Carried Along By The River of Dreams.

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written an entry about things other than basketball and the crazy stuff that comes out of my mother’s mouth (she actually said ‘duttbial” the other day instead of “buttdial”.  And people wonder where I get my insanity from?).  But this is a post I’ve been trying to come up with for the past few days and finally, it seems like it’s the time for it.  Well, it’s been forced out of me.  I’m currently at home with a migraine that feels like someone has slapped me across teh face with a brick, so I’ll try to make this short and sweet.

When I was ten years old, my parents told us they had rented a vacation house on the Jersey Shore.  The trip would take about six hours, so we’d have to get up around 6 in order to make sure we’d beat the work traffic into NYC.  I remember not being able to sleep that night.  What would this house be like? What would this town, Avalon, be like in comparison to the other places we had vacationed (Marco Island, Florida, and Cape Cod)? When my mom came into the room to wake me up, I bounced out of bed and into the car.

If you would permit me to put on my nerd hat for one second, Avalon is named after the mythical British Island that supposedly houses the dead body of King Arthur.  It is also called the “Isle of the Blest” and it’s where the Lady of the Lake forged Excalibur in a farcical aquatic ceremony.  

Now, if you’ve vacationed on the Jersey Shore, you know that the real journey doesn’t start until you get to the Garden State Parkway.  Once you’ve crossed the Tappan Zee, that’s when the real fun begins.  And by ‘fun’, I mean absolute torture.  See, the exit for Avalon is one of the last exits on the GSP.  We get on at the very, very beginning of the highway.  So for about two hours, my siblings and I would watch marshland and wetland and bridges and ocean and bay go by, and ask repeatedly “HOW MUCH LONGER” when we were at only exit 155.  We had another 120 miles or so to go.

On these trips my dad would play Paul Simon’s Graceland, which still reminds me of these long car rides (it also reminds me of all of us schlepping along to Jenna’s AAU weekend games, as does Billy Joel’s River of Dreams).  A couple of times we would play Bill Cosby comedy CDs and laugh our asses off.  And other times we would just all fall asleep in the backseat.  In the days before I got carsick, I could plow through up to two books on these car rides.  Now, if I even look at a magazine in the backseat of any vehicle I dry-heave.

We pulled up to a house with a misshapen roof and a lot of character, only about four houses or so off from the beach.  It was a walk away from a pancake house and a water ice place that to this day is the subject of many a winter fantasy.  Three mini-golf courses, a movie theatre 60 blocks away (easy to bike to), and all the ice cream and Mexican food you could eat.  I was in love.

For the next eight summers, we stayed at this house for up to three weeks in August, when the hustle and bustle of Dad’s job afforded him such peace.  We only missed one summer from my 10th to 18th years, and that was when the team went to Europe in 1999.  A fair trade but I was still kind of bummed.  When we came back in 2003 for our annual trek, our trip to that particular house had to be cut short due to some other plans by the renters, so we rented another house for our second week.  Never doing that again.  The house we picked was old and musty with bad wicker furniture.  The only thing I can say as a compliment to that house is that it’s the house I finally managed to watch Rebel Without A Cause in, which was probably one of the best decisions I made that summer.  Also a good decision? Barrel-rolling in the waves with my sister’s friend Lauren.  (What up, Wangski?!)

In the summer of 2004, my parents came to us and told us they had bought a house in Avalon, however it was further away from town, about sixty blocks up.  I was horrified.  How would I walk to the water ice place?! God forbid I bike anywhere! (Can you tell this is when I was obese?)

However, it ended up being one of the best ideas my parents have ever had.  I could keep all of my summer and swimming clothes down at the house, so packing became a breeze.  The extra biking proved to be therapeutic, and the house they had purchased was slightly bigger than the rental, so it could accommodate all of our friends who crashed there.  And the house was gorgeous, with a great view of the water.  At sunset I would walk down to the beach with my ipod, and listen to the waves and my music crash into each other.  I’d see babies touching the sea for the first time, and couples walking hand in hand in the surf.  My cousins and I would climb on the lifeguard stands and pose for pictures in the boats.  My brother would play the ‘run as far out into the water as you can without falling on your ass’ game, and would fail about ten yards in due to the crashing waves and overestimating his speed tolerance.  And at the end of the three weeks my dad would have a big party with everyone he knew who had a beach house, which, judging by the size of the get-together, was a lot of people.

My dad taught me how to bodysurf in Avalon.  Waiting for the moment when the wave is about to break, and you go the instant it crashes down on you.  I think I gained the majority of my weight from the pounds of sand and seaweed I no doubt consumed.  The amount of times I’ve nearly lost my bathing suit has been intense and real.  And yet none of the hot lifeguards wanted to date me, the crazy girl with sand in her hair that rode the wave all the way to the beach and then laid down in the surf, pretending to be Ariel.

What? You didn’t do that at 13? (Well, maybe I was 21 when I did that.  But whatever.)

On rainy days, we’d stay inside, watch movies, play games, or go for a bike ride if you were a loony like me and wanted to be outside anyway.  I loved running around.  When my mom wanted me to get some more fitness in, she’d send me to go for a run on the boardwalk.  Granted, this isn’t a boardwalk like Ocean City; it’s a pizza/arcade joint on a plank of wood that runs parallel to the ocean, and that’s it.

A couple of times we’d go to Ocean City and Wildwood for their amusement parks (Wonderland Pier in Ocean City) and waterparks (Morey’s Piers in Wildwood).  My favorite rides were anything that didn’t go to fast and didn’t go upside down, which relegated me to the carousel and Ferris Wheel.  When I got a little older I started to get a bit braver, and ended up going on a few more things that went a little bit faster.  There was no way you’d get me on the Scissors or Twister, though.  No way.  As for the waterparks, it proved to be a bright spot in the bleached, bloated carcasse that is Wildwood.  Mom says it used to be THE vacation spot for young Philadelphia.  Now, it’s the place you go if you want to get a good deal on drugs.  I’m just sayin’.

If we wanted a mall, we’d drive about 20 minutes into Pleasantville for their giant shopping center, or if we just needed a few things we’d bike up a few blocks to Stone Harbor, the sister town of Avalon.  The only difference is that Stone Harbor is a bit more cosmopolitan and it has a movie theater of 5 screens.  The amount of movies I saw for the first time on those screens is pretty long and extensive but a few of my favorites include Goldmember, Pirates of the Caribbean, Stardust, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Red-Eye, The Hangover, and Bridesmaids.  The theatre is a bit grody and the houses are pitch black when you come in.  This past weekend, Jenna warned Chelsea “Just be careful when you walk in…because you will go blind.”  And she knows from experience; once she dropped three jumbo Diet Cokes everywhere because she couldn’t see anything.  You would think that would get Harbor 5 to change their lighting strategies, but noooo.

My sister had her bachelorette party down in Avalon.  That is all I can say on that matter, seeing as the hijinks we got up to would probably land us in severe trouble with our parents.  But suffice to say, it was a grand time.

This summer, due to my dad’s Olympic commitments, my three jobs, Jenna’s baby, and Mike’s training for next season, and thanks to the London trip next summer…our house, our gorgeous house, was suddenly turning into a money pit.  Mom decided it was more financially prudent to build a home here on the CT shoreline, rather than send money to a home we did not have the time to stay in for longer than three days.  So…we had no choice.  The home in Avalon had to go.

I was gutted.  Sure, the CT beach homes are lovely and we have a lot of friends in that area, plus it’s a very quick drive in comparison to the trek to Jersey.  But I’m the product of Philly parents.  The Jersey Shore IS the beach.  It’s just going to take some getting used to.

This past weekend, Memorial Day, I spent my last weekend in that house.  I did pretty much everything I wanted to do as a way to say goodbye to the house that meant so much to me and the town that gave me some of my happiest childhood memories.  We brought down Lovebug on Sunday and he looked at the water like it was a creature from another planet, and he immediately got filthy.  Sand, too, was alien, and Christian rubbed it across his fingers with a look of disbelief that quickly turned to horror when he tried to see if the sand would taste as good as it looked.  The image of Lovebug stuffing sand into his mouth, then looking up at his mother with an expression of “WHY DID I JUST DO THAT” (while his mother just howled with laughter while she washed his mouth out) will remain with me forever.

On the way home on Tuesday night, as I pulled over the bridge onto the North Parkway, I blasted some Bruce Springsteen.  When that lonely sax and piano kick in, that’s when I knew it was over.

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves


The sun was setting.  My car was loaded down with bags, extra clothes we had stashed at the house, and a few letter posters my mom wanted to take as keepsakes.  The bay water sparkled as I made the right turn onto the road and away from the beach.  Away from Avalon.  Away from it all.

Hey what else can we do now except roll down the window and let the wind roll back your hair


I could say I cried, but that would be too much.  I did get a bit misty.

Oh, oh come take my hand, we’re riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh, Thunder Road, Oh Thunder Road, Oh Thunder Road

It’s not goodbye.  Not by a long shot.  Dad promises we’ll rent in two years, once the Olympics hoopla dies down.  And I’ll run to embrace that sand like a long lost friend.  But for now…it’s “I’ll see you soon.”

Two years without Circle Pizza? Good lord…

sit tight, take hold, thunder road.

ally

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3 thoughts on “Carried Along By The River of Dreams.

  1. I grew up going to Stone Harbor and usually stayed right along the border of SH/Avalon, so it was nice to read this & think about the places you're talking about – I know the Mexican place you're talking about, I've seen movies in that theater. The Jersey Shore, especially the southern part is a great place and I miss going there!

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  2. Ally, I love reading all your blog entries, but this one was especially interesting to me since we also have a home in Avalon. We, too, rented for many years, and finally fulfilled our dream of owning a home there in 2001. We tried to buy somewhere closer to CT, but our heart was in Avalon, so we make the long drive. E-Z Pass has certainly helped the process! I know you will be back in Avalon one day, because no place can steal a heart like our little shore community can. I truly believe that Avalon is about as close to heaven as you can get on earth. Hope to see you at Circle Pizza one day!

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  3. First off, I had to smile at the beach house sign because the same one hangs in the condo we rent every summer on the Gulf Coast.

    Second, I think it's great to have a place like Avalon. For me, it was Chatham, Cape Cod. My grandparents lived there half the year (I grew upin Bristol) and we went at least twice every summer to visit. Once my grandparents passed away my visits got fewer and further between and of course once I moved to FL, they stopped completely (for now).

    My husband had an Avalon too…Clinton, CT. He spent his entire summer there growing up.

    Now, my husband and I consider a town on the Gulf coast our Avalon. We rent a condo for a week every June as soon as school gets out. And like your family, we someday plan to buy our own place there. We want our kids to have something similar to what we had. I think those kind of places are great gifts.

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