Not Cease from Exploration...a blog by Steve Albert

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Vacations Past

Preface:  I am on vaction this week, and writing on my tablet (even with the bluetooth keyboard) is, shall we say, "less than optimal".  That noted, I apologize in advance for any and all typos, misspellings and occasional errant symbols that just appear in the text. 

Ending my first full day of vaction 2012, I was remembering vacations of the past, and none were more memorable...in my adult life or in childhood...than those to Atlantic City when I was a boy.  There was something truly magical about those vactions, which maybe in the course of writing this I will somehow be able to articulate in some fashion.  Maybe.

A few basic facts about these childhood jaunts:

First, I'm not sure how many times we went.  It could have been once or it could have been twice.  I'm just not sure.  40 or so years will do that to you.  For ease of writing, I am going to refer to the plural.

Second, they were to Atlantic City, NJ.  This was Atlantic City NJ BEFORE casinos.

Third, we were poor...at least financially.  I know, some folks talk about how poor they were in childhood, and I am not going to claim anything remotely Appalachian sounding, but we really didn't have much.  As in "living in a housing project" not much.

The above noted, I am amazed in retrospect how much effort it must have taken to pull these vacations off.  Planning tools available to my mother consisted of the telephone and the U.S. Mail.  No Internet.  No GPS.  To my mother's credit (and through the eyes of an 8 or 9 year old) these trips were flawlessly executed.  The fact that we were able to go in the first place still astounds me.

I remember being told about going for the first time.  It was really, really exicting.  The kind of feeling that only a kid really can achieve.  We adults are just too serious and logical in how we think about things in order to be that excited.

The actual trip down was via bus.  Martz bus to be precise.  For me, that was nearly as cool as the the ocean.  I don't remember what I did for the duration of the trip, but I do recall:  a) Walking over to the bus station in downtown Scranton (it is now Kildare's bar/restaurant), luggage in tow & b) Pulling into Atlantic City and being told "Welcome to sunburn city" by the bus driver.  Man that was cool.
I think we took a cab from the Atlantic City bus terminal to the "hotel" we stayed at, but I am not sure.  I don't think that the town itself was all that safe back then, as I don't think it is all that safe now.  Some things never change.

The place where we stayed?  I could be wrong, but I recall that it was called the Surf and Turf motel.  By Atlantic City standards of the day it was way down on the boardwalk, way to the left of Convention Hall.  Very far from the real attractions of the day, including Steel Pier.  Location didn't matter though when you are 8-9 years old this is your first vacation.  This was the beach!  The room we had was an efficiency, meaning that it had some rudimentary form of a kitchen, of sorts.  Note that this was in the universe prior to the wide-spread use of microwave ovens.  In the context of what I consider to be a good place to stay these days, knowing that I travel quite a bit with a corporate credit card (and by virtue of the fact that I am typing this from the dining room of a beautiful condominium in Lewes, Delaware), I'd say the place was a dump.  But it didn't matter back in mid-70's to an 8-9 year old.  To me, it was a palace.

I remember the first time  we (by that I should have mentioned already that the "we" was my mother, and my three brothers) got a chance to go to the actual beach was nothing short of a mad-dash across hot sand for the first of us to get to the ocearn water.  I probably won.  Well, maybe my brother Chirs did...he as always faster.  Anyway, it's amazing the things you do remember:  for me, one of the strongest memories was the first taste of saltwater in my mouth...and how horrible it was.  I also remember picking my feet up once while in the ocean and seeing a fairly large crab getting kicked up in the resulting artificial current.

I also remember walking along the boardwalk.  The smells of things you just didn't enounter in Scranton.  The sights of things we really didn't have the money to do anyway (such as ride the rides on Steel Pier).  None of us were upset at not going to the amusement stuff, as we had the ocean for amusement and, believe it or not,  cable television!  Back at home, at the time, television consisted of four channels:  16, 22, 28 & 44.  That was it.  The place was big, I was small, and the rest really didn't matter all that much.  It was all just wonderful stuff.

In retrospect, Atlantic City of that era was a dump.  The sounds and sights of decay were everywhere, although at the time we neither noticed nor cared.  Remember, there is a reason why gambling came to Atlantic City...I mean over and above organized crime.

What I have forgotten all of these years later are details about the trip back, how I felt leaving and simiarl stuff.  What remains really are fond memories of experiencing something completely different.  That may be one of the reasons why, to this very day, I truly love going to the beach.  I don't really swim in the ocean all that much, and truth be told I find sand to be annoying.  But just the mention of the word "beach" conjures up memories of Atlantic City, when I was young and the world was both bigger and simpler.

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