tethered to a rope. Once in the water, My dad and I would hold onto it. The rope would be untied from the boat and the man would pull away in the jeep. He’d park it and the trailer, and return to join us. We’d all hop in it and he’d start the motor and off we’d go. There were plenty of men and boys out there and it was a pretty simple process.

It was fun to cruise around in his little boat, and sometimes he’d let me steer it. You just sat in the back of the boat and held the tiller on the motor and went from there. If you turned it in your hand the boat went faster. (Sort of like the throttle on a motorcycle.)

After a few hours out on the bay, and much slathering of mosquito repellant, we’d return to the ramp to bring the boat back.

On this particular day, he suggested I stay in the boat while they pulled it up onto the trailer on the ramp behind his jeep. I don’t remember why. Maybe I had to pull the motor up out of the water so the skeg wouldn’t hit the concrete.  So, he and my dad haul the boat up onto the trailer and I’m assuming we’re good to go.

He gets in the jeep and starts to pull up the hill to get back into the parking lot. But he forgot to tie the boat to the trailer. The boat proceeds to slide off the trailer backward with me in it. All I remember is a sudden, jarring, BANG! as the fiberglass hull struck the concrete. I held on for dear life. I was shaken but more surprised than afraid.

The man and my father jump out of the jeep to grab the rope as the boat begins to slip back into the bay. They pull it up and I clamber from the boat. There was no way I was staying in there anymore. I needed to put my feet on land again.

My dad flips out on the guy. I was actually surprised by how angry my father was at this error. I was okay, it was just a careless mistake. But he laid into him about what had happened. I realized it wasn’t about the mistake, it was more about his son being in the boat when it happened.

That was the last time we ever went out in his boat. My parents even cooled to Sandy and Carol’s parents in general. It just wasn’t a match. I think what tore it for me was the neglect of their teenage daughters. Oh, that and I heard the guy’s wife once refer to African Americans as “Darkies.”

I’m done.

But my sister remained friends with Sandy and her sister. They were both really nice girls despite their naivety.

But my short history with boating was just beginning. There would be another boat that would come into our lives. That, and a brand new cast of characters that would join us on the sandy stage of Wildwood in the summertime.

More tomorrow!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 9 – Aftermath

Wildwood, New Jersey  – 1980

Sadly, at the seashore Autumn approaches. It comes slowly. The sky and the sun look and feel differently. Fewer people are around. It gets to a point where the pier is only open on the weekends in September before it closes for good.

But you’re not going back to your friends at home or at your school in Philly. You’ve finished high school and now live in Wildwood. What was once the most exciting place on Earth has now become a desolate wasteland.

It was as if it was all a dream. But all dreams end and you have to wake up to the reality of life living in a resort town in the winter.

It’s awful.

But Hunt’s liked me and let me work as an Usher in one of the few movie theaters still open in town. Like my father, before me, I would tear tickets in half and show people to their seats in a movie theater.

It was depressing to fall from such a height. The summer sun, now gone. My wings have melted and I hit the hard sand with a thud.

It wasn’t so bad. I saw the movie Dressed to Kill half a dozen times and really became a fan of Brian Depalma and John Lithgow.

Once that was over and the theater closed for the season they offered me a job working maintenance on the pier. I joined the ranks of all of the other flunkies working odd labor jobs on the pier. A far cry from my supernatural existence the month before.

But I learned a few things. Work needed to be done on the Log Flume, and it was 60 feet in the air. The water had obviously been drained from it and it needed to be cleaned, painted, and winterized for the coming winter. Initially, I was terrified to climb the ramp up to the top of the ride. But there were other guys there and I couldn’t look like a scaredy-cat, so up I went. When I was inside the actual tube area of the ride, the sides were high so you couldn’t really see how high off the ground you were. The pier is thirty feet off the beach so you’re almost 100 feet in the air. But after spending a few days up there I was not only comfortable with the height, I was literally running along the little walkway that ran around the perimeter of the ride. That’s a series of metal posts about ten feet apartment strung together by a two-inch-thick rope. The walkway is literally a catwalk made up of three boards. It’s only about 2 and a half feet away. I could run along it on the edge of the ride without fear. Funny what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. I learned nothing is ever as bad as you imagine. As long as you don’t let the fear in.

There was this one guy who had worked at one of the games of chance at the front of the pier named Mike. He was a heavyset guy from South Philly and one of the funniest people I’d ever met. He and I became friends and even though he seemed like a tough guy, it was all an act. I noticed he was too afraid to go up on top of the log flume. But he and I became friends and I used to give him rides to work. He lived in an apartment with another guy back on Park Blvd. I would pick him up in my VW minibus and it would be cold out. The windows would be rolled up and he would release what I would describe as a Milwaulkee Beer Fart. A silent but deadly emission that was so bad I thought I’d die. He said it was from drinking a bunch of PBRs and eating Chinese food while he watched kung fu movies at night. It was awful, but I liked him because he was a delight to be around. A big ego and personality full of false confidence.

He was supposed to go to California with me to become an actor but it turned out to be all a bunch of careless talk over beers because he hadn’t saved any money. So once the reality of me actually leaving wildwood and going out there, he found some excuse to not hang out with me out of shame. Mike turned out to be what my father called a feather merchant. I think he thought he’d attach himself to me and I’d end up paying for everything. Not happening. Sadly, that would happen to me in the future. People would enter my life and I would love them. They’d bask in the warmth of my sunlight until the money was gone then fade away.

Some memorable things from that time were, once we were cleaning out some old furniture and detritus from the Strand Movie theater and opened a rusted old door and found a hand-carved deer and a sea horse from an old Philadelphia Toboggan Company merry go round. I don’t know if they were from the old classic down on Marine West/Nickels pier but we knew they were rare and original. They weighed a ton so we alerted the manager and he was surprised. I never heard anything about those pieces but I’m sure they were sold for quite a bit of money to a collector somewhere.

Once I was sent to a big warehouse that was underneath the Shore movie theater to get some supplies. I pulled up on the battery car and parked it outside. I unlocked the big wooden door and went inside. It was pitch black inside and I felt the wall for the switch. I found it and flicked it on. The area was suddenly filled with bright light.

Standing before me was a beautiful naked woman.

I was startled by the sight and jumped backward at the sight of this Venus.

But she wasn’t real. She was the animatronic girl prisoner from the dungeon in the Pirate Ship. This motorized beauty had been a prisoner of the ride for over 30 plus years by then. She had been removed from the ride to be painted. I knew the main painter for Hunts. He had done a marvelous job making her beautiful again. Her blonde hair and blue eyes shone brightly in non-life. It wasn’t that there was an anatomically correct life-sized naked lady standing before me in the dead of winter in a warehouse. It was that it was HER. I always loved her from when I was a boy walking through the pirate ship. There she was, her dress torn to rags, her bosom heaving through her ragged clothes. I didn’t even realize it as a little kid but there was something erotic about her. Chained to the wall in the corner. A damsel in distress and all she did was breathe.

But now, here she was completely naked before me and freshly painted. It was as if after all I’d been through on the pier and in the last year she suddenly appeared to me like an angel to say: “Remember me? You always secretly loved me. Well, here I am. Look at me. Because you won’t ever see me again, Chaz.”

And I wouldn’t. Like the rest of the team, we all went on unemployment for the colder months of winter. I made the best of the winters in Wildwood but knew that the sunny beaches of Santa Monica and the bright lights filled with unbridled adult fun were waiting for me in California.

By then it wasn’t so much of starting over in LA and becoming a metal god of rock. It was just more about getting out of this sad, dead town and off this island that only came to life in the summer. It was a terribly depressing place to be in the winter as a teenager. The island was filled with rich kids, drug addicts, and teen pregnancy all rising out of boredom and complacency. Wildwood is a wonderful place to be in the summer as a kid, but the winters are long and cold and it’s nowhere to be for a young person growing up.

Video Thanks to Ralph Grassi

 

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