“Nobody ever says, “Remember that Spring?”
But people do say… “Remember that Summer?” – Chaz
Wildwood, New Jersey – 1980
One night we were all working. It was early, maybe 6 pm. Each shift was from 5 pm until 11 pm when the pier closed. As one of the cars came in full of people and they exited the ride, someone left a camera on the ride. Danny brought it to me, and I remembered the guy and his family. I was like, “Wait…there he is over there with his wife and kids. I’ll run over and give him back his camera.” But then an idea came to mind. I went over to Louie and told him what was up and handed him the camera. He gathered the whole staff together on the platform and took a photo of all of us guys with the man’s lost camera. He handed it back to me and I ran down the ramp and tapped the man on the shoulder. “You left this on the ride, sir.” The gentleman was very grateful and relieved.
It was one of those jokes you do where you’ll never see the outcome, but you know when he gets home from vacation and gets his photos developed, he’ll find a mysterious photo of the whole Golden Nugget team among his pictures! Great idea, right?
When the pier closed at 11 pm, they always put up a big wooden fence to close off the area. There were guards and dogs always present at night to protect their assets. But the fence was in large sections and each piece was really heavy. After working all night on our feet and taking care of thousands of tourists, the last thing we wanted to do was carry big sections of fence and set it all up each night. So all the flunkies (as Louie called them) who worked all the rides up at the front of the pier were the first ones called upon to help put up the fence. We at the Nugget and the Log Flume would take our good old time closing our rides and walking up to the front of the pier to help. I can honestly say I have maybe only helped with one small section of fence on only three occasions. We were the elite weasels on that pier.
One of the amazing benefits of working for the Hunt’s Corporation was that they also owned every movie theater on the island. So as a perk for being an employee, each Saturday night at midnight, they would have a private screening of one of the latest movies playing in the theaters.
It was awesome. You’d finish your shift at 11 pm, and then had an hour to get something to eat, hit the liquor store to buy some beer, and then head over to one of the theaters and watch a movie with your coworkers. It was glorious. The cool thing was, you could bring a guest. So I could bring my buddy Wolfie with me and we could check out a cool new movie for free. (And drink beer!) But most of the time if one of the guys and I had met some girls that night on the ride, we’d take them to the movies with us. That was fantastic. Free movie with a new girl. Unless it was something we didn’t want to see, we would go every week all summer long. (Even back then, 40 years ago I was providing the hookup to the ladies in my life!)
Seeing The Empire Strikes Back in an empty theater with just my buddies with me was an unforgettable experience. The film as we all know was a long-awaited blockbuster and seeing it for free for the first time was amazing. I remember taking my buddy Wolfie with me to see the film, Airplane! And at the time it was the funniest film I had ever seen. It’s still in my top five of the funniest most creative and madcap movies I’ve ever seen. The Cannonball Run also comes to mind as one of the more memorable films we saw that summer. Just great times!
I even got my friend Pitchy a job up on Hunt’s working at the Log Flume. He was my summertime best friend who lived around the corner from my house. He and I had been friends since the early ’70s and had a rich history of summers together. He had worked as a stock boy at a local grocery store at 9th and Ocean avenue and was looking to do something different for the summer. I got him a job on the pier. He liked working on the flume and got along with all of the guys over there. One night he started chatting up a really cute little Italian girl from South Philly and later made a date with her. A few years later they kept in touch and he eventually married her and they have three great grown kids now. Met his wife on the Log Flume!
I remember it was the 4th of July weekend which is an enormous time at the shore. The island is packed with tourists and the boardwalk is mobbed every night. I went on my break and walked over to the snack bar across from our ride and got a soft pretzel and a fountain coke. I went back to the Nugget and went in the back and up the fire escape to the top floor of the ride. The ride was obviously going non-stop so you had to be careful up there navigating the tracks so you didn’t get run over and killed by the ride. On the roof, (you’ll see in some of the attached videos) had several dead man’s gulch attractions on it. Tombstones, skeletons, prospectors, etc. There actually was a replica of a gallows up there. I climbed the rickety wooden ladder up to the top of it and had a seat at the hangman’s pole.
There it is. Three stories above the boardwalk. 100 feet up from the beach.
The mine cars full of tourists would actually pass under it. So, I parked myself up there and munched my pretzel, and sipped my soda. The view was incredible and I suddenly felt an incredible level of exhilaration sitting up there. Here I was on the roof of a three-story dark ride I once rode terrified with my father and sisters. I lit a cigarette and looked out at the entire sea of people below me. The pier was packed with people, and that flowed out onto the boardwalk that was in full swing. Amusement rides going, people screaming, laughing, and filled with joy. Happy to be at the seashore and away from the heat of the city and work. They were all on vacation and having the times of their lives here in Wildwood.
The smell of french fries, caramel popcorn, funnel cake, cotton candy, and pizza filled the air. The sights and sounds of summer. I sat under the stars and watched as fireworks exploded in the sky in the distance.
I knew in this perfect moment that I was in the most pristine place in my life. I sat atop my castle as the self-proclaimed King of Wildwood. Finished with high school, tan, fit, clear skin, healthy, and immaculate. My painful past barely visible now. I had game and could talk to girls and they liked me enough to date and kiss me. I was in a rock and roll band, and didn’t have to be anywhere I didn’t want to be. The island and this ride were mine.
But I could feel as I finished my cigarette I wouldn’t come up here again.
This moment would vanish and never return.
Like a child’s balloon that had escaped their grasp. You watch as it rises higher and higher into the night sky. But you’ll never get it back.
All you can do is make a wish…
The sax solo in this song (4:00 minute mark) by the late, great, Clarence Clemmons, and Bruce’s howl at the end of the song is about as close as I can get to what my heart felt like on any given summer night in Wildwood.
But, even as I write these words, I feel I just can’t do justice to those summers at the seashore.
You had to be there.
I’ve lived and worked in many places throughout my life. But I still say to this day, working at Hunt’s Pier on the Golden Nugget Mine Ride was The Greatest Job I Ever Had.
This is sort of what it sounded like to be on the boardwalk in Wildwood.
Here are a link and some videos I found to give you an idea of what the Golden Nugget Mine Ride was like:
This series is not over yet. There’s more to come every Thursday through July.
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