Property Rites

To me, lawn care and maintenance means hopping on my riding mower and zipping across the yard, then trimming with a weed whacker and blowing the trimmings onto the lawn with a leaf blower.

Yes, I like our yard to look nice, but I don’t consider it a hobby, like stamp collecting or restoring old cars. If nuances to the art exist, I choose to not learn, or even know, about them. I consider lawn and yard care nothing more than routine maintenance, like caulking windows and touching up the trim.

So why is it, I wonder to myself, that half of the people in our neighborhood have apparently traded in their riding mowers for enormous walk-behind mowers, either of the push type, or self-propelled? I just don’t know.

I see some of my neighbors out there every couple of days, cutting their lawns with mowers that could level a football field in three passes. Yet, despite the size of these grass munchers, I’m usually finished before they are, even when I start a little later.

So, when all is said and done, do these neighbors’ lawns look better than ours? For the most part, yes, but I suppose it all depends on what floats your boat, which I find much more interesting than mowing the lawn. We keep our lawn looking nice, but I don’t recall entering a community lawn care contest.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really criticizing these yardvarks, and I’m quite happy that they keep their lawns well-manicured, but the Augusta National would do well to woo some of them away from their current jobs. In the past, I have lived near residents who considered lawn and yard care as options to be carried out once or twice a year, and their properties somewhat lowered the appearance of the entire neighborhood. I wouldn’t care to be a card-carrying member of that particular class.

So, is there a point to all of this? Not really. I’m not even complaining, and I’m definitely not envious. If I were that concerned about our yard, I would hire a professional landscaper. I would simply like to know who is selling the bill of goods for these gigantic lawn mowers, and what makes these machines so special?

Star Search

On the surface, Wildwood appears to be improving with age, but something is missing. Will the big stars ever return?

During my youth, some of the biggest of the big showed up in Wildwood, usually for shows at some of the various clubs. The Rainbow, The Beachcomber, The Surf Club, The Manor Supper Club, and Lou Booth’s were just a few of the places hosting big names during the summer months.

Bill Haley and the Comets sort of started things off by performing “Rock Around the Clock” at the Hof Brau, and half a decade later, Chubby Checker first performed “The Twist” at The Rainbow Club, according to area nostalgia buffs.

Minors generally were not permitted in night clubs, so my star gazing was very limited. I saw Peggy Lee during a poolside interview at the old Carousel Motel. On our way home from the boards one night, my brother, another friend, and I heard some twangy guitar sounds leaking through the cracks at The Beachcomber, and the bouncer allowed us to peek through the door to see Duane Eddy during his performance.

On another warm summer evening bike ride, I noticed my brother and some of our friends hanging out in the parking lot of The Caribbean motel. They told me that Jimmie Rodgers was in a room on the second floor. Uh-oh! Awhile later, his manager came down to tell us that if we gave him some paper, he would take it up and get autographs. He said that Jimmie would come down and speak with us before leaving for his show. Jimmie did come down and talk with us before he and his wife got in the back seat of a black Lincoln Continental convertible to be chauffeured away for his performance.

Okay, so The Beatles never quite made it south of AC, but The McGuire Sisters, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, and many others, made it to the island. Bobby Rydell spent a considerable amount of time in Wildwood through the years, and his song, “Wildwood Days,” is still remembered rather reverently by some of us old-timers.

My uncle wrote for Variety and Billboard, which gave him an inside advantage, so to speak. Frankie Laine showed up on our front porch one evening, and Bruce Davison (who spent some summers just a few blocks away) , of “Willard” fame, called up one day. In the seventies, I remember when my uncle told us about interviewing The Carpenters and David Cassidy when they performed at the old new Convention Hall.

So where has everyone gone? I guess they’ve gone to the bigger venues, like Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and other cities with huge facilities. Yes, Wildwood has a new Convention Center, but at least for the time being, that venue seems relegated to the stars of yesteryear. Fat chance that any big star not named Chubby would ever show up in a place like the old Rainbow these days.

Bored Walk? Uh-uh.

If you can’t sell it on the boardwalk, then it just can’t be sold. For some reason, when people get on the boards, all sense of reason seems to disappear. Hey, let your hair down!I started noticing the phenomena back in the fifties, when people started walking around wearing those huge, ridiculous sunglasses that everyone thought were so funny, especially the people selling them. The huge combs weren’t far behind, nor were the “big name buttons,” and, yes, I admit, I’ve been around since the food stands were pushing brontosaurus burgers.

During the sixties, the laugh of the party on the boardwalk invariably wore a hat with little beer cans around the brim, pretty much lending authenticity to the wearer’s IQ. And someone cleaned up (not literally) by attaching a dog collar to a stiff leash, instantly creating an invisible dog. At least I think they were dogs. Those clever jokesters who bought those leashes played it to the hilt, “walking” their invisible dogs up and down the boards, sometimes struggling to prevent the animal from performing an unseemly act on someone’s shoe. Ha ha… For lack of further imagination, these “dogs” were all the same size, rather small, and their barks sounded suspiciously human-like.

The stuffed animal has survived as a game stand staple, and lest PETA sound an alarm, we’re not talking taxidermy here. Some stands now have bigger and better prizes, but the stuffed species still proliferates. Now there is nothing really wrong with stuffed animals (and other creatures), especially if you’re a young guy with a pretty woman. Okay, you don’t really have to be young – many an older woman still has a place in her heart for a stuffed animal, especially if it was won for her by her man. What boggles my mind is how much someone will actually spend to “win” one of these prizes. Better to just buy a high quality teddy bear from a vendor on my web site (hint, hint). I can guarantee from personal experience that your woman will love it more than flowers, especially if you have it personalized.

But back to the boards. We’ve graduated, I guess you can say. Besides all of the standard boardwalk fare available, the Wildwood Boardwalk now offers tattoos, body piercing, henna tattoos; and you can even buy some more hair, if you find yourself a bit lacking. I have to admit, the tattoo and body piercing parlors really enrich the whole family atmosphere that has always been one of the boardwalk’s strong points.

Cynicism aside, the boardwalk remains a strong attraction for young and old, friends, lovers, and family. Many things have changed through the years, but it still pretty much looks like the same old playground.

For Whom the Toll Tolls

I lived in the south for about twenty years, mostly in Georgia, but also in North Carolina and Arkansas. I also briefly lived part-time in a few other southern states.

Initially, I missed some of the things I was used to in the north, but as I gradually became somewhat “southernized,” and the south became somewhat “northernized,” we eventually reached a fairly comfortable level of agreement with each other.

One of the rarities in the south that I didn’t miss all that much from the north was toll roads. Yes, they’re scarce, (but not non-existent) in the south, and that was nice. I remember paying one toll during two decades there, when we took vacation on Jekyll Island. The Atlanta area put in a new toll road, but it has not been well received.

But Maryland brought me back to northern reality rather quickly, with its then $4.00 (now $5.00) toll on I-95. A few miles further up the road and Delaware socks drivers with a $2.00 toll. On the return, the Delaware Memorial Bridge hits people up for $3.00, and another $2.00 is snatched away shortly after Christiana.

I initially lived in Maryland when I moved back north, and I had to ensure that I carried an extra $12.00 in cash (I carry little cash these days), just to visit my relatives in New Jersey. That quickly drove me to join EZ-Pass, and the convenience is certainly worth it, although quite a few drivers seem to think that it’s still necessary to stop (and probably roll down the window, too) before going through. It’s also frustrating during the summer months to find traffic backed up for miles on I-95, with no way of getting to the EZ-Pass lanes. One time I took the “LAST EXIT BEFORE TOLL” near Havre de Grace, started across the bridge and saw signs stating to “Pay Toll Ahead” in the amount of $5.00! So you take the “Last Exit Before Toll” and still have to pay the same toll! I learned from the locals that you can go to the “Pass” lane and pay $5.00 for a sticker that’s good for one year. Huh?

I never bothered to figure out how much I’ve paid in tolls through the years, what with the Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Turnpike, Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, Delaware Memorial, and other bridges, as well as the various bridges on Ocean Drive, but it must be substantial. I went to Cape May County Vo-Tech for two years, back when it was actually in Cape May, and remember mostly driving out through Rio Grande and taking Route 9, to avoid the then 25-cent toll on the Ocean Drive bridge. Now the bridge is a dollar going toward Cape May, but is free on the return trip to Wildwood Crest. I also commuted for six years to Drexel, in Philadelphia, and paid the Walt Whitman Bridge tolls, although I carpooled for three of those years.

Once upon a time, rumor had it that the Parkway exit tolls would only be in place until the exit was paid for. Some were actually removed after a time, such as the Tilton Road exit in Cardiff. But the toll booths at the Rio Grande exit for traveling to and from Cape May have been hanging around for nearly 40 years.

We traveled up to Maine last year, and every state except New Hampshire (I think they may have since converted) had EZ-Pass.

So my question is this: why are tolls so necessary in the northeast? I thought the state excise taxes on gasoline and tires were supposed to take care of all of that? Sort of like the Lotto, and sales tax, and income tax (none of which existed in NJ before 1965, when they introduced the then 3% sales tax) and the AC casinos were going to take care of everyone’s woes in New Jersey.

But let’s not get into that. Suffice it to say that my property taxes in Woodstown are almost twice what my entire mortgage (including property taxes) was in Georgia. Hey, that makes me sound stupid, doesn’t it?

Wildwood Bye to the Sea

Many people seem worried about the ocean rising until it obliterates much of the shore area and covers Manhattan. I’m more concerned about all of the extra sand the sea dumps on Wildwood year after year. During my childhood, the then old-timers used to tell me that the old Crest Pier used to be on the beach, sometimes at water’s edge. Old photos have verified this

I spent a lot of time at the Crest Pier (the one before the latest reincarnation at the same location), both during the summers and winters. I learned to bowl (sort of) on the long-gone six lanes at the Pier. I say sort of, because I learned to bowl somewhat more properly when the Rio Lanes opened, complete with automatic pin setters and bowling balls all the same size! The lanes at the pier sported regular-sized balls, larger cork balls that barely fit through the stop ring, and duck pin balls. The pin boys usually returned the latter by rolling them down the gutters. Sometimes this resulted in a frantic chase through the folding chairs for a runaway ball. Instead of hand dryers, a volcano-shaped mound of chalk (or maybe it was resin) sat ready at each lane. I also played the many pinball machines and arcade games during the summer, but the winters brought me to the south side of the Pier, where a basketball court with asphalt tile surface and a too-low ceiling was squeezed in between the stage and the west wall. Many of us developed a fairly flat shot back in those days. Old, canvas gymnastic mats sat on the north side, and barbells were on the south side. The stage contained ping pong tables, a shuffleboard, a boxing bag, and a dartboard. Rudy Kita, the Recreation Director, sat at a small table near the front of the stage, his vigilant eye ensuring that we never got too carried away with anything.

We also messed around occasionally beneath the Pier during the summers, playing hide and seek, and cops and robbers. So the pier sat on pilings, maybe four or five feet above street level. But why was it on pilings? It seemed silly, located between Atlantic and Ocean Avenues, on pilings!

So now to my present concern. I spent 20 or so years in the south, without so much as seeing the Wildwood beach during that time, since most of our visits were during the winter months. But then I see this photo on the internet of one of Morey’s latest piers, the one with The Great White roller coaster. My first reaction was that my eyes were deceiving me. That happens to be the former Fun Pier, where I worked, and the old Sky Tower is still standing, but it’s in the middle of the pier instead of at the end. Yes, the pier is much larger now, but that wasn’t what caught my attention. The end of the pier wasn’t even in the water! I could make out the approximate high tide line, and it was nowhere near the Sky Tower location! In 1966, my last year working on the pier, I ran the Tilt-a-Whirl, which sat right next to the tower, and during high tide, waves crashed beneath me!

I find it alarming that Wildwood may someday lose its status as a seashore resort! Will streets eventually crop up on the ocean side of the boardwalk? Don’t laugh, I remember when much of Ocean Avenue was sand dunes, and JFK Boulevard in North Wildwood wasn’t even a thought!

West Wildwood has existed for years, although most of us considered it a bit weird back then. The kids there showed up late for school when flood tides occurred during the right morning hours. But East Wildwood? Imagine the city of East Wildwood, with its beach and boardwalk, and the old city of Wildwood with its boardwalk running through the center of town! The boards could go the way of Pacific Avenue if the city doesn’t soon start a beach removal program.

Wild Weekend Ahead

Wildwood Days 2006 is on its way! Memorial Day Weekend traditionally kicks off the summer season in Wildwood. Although the boardwalk starts opening on weekends around Palm Sunday, and some shops struggle through the weekdays during the spring, almost everything gears up completely on Memorial Day Weekend.

This is the closest thing the Jersey Shore has that’s comparable to Spring Break in other resort towns. If you’re looking for weird, it will be there. For most of the summer season, Wildwood attracts a varied crowd, but the younger generation pretty much owns the first weekend of the season. The traffic starts streaming in on Friday, and continues well past the midnight hour. As if the traffic noise weren’t enough, many revelers hang out car windows and let everyone else know they’ve arrived.

Back in the 60’s, this time marked a transition for me each year. I worked on the boards while in high school and tech school, and it always seemed strange going to school during the day and running rides at night. I never liked the feeling of working in a carnival atmosphere while faced with the reality of breaking the mood by attending school the next day. I wanted total freedom, and I wanted it NOW!

Our schools had a habit of letting out rather late (I remember June 21 one year). Most of my neighborhood Philly friends got out around the end of May or the beginning of June. I really felt as if I was missing something, with them out on the street, and me sitting in the classroom all day.

But the school year always eventually ended, and I was free to begin my annual rite of complete freedom! But when the Fourth of July rolled around a little too quickly for my own comfort, I always began to sense that the days were getting away from me. I never succeeded in slowing down time, and hated the stores that started advertising their “Back to School Specials” in early August. Like, who needed a reminder?

RANT Gripe

The title of this post is redundant, because that’s what this rant is about. Yes, I know, a lot of people will think I just have too much time on my hands, but redundant acronyms drive me crazy!

For anyone who doesn’t already know, “ATM” stands for “Automatic Teller Machine.” It’s an “ATM,” not an “ATM Machine!”

Nor is it a “PIN Number” or “VIN Number.” It’s either a “PIN” or a “VIN,” nothing else! “Personal Identification Number Number” sounds ridiculous, as does a “Vehicle Identification Number Number.”

For those of you who feel compelled to add words to acronyms, please do it properly. If you want to say “AT Machine,” that’s okay, as is “PI Number” and “VI Number.”

Well, gotta go now, because I’m low on cash. Have to run down to the ATM Machine. I hope I can remember my PIN Number.

White Boat Blues

Well, the boating season is pretty much upon us, and we don’t have the boat ready yet.  I took out the old starter on the port engine, but haven’t gotten around to installing the new one yet.  We’re way behind schedule, but once we get the bottom painted, the new starter installed, and the steering fixed, we’ll have ‘er plopped in the water and do the rest of the stuff later. 

We intended to do a lot of work on the boat over the winter, but just never seemed to get around to it.  Can’t blame it on the weather, can we?

Sometimes I long for my old 8-foot pram, 20 feet shorter than our present boat.  Maybe sometime I’ll tell about the time, back in the 60’s, that I took my pram, powered by a 3-horse Evinrude, out in the ocean and around the bell buoy, with two of my nutty  friends. Maybe…

Where is the density really located?

The subject for this blog indicates that posts should be non-political.  I think an exception can be made for local politics, especially concerning happenings on “the island.”  Pretty soon, people will be able to stay in “Ocean City South,” which will be great for those who love Ocean City, but hate the absence of nightclubs.  I have mixed emotions about the evolution of Wildwood from a motel haven to a condo city.  I’m old enough to remember when the motel rage took over in the Crest, and the view at night along Atlantic and Ocean Avenues was somewhat impressive, especially before the motels developed all the wrinkles.  For the most part, the new condos were done tastefully, especially when compared to the old 2-story duplexes in OC.  But now, 24-story buildings will be springing up on the island.  The mayor says that increasing the allowable building area on a lot from 300 sq. ft. to 500 sq. ft. will actually decrease the population density.  What do I know?  I’m only an engineer, but I think I know where the density problem exists.

Sensational 60’s Rock and Roll Show

Well, we were down in my old hometown Saturday night for the 60’s show.  I think the Rip Chords should rehearse a bit more.  The “newest” Crystals looked and sounded great, and The Grass Roots did a wonderful job, even with Rob Grill being a bit out of it.  Peter Noone, however, put on a fantastic show, and had complete control of the audience from the moment he walked on stage.  We left after a song-and-a-half or so by Mickey Dolenz, who seemed to think he could upstage PN for some reason.  Comments?