Nothing got me more pumped for summer than knowing I’d be spending a week of it down the shore. If you don’t know the phrase “down the shore,” than you probably aren’t from Philadelphia or the tri-state area. Anyone from the suburbs of Philly like me, knows that every summer starting on Memorial Day weekend, everyone heads to the jersey shore. The New Jersey coastline includes a line of shore towns starting with Atlantic City and working its way South all way down to Cape May. Families normally rent a house for a week or two during the summer at their favorite shore town and spend it lying on the sandy beaches, frolicking in the bitter cold Atlantic Ocean, and walking the boardwalk, riding bikes, and most likely, drinking.
Growing up, my family chose Ocean City, New Jersey as their shore destination of choice mostly because of the house they picked. It was an old co-worker of my father’s place and the 3 bedroom, 2 bath house was located on 27th and Asbury, two blocks from the beach. What I knew about Ocean City growing up was that it was a dry town, meaning there were no bars, liquor stores, or alcohol anywhere. It didn’t mean much to me as a 13-year-old who just wanted to walk the boards and search for teenagers my age who were interested in flirting. My sister and I would people-watch, shop for the latest necklaces and tie-dye shirts at the Surf Mall and 7th Street Surf Shop, while deciding between funnel cake and ice cream to top off our nights. We’d rent surreys in the mornings and fight over who was pedaling harder. We’d fry ourselves all week and compare tan lines to see who was tanner. It was also stress free because my parents weren’t drinking either, which as I’ve spoken about before, wasn’t normally the case.
As I aged, my parents kept going to the same shore house. During college summers and times home from Mexico, I would stay with them, but that was the time in my life when I was desperately searching for the meaning of life at the bottom of the bottle. Meaning, I would link up with friends in other nearby shore towns – Atlantic City, Sea Isle, and Avalon in hopes of finding parties, nightclubs, and happy hours to fill my time. That’s when I started becoming vocal about the fact that I thought a Dry Town was the dumbest thing on the planet! A whole town without bars or alcohol? What the fuck? It made no sense to me and I was annoyed my parents had picked that town of all the shore towns to make their home. I spent time outside of Ocean City to drink and party, only coming back to stay at my parents’ house, shower, sleep, or go to the beach.
Since getting sober and moving back to the U.S. I haven’t made it back to Ocean City, New Jersey until last month. My parents had their weeks booked, at the same house, and asked if Fer and I would like to come spend some time there. Taking Fer there was fun, he wasn’t familiar with the uniqueness of the shore. He didn’t know what a surrey was. And he had never eaten Manco and Manco pizza or Uncle Bill’s Pancake House!
One night we went to a restaurant I’d never been to before – a Caribbean place called 701 Mosaic. When the waitress asked if we wanted to try to chef’s special ginger beer, I asked, “is it alcohol free?” “Yes, this is a dry town we aren’t allowed to sell any alcohol,” the young girl answered. Insert facepalm. I couldn’t believe it, but then I could. I’ve been so used to living in an alcohol-drenched society and asking questions to protect myself against being mistakenly given alcohol, that I completely forgot we were in a dry town. How awesome is that? There isn’t even an option to order alcohol. No drunk people stumbling around. No boardwalk bars. No happy hours. Just people having genuine fun, relaxing, and socializing with their families and friends.
Fer and I trudged the boardwalk, ate Kohr’s brothers ice cream and Shriver’s salt water taffy. We went to Castaway Cove and rode the Ferris wheel and the roller coasters. We laughed and we felt exhilarated. It felt like I was a kid again. One thing my new boss, Annie Grace, always says is, what was fun like before we knew about alcohol? We used to have fun, live our lives, feel our emotions, and socialize without alcohol when we were kids. Why can’t we get back to that again? We can and we do.
It’s ironic that the shore town I used to complain so much about in my 20’s is now a welcoming oasis of magic and peace. No liquor stores, no grocery stores with a booze aisle, no bars, no menus with alcohol on them. What a relief. My time was spent just cruising the boards, eating, shopping, going to the beach, and having some good old fashioned childhood fun, sober in my 30’s. I felt like I was 10 again when life was much simpler.
This experience just solidified what I already know to be true. Whole towns can exist without alcohol. We can exist without alcohol as a staple in our lives. Restaurants and beach days and amusement parks and stores without the need to sell or host alcohol function. The people in these towns live their lives like that and maybe some of them drink in other towns or places, but they know the serenity of a dry town.
Having fun as an adult is hard enough, and it becomes even harder when your only idea of fun is when drinking is involved. “Fun,” becomes a concept warped into activities that only include booze-filled memories and hangovers. But if you remember back to your childhood, before you ever touched the poison of ethanol or any drug, that’s what real fun is. It’s good to have that back in my life.