That is a picture of my bro, Tommy, outside of the house we rented for a few years in Longport, NJ. It was taken on 34th Street just off Atlantic Ave. A great location: ½ block from beach, also across from some hardtop basketball courts. A dream location.
In the last jaunty post, we all loaded up in the family station wagon (SUV were just three odd letters then) and you joined us on the ride down to the shore. We took the long way, where you could get anything you wanted, instead of the fast and uninteresting way, the Atlantic City Expressway, with its boring single food court.
Why did we take the slow road? It increased the anticipation for what lie ahead: Longport, NJ.
Longport was one of the quietest places along the Jersey Shore, a small town that was only blocks from the bar action of Margate, the honky-tonk of Atlantic City (both pre-and-post Casinos), and the family oriented (meaning that you couldn’t spend a lot of money on the boardwalk if you tried) Ocean City.
I really don’t know why we gravitated towards Longport. The shore towns were very different then. While it was not cheap by 1960’s and 1970’s dollars, it had not yet boomed into the overpriced mansions and money houses that followed the casino arrival. However, I am grateful that we found it.
Longport used to be bigger, but it lost up to 11th Street in a long ago storm. This formed a jetty barrier that our family called THE ROCKS. For some reason, this was a great place to just sit and watch the ocean meet the bay. The surf was usually too rough to really go out here, though another jetty out into the ocean was a good fishing spot. As kids, we’d make sure that our parents parked the car close enough so that when the surf hit the rocks with enough force, the car would be drenched. As mentioned earlier, the coming of the casinos saw some of this area redeveloped with ugly costly houses for people of “status”.
This area also flooded during storms, as did Ventnor Ave. When the rains came, it was not unusual to see people rowing boats down Ventnor, or wading to the Cumberland Farms or Pioneer Food Market and Liquor Store.
Longport had one motel at 15th Street, a couple of gas stations, a four store strip called Ozzie’s and a lounge called the Longport Inn. That was it. Sleepy was too awake a word to describe it.
So, why did we kids enjoy it so much? Because we could go out and goof around without the noise and clamor of a commercial district, yet we only had to walk a few blocks to get to that district. Bike riding, ball playing, and just play being a kid was easier, as was sitting out at night and just enjoying the breeze.
We started out staying two weeks, graduated to one month, then to full summers until prices started to rise, and then Longport became out of reach. There were many small motels in neighboring Margate, with small rooms that were actually “converted” to what they called condo units for the casino workers. Rental prices soared as the new novelty of casinos came in. A family vacation started to be up-priced and out of reach for us.
So, what was Longport like for us back then?
Yet, we liked it. Hard to believe that something so quiet thrilled us. Take the cable system, for example. Compared to today, it was obviously antiquated. Dozens of channels with a click dial set top box. Most of the channels were the Philly and New York signals that were hard to get without a very large antenna. The Weather station was essentially a camera that panned a row of clock style weather data displays from left to right and back again. And again. And again. And again. Each pan ended on a hand made poster from someone advertising a flea market, church event, etc. That was it. And it was fascinating.
HBO did not exist when we first went down the shore, and when it did, it was one channel, no multi-plexing. Yet, we watched TV when we weren’t doing other things, which meant we didn’t watch TV much.
We also moved way too much stuff down the shore for the summer, stuff we would never need, but we kids had to have available. We loved bringing it down, and were really annoyed when we had to pack all that crap up.
Sleeping arrangements worked out, even though it was cramped at times. At home, getting up early was an insult. Down the shore, crack of dawn was too late. We had…A YARD!!! YES!!! In Philly, we had the back alley. Big difference. And since a lot of Longport had not really been developed yet, there were plenty of open spaces to goof off in.
And there was the beach. And no beach tags. We usually hung at the 32nd and 34th Street beaches. This was great for the kids because the playground and the basketball courts were right there, and this was where Longport’s beach expanded in depth. For adults, this was great because the Longport Inn was right across the street. Ostensibly a lounge and restaurant, it also was a great place to hit going to or from the beach for many a dad who used taking the kids to the beach as an excuse to hit the Inn. Again, this was the only bar in the borough. It did good business.
The beach itself was a blast, even though I was not a big daytime beach fan. Could not swim, hated greenheads and jellyfish, loved fudgywudgies (fudgesicles for the novices), flying kites and playing on the beach.
Plus with a little effort, we could walk up to Margate and find some beach food. Food was not really allowed on the beach, but a lot we cared. The sounds on the beach were like nowhere else. You had the sounds of people at play, the seagulls, the breezes, the fudgywudgy man, the lifeguard whistles and the surf, all overriding the sound of Atlantic Avenue traffic. A strangely pleasant cacophony.
For kids who sometimes forgot their sandals, the beach sand was also hot. SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE has nothing on the moves created when we tried to cross the hot sand. But we persevered like Lawrence Of Longport.
After the beach, you got to walk home and attempt to get the sand off in the outside shower. Never worked. Never. There was always residual sand stuck in your waistline and on your feet, eventually winding up in your bed. An occupational hazard of going to the beach, I guess. And there was the sunburn. Oy! The sunburn and the peeling after the sunburn. Still, as a memory, it takes on a sweetness.
Maybe the sun wore us out and we napped for a bit, maybe we got ready to head out to the boardwalk, or maybe we just sat and relaxed. It was nirvana, a controllable nirvana with plenty to do and plenty of time to do it.
Enough for now. I promise some more of these as I can get my fading mind to keep traveling back to those sweet times. Going to the shore now can be fun, but going to the shore as a kid was beyond amazing.
More sand to come….