For the past few days I have been close to home, but faraway. I rented a small apartment with two of my good friends “down the shore” in New Jersey, a tranquil, two-hour train ride from Penn Station, but only a block’s walk from the beach and long from the crush of daily city life. I recently switched jobs and found out that I had to use up three days of vacation before the end of June. I called my friend L.J., who I have gone on adventures to Central Europe and Iceland with. Did she want to go somewhere for five days? Somewhere cheap and last minute? Yes! We dreamed of getting a super steal of a deal in the Caribbean, of jetting off to a quiet island for $300 apiece like the advertisements in the back of the New York Times travel section promise. However, after much research on every travel site we could find we found the deals to be far beyond our price range. We were depressed for a few instants, but then turned our sights to something closer. What did we want? Sun, sand and easy living that won’t strain our wallets. Why not the beaches of Long Island or New Jersey? We visit these beaches regularly on summer-weekend day trips and there’s no lack of cute towns. A little more research and we found our rental, in a historic community called Ocean Grove, right next to the storied Asbury Park.
Ocean Grove is incredibly charming and full of historic, multi-colored, well-maintained Victorian summer homes. On Main Avenue is Nagle’s, a pharmacy and classic soda fountain turned restaurant where we had a burger our first night and a daily ice cream. The beach is popular without being swarmed and the boardwalk is well maintained. This is a long way from the hair gel, fist pumps and sleaze that has popularized by a certain television show. However, one thing we neglected to find out about Ocean Grove, is that it is owned by the evangelical Church. There’s regular worship services on the boardwalk, there’s a posting about daily scripture, you can’t go onto the beach before 12:30 on Sundays because you are supposed to be in church, and forget about buying alcohol. The advantage of this is the town is quiet and peaceful, the disadvantage that if you are made uncomfortable by rules, religiosity, and the sexism, homophobia and hypocrisy of the church (which we are) it feels a little… creepy.
Fortunately, not a 10 minute down the boardwalk is “sinful” Asbury Park, home of the Boss, Bruce Springstein, and the Stone Pony, the club where he got his start. The boardwalk pulses with life and on Saturday night you can hear the latest dance pop hits booming out over the water from the recently restored pier. There’s restaurants, bars, mini golf, ice cream stands, and The Silverball Museum, a pinball arcade full of vintage pinball machines where you pay by the hour! There’s also Asbury Lanes, a punk rock club that is also a bowling ally where $22 gets you unlimited bowling and admission to that evening’s show (a little steep for us, but a good deal for bowlers and music lovers).
The streets are bikeable and on a morning ride I relished taking deep breaths of the sea air and felt transported by the mixture of of salt, sunscreen, sand and honeysuckle carried on the breeze. No makeup, no fancy clothes, no plans, just jean shorts, bathing suits, and sunscreen. These days have been like a gift—because they were unexpected there’s no obligation and no expectations put on this time. It’s just mine to read, relax, enjoy my friends, eat simple food and relish a sliver of the good life close to home.