Wildwood Daze – Botto’s and the Office

North Wildwood, New Jersey – Late 1970s

Botto’s

One of our favorite hangouts growing up at the shore was the beloved Botto’s Arcade at 10th and Surf Avenue. It was 2 blocks from our house and was a meeting place for the local kids.

In the first half of the decade, it was a small market full of food staples, sundries, and beach stuff. It’s where we used to go to buy our kites and string. But because Russo’s Market at 9th and Ocean was such a juggernaut and go-to spot they sort of ran Joe Botto out of business. Just geographic competition. Botto, a retired Philly cop, was never happy about that, but shifted gears and turned it into an arcade much to the joy of the neighborhood youth.

Botto’s had everything we needed for an enjoyable afternoon or evening as an alternative to the beach and boardwalk. A phonebooth outside in case you had to drop a dime and make a call, and a soda machine full of ice-cold beverages stood out front. Joe’s wife normally worked during the day, giving out change for the machines inside and operating the bike rental part of the business.

The place was small, but just the right size for us kids. A regulation-sized, slate pool table in the center of the room, and a thunderous jukebox packed with 45’s of all the hits of the day parked against the front wall near the entrance. (It played A and B sides! This way, I could listen to Walk this Way and Uncle Salty!)

All around the perimeter of the room were pinball machines and video games. My favorite pinball machine, Flash was where I spent most of my time and quarters. They had some of the greats… Eight Ball Deluxe, Gorgar, Wizard, Playboy, El Dorado, and Joker Poker, to name a few.

But, they had all the classic video games of the day in there too. Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Super Breakout, and Asteroids.

Botto’s was a place where teenagers could hang out, play games, chat, flirt, shoot pool, drink soda and smoke cigarettes. The owners were cool, and there was never any trouble there. I’ve spent many a rainy day or health night in that arcade. The phrase “health night” came from my mother. She used to say to me, “You’re out every night! Take a health night!”

You never knew who you might run into while you were there, but it was always a solid meeting spot to hang and make plans for where you may be heading afterward. It was surrounded by motels so even though its core audience was kids from the neighborhood, they always got a few tourists in there as well.

Across the street was a place called Golf City. It was pretty much a waste of valuable real estate that was home to a miniature gold course. Fun for the little kids and they had a small arcade as well, but overall it was lame.

Botto’s was the cool kid’s place. I spent many wonderful times in Botto’s in my youth, but sadly it’s now long gone. What stands in its place now is an ice cream stand.

All that’s left to remind me of the original Botto’s in the brick face and the door and windows. So picture this place without the A-roof, the awning, the sign, the benches, the lights, and the rest of anything pink.

What’s left would be a pretty boring-looking spot. But, none of that was important. Botto’s was about what was inside. The people, the music, the games, and the laughter.

The Office

That’s not what it was called. It was a little game room on the third floor of The Flying Dutchman Motel.

Right there on the southwest corner of the 3rd floor!

The photo I used at the beginning of this post is the motel before they added the 3rd floor. But that’s what The Flying Dutchman looked like in the 70s.

We knew the owners and they were cool with us going up there to smoke cigarettes and spend our quarters on their vending machines in their game room.

The reason we called this little spot The Office, is because we used it not only as a place to hang out and play but to have meetings. If there was some local drama going down or some stories to be told, this was the place it all took place.

I remember trying to tell my older sister some convoluted story about some things that had gone down on Morey’s Pier or some other crazy news from the neighborhood one day. She was trying to understand what we planned to do about this matter and I simply said: “Office…now.”

We liked it because it was high up off the street. We had a view and also liked the games they had in there. Just two pinball machines and an old 1972 Pong machine. There’s a link I provided, but it was so basic it may have been the first video game ever invented. But a fun game! Pinball was still king, but video games were getting better with every coming season.

The biggest difference between this place and Botto’s was, this spot was quieter and more private. You could hang up there, sit at the card table they had set up in there, and just chat. It didn’t have the number of games and music that Botto’s had, but this was our spot. Most of all, it was unsupervised.

This is probably one of the most important aspects of this little game room.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Pinball machines are designed so that you can’t rock them around too much or they’ll “Tilt.” What that means is, if you shake the machine too much or lift it up to slow the ball down or anything else to upset the machine while the ball is in play, it’ll light up, TILT, and the unit goes off and your ball drains down the hole. You’re done for being too rough with the unit and most of all trying to cheat.

But kids are creative, cunning, learning machines. You know that if the adults come up with some solution to thwart our fun or sustained play, we’ll probably work to come up with a solution to beat it.

So while the machine was on, we’d have one kid gently lift the lower front up off its legs and stack quarters under the legs, one or two at a time. This would flatten the play area on the board but not enough to TILT the machine. We’d get that baby up as high as possible. This would slow down the gameplay and go virtually unnoticed if someone walked in.

By applying this simple remedy, the game would be easier, you’d get a higher score and rack up more free games. That was the main goal. Free games! 

This also assisted with the legendary, “Back from the Dead.” What this meant was if you were in the middle of a game and the ball somehow got past your flippers, and towards the hole… if it was moving fast enough to bounce back out of the hole and back into play, it was always deemed a miracle, which was met with cheers from any onlookers. The ball literally came back from th dead!

So, we did that all the time up there.

Sometimes I would just go up there on my own and play pinball. I just wanted a little time alone to think and reflect on my life living at the seashore all summer. It was a brilliant and unforgettable few chapters from my young life.

Braces off, skin clear, and finally emerging from puberty!

Here’s a pic of me in 1978 on the 3rd-floor sun deck of The Flying Dutchman. The Office wasn’t just for pinball. It was also a great opportunity for me to meet the vacationing talent.

Pictured: Me with Ann and Gina Dougherty on the roof deck of the Flying Dutchman Motel -1978

Yea… tough times for Chaz in Wildwood!

If you liked this story, you’ll love my next book, Down The Shore, coming to a bookstore near you Memorial Day, 2023!

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

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

Wildwood Daze – The Dolphin Restaurant – Part 2

North Wildwood, New Jersey – Summer, 1978

The girl I worked with was named Therese. (Pronounced: Terez, which makes it so much sexier and exotic) But Therese was just a nice girl who like myself had been moved to this island as a teenager. She told me she was originally from DC and went to Wildwood Catholic High School. She was 16 and I was 15 at the time. I’d be forced to move to the island the very next year, but that’s another story.

Therese said she was miserable and lonely when she first moved to Wildwood. The place was a resort and it was literally a ghost town in the winter. She said that the kids were mean to her and she described her experience in Wildwood Catholic as being like a scared little animal.

But Therese was absolutely beautiful. What made her lovely to me wasn’t just her lovely smile, sparkling eyes, and world-class legs… she had a sweet disposition. She was one of those girls who’s hot but doesn’t know it. Just a really nice, moral person. I loved her and I think she was my first “#1 most beloved”.

I knew she had a boyfriend. Some “Joe College Type” who was tall and good-looking named John. She was taken and there was no way I could compete with an 18-year-old guy on his way to university in August. It was like pitting a boy against a man. An unwinnable war.

But I was just happy to work beside her in the restaurant every day. After the morning rush, we’d clean up the dining room and start doing our side work. They were little maintenance chores we all had to do to prepare for the next shift. I would always blaze through mine early so I could help Therese. Sometimes I would even do her side work for her without her knowing. So when the time came for her to have to do it, I had already completed it for her and she could just leave.

I remember once I had taken care of some arduous task for her that she didn’t want to do. She rewarded me with a peck on my cheek. I blushed and felt like my head was going to explode. I was so smitten!

She knew I was crazy about her and instead of it being weird, she was always sweet to me. It was so obvious. She was like my queen. I understood what Eddie the dishwasher was experiencing with his feelings for hot Sue across the street. The unattainable goddesses we desire but can never have. We just scuttle along washing our dishes and carrying our bus pans like the rodents we are.

“So sorry to hear about John getting into that boating accident.” I would say to Therese.

“What?”

“Oh… right. That’s not until next week.”

Even back then I had a twisted sense of humor. But Therese would just laugh knowing I secretly wanted her boyfriend out of the way, so I could be the king to her queen. (So diabolical!)

I knew John was leaving for college and Therese was sad her boyfriend was leaving. I was relieved that this obstacle was being extracted from the equation and maybe I could make some sort of move. It was risky, but even at 16 years old I knew fortune favored the bold. What would my idol Dave Bradley do? I needed to talk to him tomorrow on the beach.

“Just walk up to her when she’s on her own in the dining room near the end of the night and ask her out.”

“That’s it? No special instructions or any kind of move?”

“Just have a plan, my friend. Don’t just ask her out, have something you want to do with her. Think it through. Nail down a time and a day. You’ll be fine.”

“Umm… okay, Dave.”

The next night it was around 8 pm and we were cleaning up the dining room after getting run over by tourists. I went over to one of Therese’s tables as she was picking up the check and her tip. I loaded the dirty plates into my bus pan.

“Hey… Crazy night, right?”

“Yea. My feet are killing me. I’ve been running around here all night like crazy!”

“Umm… (I smiled as I looked upon her beauty. My heart thumping in my chest and my stomach doing flip flops) Therese, would you like to go to the movies with me the next time we’re both off?”

She paused, then smiled. “Sure, Chaz. What do you want to see?”

I was stunned. This was actually working. Don’t blow it… “I was thinking Animal House. I heard it’s hilarious.”

“Oh, yea. Me too. I wanna see Animal House. I’m off on Thursday, would that work?”

This was too easy! “Yea… I’m off too. I’ll get the showtimes and we’ll figure it out this week.”

“Great. It’ll be fun. Thanks for asking me.”

I smiled and went back to cleaning. I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I stared at the reflection of the young man who would be taking Therese Freeman on an actual date. This was a watershed moment. These sorts of things didn’t happen to guys like me. Or did they? I had been on a couple of dates last summer. I had navigated these treacherous waters before. She was just a girl I worked with. No reason to be nervous. Just a couple of coworkers checking out a funny film together. No big deal.

But no… this was a big deal. This was my queen. The woman I loved. The unattainable was nearly in my grasp. I needed to play it cool and not screw anything up before Thursday. I could hardly think over the sound of Aerosmith’s song, Back in the Saddle blasting in my head as the dopamine splashed all over my euphoric brain. This was the big time. A date with Therese Freeman. Dave Bradley would be proud, and his lecherous brother Chickie would be jealous.

Welcome to the NFL, Chaz!

The next night we worked the same shift again. I had already looked up the movie times in the newspaper and knew exactly where and when we were going to see this movie. “Planning is everything”, as my father used to say. We coordinated the time and Therese wrote down her phone number and address on a slip of paper.

Just having that data in my hands was worth a fortune to me. Things were definitely happening in my life! Everything was getting better. I just needed to survive this date with Therese and not screw it up.

Later, I was in the kitchen emptying my bus pan and Chickie Bradley was there doing the dishes. Therese walked in and dropped off some plates from one of her tables. Chickie immediately hit on her. (The filthy animal!)

“Hey, yo… Therese, we should uh… you know… go out some time.”

My heart sank with rage and despair. Chickie Bradley could get any woman. He was a rake and had a reputation for closing deals. He probably had so many notches in his bedpost that it was whittled away completely!

Therese smiled and spoke. “I wouldn’t go out with you if you were the last man on earth, Chickie Bradley.”

She glanced over at me, gave me a knowing grin, and left the kitchen.

As the big wooden doors to the dining room swung back behind her I could feel Chickie’s spirit exit his body. I was in my glory. I’m indestructible now. A real player in the game of life. New confidence and power coursed through my veins. This was a fantastic moment in my young life. Say hello to the new king, Chickie Bradley! Take that!

Thursday arrived and I was terrified. My anxiety was off the charts. This wasn’t just a date to the movies with a coworker. This was Therese Freeman. A date with the queen. I was a nervous wreck. I had the power and the nerve to ask these girls out, but my anxiety would be tearing me apart before the event. It was absolutely as horrible. The pain equaled the joy I had felt the other night when she said yes.

It just didn’t seem fair. Why was I like this? I wanted to go out on dates with girls but was always in a terrible state leading up to it. Little did I know, this would go on for years and years. Anxiety and depression are the worst. An unexplainable fear and sadness you carry around with you. Where your friends and family are happy and excited to do things, you are crushed with blackened fear that squeezes your heart to near paralysis.

It was so bad, that my family actually had a little acronym for me. They used to call me The ARM. That stood for Anxiety Ridden Mess. Isn’t that lovely?

Thanks, family. YOU’RE NOT HELPING!!!!

Acute anxiety disorder. How do you overcome it? I’ll tell you how. Without drugs or medicine. You’re born this way, and you literally have to keep walking toward the things you fear the most. You have to do this over and over for maybe decades. Most people aren’t willing to do this, nor do they possess the inner strength to carry out this incredible burden. You have to rewire your brain to keep walking towards that which you fear. After a while, you realize you’re not going to throw up or die from going into the unknown.

If you’re willing to do that, you’ll succeed and not only overcome it, you’ll realize something wonderful. After all of those years of being afraid and sad, you’ve become stronger in spirit than most. You’ve spent years overcompensating for those fears. You’re more charming and cool around people because you’ve been performing like that for years. You then become an even better version of yourself than you ever realized.

People will call your charm a gift of gab, or a special way with people. No. Quite the contrary. You simply practiced for years to mentally overcome your disability. I did it, and you can too.

Back to the story…

I remember lying in the bathtub in our upstairs bathroom before the date. I thought maybe a nice cool bath would calm my shattered nerves. The clock ticked away the minutes ever faster as the deadline approached when I’d have to leave the house and pick up Therese.

This is an awful feeling. Why did I even bother asking her out? This is too much for me to handle. I’m out of my element!

I pulled myself out of the tub and got ready. I want to do this. I asked for it and she said yes, so this is definitely happening. I did everything I could to calm my mind but to no avail.

I remember my dad handing me some extra cash in case I wanted to buy her ice cream on the way home from the movie. Dad comes through in the clutch again!

I walked up our street west on 8th street. I walked past the ball fields. I lingered there for a few minutes to gather my courage. I figured if I had to throw up, now would be the time. I remember one of my friends later told me they saw me milling about there and I appeared to be talking to myself. (Yea, it was that nuts.)

I get to 5th and New Jersey Ave. and approach her house. I look down and carved into the pavement is her name in the concrete. It even had the two little accents over the vowels and everything. Of course, her name should be carved in stone forever. She’s Therese!

I step onto the porch and tap on the screen door. It starts to get a little fuzzy here. I don’t remember meeting any parents. Maybe her family was out or something. But I do remember Therese just chilling in her living room in a lovely blouse and a pair of white slacks. She looked awesome. I had only seen her in her waitress uniform. Here she was. All ready to go on a date to the movies with Chaz.

I don’t remember what we talked about on the walk to the theater. Probably work and general stuff about our friends and families. I was too terrified to be on record mode during that trip. I think Animal House was playing all the way down at the Shore Twin which was on Atlantic Avenue, west of Marine Pier. (Later, Mariners Landing)

I still have half of the ticket from that night. I even wrote her name on it and kept it to memorialize the event.

The film was great. Animal House is one of the funniest comedies ever made. The late, great John Belushi is brilliant in the role of Bluto Blutarsky. This movie solidified his stardom.

Therese laughed a lot and I knew this was a good choice. I always later told my friends who lacked experience with dating to always pick a movie. I would tell them that it was two hours you get to spend with her and you don’t have to talk or seem interesting. You let the movie make the night great and fun. If she’s having a good time at the movies, then she’ll associate you with fun and exciting feelings. It’s just science, folks.

I had a wonderful time that evening and so did Therese. I was happy to just spend time with her and be close to a girl I really liked. She was the sweetest thing. I walked her up to her doorstep and sealed the evening with a kiss.

I probably skipped all the way home that night. My older sister was there and asked me how the evening went. I gave her the thumbs up and was happy I survived it. She knew I was nervous about it and was worried about me.

It was pretty great to be the only guy that got a date with Therese after her boyfriend went off to college. I think being brave and a gentleman goes a long way. Women just know.

I didn’t really see Therese after that summer. I moved on to a job at Hunt’s Pier. We did stay in touch a little though. I still have her letters. She went into the medical field. Of course, someone as sweet as Therese would have a job where she helps people.

I ran into her once back in the 1990s in Stone Harbor, NJ. I was staying at my wife’s family’s shore house up in Avalon. I was standing out on 96th Street while my wife was in some shop.

I just suddenly saw Therese standing there like an apparition from my past. It had been over 15 years since I’d seen her. My heart leaped at the sight of her. She still looked smoking hot.

I said her name and she turned. It was an amazing moment. After all of this time, here she was. We chatted a bit and caught up.

Thoughts of the gift shop suddenly bursting into flames and my wife dying in the fire and Therese having to comfort me with my sudden loss came to mind… but only for a second. (Oh, stop it… I’m kidding!)

I noticed she had a little brace on her arm near her wrist. I asked her what had happened and she told me she had rheumatoid arthritis. I found this heartbreaking but told her my mother suffered from the very same thing. I thought, how can there be a god when this kind of stuff happens to perfectly wonderful people? It’s not fair.

It was great seeing her and I couldn’t wait to tell my family who I had run into in Stone Harbor that day. They all knew I adored Therese since the 70s.

I haven’t seen her since, but at least we’re friends on social media!

I’m so glad I have all of these great memories to wrap myself up in and share with you. Thanks for reading this. I really enjoyed writing about the restaurant and of course my queen!

Thanks for saying yes that day in 1978 and going on a date with me. It meant the world to me.

I will always love you, Therese!

Here’s a pic of Therese I found on Facebook. It was taken around 2012.

A stunning beauty!

On a final note, I earned around $500 that summer. I was becoming a serious self-taught musician and decided to make an investment. You can see what that was here.

Want to learn more about RA? Go here: https://www.aiarthritis.org/

or here: https://www.facebook.com/IFAiArthritis

or here: https://www.facebook.com/TerezFreemanHumphrey/?ref=page_internal

If you liked this story, you’ll love my next book, Down The Shore, coming to a bookstore near you Memorial Day, 2023!

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

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

Wildwood Daze – The Dolphin Restaurant – Part 1

North Wildwood, New Jersey – Summer, 1978

I was turning 16 years old that summer. I had had great success working as a pool boy the summer before at the El Morro Motel. But I wanted to do something else. So working as a busboy at the Dolphin Restaurant seemed like a good progression. There was a small salary plus tips and free meals so it just made sense.

Now that I think back on my time as a pool boy at the El Morro Motel, I was earning a flat $40 a week. But I worked 7 days a week from 7 am till noon. Then I had to go back every night at 7 pm and bring the cushions in from all of the lounge chairs around the pool. So I roughly worked over 35 plus hours a week there for $40. That’s like a dollar an hour! (As Napoleon Dynamite would say)

It wasn’t a bad job at the Dolphin because I normally worked days and some nights, but the night shift was from around 4 pm until 7 or 8 pm. It would be busy in the morning for breakfast, then quiet down around lunchtime. Everybody would be at the beach so the place was dead from 1 pm until 5 pm.

Then it would pick up again as families and groups came in to grab dinner before heading off to the boardwalk for the evening.

The owners were a nice Greek couple. Bill and Lanie. Bill ran the line in the kitchen and Lanie was the hostess and cashier out front. The Greeks are brilliant people. They start these restaurants, work their butts off and bring their whole family over to work. The Dolphin was also in a great location. Close to the beach and surrounded by motels. So there was always plenty of foot traffic from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

This was the sign on the roof of the restaurant. How cool is that? A life-sized dolphin that rotated on the sign. A creative, retro artifact. That had to be expensive to design and construct. That’s pride, baby.

Here’s the actual feature restored to its original glory. (Photo courtesy of the Wildwood Historical Society)

The job was easy. I liked the people I worked with. The waitresses were all nice and so were the setup girls. Waitresses were normally around 16 or 17, and set up girls and busboys were 14 and 15 years old.

We had a great time working together. We liked and hated all the same things working in a restaurant. Especially when a huge family would roll in and had kids. The dreaded high chairs for babies. We all knew there’d be plenty of food to clean up off the floor! But for the most part it was a fun and lively place to work.

I remember when I turned 16 that summer the girls had a little party for me and got me Supertramp’s latest album, Breakfast in America. Which seemed fitting based on our vocation and the image on the album cover.

Breakfast in America - Wikipedia

I just realized something for the first time. The image is the view from the window of a plane. The waitress represents the Statue of Liberty and the table in the background is New York.

How did I miss this back in 1978? I guess I was too busy listening to my Aerosmith albums!

Anyway, it was nice to have a job where I was surrounded by other people. When I was a pool boy I was an army of one. It was just me working as the entire maintenance crew for the motel.

But now there was a whole cast of characters I worked with every day. There were all the macho Greek guys working as cooks in the steaming hot kitchen, the ladies working in the dining room, and the wait staff.

One afternoon I was walking across the parking lot about to enter through the back door. We all went inside that way. You’d go in, turn right into this little room and find an apron to wear for the night.

Standing outside in the parking lot, leaning against the wall was one of the Greek cooks. I forget his name. Just picture a tan, swarthy-looking, Mediterranean guy with a head full of black curls and a bushy mustache.

He was smoking a really fat joint. He sees me and offers me a toke. He says: “Smoke pot? Here…” and points the joint at me. Not wanting to appear to be the wimp I was, I took it from his fingers and hit it. Just one hit. That was it. I thanked him and went inside. Mission accomplished. I’ve paid the gatekeeper and showed him I’m cool too.

It didn’t hit me until I sat down at the middle table with all of the rest of the wait staff before our shift was to begin. We would all hang there and Lanie would go over any last-minute specials and whatever else we needed to know.

I had this stupid grin on my face and all of the girls instantly picked up on it. They were all laughing at me, and I couldn’t believe that it was instantly apparent I was high. I did my best to hide it from Lanie so she wouldn’t send me home for illegal drug use. During my shift, I confided in one of the other busboys named Grover. He was an older friend of the family but a cool dude. He said he had gotten high once before work and it made him feel like everyone in the restaurant was staring at him.

Since he said that to me, I now thought the very same thing. He had implanted a fresh paranoid thought in my hallucinogenic head. I looked around and everybody WAS staring at me. (They weren’t but I thought they were. They were just glancing over at me because I was part of the staff. But in my stoned brain I thought they were staring and knew I was baked!)

I spent most of the night giggling my way through my shift.

“Why you so silly tonight, Charlie?” Lanie asked in her broken accent.

“I… I don’t know. I just guess… I’m just a silly guy sometimes.”

Totally lame response, but I managed to get through my shift.

Lanie had a sister or a cousin that came to work there for a period of time. She spoke zero English and was sometimes really annoying to be around because no one could understand what she was saying. It was really frustrating. So one night when she was getting on my nerves… anything she would say to me, I would respond with a big smile and say a bunch of nonsense to her. It helped pass the night and I sort of liked that I could say whatever I wanted to her without any repercussions from the owners. I just kept smiling and bussing my tables.

There was usually a rotating cast of clowns that worked as dishwashers. Most notable was this guy named Eddie. He was the classic loser. The guy who resembled something out of a 1950s teen drama. The stained T-shirt, the slicked-back hair. The punk who always wanted to run with the cool guys and outlaws, but was always caught by the cops because he was too dumb to pull off any kind of heist. He had the worst job in the restaurant and the one that took the least skill and finesse, but he seemed happy enough doing his job. Sadly, he was socially inept and everyone just sort of tolerated his presence.

One day he starts going on about this girl he’s in love with. He describes her as the most beautiful girl on the island, and he’s going to make her his girlfriend. We had no idea who he was talking about. We figured he made her up! Also, in a town like Wildwood in the summer, how could anyone make such an assumption? The island was teeming with beautiful women!

But one day he reveals that she’s the ice cream girl from across the street at a shop called The Corner Store.  So we decide to see what’s up. Turns out she’s the eldest daughter of the owner of the Corner Store. Her mother used to work at the Provident National Bank in Philly back in the 70s with my father. I didn’t know any of this at the time, but Eddie was right. Her daughter Susan was a spectacular beauty. Dark tan, tawny hair like Farrah Fawcett and piercing blue eyes. Drop-dead gorgeous but unassuming. She was probably simply doing her job and was cordial to Eddie and he instantly fell in love with her. But I get it…

I had designs on one of the waitresses that I worked with at the Dolphin. Back then and for many years after that, I put women on a pedestal. Actually, I put certain people on pedestals for no reason other than I thought they were awesome. I think it was tied to my low self-esteem. I was just happy to be in the presence of the cool and the beautiful.

There was this guy who would work there sometimes as a dishwasher at night named Chickie Bradley. He was cute but all the girls knew he was a womanizing devil. He had an older brother named Dave who was super cool though. Dave ran an umbrella stand on the beach at 5th street. Dave was cool because he had his own apartment for the summer and would let me and my friend hang out at his umbrella stand with him. He was probably 18 years old at the time so he was basically a man and light years ahead of me in terms of any sort of masculine powers.

I would stop over his apartment and he would put on The Rolling Stones latest album, Some Girls and that’s what really got me into the Stones. He’d always offer me a cold bottle of Miller and I felt like such a big shot just to be in the same room with Dave. He was just so cool. But a nice guy who would let younger guys like me hang out. I knew I couldn’t go on his nocturnal adventures with him because I was too young, but it was just nice to hang.

He once told me that his landlord was talking about throwing him and his brother Chickie out of the apartment they were staying in for the summer. When I asked him why he said that the neighbors were complaining that it looked like they were running some kind of brothel out of the apartment.

I thought this was amazing. Just knowing a guy that could have so many girls and get them to come over all the time. This was beyond my imagination. I barely had the courage to even talk to most girls to try to get a date. But these guys were apparently lotharios that could just pull in the ladies with their wit and charm.

I remember Dave had some sort of problem with his larynx. It gave him this low hoarse voice. But that made him even cooler. When I would appear before him, he’d always say:

“Hello. my friend.” In that dark voice.

Dave was my idol.

A super cool dude, whose cousin I would later date 7 years later. But that’s another story. (Don’t worry. I’ll get to them all!)

However, there was this one special girl with whom I worked at the Dolphin that I found especially appealing.

To be continued tomorrow…

If you liked this story, you’ll love my next book, Down The Shore, coming to a bookstore near you Memorial Day, 2023!

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

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 1

Philadelphia, PA – July 2021

Thursday

My old friend Wolfie texted me that he was going down to Wildwood to attend a family event. He asked me if I wanted a ride down there. He said He’d swing by Philly and pick me up and then we’d head down. He wasn’t coming back home to where he lives until Tuesday so I figured that could work. I texted my sister who was already down there at her house to check with her.

She said the upstairs was free from other guests and that I was welcome. I figured I hadn’t been on vacation in years so I told her I’d be down for a few days. I had been writing my butt off for two months straight on commercial gigs and needed a break.

Wolfie said he’d be down late Thursday after he visited with his daughter who was leaving to join the Navy. So I figured I had time to pack that afternoon. But he texted me around 2 pm that he was done seeing her and that he was headed to me. I leaped up from my desk and grabbed a bag. I stuffed it with as many items as I could think of for a 4-day vacation. I hadn’t been away in a long time and kept a checklist on my phone just in case, but it suddenly became crunch time.

He showed up in no time and within less than 20 minutes he was in front of my house. I tossed my stuff on the backseat of his car and off we went. I was stupid happy to see my friend and former bandmate of 40 years.

It was a sunny warm day and lately, it’s been a pretty hot summer so far. We decided once we got over the bridge we were going to take the back way to the shore. Most people take the Atlantic City Expressway to the Garden State Parkway to get down there. I prefer the back way. It’s a more scenic route and you can stop off anytime you like to do whatever.

The first stop was to grab some lunch. We pulled off the road to a little roadside burger joint called the Purple Penguin. I love places like this because it reminds me of my times back in the early 80s when I’d take road trips in my old van. And of course on the road to California back in ’82. I love the road. Just that endless black ribbon under that massive blue sky. There’s something liberating about being in a car on a warm day and traveling to places unknown.

Wolfie tells me that he’s been on a healthy diet so he goes with a wrap and of course, I go with a big ol’ cheeseburger and fries.

It’s a hot day and the only place to escape the July sun is at a picnic table under an umbrella, which is just fine. After about 20 minutes we’re back on the road again. I wanted to do something for my sister as a little thank you for letting me come down and hang out for a few days at the shore, so I ask Wolfie if we can stop again if we see a roadside nursery.

We do in a short while and he grinds the car into the dirt lot out front. There’s an array of plants and flowers everywhere, and I’m sure I’ll find something to bring my sister. I figured a plant was better than flowers because flowers die. But Wold pointed out that maybe it’s good that flowers die because it’s a nice gesture, but then they die. A plant sort of forces the recipient with a new responsibility to care for the living thing you just gifted them. Point taken, but I’m sticking with the plant for now as a present.

I found this lovely plant with pink flowers. I’m sure she’ll like it. We hop back in the car and make our way towards Wildwood.

We did get a little turned around for a moment but I told him, if we just keep heading south we can’t get lost. Because New Jersey just keeps getting slimmer the further south you go. No matter what happens, if we head south we’ll hit the shore!

We end up on route 9, and we’re right on track. It doesn’t take us to get to the shore after that. It was a great moment for me to be riding in a car with one of my oldest friends as we drove over the bridge and onto the island. It was like… we’re back!

We get to the house and pull up on the carport. My sister comes out to greet us and I’m really happy to see her. I whip out the flowery plant, but then notice she has not one, but two of the exact type of plants hanging from the porch. (You can see those beauties in the photo at the top of this post!) They are so much bigger and more beautiful than my little “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” plant! We get a good laugh about it and she likes the plant anyway.

Wolfie comes into the house and is amazed at how my sister has remodeled the old shore house. She took what was once lovely in the ’70s to a clean, white modern version of what a shore house should look like. Truly elegant! She did an amazing job bringing the property into the21st century.

They chat a bit and I stay quiet because I’ve been chatting with Wolfie for the last two and half hours. My sister hasn’t seen him since our parent’s funeral and I wanted to give them a chance to catch up.

Wolfie always liked my dad. Everybody did. He was a cool guy to all of my friends. They all thought he was an amazing dude.

After a bit, Wolf had to get to where he needed to go. The reason for his trip to the shore was to meet up with his family for a social event. Someone was having a baby and there was to be a shower. He wouldn’t be attending that in particular but there would be many relatives there so he wanted to see them all. We hoped we could meet up over the weekend and hang out a bit if possible.

More tomorrow!

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

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

Hunt’s Pier – Epilogue

Philadelphia, PA – 2021

The reason I’ve struggled with writing this story is that it can’t really be written. It has to be felt. To be lived.  It was just a summer job on the boardwalk in wildwood. But it was something else. We did the same job over and over every night. It was us on the ride, and the people lined up and boarded the ride and we sent them up. That’s it. Over and over again. A sea of faces. Thousands of happy smiling faces night after night. Non-stop. We keep loading them in and they keep coming back for more. They’re on vacation. We’re there to serve them entertainment. Welcome to the show, I’m Chaz and I’ll be your host. It’s a circus. A carnival. A place where the freaks run the rides and you enjoy the show.

But it’s more than that. We sell happiness. Joy. Excitement. Thrills. Anticipation. The list goes on and on. What job have you ever had in your life where you can deliver that to your clients every single day? That’s the only product we make and our customers can’t live without it.

I’ve never ever had a job like that again. I can name every job I’ve ever had and none of them will be any of the things I just mentioned. That’s why many of the people who work there never leave.

There are worse vocations in this world.

It’s as if we worked in a place that existed in another world. A sea of joy and happy faces. Of children giggling and laughing and having the time of their lives. we’re the hosts bringing them fond memories. The type of memories they carry with them forever. The old memories. The ancient senses developed in our species millions of years ago. 

The excitement in the air crackles around you with your every move along that boardwalk. The music that fills the air whether it’s something on the radio or the crashing symphony of the calliope from the merry-go-round. That merry-go-round that you only get to ride once in this world.

One time around. Maybe you catch the brass ring, maybe you don’t. Maybe you rode all the way home on that mighty steed or maybe you didn’t. Maybe you fell off the horse a few times but you had a good time doing it. You get one ride in this life and we all have to make it. Make yours count. Maybe not for yourself but for someone else in this life.

 

Can you smell it? Is that Curly fries, or is it the sweet fragrance of a fresh funnel cake? When you bite that soft pretzel and the mustard drips on your polo shirt, and your wife pulls out a tissue to clean you up. She and the kids are so happy you’ve got a job where they can take a vacation for a week at the seashore. To play with the kids on the beach and swim in the sea, and see things you never imagined come to life. The stroll on that boardwalk, where you stuff your head with delicious pizza from Sam’s or Mack’s. 

I’m here to help. I will facilitate your joy, sir. We all will. And we’ll deliver you a show you won’t soon forget every night. That game you played. That teddy bear you won. We’re here to deliver.

But all the while we’re loving our very existence. Really living. The sun shines above our young heads. Our skin browns in the sun and our hair turns a lovely flaxen color. We feel it too. You’re here for a week or two. But we’re here every day. We get to live this life for two months every summer.

And when the shadows grow long in the autumn twilight, you’ll remember us. Because we’ll always be with you in your memories. A place that can’t be seen or touched, but you can feel it. You can smell and taste the memory. That first bite from your favorite burger spot. That first kiss of that person you just met on the beach today or this very boardwalk. The possibilities that can happen. It’s all yours. But only for a week. I get to do this every day.

It’s my life.

For now.

But one day I will join you in your world. But, we’ll all be able to look inward and feel that bit of magic in our hearts that came to life when we were young. That place that you loved that you can never revisit. 

Only in your dreams and memories.

Other people have written about Wildwood. I’ve read what they’ve written and it’s been simple documentation of what the place was like. But not how it felt. That’s what I’ve tried to describe here.

You don’t know it if you didn’t really live it. My sisters and I really lived it.

Every summer in Wildwood was different. The weather was the same and some of the things stayed the same but that was the beautiful constant.

It was always Summer there. Eternal. I only felt its dark side when I spent my first winter there. That was when the spell was broken. But only for a while. Every summer we spent there we changed. Because we were growing up. It’s not like now when another year goes by and you’re feeling the same as last year. We were growing. We were growing up. From little children to teenagers to adults. You spent your winters in Philly and went to school in the cold and waited for the bus. But in the summer you returned to a magical paradise with days filled with sunshine and joy. Only joy. You can never get that back. Those formative years are fleeting, and once they’re gone… they’re gone forever. 

I finished writing this series after a long time. I covered everything but I knew something was missing. I scheduled it and put the finishing touches on my work because it was done. I would only return to it in a month to do final edits.

But one night I was sitting in my room watching my show, and it kept gnawing at me. Something was missing from the long series. That’s when I stopped watching TV and opened a new doc and started pounding out these words. This may not even be enough. But maybe it’ll be enough for now.

The carnival. The amusement park. The sweet sea air as it blows in warm from the beach onto the crowd as they laugh and sing through the night.

The more I wrote the more I realized it’s almost something that can’t be written about. It can’t be documented. It’s a feeling. You can write what you saw and what you did, but it’s not the same.

You have to remember the feeling. 

A dear friend once told me, “It’s not what you said or what you did. It’s how you made them feel.” 

Thanks to everyone that follows my blog and also to everybody who dug it from Facebook and Instagram. I reconnected with some old friends from these posts, so it was totally worth it.

A book about my youth in Wildwood entitled, Down the Shore will publish in 2023.

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 10 – End of an Era

Philadelphia, PA to Wildwood, NJ – 2009

I awakened in my apartment in Philadelphia with my girlfriend Allison. We had been together for over a year and had moved in together. Christmas was over and it was the end of January.

We got some breakfast, hopped in my car, and drove to Wildwood on that bitter cold January morning. January 30th to be exact.

After the hour and a half drive, we parked on Schellinger Avenue in Wildwood. We bundled up and headed for the boardwalk. Being from Delaware, I don’t think Michelle had ever gone to Wildwood in the summer growing up. 

We trudged up the ramp that led to the boardwalk and a flood of memories came back to me. We stepped onto Hunt’s Pier. It no longer looked like it did back in its heyday. Granted, it was winter and the pier was shut down until summer, but it was a stark model of a once-thriving, living entity. 

The angry cold sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky as we met up with my sister near the back of the pier near what was once a place I described as the greatest job I ever had. It was an emotional day. Nearly 2000 people had gathered to witness the event.

We had long lines of people waiting to get on the ride back in the day, but I wasn’t expecting this.

People gathered in front of, and on the old platform where I held so many rich memories. As I stood looking upon my paragon, I felt like an anachronism. 

The proclamation from the City of Wildwood that officially declared January 30th “Golden Nugget Day” cited the estimated 1.7 million adventure-seekers who enjoyed the landmark over its nearly four decades of operation.

The iconic centerpiece of Hunt’s Pier, the Golden Nugget Mine Ride was a hybrid dark ride/steel roller coaster attraction that changed the landscape of the Jersey Shore’s amusement scene when it debuted in the Spring of 1960.

Designed by John C. Allen of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and produced in conjunction with the renowned outfit and the skilled Hunt’s staff (led by general manager Vince Kostek), the Nugget evolved into a bona fide landmark over time.

It would thrive during the “Oceanic Wonderland” and Wildwood’s glory years of the 60s and 70s, then survive through several post-Hunt’s incarnations and a dinosaur-theme adoption, running for the final time in 1999.

Its impressive frame, built to resemble a western mountain with a mining outpost and shafts built-in, was hollowed out to accommodate a farewell ceremony hosted by the Morey Organization on Saturday, January 31, 2009.

A sad day indeed.

The weathered structure was demolished shortly after. Its track system and trains were acquired by Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA, where its legacy lives on in the form of the Black Diamond.

 

Things in this life come and go. Friends, family, and loved ones appear in our lives and eventually, our time here is scattered by the sad wings of destiny.

Hunt’s Pier.

Twilight is upon it now.

Night will fall, and with it… The Golden Nugget Mine Ride.

It seems fitting…

Slipping into oblivion to the lilt of rippling waves.

All that remains are the memories of what once was. It’s really all we have as people. Memories we can wrap ourselves in for the rest of our lives.

But sometimes, you’ll hear that familiar cry of a lone seagull… and as those memories return…

You smile.

 

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

If you think this is over, it’s not. I have one more thing to say next week.

Wildwood Daze – Maritime Fun – Part 2

Philadelphia, PA – 1976

My father was a Vice President at the Provident National Bank in center city. In his time with the bank, he had risen up the ranks and had made dozens of friends and contacts. My dad was a charming and effervescent guy. Everybody liked him. He was the “cool” dad to my friends. A guy who shot from the hip and not afraid to tell it like it was. I think my mom and I would disagree with some of that.

He had a diverse set of friends and acquaintances around Philly. One of his friends was this rich lawyer who drove a Rolls Royce. He’d get drunk and stay in the city at his apartment at The Drake. He’d tell my dad to take his Rolls for the night and bring it back to him the next day. I remember getting driven to school in a Rolls Royce one morning and it was like sitting in my living room.

This lawyer guy was a total maniac. One night he was hit by a drunk driver in the Rolls. The drunk guy who hit him was killed instantly in the crash, and the Rolls was the only thing that saved my dad’s friend’s life. They took him to the hospital, and while he was waiting to go in to get checked out, he bummed a cigarette off of somebody in the lobby. (You could smoke anywhere, anytime back in the 70s!) As the man is puffing away on the cig, he notices that smoke is coming out of the side of his shirt. In the accident, his lung had been punctured and the smoke was leaking from his wound. The man told the doctors not to put him under anesthetic. Just sew him up while he was fully awake. He said, “If you put me under, I’ll die.”

Yea, this dude was a wildman. He would be speeding down the Garden State Parkway with my dad in his Rolls, and my father would warn him to watch his speed. The guy would simply say, “Let the cops mail me the ticket.”

Lunatic.

But this story is about another friend of my father’s. He owned/managed a restaurant that my dad and his friends would frequent in the city. It was called Davinci’s. My father became friends with the man, and they’d chat at length. We’ll call him Steve, and leave it at that.

He loved hearing about my dad’s place at the seashore, the sweet sea air, and the sheer bliss of having a shore house. Steve wanted this for his family.

Steve had a hot wife who was a slender redhead with an unforgettable bustline. His eldest daughter Jaime was a slightly curvier version of her mother who was blessed with the same assets. He also had an adorable younger daughter Stacy, who was a delightful, hip kid despite her young age.

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1977

So, Steve decides to buy a shore house right around the corner from us on 9th street. It was nice hanging out on the beach with this family. Steve was a charming guy. Picture Lou Ferrigno but without the speech impediment. His wife Jackie was a lovely woman who became fast friends with my mother.

My friends and I, being 15-year-old boys, were instantly enthralled in the presence of daughter Jaime. She exuded raw sexuality and aloofness which fascinated us. (In hindsight, I think it was just that body) Jaime wanted nothing to do with twerps like us. She was already dating older dudes.

Here’s a photo I found of me and hot Jaime.

This is what we’re dealing with. That girl is only a year older than me. She’s built like a woman and I look like a twink next to her. What made things worse for us guys was, she and her friend Debbie would go out into the ocean up to their necks. They would then proceed to remove their tops and swing them around their heads. We were like… “Are they trying to make our brains explode?”

My bathing suit was wet when this photo was taken, but there was endless ribbing from my friends about how it looked like I was “sportin’ one” because I was standing next to her.

Here’s another shot of me with Jamie and Carol. (Sandy’s older sister from the previous chapter)

The struggle was real.

Sigh… I need to move on.

Their house was nothing like ours because they were obviously wealthy. I remember seeing a french phone on a fancy table in their house. Who has a $100 phone in their seashore house in the 70s?

French Crystal Telephone | French Phones at NoveltyTelephone.com

We just assumed they were loaded. They owned a restaurant in Philly. They must be rich. We don’t know anything.

One day, we’re all on the beach and Steve tells my dad that he’s acquired a little boat. (Like the one in the photo above) He’s determined to firmly ensconced himself into seaside living. Apparently, he had won the boat in a card game in Philly. That’s some high stakes, I thought. (I think the boat was worth $12k) He told my father that he could use it any time he wanted.

It was a cool little boat to have access to. My father of course got me a little book to read about boating. I like how before my dad took on anything new he tried to learn all he could about it. He passed that good trait onto me. I read the book cover to cover. I knew starboard from port, and bow to aft. I also knew that if the tide was going out that you had to give the boat that was traveling with the tide the ‘right of way’. All of these things are as important as rules that apply to the road when you’re driving a car.

I remember the boat being up on its trailer in our yard for a period of time. Somehow it was my job to scrub the barnacles off the bottom of the hull and paint it with a special blue paint to keep them from getting back on there.

I also studied the steering mechanism of the boat and rewired the whole thing with fresh cable to fix the steering. That was my contribution to our new shared toy.

Before we ever left the dock my father would always make his presence known with someone on staff. He would tell them where we were going and how long we expected to be out. Safety first!

On the property of the marina was this goose named Thor. He was like the watchdog of the whole place. I had seen him on several occasions squawk and chase hapless mariners around the property. Head down, wings out, at a full angry run.

We’d take the boat out and dad taught me how to drive it. It wasn’t like the boat I had previously ridden in. This had a steering wheel and a throttle. (Way cooler!) You’d get it out in the bay and gun the throttle up, and the nose of the boat would rise up as the boat went faster. I still had much fear about the ocean and water in general, but I really enjoyed driving the little speedboat around.

Once my dad took my sister and me out of the bay and across the channel into the ocean. We were across from second and JFK Blvd at the northern point of the isle. Once we crossed the channel, (which I was told had been dredged to 40 feet deep so the bigger boats could travel through it!) he drove us out to a huge sandbar 100 yards offshore. This amazed me at the time. One always thinks that the farther you go out into the ocean the deeper the water becomes. This is true, unless there’s a sandbar.

He beached the boat and tossed out the anchor. So we were far from the shore and standing on dry land because the tide was low. It was like being on a small desolate island offshore from Wildwood. My mother had packed us all lunches and we had a little picnic out there that afternoon. Everything always tastes better at the shore!

Dad would get his fishing rod out and cast a few times back into the channel. Normally, if there is a sand bar, the bigger fish hang out at the edge of it, waiting for the little fish to come across the sand bar as the tide rolls in.  As they reach the deep water they get eaten by the bigger fish. My dad was hoping to get one of those fish to fall for his lure.

I walked on the sandbar away from shore. It’s so cool because if you walk east you would think the water would suddenly get deeper and you’d go into the sea. But I could walk really far out into the ocean and it only remained a foot or so deep. It was weird to be so far offshore and only be in water up to your knees for 50 yards. But of course, the idea of all of this went against all of my instincts and I didn’t stay out there long. That coupled with my active imagination. I had remembered reading that most shark attacks against humans occurred in less than three feet of water. So I was pretty sure, even though I was in shallow water, I was really far from the shore. I was positive there were tons of big sharks out there just waiting to kill and eat me there. So, I quickly got back to the safety of the sandbar and my dad.

We had some good times out in that little boat. I have another story about our fishing exploits on that boat in another post.

The tide would start coming in and we’d head back to the marina. We took care of that boat like it was our own. But that’s how our parents raised us. You clean up after yourself and you take good care of things that don’t belong to you.

However, this wasn’t the case with Steve’s family. His daughter Jaime and one of her boyfriends would go out in the boat on occasion. We’d find trash in the boat and things in just general disarray onboard when we’d go to use it.

I remember finding a bottle of men’s aftershave stowed under the dashboard of the boat once. I was looking for something when I came upon it.

“Hey, dad. Now we don’t have to worry if the boat sinks.”

“Why not, son?”

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“Because we can just hop into this!”

I don’t think my dad really liked having to share the boat with Jamie and her friends, but it was Steve’s boat, and she was his daughter, so there was little we could do.

I was once sitting on the beach with my next-door neighbor. We were just minding our own business and chilling on the banket. Jaime’s boyfriend comes rolling up to us. He was this big, tanned, buffed-out dude named Rocky. We used to refer to him as “Rocky Berufi” because it just seemed to fit him. (Happy Days TV show reference) He was just a big meathead.

So he comes over and says: “Where’s Jaime?!”

“We don’t know. Isn’t it your job to watch her?” (Me, always the wise guy)

This response only serves to infuriate the brute even further. He grabs our little bag of pepperidge farm goldfish crackers and proceeds to crush it in his hand, turning the contents to dust.

This is like being in a cartoon. Are we supposed to be afraid of this guy?

“Where is she?”

“We really haven’t seen her, Rocky.”

And off he goes down the beach looking for her. I’m sure Jaime was probably out somewhere with a new suitor. We got a fit of laughing after his dramatic exit.

At some point, Steve started giving me $5 a week. He told me that if it ever rained, I was to promise to go out to the marina and bail the water out of the boat. Back then, I was happy to have the free cash and it seemed like an easy gig.  But I was young and busy with my life at the shore. Things slip your mind when you’re a teenager. Too many distractions!

I also wondered if he has the disposable income to pass on to me, why doesn’t he simply invest in a tarp to cover the boat?

Well, one day it really rained hard and I totally forgot to go check on the boat.

It flooded and sank to the bottom of the bay.

He came over to our house and gave me an earful. I was sure that I was in deep trouble. But the gods were smiling upon me that day. My father snapped at him for going behind his back and giving his son money to bail out his boat instead of buying a tarp.

All was forgiven, but we really didn’t use the boat much after that.

I really liked that family. They were really fun people to be around. Much different than my family. My favorite memory of Steve was when their dog once ran away during a thunderstorm. They were from Philly, so the dog probably spent its life in a nice apartment in a building in center city. But at the shore the weather was wild, and thunderstorms on the cape could be intense.

So, their dog panics and gets out of the house, and takes off. I’ll never forget that night. Hours passed and Steve came back into the house after looking for the lost dog. He was soaking wet and quite agitated, but happy he had located his lost dog in the storm.

But here’s the thing. It wasn’t his lost dog. It didn’t even look like his dog. It had short hair and was obviously an older stray.

“Steve… I don’t think that’s your dog. Your dog had longer fur than that dog has.”

“What kind of sicko steals another man’s dog and shaves his fur off to make him look different?!”

“Yea… I think it might be time to lay off the coke, dude.”

The family only kept their shore house for a few seasons before they sold it and didn’t return to the shore again.

But with every encounter in life, a story is born.

 

 

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

Wildwood Daze – Maritime Fun – Part 1

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1975

One summer day my family were all at the beach together. This wasn’t uncommon, especially on the weekends. My dad was off from work, and we’d all make our mandatory pilgrimage to the sea. Everybody had their job. Each member had to carry a different object. My job was carrying my father’s binoculars. I loved those field glasses. You could just see so far on the beach. If something was happening you could see it before anybody. Those binoculars were so powerful. I always hoped I’d witness a shark attack.

My father was frolicking in the surf with one or more of my sisters when he noticed another girl playing and swimming in the water by herself. Somehow a conversation ensued and introductions were made. She was the same age as my older sister. Her name was Sandy, and her folks had a house about four blocks west of our house up above 8th and New Jersey Avenue.

Sandy was sort of a plain teenager. She was from Warrington, PA, and seemed like a simple country girl. A kind of naive chick that appeared to lead a sheltered life. She had an older sister named Carol, who was tall and beautiful. Odd thing was they appeared to come from humble beginnings. Sandy wore the same bathing suit every day and I think her sister Carol only owned one yellow bikini. They both seemed nice, but maybe they were poor.

We eventually met their parents and that was quite the contrary. They were wealthy and misers. My parents did everything they could for us kids. Sandy’s parents were sort of wrapped up in their own lives and did little for their daughters. Bordering on neglect. They were pretty basic, simple people that saved their pennies, and lived an itinerate life of church and faith. Sort of the opposite of my parents.

Sandy’s dad seemed nice enough and volunteered to take my father and I out in his boat. It wasn’t a ship or anything. It was more like a skiff.

Even though I didn’t really like deep water and could hardly swim, he said we’d just cruise around the bay and do a little fishing. I knew the backwater was calm so I wouldn’t lose my mind or get sick with fear. Unlike an incident a few years earlier.

https://atomic-temporary-111921946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/11/24/the-big-flamingo/

So my older sister had a new friend, and they seemed like nice people. I’d get some time out on the man’s boat with my dad, and everybody wins.

Now, I don’t know if this incident happened the first time we ever went out on his boat or on a subsequent mission. But I’ll tell the story as I remember it.

We would drive with the man in his jeep back to 5th and the bay. There was a big parking lot there, and a concrete ramp where you could launch small boats. He would have the boat on a trailer, and back his jeep down the ramp to the water’s edge. Then he’d get out and crank a handle that would slowly launch the boat into the water while it was tethered to a rope. Once in the water, My dad and I would hold onto it. The rope would be untied from the boat and the man would pull away in the jeep. He’d park it and the trailer, and return to join us. We’d all hop in it and he’d start the motor and off we’d go. There were plenty of men and boys out there and it was a pretty simple process.

It was fun to cruise around in his little boat, and sometimes he’d let me steer it. You just sat in the back of the boat and held the tiller on the motor and went from there. If you turned it in your hand the boat went faster. (Sort of like the throttle on a motorcycle.)

After a few hours out on the bay, and much slathering of mosquito repellant, we’d return to the ramp to bring the boat back.

On this particular day, he suggested I stay in the boat while they pulled it up onto the trailer on the ramp behind his jeep. I don’t remember why. Maybe I had to pull the motor up out of the water so the skeg wouldn’t hit the concrete.  So, he and my dad haul the boat up onto the trailer and I’m assuming we’re good to go.

He gets in the jeep and starts to pull up the hill to get back into the parking lot. But he forgot to tie the boat to the trailer. The boat proceeds to slide off the trailer backward with me in it. All I remember is a sudden, jarring, BANG! as the fiberglass hull struck the concrete. I held on for dear life. I was shaken but more surprised than afraid.

The man and my father jump out of the jeep to grab the rope as the boat begins to slip back into the bay. They pull it up and I clamber from the boat. There was no way I was staying in there anymore. I needed to put my feet on land again.

My dad flips out on the guy. I was actually surprised by how angry my father was at this error. I was okay, it was just a careless mistake. But he laid into him about what had happened. I realized it wasn’t about the mistake, it was more about his son being in the boat when it happened.

That was the last time we ever went out in his boat. My parents even cooled to Sandy and Carol’s parents in general. It just wasn’t a match. I think what tore it for me was the neglect of their teenage daughters. Oh, that and I heard the guy’s wife once refer to African Americans as “Darkies.”

I’m done.

But my sister remained friends with Sandy and her sister. They were both really nice girls despite their naivety.

But my short history with boating was just beginning. There would be another boat that would come into our lives. That, and a brand new cast of characters that would join us on the sandy stage of Wildwood in the summertime.

More tomorrow!

 

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 8 – Living The Dream

“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.

Hunt's Pier At Night | "Watch the tram car please!" 1970s Po… | Brian | Flickr

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:

http://www.funchase.com/Images/GoldenNugget/GoldenNugget.htm

This series is not over yet. There’s more to come every Thursday through July.

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 7 – Secret Admirer

Wildwood, New Jersey – Summer – 1980

As I walked up the ramp to the boardwalk, to make the short walk in the golden late afternoon sun down to Hunt’s Pier. I thought about how different my life was now. I had come so far from the world I lived in back in Fel’s Junior High.

Can you imagine being equal to the Golem in Lord of the Rings? That’s how I felt in Junior High School. It was a terrible place for me to go every day. Everything was against me. My face, my mind, my body, my parents, my sisters, the faculty, the kids, the bullies at school, and everywhere around me. I was a thing I didn’t understand. I only knew a small part of how I worked. Just basic functions. I was a disaster.

All of the ways I could describe myself back then. Greasy hair, pimples all over my face, chest, and back. No athletic ability. Bad grades. braces. glasses. weird clothes. I should have just put a potato sack over my head and spray painted a target on it because that’s what I was. An easy target for scorn and cruelty. I brought nothing to the table. I felt like an absolute failure in the house of my life, and I had no keys to any of the locks that held the doors to everything I wanted. I wanted it so much, but none of it was for people like me.

Ugly. A failure as a person already. Not even 14 and I hate my life and who I am already. Everything is wrong with me.

I remember this pretty girl in my art class I liked. I didn’t know how to talk to her, or what to say. She was making some lam picture and kept hitting the paper with a crayon. I asked her about her work.

“Why do you have so many dots on that?”

“Why do you have so many zits on your face?”

How could a child be that cruel to another one? I didn’t even know her. I was just a slug, a nothing, scuttling along through the hallways of this prison. This act of cruelty had to have somehow been learned. How could a girl that pretty have such ugly things come out of her mouth?

She was beautiful, but ugly on the inside, already. I was ugly on the outside but I would never hurt anyone like that. But that was back in 1977.

It was now 1980.

I graduated from Wildwood High with second honors after spending my senior year in a strange school in a dark cold town that I was dropped off in by my father. Ripped from Frankford High, a school I liked with teachers and kids I could connect with. I was a singer in a rock band in Philly. But now I was a guitarist in a band here in Wildwood. I was left here to squirm and perish, but I thrived. How about that?

Anxiety? Depression? Stranger in a strange land? Wildwood in the winter? Awful. But we all adjusted and made the best of it. I know I made the best of it. I conquered Wildwood.

I was no longer the 14-year-old mess. But I’ll never forget him. He has his place in my past, but I’m no longer chained to him.

Pictured: Vince Kostek

I remember coming onto the pier one night at the beginning of my shift and Vince the manager handed me an envelope.

“Hey. This came for you today, handsome.”

“What’s this?”

“It’s a letter addressed to you, and based on that lipstick kiss on the back I’m assuming it’s from some young lady.”

“Umm… okay, thanks.”

“Are you having your fan mail sent to the pier now, Sport?”

I later read that letter and made the connection to the postcard that was dropped off at my ride the other day.

What an elegant gesture. Honest and beautiful. I was honored and in awe. So sweet. Fragile. Bold. Heartbreakingly beautiful. Feels like something that only happens in a movie. But it was real. It was real and it was happening to me. In my life.

The lame cub of the litter…

Now a lion.

I had finally arrived.

All of the money in the world can’t buy a minute of time, and it certainly can’t buy what Gail did for me that day.

If anyone reading this recognizes Gail or knows her from PA, give her my contact info on here, I’d love to chat with her and thank her for her sweet letter. If we had met back then, I would have been honored to take her out on a proper date!

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

Footnote: In 1983 when I was in Los Angeles, California I was hanging out in my apartment in Mar Vista one night and I called the number that Gail had written in her letter.

She was surprised and happy to hear from me. But she told me she had heard from a “friend” of mine some years ago and he told her that I was a womanizer and a horrible person in an attempt to destroy her image of me. He was basically describing himself to her which is the ultimate irony.

I had shown the letter to this individual back in 1980 when I originally got it. He had been jealous of me since 1977 and didn’t like the idea of me getting adoration from women. He had peaked in 9th grade and although a bright kid, was a social failure and a pathological liar. Gail told me his name and it really showed me what a truly awful person he was. She told me she never believed a word he said, so his little scheme against me was just another one of his many failures.

I don’t speak to this person anymore and want nothing to do with such a toxic person. But what a sad and mean-spirited thing to do to one of your so-called friends just to make yourself feel better about your own pathetic life. A thief and a liar. That’s what he is.

Even though we hung out a lot back in the 70s, I’ve vowed to never write about him in this blog and will only refer to him as “the neighbor” or “the kid next door” because his existence in my history doesn’t warrant giving him any sort of life in this forum or anywhere else.

The best part is, when I leave this world I’ll leave a rich legacy of wonderful memories with so many great friends, lovers, and family. He, on the other hand, leaves only a trail of bad memories strung together by lies and betrayal.

Like Iago in Othello, he poses as a friend but willfully with premeditation, a clear understanding of their actions, the weight of their consequence, commits injury anyway. 

Just a rotten human being that could have achieved greatness due to his incredible intellect, but instead chose the path of sloth and malice.

Although forgiven, I will never dignify his existence by ever writing about him.

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