It was a beautiful summer night and my best friend, Kelly, and I were sitting on the steps of the ice cream shop at Fantasy Island Amusement Park in Beach Haven. We were chatting over ice cream cones with our kids and my husband. A staff member from the park walked over to inform us sitting on the steps was not allowed.
Kelly turned to me and said, “Thirty-eight years old and we are still getting in trouble down here,” referring to the many times our antics as teenagers got us kicked out of the same park. Not that our behavior was terrible, just normal teenage wisecracks to one particular staff member that got is us in hot water. That staff member is still working at the park keeping others in line.
Kelly and I began vacationing together on Long Beach Island (LBI), New Jersey when we were 15 years old. Kelly’s parents rented a house on Susan Avenue in Holgate Township which began 24 years of wonderful summer memories. We made many friends during those early years on the island. I vividly remember that first summer in 1989 sitting on the curb near a bank of phone booths in front of the Sea Spray Motel. How times have changed since our first visit in 1989. Most rental homes would not allow long distance calls, so I had to walk to a pay phone outside the motel to check in with my parents. The pay phone booths have long since been removed.This year Kelly and the kids sat outside the same motel and chatted with her husband/their father. Only this year they spoke over Skype while he serves in Afghanistan as an officer in the Marines.
Back in the day, a car full of teens driving down South Bay Avenue yelled “Shoobies!!” at us. We were confused. What was a shoobie? After becoming friends with those teens we were told “shoobies” are vacationers to the island. The term “shoobie” dates back to the 1800’s when the island first became a vacation resort. It actually referred to day trippers to the shore who traveled on trains from areas such as New York City and Philadelphia. They were referred to as shoobies because they carried their lunches in shoe boxes. Seasonal residents are also known as “Bennys.” The origin of the term “Benny” is believed to be an acronym for Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark and New York. Typically a Benny is any visitor who drives over the “Benny Bridge” to get to the shore region of the state. The “Benny Bridge” is known to others as the “Driscoll Bridge” that spans over the Raritan River and connects Woodbridge Township to Sayreville. The most recent name for vacationers at the Jersey Shore is “Foots.”
“What happens over the bridge stays over the bridge,” that was the motto among the young islanders. The bridge in reference is the “Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridges,” which connects the island to the main land. It really is a different isolated world once you cross over the bay.
I will never forget our first beach party. It was a small but fun group and I still remember all these years later losing a favorite pair of shoes that I left on the sand when the police came to break up the festivities. My shoes also would have come in handy when running over the pebbles and stones that make up most of the on streets and driveways in beach communities.
During our late teens and the beginning of our 20’s, we attended or took part in hosting many beach and house parties. Kelly’s father, Gabe, only half teasingly would give us a gullibility test. Gabe would present us with scenarios that could come up down the shore and ask us how we would react. Let’s just say Kelly and I weren’t good gullibility test takers but in real life situations we were cautious.
The summer following our junior year in high school we rented a house for a week with our friends Laura and Kristyne. While the rest of our classmates headed to Seaside Heights, we packed up the car and drove to LBI. We enjoyed our time hanging out with our lifeguard and badge checker friends; however we also played it safe. We never told anyone we were on the island alone but rather carried a picture of “Big Gabe” and claimed Kelly’s father was with us.
That summer of 1991 we became friends with a group we called the marina gang. All in their late teens and early 20’s they spent the summer on yachts. Just recently Kelly reminded me of the day we went out on one of those yachts as a tropical storm was approaching the island. Two friends were out on a Jet Ski in the rocky water. That’s when someone decided to take a 55-foot yacht out to go pick them up. It was a terrifying experience. The weather was so bad and the waves so high the vessel was nearly tipping on its side. Kelly and I clung to our lifejackets and each other for dear life. Kelly pointed out the fact that we never even told anyone where we were at the time. Something our kids better never do.
That same summer with the same storm approaching we decided it would be adventurous to swim in the ocean. The lifeguards had closed the beaches because the waves and rip current were fierce. Later that day I was talking about the experience on the phone in a booth in front of the post office. One of the lifeguards who had been on duty that day over heard my conversation and scolded me for going in the water under such rough conditions. I have to admit, that swim put a bit of fear of the ocean in me. Now it would have to be perfect conditions for me to even enter the water.
LBI is very low laying land and floods easily. When that tropical storm was approaching some feared the island would be flooded. Gabe informed me and Kelly that we would be evacuating the island. We packed a few things in the back of Kelly’s blue Grand Am and sat for hours in traffic just to get to a family friend’s house in Point Pleasant. The island was spared the brunt of the storm and we returned the next day.
Those years of amusement parks, beach, and house parties gave way to the bar scene when we turned 21. Kelly and I along with my brother Tom, cousin Kathy and friend Ed spent many fun nights at the local establishments. We danced on the tables at Nandi’s, got caught in mosh pits at The Ketch, and sang the night away to our favorite shore bands at Joe Pop’s, The Shell and the Quarter Deck. Our favorite bands included Dog Voices, The Nerds and Backstreets. My brother said he was less tired back then even when we stayed out quite late. Now, with three small children, he can’t sleep on the beach all day. After our parents served dinner, we would go shopping then off to the bars for another night of partying.
We still continue to have fun with friends and family on LBI. Our kids bring a whole new approach enjoying the island. Our kids now play our favorite game of paddle ball and use the body boards in the ocean with us. We have come full circle, back to the miniature golf and Fantasy Island scene but today we are the responsible adults. It has been fun taking our kids to “The Showplace” ice cream parlor where guests sing for their treats. I look back at pictures of us inside that same ice cream shop as teens and think how time stood still. The room is still decorated the same way and performers still sing the same songs.
My family, Kelly and I still enjoy shopping and dining in the town of Beach Haven and other townships on the island. Many of the shops and restaurants haven’t changed. Now we enjoy taking our kids to see “Old Barney” (the Barnegat Light House) and watch the boats drive through the inlet.
When we were kids Kelly and I use to love to watch the surfers. One year Kelly’s uncle rented us a surf board and we gave it a try. We did our best but never really pursued the sport. This year Kelly’s 10 year old son began taking surfing lessons. To try and encourage him to get in the water down on LBI, I told him I would go first. So he gave me a brief brush up and we went in the water. I gave it my best shot but to avoid embarrassing my godson any further I got out of the water and let him carry on alone.
Long Beach Island holds so many wonderful memories. I’ll never forget walking into the Susan Avenue rental house for the first time with Kelly’s family. Kelly’s Mom being relieved it wasn’t a dump and Kelly’s father saying: “So, what sold you on this place Cheryl, the furniture?” That house hosted many fun times with Kelly’s extended family and friends. Everyone crammed in tiny rooms sleeping on the floors and porch.
Then my family began renting a house around the corner from Susan on Webster Avenue. After a few summers, Kelly’s family stopped vacationing on the island. My family continued and has been renting the same house every summer for the past 16 years on West Avenue just off of Susan. Those houses also have been packed with various family and friends who came to spend time with us over the years. No one ever minding that they had to sleep on a couch or the floor.
This summer Kelly and I didn’t get to enjoy our leisurely strolls and chats on the beach. There were kids to attend to. As our time on the island continues to evolve I know we will reach that point once again. For now we are enjoying our time digging in the sand with the kids, swimming in the pool at the Sea Spray Motel, and having dinner on the porch of the West Avenue house.
As we spin in the tea cups with our daughters and wave to the kids as they ride the swinging pirate ship while our favorite amusement park staff member strolls by with his own, I think what a wonderful journey this island has been and I look forward to the memories to come.
Photos from top:
1. 1989 – Family and friends on the beach.
2. 1989 – Kelly, left, and Jen on the beach.
3. 1991 – From left, Jackie, Jen’s sister, Jen, and Kelly on the beach.
4. 1990 – Kelly and Jen on the beach.
5. 1989 – From left, Jen, Brandon (a family friend of Kelly’s), Jamie (Kelly’s brother), Kelly, Tom (Jen’s brother) , and Justin (a family friend of Kelly’s).
6. 1989- Jen and her brother Tom.
7. 2012 – Sunset.
8. 2012 – Barnegat Light House.
9. 2012 – Children on the beach.
10. 2012 – Celebrating Christmas in July.
11. 2012 – Sean Jackson, Kelly’s son, Jen with her daughter, Eva, Skyla Jackson and her mom, Kelly.
12. 2012 – Fun in the teacups.
All photos courtesy of Jennifer Madden.