Vacation time, not at Shore

“Vacation time, not at Shore” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (May 14, 2004).

It’s 3 p.m. on Friday, and all throughout the region computers are being shut down, ATMs are being tapped, and gas tanks filled. Radio dials are frantically scanned for John Brown or John Butterworth’s critical traffic report. You pull into traffic, and there you sit. And sit.

So begins the mad Friday afternoon exodus of Jersey Shore weekenders en route to the South Jersey isles for a day or two of sun, sand and sea. The annual ritual is upon us once again, as SUVs, Jeeps, and assorted sports cars take to the Shore in a smog-inducing race that creates one of the most intolerable rush hours known to man.

I sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about. Where is the allure in a three-hour, stop-and-start commute each Friday afternoon, a drive that is only to be repeated in the opposite direction come Sunday night? Hey, I love Skee ball and the ocean as much as anyone, but six hours in the car to spend a weekend fighting for a parking spot just isn’t my idea of a relaxing weekend.

But far be it from me to discourage any of you dedicated weekenders. Just about the time you’re reaching the Frank S. Farley rest stop on the Atlantic City Expressway, I am twisting open my first Yuengling Lager of the evening. With the smell of barbecue in the air, I do not envy you. In fact, I thank you, for your exodus has turned the neighborhood intoa ghost town and an almost tangible feeling of gentility and peacefulness takes hold.

Parking spots can be had, even in post-college, weekender-laden Manayunk. The roaring of chain saws, leaf blowers and other weapons from the suburban arsenal seems to diminish as weekenders leave their gas-powered toys behind.

The wait at Outback Steakhouse is cut down from two hours to one hour. The line at the barbershop is trimmed to a few souls seeking refuge in the air conditioning. Even the grocery store seems deserted.

The exodus, I’m sure, is even good for building community within the neighborhood. Sweeping away the grass clippings from the driveway, I spot another lost soul doing the same across the street. The neighborhood is just too

quiet to ignore each other when the weekenders have left. We’ll strike up a conversation. We’ll discover that we both like canoeing, or both graduated from the same high school. Or maybe we’ll have nothing in common other than the fact that we’re of the same breed: We’ve left the weekenders to their seashore frolicking and have no regrets about it. The sentiment will go unspoken, I’m sure, but we’ll enjoy suburban serenity over a beer or an iced tea and a friendship will begin.

Will I miss the sun and the weekend of tanning on the beach? My Irish ancestry leads me to prefer the darker things of this world, and so that giant tulip poplar in my backyard is like a best friend. Thanks to that tree, I can lie in the yard for hours on end and still retain my prized pale complexion. The melanoma can wait.

But the ocean waves – surely I will miss them! Perhaps, but lounging in a Mister Turtle Pool underneath that big old poplar, somehow I’ll survive. Haven’t encountered a jellyfish or hypodermic needle yet!

As you Shore-crazed weekenders begin your maddening trek back home Sunday evening, I wish you well. No need to bother with the traffic reports. You know the drill: brake lights as far as the horizon.

And I thank you, for each Friday you allow me to get away from it all – in the comfort of my very own home.

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