Friday, January 18, 2008

January at the Jersey Shore

I started working on my book in April 2007. Sure, I'd been doing research at home since January, but my on-the-ground work started when the temperatures started to heat up, and spring brought tourists back to the South Jersey shore.

But, as far as I can remember, I'd never been down the shore in the absolute dead of winter. I had no idea what to expect except cold.

My first stop was in Ocean City for a meeting with Michele Gillian, Communications Manager for Ocean City. I've made this drive so many times that I actually missed the Ocean City exit and wound up in Sea Isle and had to turn around and head back north via Ocean Drive. Most of the summer hot spots were closed -- the OD in Sea Isle looked downright sad (though they will be open for St. Patrick's Day it seems). But once I got to around 13th street along Asbury Avenue in Ocean City, I found life -- both people and businesses. It's easy to forget that people live in Ocean City, and they still need to go out for breakfast, go shopping, and go about their daily lives as if they were living near downtown Collingswood, which is active all year long (I know -- I live two blocks away from that one).

I worked with Michele throughout the summer -- she sent me pictures to be used in the book, and information about Ocean City events (there's about 150 in all). Plus, she's a real shore gal. She grew up in Margate, her mom was a Miss America chaperon, and she married into the Gillian family e.g. the folks behind Wonderland Pier and then some.

We talked about what I do, what she does, and how we might be able to promote the book together. She's the one who suggested that I do my first signing on May 3 at the Ocean City block party, and when I walked over to Sun Rose Words and Music with that suggestion, they were game. One email to my publisher, and that was set (I'm also going to be a judge at Ocean City's Miss Crustian beauty padgent -- BIG HONOR!) Then I stopped at Java Jake's to get something warm to drink (and asked if the guy behind the counter was Jake, figuring the owner would work the drinks in the winter -- and, yes, it was Jake), checked my email, and then stopped in Colette Boutique to ooo and ahhh at the sparkly dresses before heading south down Ocean Drive.

Most of the street traffic and people traffic were those involved in construction -- either renovating buildings or building new ones. The Avalon Wawa parking lot was packed with pick up trucks, and the shop filled with a lot of guys in overalls.

I stopped and had lunch at the Princeton in Avalon and was shocked to see both Circle Pizza and the Real Enchilada -- two spots that are known as post-bar stops -- open and doing business. Even Brian's Waffle House was open. I don't think of Avalon as a year round town, but someone's got to feed all the folks working for a living. I had to stop and take the picture to the left before I drove south -- check out the last line.

I didn't get down to Cape May until about 2pm, and my 'call time' was at 3pm. I had just enough time to check into Congress Hall and flop on the big, comfy white bed. My only regret of my entire trip was that I could only stay one night. I could have bunkered down in that big, beautiful room for a week. Instead of napping, though, I hooked up my laptop, sat in a squishy red chair and answered some emails with the ocean right outside my window before putting on 'photo shoot makeup' which, for me translates into 'regular makeup' since I don't usually wear any.

And after my freezing trip to the top of the Cape May Lighthouse, which you can read about here, and a walk on the beach, I did the same (e.g. worked) before drinks at the Brown Room and dinner at the Blue Pig Tavern -- both within Congress Hall, no coat required.

I'm going to write a longer piece about Congress Hall in the future, but if you can't wait for that, check out Tommy's Folly: Through Fires, Hurricanes and War, the Story of Congress Hall, Cape May, America's Oldest Seaside Hotel, the book about the building that was written by Jack Wright, the guy who took my picture yesterday. Fascinating stuff.

Then yesterday, after sleeping in, I had to hunt down breakfast -- not an easy task in the middle of the week. Dock Mike's was open, and after a big, fat breakfast, I soaked in the tub in my Congress Hall room, cleaned up and did a bit of shopping in Cape May. Washington Street Mall is torn up right now, and they couldn't pick a better time. The town was pretty sleepy, and not many shoppers are out on the street. I headed up to Antique Emporium to check out the vendor that sells vintage t-shirts and picked up one for Sea Isle and Atlantic City (my goal is to have one vintage tee for every shore town in my book -- if you have any suggestions, let me know!). Then it was back up the Garden State Parkway and to the 'real world.'

I understand now why people choose to live at the shore year round. I could have stayed longer, that's for sure, and I bet I'd get a lot more writing done when surrounded by that tranquility. Maybe I'd feel different if I actually tried it, though.

Even though the towns were quiet in the middle of this week, expect more people for the the Martin Luthur King Jr. weekend. Most closed shops posted signs saying they'd be open this weekend. I'll be at home, writing, so enjoy!

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Trish Ryan said...

You're judging Miss Crustacean??? Really, it doesn't get much bigger than that :) Congrats on an exciting day.

John|Arcara{Photography} said...

hey jen,
great stuff
we are cape mayniacs over here in red bank!!!

wheatgrind said...

Hey Jen,

The shore can be fun on a sunny winter day. So can the OC boardwalk. It's interesting walking into a fudge shop in your winter coat, hat and gloves.


wheatgrind said...

Hey Jen,

OC is a nice little trip in the winter. Been there before up on the boardwalk around New Year's. Lot's of stuff open. It's different walking into a fudge shop in a winter coat and gloves.


mikela said...

hello! i love cape may, so of course i was excited to read this blog :) it's so exciting to meet people who love cape may as much as i do.

Anonymous said...

You seemed to think Avalon as a town pepole do not live in, you could not be more wrong. It would not have its own grade school if people did not live there. Sea Isle and Stone Harbor also have grade schools also.

Albert said...


Do you have any recommendations for a place to stay on the shore in January for a week of studying prior to some important tests?

Just want a place close to the ocean for a nice walk during breaks from studying. A suite with a kitchenette would be ideal or even a nice B&B. Just so I don't have to eat out for all my meals.


Jen A. Miller said...

Albert -

Your best bet would be to call a realtor in the town you'd like - they will know who rents out over the winter (not everyone does).

Also, is a fantastic resource for this. Good luck!