Wildwood Daze – The Button Master

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1979-1980

There was a little unique shop on the boardwalk called The Button Master. My friend, Wolfie who was in a band with me at the time used to call the place, The Button Bastard. (I don’t know why, but why not?)

The shop was nothing but buttons. This was a trend in the mid to late 70s. They had all kinds of cool phrases on them and they could even make custom buttons for you if you brought them an image.

I always had a few buttons stuck to my green army jacket, which had the logo of my band on the back, The Union Jacks. I also had several buttons on the black guitar strap for my guitar. They were one of Alex from A Clockwork Orange, (Read the book by Anthony Burgess in 12th grade in American Lit class and loved it but hadn’t seen the Kubrick movie yet because it was no longer out in theaters and they would never show something like that on TV back then!) I had a button that said; I Want It All, Total Control, and a custom button I had made of Farrah Fawcett. (Because I LOVED her back then)

The owner was never there and I only met him once. But there was a guy who was in his 20s from New York named Tom Duke who worked there. He was a nice guy and would always let me hang out there and talk about rock music. Which I loved. I would sometimes just go up there on my day off and just browse the buttons and chat with him. They were all super cheap. Maybe a buck apiece.

I think Tom lived there, because there was a mattress on the floor in the back room, and I assumed he crashed there all summer. He was skinny and sort of gaunt, so he may have been a random drug user who didn’t seem like a person of means. But he had vast musical knowledge and I loved talking about rock with anybody who knew what they were talking about back then.

He was a big, YES and Genesis fan, and told me he knew some of the guys in those bands which I thought was super cool. (Could have been a lie, but who’s checking?) He liked that the latest Genesis album was entitled, Duke, because that was his last name. Just a weird coincidence I suppose.

Sometimes he had beer and we’d drink and chat and make it a fun night laughing it up in the store. Alcohol was new to me back then and I could get a nice buzz from 2 bottles of Bud. I remember Tom going out the back door of the store once and peeing right off the edge of the boardwalk into the parking lot below. Somebody yelled at him to stop, but he just laughed and shouted, “What? It’s my F*cking parking spot!”

I thought that was hilarious.

One night I was hanging out in the store and it was getting late. I knew he’d be closing soon and I’d be going home. I was just hanging in the store and talking rock with him, and helping customers find different buttons. I had spent so much time in that store I sort of knew where everything was. Just sheets hung up around the room and thousands of colorful buttons pinned all over them. Pretty simple setup and cheap inventory with low overhead.

This couple came in and they sort of looked like hybrid hippies. In their late 30s or early 40s. Like, maybe they used to be hippies but cut their hair but still had that hippie vibe to them.

I noticed the guy had an iron-on of Wile E Coyote on his yellow T-shirt. But I’m pretty sure this wasn’t an image licensed by Warner Brothers. It was Wile E, in a diving position with his mouth open and the message said: Muff Diver.

I’d seen that image before, but it just seemed kind of creepy even back then. We only wore fun images and rock band names on our shirts, and here was this old guy with this weird awkward shirt on.

I pointed to the wall of buttons and asked him if there was anything he was interested in. His response was:

“Other than f*cking?”

Okay, that’s weird.

So then, what I’m assuming was wife starts flirting with me right in the store. I’m getting nervous because her husband is right there on the other side of the store. She’s touching me and rubbing my back and stuff. I’m 17 years old and still pretty naive. I’ve been dating girls since I was 14 years old, but this was some new adult ground for me back in 1980. But I have a couple of beers in me, so I’m not having an anxiety attack.

She says she wants me to come back to their motel room for some fun. She was kind of hot and I was debating whether I should do it, but something was telling me I shouldn’t. I was experiencing some classic stranger danger. I didn’t know these people. What if they took me back to their room and killed me? I liked horror movies and my mind went right to that image.

Her husband was sort of just standing off in the distance watching all of this. He was smiling and nodding his head. I’m thinking, is this something these people do? Hunt young teen guys for their kinky debauchery? I wasn’t stupid and I’d heard of people who were swingers but I hadn’t encountered anything like this before.

So, Tom Duke says, “Why don’t you two just go into the back room and have at it. I felt a little better about that idea because he was there and if anything weird went down he could come and save me.

But, here’s the thing, they were in agreeance only if her husband could join in. I was like… No way. No three-way with an old dude. His wife continued to stay close to me and rub my back like I was some sort of pet.

I told them I appreciated their offer, but I just wasn’t into that sort of thing. They were nice about it and just laughed. She turns to her husband and says: “I think it’s just a lack of experience.”

I protested that I was hip to all things like that but just wasn’t into that particular thing. But they knew. I did lack experience. But in all honesty, there was no way I was fooling around with a lady and a man in some sort of sexy tryst.

They smiled, said goodbye, and left the store to go hunt down some other hapless teen. I hope they didn’t find anybody.

The next day I went and told my boss Louie on the Golden Nugget the whole lurid story. He told me I did the right thing by declining their offer. I’ll never forget what Louie yelled to me over the noise of the ride.

“You could have been screwing the lady and then all of a sudden, you feel some guy getting you from behind!” (add expletives and profanity from your imagination)

Just another crazy summer night in Wildwood.

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

Here’s my latest book. There will be a book about my summers in Wildwood coming Memorial Day 2023!

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

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

This is a compilation of a 4-part series I just ran on my blog this week to share with my friends on Facebook as a one-shot. It just makes it easier to read. Enjoy!

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.

Wildwood, New Jersey – July 2021

Friday

The next morning I woke up upstairs in the apartment on the second floor of the shore house. This used to be where my father lived. This may be the bed he slept in for all I know. The apartment still has the 70s vibe and the walls are covered in wood paneling. I kind of like that it reminds me of a time in the past when life was simpler.

I looked at my phone at it was 5:30 am. Early. I looked at the weather app and it said sunrise was at 5:45. I knew I had 15 minutes to walk the block and a half to the beach to see the sunrise. I hadn’t seen a sunrise in I don’t know how long. It may have been the late 70s or early 80s but it was probably after I’d stayed out all night with some woman.

It’s always cooler at the shore. The heat was unbearable in Philly in July, but even when it’s blazing outside, there’s always a breeze at the shore. I threw on some clothes and quietly headed out. My sister’s husband had already left because he was going out on a fishing boat for the day with his brother or a friend.

I walked down the street towards the beach. Some of the properties have remained the same. The old-time, small clapboard shore houses. But many of the properties on the island have been torn down and transformed into massive condo complexes. It’s kind of sad because the architecture is part of the essence of a town. Being all built up like this sort of ruins the aesthetic of the community.

What was once a landscape dotted with little shore homes has now been mostly replaced by buildings that take up the entire property. Case in point: next door to the shore house was once a little one-story home. It was cute and perfect for the block like the other homes. But it’s been torn down and a massive three-story building is going up on that property. This completely blocks the air and the view of the sea from my sister’s place. So that’s another thing ruined. When you look out any window in the house now on that side all you’ll see is someone else’s gigantic house right in your face.

Where there were once motels all designed in the classic doo-wop design, are now massive properties and condos. Gone are all of the tourists that would stay at those motels each summer. The sound of people coming and going, and kids laughing and splashing around in the pools and music playing… all gone. It’s very quiet down there now. It looks nice and clean, but a huge part of the look and feel of the place is long gone.

I get to the beach and there are a few people around ready to see what I’m about to witness. I live in Philly. There are no sunrises to see. I’m surrounded by huge towers of steel and glass. It’s a city. They all look the same. It’s the neighborhoods and local businesses that make a city. They give it a personality. Wildwood has lost a lot of its personality.

The beach has retained its natural beauty. That timeless place for millions of years has done the same thing. The moon’s gravitational pull makes the waves lap the beach turning rock into sand over time.

I approach the lifeguard chair here on the 8th street beach. The chair is a timeless symbol of the seashore. The guards sit in the summer sun and go from tan to brown through the season. The protectors who sit and watch that no one drowns on their watch.  The lifeguard persona is like a fireman. A protector, and yet, fit and admired by the women and girls who would flock to the beach each summer.

As I get closer to the chair, I notice a little plaque on the back of one of the horizontal stabilizing beams on this one. I take a closer look to read the inscription.

I don’t have any idea who John Steiger is, but the plaque on the right is a memorial to my father.

My dad loved the beach and being at the seashore. He’d been coming here during his childhood and then in the 60s with mom and the kids, and then bought the house in the 70s. He was never a lifeguard but always made friends with the guards and liked swimming in the sea. He was a social guy and I suppose he enjoyed the whole vibe of the beach scene. If they gave him a plaque I’m assuming he was an annual contributor to the Wildwood Beach Patrol over the years.

Whatever happened, it was nice to be standing here at almost 60 years old on the beach that held so many fond memories from my youth. I hadn’t stood on this beach in many decades. At least this was unchanged. You can’t move or build on the Atlantic Ocean, so it remains the same. That’s comforting. It made me smile to see my father’s name on that chair. It put him there with me for a few moments.

There’s an orange glow in the sky and upon the sea where the Earth will turn towards its nearest star to welcome a new day.

I’m happy to be here today to witness this daily event that we all take for granted. Life is good right now. I’m at the shore. There’s no stress in my life, I have my health and I really can’t complain about anything right now.

Like a shiny new penny, the sun begins to rise from the sea. It’s really beautiful. I see a couple off in the distance by the shoreline. They are but silhouettes and embrace each other as the golden disc rises before them. I smile and think back to when I fell in love every week back in the 70s in Wildwood.

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.

Wildwood, New Jersey, 2021

Sunday

I went to Russo’s again for my breakfast and then came back home to chill. My sister and I decided to walk down to JFK blvd down by the beach. We followed it down to 2nd street and then followed it out along the walkway that heads west along the shoreline.

We followed it out to the historic lighthouse and decided to take a look around.

There were a couple of benches donated by my family to the lighthouse. One has our family name on it and the other is a memorial bench to my grandmother and her husband.

It was nice to hang out with my sister and chat and look at all of the historic stuff. Especially since it was on my late father’s birthday. I think he’d be 90 years old now had he lived!

We later returned to the house and hopped in the car and went to Douglass Fudge. It’s a famous landmark candy store on the boardwalk. I think the best part was when I started chatting with this 92-year-old woman who worked at the counter. She was part of the original Douglass family and formerly worked in this very store when she was 9 years old. I thought this was amazing. Good for her, still working in this sweet-smelling store.

After that, we thought we’d go check out the Wildwood Historic Society on Pacific Avenue. What was once the strip that was lined with bars and clubs that made up the whole Wildwood summer nightlife scene has now been reduced to a handful of sorry-looking stores.

Another grinding disappointment.

The Historic society is a refurbished store space that is a disorganized gallimaufry of old bits of history and artifacts from Wildwood’s once glorious past. They have tons of volumes of books with all sorts of memorabilia inside them. Of course, I went straight for the nightlife ones from the 70s. To put it simply, there was almost nothing from the rock n roll glory days of the 70s in any of these books, so that was sad.

But it was another great day to hang with my sister so I didn’t mind any of it. It was all good to see. My phone rang at some point and it was my buddy, Wolfie. I hadn’t heard from him in 3 days so I wondered what was up.

He said he was riding bikes on the boardwalk and asked where I was. I told him and asked if he wanted to stop down. He stated he wasn’t sure where that was and that there was no lock on the bike so that was a no-go. I know he was staying down until Tuesday and I was going home Monday, so any chance of us hanging was another bust.

None of it made any sense to me.

Early that evening my sister and I walked out to the northern part of the island and wanted to check out a rock band we had heard about. But they played at 4 pm so we missed them. There was some nostalgic band playing at an open-air bar. I was non-plussed. They’ve blocked off a few streets out there and it’s a bunch of open-air bars and some live music. To me, it was just a bunch of people drinking and eating and I can see that anywhere but care not to.

I suppose the best part of coming down the shore was to hang out with my sister and see my other sisters as well. Family is always the best part of anything. It makes everything better. I also loved that my sister and her husband cooked me dinner every night I was there. The food was delicious and I was just happy to be with them in their lovely home.

My sister was nice enough to drive me home the next day, and on the way, we stopped to see my little sister at her house and my middle sister joined as well. So that was a fun riot.

I was happy to be back in Philly in my own space after a busy few days, but overall it was a nice few days at the shore.

But as I’ve been saying lately…

Everything that I love about Wildwood is long gone.

 

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 4

Wildwood, New Jersey, 2021

Sunday

I went to Russo’s again for my breakfast and then came back home to chill. My sister and I decided to walk down to JFK blvd down by the beach. We followed it down to 2nd street and then followed it out along the walkway that heads west along the shoreline.

We followed it out to the historic lighthouse and decided to take a look around.

There were a couple of benches donated by my family to the lighthouse. One has our family name on it and the other is a memorial bench to my grandmother and her husband.

It was nice to hang out with my sister and chat and look at all of the historic stuff. Especially since it was on my late father’s birthday. I think he’d be 90 years old now had he lived!

We later returned to the house and hopped in the car and went to Douglass Fudge. It’s a famous landmark candy store on the boardwalk. I think the best part was when I started chatting with this 92-year-old woman who worked at the counter. She was part of the original Douglass family and formerly worked in this very store when she was 9 years old. I thought this was amazing. Good for her, still working in this sweet-smelling store.

After that, we thought we’d go check out the Wildwood Historic Society on Pacific Avenue. What was once the strip that was lined with bars and clubs that made up the whole Wildwood summer nightlife scene has now been reduced to a handful of sorry-looking stores.

Another grinding disappointment.

The Historic society is a refurbished store space that is a disorganized gallimaufry of old bits of history and artifacts from Wildwood’s once glorious past. They have tons of volumes of books with all sorts of memorabilia inside them. Of course, I went straight for the nightlife ones from the 70s. To put it simply, there was almost nothing from the rock n roll glory days of the 70s in any of these books, so that was sad.

But it was another great day to hang with my sister so I didn’t mind any of it. It was all good to see. My phone rang at some point and it was my buddy, Wolfie. I hadn’t heard from him in 3 days so I wondered what was up.

He said he was riding bikes on the boardwalk and asked where I was. I told him and asked if he wanted to stop down. He stated he wasn’t sure where that was and that there was no lock on the bike so that was a no-go. I know he was staying down until Tuesday and I was going home Monday, so any chance of us hanging was another bust.

None of it made any sense to me.

Early that evening my sister and I walked out to the northern part of the island and wanted to check out a rock band we had heard about. But they played at 4 pm so we missed them. There was some nostalgic band playing at an open-air bar. I was non-plussed. They’ve blocked off a few streets out there and it’s a bunch of open-air bars and some live music. To me, it was just a bunch of people drinking and eating and I can see that anywhere but care not to.

I suppose the best part of coming down the shore was to hang out with my sister and see my other sisters as well. Family is always the best part of anything. It makes everything better. I also loved that my sister and her husband cooked me dinner every night I was there. The food was delicious and I was just happy to be with them in their lovely home.

My sister was nice enough to drive me home the next day, and on the way, we stopped to see my little sister at her house and my middle sister joined as well. So that was a fun riot.

I was happy to be back in Philly in my own space after a busy few days, but overall it was a nice few days at the shore.

But as I’ve been saying lately…

Everything that I love about Wildwood is long gone.

 

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 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!

 

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 2

Wildwood, New Jersey – July 2021

Friday

The next morning I woke up upstairs in the apartment on the second floor of the shore house. This used to be where my father lived. This may be the bed he slept in for all I know. The apartment still has the 70s vibe and the walls are covered in wood paneling. I kind of like that it reminds me of a time in the past when life was simpler.

I looked at my phone at it was 5:30 am. Early. I looked at the weather app and it said sunrise was at 5:45. I knew I had 15 minutes to walk the block and a half to the beach to see the sunrise. I hadn’t seen a sunrise in I don’t know how long. It may have been the late 70s or early 80s but it was probably after I’d stayed out all night with some woman.

It’s always cooler at the shore. The heat was unbearable in Philly in July, but even when it’s blazing outside, there’s always a breeze at the shore. I threw on some clothes and quietly headed out. My sister’s husband had already left because he was going out on a fishing boat for the day with his brother or a friend.

I walked down the street towards the beach. Some of the properties have remained the same. The old-time, small clapboard shore houses. But many of the properties on the island have been torn down and transformed into massive condo complexes. It’s kind of sad because the architecture is part of the essence of a town. Being all built up like this sort of ruins the aesthetic of the community.

What was once a landscape dotted with little shore homes has now been mostly replaced by buildings that take up the entire property. Case in point: next door to the shore house was once a little one-story home. It was cute and perfect for the block like the other homes. But it’s been torn down and a massive three-story building is going up on that property. This completely blocks the air and the view of the sea from my sister’s place. So that’s another thing ruined. When you look out any window in the house now on that side all you’ll see is someone else’s gigantic house right in your face.

Where there were once motels all designed in the classic doo-wop design, are now massive properties and condos. Gone are all of the tourists that would stay at those motels each summer. The sound of people coming and going, and kids laughing and splashing around in the pools and music playing… all gone. It’s very quiet down there now. It looks nice and clean, but a huge part of the look and feel of the place is long gone.

I get to the beach and there are a few people around ready to see what I’m about to witness. I live in Philly. There are no sunrises to see. I’m surrounded by huge towers of steel and glass. It’s a city. They all look the same. It’s the neighborhoods and local businesses that make a city. They give it a personality. Wildwood has lost a lot of its personality.

The beach has retained its natural beauty. That timeless place for millions of years has done the same thing. The moon’s gravitational pull makes the waves lap the beach turning rock into sand over time.

I approach the lifeguard chair here on the 8th street beach. The chair is a timeless symbol of the seashore. The guards sit in the summer sun and go from tan to brown through the season. The protectors who sit and watch that no one drowns on their watch.  The lifeguard persona is like a fireman. A protector, and yet, fit and admired by the women and girls who would flock to the beach each summer.

As I get closer to the chair, I notice a little plaque on the back of one of the horizontal stabilizing beams on this one. I take a closer look to read the inscription.

I don’t have any idea who John Steiger is, but the plaque on the right is a memorial to my father.

My dad loved the beach and being at the seashore. He’d been coming here during his childhood and then in the 60s with mom and the kids, and then bought the house in the 70s. He was never a lifeguard but always made friends with the guards and liked swimming in the sea. He was a social guy and I suppose he enjoyed the whole vibe of the beach scene. If they gave him a plaque I’m assuming he was an annual contributor to the Wildwood Beach Patrol over the years.

Whatever happened, it was nice to be standing here at almost 60 years old on the beach that held so many fond memories from my youth. I hadn’t stood on this beach in many decades. At least this was unchanged. You can’t move or build on the Atlantic Ocean, so it remains the same. That’s comforting. It made me smile to see my father’s name on that chair. It put him there with me for a few moments.

There’s an orange glow in the sky and upon the sea where the Earth will turn towards its nearest star to welcome a new day.

I’m happy to be here today to witness this daily event that we all take for granted. Life is good right now. I’m at the shore. There’s no stress in my life, I have my health and I really can’t complain about anything right now.

Like a shiny new penny, the sun begins to rise from the sea. It’s really beautiful. I see a couple off in the distance by the shoreline. They are but silhouettes and embrace each other as the golden disc rises before them. I smile and think back to when I fell in love every week back in the 70s in Wildwood.

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

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

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