Wildwood Daze – Betty Ann – Part 6 – Game of Chance

Wildwood, New Jersey – Spring – 1984

It was great dating, Betty. She was the perfect girlfriend. Smoking hot and not around all the time. We were walking on the boardwalk in Wildwood one night. I just loved strolling with her. Holding her hand. Occasionally glancing over at my gorgeous girlfriend or stealing a sweet kiss.

Betty saw this game of chance that had these beautiful plush stuffed animals all around it that you could win. (Or in the case of most games of chance on the boardwalk, NOT win)

“Oh my god. Look at that big white lion, I bet my little Kelly would love that!”

“Yea, those prizes rock because that game is nearly impossible to win. Look at all those people tossing their dimes onto that board. Now watch how the attendant is literally sweeping piles of dimes off the board. They’re raking in thousands of dollars a night. I’ve won lots of stuff on this boardwalk over the years but that game is nearly impossible. They’re selling hope and crushing disappointment all at the same booth!”

“You’re funny, Chaz. Ready to go back to the motel?”

“That’s a game where we both win, Betty. Let’s go.”

I told my friend Pitchy about her. I’d been friends with him since we were 9 years old. He lived around the corner from me down the shore in the Summer. He has always had an incredibly dry wit. I was explaining to him my current romantic situation. Pitch was never a ladies’ man and liked that I always had something interesting going on. In 1984 he was already married and had a baby on the way.

On the boardwalk, there were many games of chance. Most cost a quarter and you bet on a number on a spinning wheel and if your number came up, you won a prize. I was a pretty lucky guy and won many a T-shirt or record album on the boardwalk. I remember winning Iron Maiden, Killers on a wheel one night out front of Morey’s Pier. I just liked the cover. Turned out to be a magnificent metal record that I loved but most of my friends thought was too fast.

But my buddy Pitchy had an incredible skill. A skill that wasn’t really based on chance. I don’t know when he discovered this ability and I’ve never seen it replicated by anyone else in all of my years on that boardwalk. There was a game called The Dime Pitch. This game had been around for decades. Customers would hand the attendant a dollar or two and would be given the appropriate amount of dimes. Which was cool, because it gave you 10 chances to win for only a buck. The way the game works is this. This huge wooden board is in the middle of the floor of the game booth. People toss their dimes onto the board and try to get their dimes on one of the red dots on the board.

Dime Pitch

Classic Dime Pitch Game - Lets Party

But here’s the thing. There are hundreds of them and a lot of spaces in between. You have to throw your dime and get it to land in the very center of the red dot. Not just on the red dot but there has to be red showing all the way around your dime. You’re throwing dimes at this board from 4 to six feet away. They made a fortune on this game because it looks easy, but is nearly impossible. But here’s the thing, with great risk comes great reward. If by some rare chance you got a dime on the red circle and there was red showing all the way around it, the prizes were massive. Not some small trinket from the lower shelf of junk. I’m talking huge plush stuffed animal that any kid would adore. If you were a guy and won a stuffed animal like that and gave it to your kid, or girlfriend, you would be looked upon as a local legend for the night.

Pitchy was so good at this game, they had to ban him from the game. Not entirely, but they had to limit his time at the board because those giant plush animals were expensive. I kid you not. They would restrict him from the game to maybe once a week. They all knew him up there and understood his power.

They feared him.

He and I were up on the boardwalk one night and we were chatting about his special gift. It had gotten to a point where it was no longer a game of chance for Pitchy. It was a revenue generator. He would go to the first dime pitch game and after about 15 minutes he’d win a giant stuffed animal. He knew which ones were the most popular with the tourists. He’d hand it off to me and I’d start walking up the boardwalk with the great beast under my arm.

Within minutes people would be saying things and complimenting me on my prize. I’d always target guys with women with them. I’d respond with the same statement to everyone. “Wanna buy it?”

“How much?”

“Forty bucks and it’s yours.”

“Seems a little high.”

“You’ll spend twice that trying to win a prize like that for her this vacation.”

In the meantime, Pitchy was already at a different dime pitch game and playing. By the time I sold the stuffed animal he’d be approaching me with another one. We’d sell it too and then he’d give me a cut for doing the sales end of the deal. Then we’d go spend the money on beer and pizza.

This was an ongoing grift we worked all summer. I spoke to him about doing me a favor in regard to his special power. I’m sure you can guess what it was by now.

The next time I went over to Betty’s house to hang out with her. I got out of the car and had a little something under my arm for her to leave in her daughter Kelly’s room.

Amazon.com: American Made Giant Stuffed White Lion 48 Inches Soft Made in The USA America: Toys & Games

“Chaz! Oh my god! How did you? Where did you?”

“Don’t worry about it, Betty. I got a guy.”

On a final note to this chapter. One night I was over at Betty’s house and the babysitter had brought her daughter Kelly home. She immediately made a beeline to her room to go see her big white lion. I had to hide in a closet across the hall until the coast was clear!

Crazy times, man.

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

You can buy my latest book LAWNDALE on Amazon! It’s stories from my childhood, growing up in Northeast Philly in the 60s and 70s. 

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

A Trip to the Shore – Part 3

Wildwood, New Jersey – 2021

Saturday

After witnessing the sunrise, which was glorious and elegant in its simplicity, I went to Russo’s market for breakfast. The business has been there since 1972. Having a little market/deli/sundries shop a block from our shore house was great. It’s one of the few things left in this town that still looks and feels like it did 50 years ago.

I walked to the back to the deli section and ordered my usual, (bacon egg and cheese on a bagel) from one of the girls working there and waited for my order.  I decided to wander around the store to see if it still held the seashore magic it once did. I soon realized that it did.

All kinds of goodies.

A whole aisle for flip-flops.

Monogrammed hats and shirts!

A palm tree full of cool sunglasses.

Little toys and stuff for kids!

Postcards! Classic!

Paperback books and magazines to read at the beach? I’m in heaven!

Balls!

More fun beach toys!

I don’t know if the owners are still present much anymore, but whatever deal they made with whoever runs it now must have included that the store had to look a certain way and carry certain products. My nostalgia meter is going off the charts standing in this store right now!

For the first time since I’ve arrived here, I felt like I was back in the old Wildwood. I’m so glad this store still exists. Sadly, at this point, it’s nearly one of a kind. Just beautiful. This store has always been a class act and a treasure to this island.

I walk back to the deli to wait for my sandwich. I was looking at some of the stuff hanging on the walls back there. One of the photos caught my eye.

This giant memory collage of photos of many of the past employees. But two of the photos caught my eye…

That’s my older sister with her friend Susan from back in the 1970s! She worked there for years and was one of their most beloved employees.

Just below their photo is an old picture of Michelle and Rich Russo, the original owners!

Good times!

I got my sandwich and headed outside. Next to the building, they have a little area where you can sit and eat at a few tables in the shade. I enjoyed my breakfast and although I was surprised at how quiet it was, I contemplated my next move.

I decided to walk up the boardwalk and see what was going on up there. It was still early, so it wasn’t blazing hot out yet. Even if we’re dying from the heat up in Philly, it’s always cooler at the seashore.

I headed up there and there were lots of people around. Many of them were on bikes. I assumed you could ride your bike on the boardwalk until noon. I stuck to the right near the shops and began my journey south on the boardwalk.

It’s still got the original 5 piers full of amusement rides, but they’re all now owned by the Morey family. They used to only own one pier back in the 70s but always invested their earnings back into the pier and later acquired Marine pier which became Mariner’s Landing and then they grabbed the rest of them over the years.

It’s expensive to go on the rides now. Gone are the days when you could buy 5 tickets for a buck and take a ride. Now it’s all about day passes and wristbands and amusement ride/water park passes. I guess they followed the Disney model. I don’t know. Now if a family goes to the boardwalk and wants to play on the amusements they’re going to drop at least $200 before the night is out. I’m not thrilled by this premise, but I’ve never been a huge fan anyway. It’s now just a massive money generator.

I got down as far as the old Fun Pier which used to be trash in the 70s but is now built up and has a classic wooden rollercoaster called The Great White. I kind of wanted to ride that this weekend, but couldn’t figure out how much it would cost for one ride, or when the pier opened.

Now that it’s mid-day, the heat is killing me. July has been brutal this year, even at the shore.  So I turn around and head back.

Living in a city you become accustomed to seeing people dress a certain way all year round. But it’s always a little shocking to see women walking around in bikinis in broad daylight. I know it’s the shore and I’ve seen this every summer back in the day, but it just seems odd to see it now. Someone walking around in the equivalent of underwear in public. But I’m sure if I lived down here, I’d become accustomed to it. As jaded as I am, it still feels a little weird to me from living so long in a city. (Put a shirt on, Miss!)

The heat is killing me and my sister had said if I got tired she’d get in the car and come get me, but I want to press on and get my exercise today. I come upon Sam’s Pizza and I’m instantly pulled in by their tractor beam. (Star Wars reference) I’ve been walking for 3 hours and it’s time to consume some nostalgic slices.

Although Sam’s had legendary pizza back in the day, when I get my order, it seems hollow. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s just not the same. I don’t want to sound like a bitter old man who wants everything exactly like it was back in 1978, but it’s not the same. It doesn’t look or taste the same as it did back in the 70s. I don’t know what they did, but it’s changed. It was also really expensive. New York has the God pies and Philly has a few spots that make slamming pizza that I love. Sadly, Sam’s has become a disappointment as well. I want to love it, but I’m more in love with the memory of what it was and the fun we had there than the taste at this point. I’m trying to find the Wildwood I once loved but most of it’s gone.

At some point, I went to a place that’s up at 8th and New Jersey Aves for food. It was some sort of dog-themed burger joint. It was a little crowded and they only had outdoor seating. At least I was in the shade so I didn’t mind too much. But here’s the thing… I ordered a bacon cheeseburger, fries, and a drink. The burger and the fries were served in dog dishes. Yea… what? The burger was blah and the bacon was bacon bits spread on it. It was awful.

I finally trudged out to Anglesea to the Wawa to buy Juul pods. It was the only place I could find that had them. At least they were cheap, $15 for a pack of 4. Better than Philly even with my local hook-up.

But overall it just doesn’t feel like Wildwood by the Sea anymore.

There are tiny pockets of Wildwood left on this island and don’t get me wrong, it’s nice down here, but it’s changed so much I feel like it’s more like Avalon and Stone Harbor now.

I’m going to continue my quest to see what’s left of my beloved seashore resort.

More tomorrow!

 

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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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Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 6 – Lisa, Janice, a Panda and a Postcard

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1980

I had become prolific at meeting women on the ride and getting dates with them. If it was Tuesday night and I hadn’t met anyone yet, I would think something was wrong.

That’s how crazy and easy it was back then.

One night I met this lovely little blonde from Lebanon PA, named Lisa Hale. I met her on the ride and we decided to hang out after I finished work. I was in a band at the time and loved all things rock and roll. We ended up sitting in the chairs outside her motel room, sipping beers, and smoking cigarettes. She was a sweet girl and I really liked her. The thing I remember most about her was how much she liked music. I was an Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones guy at the time. I told her I liked hard rock and she told me to check out some bands I knew nothing about. She told me to go find some cassettes by bands called Judas Priest, Scorpions, and Def Leppard. I had never heard of any of these bands but on her recommendation, I did go out and buy Judas Priest’s new album, British Steel, and Scorpions, Animal Magnetism. Those two records became my go-to albums for the rest of the summer and began a lifelong love of these bands and all things heavy metal. Thank you, Lisa!

Here’s a photo she gave me. If anybody knows this girl, please tell her I’d love to talk to her and thank her for the rock! Cutie!

One night a pretty blonde caught my eye when she got on the ride. My boss Louie could see I was checking her out and she was smiling at me. He left the seat behind her empty and handed me the flashlight and told me to take a ride through to “check on the ride”. He knew I wanted to chat up this girl. So on the way up the hill to the roof, and through the ride, I got the name of the motel where she was staying and made a beach date with her for the next day.

The next morning I looked up where the hotel was in the local phone book. It was all the way down near Wildwood Crest. Normally I would walk to wherever the women were but that day I had a better idea.

I walked up to New Jersey Avenue at 8th street and hopped on a bus down to the Crest to see her. I never told her that I took the bus and she thought I walked the whole way. She gave me lots of love for making the long trek to see her. (Yea!)

Like the others, she was my weekly girlfriend. I even kept in touch with her and saw her the next summer too!

Here she is. We’re still friends on Facebook.

Janice!

There were girls that would come up and go on the ride all of the time. Some would talk to us and some wouldn’t. We had fans. There were these two girls that would always come on the ride and look at us and giggle. They told us they were older than they were but we knew they were younger. It was really cute. They would come on the ride almost every day. Sometimes during the day and sometimes at night. One of the girl’s names was actually Panda. I am not kidding you. Her last name sounded like the word “bear” but was spelled differently. I had to ask myself, what kind of parents would name their baby daughter Panda? A rare creature? I have no idea!

We called her and her friend out on their ages and they showed us their IDs. The cards stated that the girls were 16 years of age. They still looked questionable though. But Panda was cute as a button.

One night I was going on break and left the pier to go grab a snack on the boardwalk. (Slice at Sam’s Pizza? Probably!) I ran into Panda and she was on her own. We chatted for a bit and she seemed kind of shy. I was 17 by then and I thought it was endearing.

We walked off the boards and I kissed her. She sort of froze in my arms and she blushed and giggled. It just felt a little weird and I told her I had to get back on the ride. I handed her some free passes and went back to work.

Recently, while doing research for this series, I searched for her on Facebook. I found her and checked to see if I could find her date of birth. I did. She was not 16 years old when I gave her a little smooch in 1980.

YIKES!

One night I came into work and one of the guys handed me a postcard. He said some girls left it for me.

That was one of ours because that was a daytime shot of Hunt’s Pier and that was our Whacky Shack!

Of course, I turned it over.

I was surprised and puzzled by this postcard. Who dropped this off, and what did it mean?

And…who’s Gail?

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 1 – History

Before we get into my story with the pier, I thought I’d give you some general history.

Hunt’s Pier was an amusement pier located along the Wildwood, New Jersey, boardwalk from 1957 through 1985. Over its nearly 30 years in operation, Hunt’s was home to many classic dark rides, roller coasters, and other attractions.

Hunt’s Pier dates back to the early 1900s when it was known as Ocean Pier, the first major pier on the boardwalk. Home to ballroom dancing and musical acts, Ocean Pier was purchased by William Hunt in 1935 and converted to an amusement park with rides, including a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and a dark ride.

On Christmas Day 1943, Ocean Pier burned down. Hunt built a new, all-concrete pier in its place. On May 30, 1957, Memorial Day, the revamped Hunt’s Pier opened. The amusement park began with only four rides, though it boasted 10 rides by the time of its grand opening on June 21, 1957.

In 1985 Hunt’s Pier was sold and re-emerged in 1989 as The New Hunt’s Pier, retaining many of the rides operated by the original Hunt’s Pier and adding a steel roller coaster called Kamikaze. In 1988, Conklin Shows bought the pier and renamed it Conko’s Party Pier. This latest incarnation of the pier was short-lived, and by the end of 1992, many of the rides had been disassembled and the New Hunt’s Pier had gone bankrupt. The Kamikaze was sold and currently operates under the name Blue Hawk at Six Flags Over Georgia.

The Cantonoso family, owners of Steel Pier in Atlantic City, bought the defunct pier in 1995. By 1996, the pier had been renamed Dinosaur Beach and had added dinosaur motifs to the classic Golden Nugget Mine Ride, a decision derided by fans as not being in good taste. In addition to a water coaster and an amphitheater, Dinosaur Beach included the first spinning wild mouse, which opened in 1997. The only classic rides operating at Dinosaur Beach were the Golden Nugget, Log Flume, and Rapids, with most of the Hunt’s legacy gone. In 1998 Dinosaur Beach closed, and over the next few years, most of the rides disappeared.

Hunt’s Pier featured many unique rides and attractions, including a classic wooden roller coaster called the Flyer, indoor rides such as Keystone Kops and Whacky Shack, and an outdoor boat ride called Jungleland. For many years, The Golden Nugget had the honor of being the oldest ride on the Wildwood Boardwalk still surviving in its original form and location. The Golden Nugget originally opened in July 1960 on the newly constructed oceanside section of Hunt’s Pier. The Golden Nugget was built three stories high with the top floor designed to imitate a mine car ride through the desert. The classic coaster ride was specially constructed for Hunt’s Pier by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and was engineered by John Allen. It was removed in 2009, and a ceremony commemorating the ride was held in January of that year in anticipation of its removal.

In early 2009, Knoebels’ Amusement Resorts entered into an agreement with Morey’s Piers to acquire the trains, tracks, and ancillary mechanical equipment from the Golden Nugget ride. The equipment was moved to Pennsylvania in early 2009 for a planned reproduction of the Golden Nugget at its Elysburg, Pennsylvania, park. Renamed Black Diamond, it officially opened in October 2011. The original stunts and gags included in the ride were not part of the sale and have been retained by Morey’s Piers for usage elsewhere.

The George Boyer Museum in Wildwood currently houses artifacts from Hunt’s Pier, including Keystone Kops characters and Hunt’s Pier flags. Near Historic Cold Springs Village, Hunt’s abandoned storage and maintenance site still holds signs and parts of former rides, including boats for the Log Flume, trains for the Flyer that is currently under restoration, and letters that were part of the Hunt’s Pier Skyline Golf sign that stood opposite from the pier on top of the Ocean Theater.

The pier is currently owned by Morey’s Piers and is used to house maintenance equipment and the boardwalk tram cars. A grill, beach shop, and Adventure Maze are now on the front of the pier. Morey’s has plans to build a wooden roller coaster that will cross over from the Surfside Pier to the back of Hunt’s Pier.

 

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

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