I am constantly seeking new and different places full of unique experiences to find out more about the world and myself. This is what makes one destination so odd. When I go to Wildwood, New Jersey, I visit the same places in the same order every time – engaging in activities I have had since I first stepped onto the chaotic boardwalk as a teenager. I am a Wildwood Purist.
It wouldn’t be a stay in Wildwood without obtaining free parking. At more than $10.00 a day, it’s a worthy challenge. I end up parking in a residential area where I walk about eight blocks, trekking my way to the boardwalk entrance. Heading in this direction ensures that I will be experiencing gastronomic pleasure very soon.
Mack’s Pizza is one of those places that visitors love or hate. It is always first on my list. There are several Mack’s Pizzas at the New Jersey shore, but I only eat at the one on Wildwood Avenue. It is bathed in a vibrant fuchsia. Mack’s has been on the Wildwood Boardwalk since 1953, and it draws an eclectic crowd. Mobster-looking guys, families and gangs of giggling teenage girls order pizzas delivered on plastic serving dishes, whose worn avocado colored flowers indicate that they have probably been around since at least the seventies.
It might seem a little heavy on the wallet to pay $13.25 for a plain pie of eight ample slices, or $3.25 for a single plain slice, especially when many boardwalk pizza joints advertise 99-cent slices. I gladly make the financial sacrifice. Delivered by a waitress with an undistinguishable European accent, the pizza possesses a thin crispy crust, a perfect amount of sweet homemade sauce and cheese so flawlessly melted, it will never slide off your slice.
For the true authentic Mack’s experience, I accompany my pizza with a Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer. The soda provides a nice bite to balance out the sweet and subtle flavors of the pizza. Visitors may also acquire a pizza for carry out, but the ambiance is part of the experience. Pizza dough flies through the air, sauce is squirted on with a hose and cheese is thrown on so fast, if you blink you might miss it.
Mrs. T. orders waitresses around and is constantly counting and recounting the tip money. She includes herself as part of the ambience – March through October all day, everyday. Mrs. T. has been managing Mack’s since the seventies. She could be a model for the cover of Italian Grandmothers magazine.
With my stomach well satisfied, I make my way over to the Oasis Water Park located on Morey’s Pier. Every year I muse that next year I will actually go to the Water Park, of course I never do. Situating myself on a conveniently placed set of bleachers, I settle in for some great people watching. My favorite source of entertainment includes watching individuals of all ages trying to make it across the lily pads only to lose their balance, and face crushing defeat just one lily pad before their goal. Kids with mega water cannons spray passersby off guard, and even though it’s not nice, I make snarky remarks to myself about people in their swimsuits. They really need to create a license for bikini wearing.
From the pier it is an easy walk down to the beach. Wildwood’s beach is vastly wide and the extra advantage of the pier helps me feel less like I somehow got lost and wound up in the Sahara desert. After what still seems like a bit of a hike, the sound of the waves crashing to the shore becomes distinctly amplified. Yes, it is the New Jersey shore, it’s not crystal clear water or fine white sand, but I would never miss the sensation of having the waves wash over my ankles, or the feel of the sand squishing between my toes. Once I make my way close to the end of the boardwalk, I exit the beach and refasten my sandals, protecting my feet from the rough wooden boards.
Now that my stomach has made some room, I stop at Kohr’s Brothers to satisfy my sweet tooth with some peanut butter soft serve. Occasionally, I may stop in one of the many small shops cluttered together on the boardwalk, but as most carry cheap trinkets and lewd T-shirts, I often avoid them.
Morey’s Pier has just finished lighting the giant Ferris wheel, preparing for the raucously wild night crowd; I begin to stroll the eight blocks back to my car. I tell myself that next time I come, I’ll go to the Water Park, or I’ll try that new sandwich place. I know in my heart, however, in an ever-comforting way, that unless Wildwood itself changes, my visits never will.