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Friday, September 9, 2016



     When I was just a young lad my Dad used to take the whole family on a vacation to Atlantic City every year for a week of sun and surf. What's surprising is that he didn't book the trip during the winter when the hotels were cheaper.

     There were no casinos there back then, but just getting there alive was a gamble. We had four to six kids in a Mercury station wagon and two parents in the front seat with a shorter fuse and longer arms than you would think possible. The car seemed enormous at the time- it had a huge front seat, a huge back seat and two smaller seats that popped up out of the cargo area. It had wood paneling on the side, which was great camouflage if driving in our basement, which had the same paneling. When the kids in the back were small enough, you could fold them down with the pop-up seats and travel in relative quiet.

     It was slow going through the tolls on the Garden State before the days of EZ Pass. If you had a exact change you could "speed" through the exchange at about two miles an hour, TWICE the speed of the poor suckers who only had paper money. My Dad would toss the two dimes and a nickel into this thing that looked like a urinal, and if he missed, one of us would have to get out and retrieve the coins. His shooting skills were not great, but luckily our rebounding was excellent.

     My parents were desperate to keep some semblance of order on the trip, so they would try to get us involved with games like spotting license plates from different states. I'm still angry that no one from Hawaii will bother to drive to New Jersey. We would play things like "20 Questions," where I would try to guess what word my sister was thinking of, using "yes or no" questions. Why wouldn't she just tell me what the word was and save us all some time? I'll never know since that's not a "yes or no" question.

     When we arrived in Atlantic City my Dad would only pay for one room at the hotel, and there were six of us, so he would have two extra cots brought up while we hid in the bathroom. For some reason this all seemed fun at the time, the way a short-term prison sentence is fun. In the morning we all got up at the crack of dawn to bicycle on the Boardwalk. No matter which way we went we always seemed to be riding against the wind. We had to stop and pose for a picture, and it took a half-hour to make it look like we weren't posing.

     In the afternoon we would walk up to the Steel Pier. For ONE LOW ADMISSION price you could get into every attraction. If my Dad had his way we would have spent 16 hours on that pier so we could get our money's worth. If lion wrestling was included in the admission price, as god is my witness, the king of the jungle would have had me in a half-nelson, with my Dad snapping photos, telling us to look more "candid." We would do the best we can, but you can't hide your lion eyes.

     Then it was time to file into the grandstands for an aquatic spectacle presented by the "Diving Collegians," part circus, part clownery. The performance was capped off by the famous "Diving Horse." It was a bit of a stretch to insist that the horse actually dove; it wasn't like a swan dive or anything. The horse and rider would file up a long ramp to the top of a platform, and the bottom would kind of fall out. The horse would basically plummet into this huge tank, and emerge with sort of a surprised look on his face, like maybe they should get the top of that platform fixed.

     I know my brother and sisters remember those days as fondly as I do; when for one fleeting moment we seemed like a normal family. Every year we return to the shore as adults, and it's a trip down Memory Lane. And since I can't remember as much as I used to, the traffic on Memory Lane is much better than on the Garden State.

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