Seagulls shriek in that typical seaside caw. Boats dock in sparkling blue waters. People riding bikes stop for ice cream, and fireworks illuminate the darkening sky with starbursts of color.
This is not a scene from some oceanfront vacation. This is just a typical summer afternoon in my town.
I live on the heart of the Jersey Shore, a place where tourists from North Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania flock every year. Some own beach houses that sit dormant during the winter. Some return to their favorite beachfront hotel year after year. And some come to my town, a quiet, cozy community that is the stopping point on the way to and from big guys: Ocean City, Wildwood, Long Beach Island, and Cape May.
Sometimes I take in my surroundings and can’t believe I call it home. The beach is only a short drive from my house, and bright, blue lagoons zigzag almost everywhere you look. Everything is nautical-themed. From furniture shops to restaurants to car dealerships, it’s hard to forget that we are a shore town. Since I’ve lived here since the first grade (and was too young to remember living anywhere else) I’m just used to this culture.
But it’s made me a beach person, a summer person, a thoroughly coastal girl. There’s no doubt that I’m lucky; I live in a place that people save money for year-round, so they can vacation for at least a week in a hotel or a rental down in South Jersey. In the summer, there’s always something to do: attend a concert on the water, visit a restaurant on the pier, pop fireworks at 9 p.m., ride rollercoasters, and eat funnel cakes on the boardwalk.
But it’s not all sun, salt, and sand.
At the height of the summer, it’s hard to go in and out of town without being jammed in traffic from all the tourists racing down the parkway. Sometimes it makes running errands past 11 a.m. a nightmare as visitors (usually from New York and Pennsylvania) tailgate your bumper, cut you off in your lane, and overall make you wish you’d stayed home with the curtains closed.
And it’s the tourists who cloaked South Jersey with the stereotypes that the rest of the country (and the world) learned from MTV’s Jersey Shore. Of the entire cast of the show that made New Jersey a parody, only two of them are actually from the Garden State (Deena Cortese and Samantha Giancola). Everyone else is from New York, mainly Staten Island. Remember Pauly D? He’s not even from the Tri-State area but from Rhode Island.
The point of sharing the birthplaces of reality stars? They came to the Jersey Shore as tourists and acted the way audiences wanted to see young people party their way through Seaside Heights. But the locals who actually live here paid the price when it came to the state’s reputation on the whole.
Because of the show, many thought everyone in the state pronounces Jersey like “Joisy,” that we are public disturbances when on vacation, and that we leave a trail of litter wherever we go. These stereotypes include South Jersey, too, and while every resident of the state probably knows someone who shares traits with Jersey Shore, the show couldn’t be farther from reality.
These negative tropes, however, do not account for their benefits. Tourists (and the popularity of Jersey Shore itself) provide businesses in my area a financial boom every year. Boardwalk towns like Ocean City and Wildwood depend on the guarantee that New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians will come and spend their money. If you’re ever on the Jersey Shore and hear a local complaining about the “shoobies” or “bennies” who come from out of town, know that we all secretly welcome their arrival. In fact, when COVID-19 significantly reduced its numbers during the 2020 season, many businesses along the shore perished.
So it’s a love-hate relationship we locals have with the tourists, but that’s pretty typical for any tourist town. And that’s not the only drawback of living here. It’s dead in the winter. A ghost town. Don’t bother going to the boardwalk in December. It’s too cold, windy, empty, and all the shops are boarded up. If you want to do anything fun you have to drive to Atlantic City, and even that gets dull after so many times.
Strangely, these drawbacks are the very reason why I like living in New Jersey itself. The commute between two major metropolises (Manhattan and Philadelphia) is relatively short, so catching a play or visiting a museum is never an impossibility. But who wants to drive up to two hours and battle city traffic just to do something on a Saturday night?
My complaints about my town are based solely on opinion. When I lamented to my friend how depressing the boardwalk is in winter, she blinked at me. “Really? I like how empty it is. It makes me feel like it’s mine.”
And she’s right because, for people who have lived on the shore all our lives, we do feel a sense of ownership, protectiveness, and pride.
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