Summertime Blues – NOT!!!

By David Iozzia

So what did you do on YOUR summer vacation? Here in central New Jersey, it was hazy, hot and humid as expected, actually a lot hotter than I hoped for. It was 100 degrees outside for 100 straight days! That’s slightly exaggerated, it was probably only 100 degrees for 10 straight days, and 90 degrees for the other 90 days. I think we’ll just stay inside, rent movies, and run up the air-conditioning bill. No way! We’ll do that in the evening. It’s the dog days of summer and that means summer day trips with the wife and kids and plenty of sunblock.

One of the first and best signs of summer, no pun intended, is the sign on Route 34 in front of Cheesequake Farms that says: “Our own Jersey corn.” From the middle of spring to the middle of fall, Cheesequake Farms fills my family’s bellies with the best fresh vegetables: broccoli, green beans, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, brussel sprouts, and their beloved sweet New Jersey corn. Our summer barbeques would be incomplete without a few ears of corn covered in butter. Having this establishment a few blocks from my house is one of the best things about living where I do. Great neighbors and our kooky 4th of July parade around the block is another reason I’m proud to call Old Bridge home.

When you jump on the Garden State Parkway at Exit 120, it’s only five minutes and two exits to the PNC Bank Art Center for a summer concert in the cheap seats up on the lawn. Styx and Foreigner together was a great concert. I wouldn’t call it New Jersey music, but what a show! Foreigner’s new lineup is incredible. Tom Gimbel, their saxophone/flute/second guitar player, is originally from Morristown. That gives their show a New Jersey flair and Foreigner loves New Jersey. To steal a line from the late great Johnny Cash, they’ve played everywhere, man. Red Bank, Morristown, Englewood, Collingswood, Pennsauken, Great Adventure, and a couple of casinos!

Speaking of Johnny Cash, another New Jersey musician to check out is Michael Patrick. His band, the Suburban Hillbillies, play their style of Roots Rock all over New Jersey. My family enjoyed seeing them play a few times this summer. The coolest, I mean breeziest, show had us lying on blankets on the Seaside Heights beach near dark. Their alter-ego, the Johnny Cash tribute band Ring of Fire, was rocking up on the boardwalk. Dancing in the sand and yelling out for “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk The Line” was a lot of fun.

Keyport’s favorite son, Jon Caspi, has a great new album out called “I’m Not Angry Anymore.” Jon’s another Jersey musician to look out for as he plays all around New Jersey with his band at places like the Stone Pony, or solo and acoustic at the Indigo Coffeehouse in Aberdeen where I saw him play recently.

Sayreville’s favorite son, not THAT one, the OTHER one, brought his hard-rockin’ band back to the Starland Ballroom. Dave “Snake” Sabo and the boys from Skid Row rocked New Jersey’s premier concert club once again this summer. Snake’s bandmate Scotti Hill is originally from Wannamassa and Rachel Bolan hails from Toms River, so Skid Row definitely qualifies as a New Jersey band. These youths haven’t gone wild, they’re still wild!

Speaking of New Jersey bands, it’s great to write a story like this without mentioning Bruce, Bon Jovi, and Southside Johnny. They are New Jersey treasures, don’t get me wrong. I just prefer listening to some of the other New Jersey treasures that I’ve discovered.

Oops. I almost overlooked the Toms River Festival and the musical performance of Hilary Duff. Taking my daughter, Diana, to the festival on a hot, summer night to see her favorite singer and her rockin’ band was a blast! Thousands and thousands of screaming ‘tweeners! Did I tell you how I managed to get us backstage to met Hilary? You’ll have to buy the book when I write it because a magician never reveals his secrets!

On that sweltering night at the Toms River Fest, the Kohr’s orangeade and Dippin’ Dots ice cream tasted extra-cold after this proud papa snagged his version of the Holy Grail: backstage passes to met Hilary.

Going to the right ice cream store for dessert on a hot, summer night can be as satisfying as finding the right oasis in the desert, like the soft black raspberry at Napoli Brothers on Route 36 in Middletown. The only one better is the soft banana at the Jersey Freeze in Freehold. Isn’t that the best ice cream anywhere? It puts a big smile on my face when we’re driving south on Route 9 with my kids screaming out in the back seat “Jeezy Peezy, we’re goin’ to the Freezy!”

The Route 36 bridge at Sandy Hook got stuck open on one of the hot summer nights as we headed to the beach. It was too hot to turn around, so we discovered on of the great bay beaches in the Highlands. We had the beach almost to ourselves, and we splashed around and looked across the bay to Sandy Hook. I wondered who was more irate: the day-trippers backed up in traffic as they left the Hook crawling to the detour over the Route 520 bridge, or the residents of Rumson seeing their backroads filled with people who had no idea how to reach the Parkway from there! I hope they kept all of their iron gates shut. After all, in Monmouth County, bennies are a bigger pest than green-headed flies. The next day the bridge was fine as we headed to the public beach in Sea Bright, which is one of the best in New Jersey. The showers and bathrooms are kept open into the early evening, even after the lifeguards and badge-checkers go home. Thanks Sea Bright, you rock!

My son, Michael, and my daughter, Diana, learned how to swim this summer. We made a bunch of trips to visit their grandparents in Toms River, and the complex they live in has a wonderful in-ground pool. Those weekend drives down the Garden State Parkway were usually avoided at any cost, until I found “the shortcut.” The 45-minute ride on a Saturday morning or afternoon could take two hours on the Parkway when it’s hot and sunny. Our new route, through the backroads of Monmouth and Ocean counties, actually takes ten minutes longer than a good day on the Parkway. It’s a beautiful ride, no traffic, no tolls, no casino buses hogging the passing lanes. There are more trucks pulling horse trailers than carloads of bennies, and there’s zero aggravation. Driving past the farms and cranberry bogs sure beats staring at the exit signs wondering if we’re ever going to get there. We also swam at the ocean beaches in Atlantic City, the only thing free in that town.

Speaking of swimming in Atlantic City, I almost forgot to mention a concert I attended with my brother, Joe. I was swimming in sweat on a jam-packed dance floor when Ian Astbury and his band, The Cult, rocked the House of Blues. I’ve attended many concerts in my lifetime, and I’ve caught a handful of guitar picks and a truckload of drumsticks tossed into the crowd by the band. That night, I dove head first over a four-foot-high metal barrier, banging up my shoulder and cutting my arm on the way, but I got the prize. I caught a wooden tambourine tossed 50 feet from the stage by Mr. Astbury. Bruised and bloodied, I received a bunch of high-fives and compliments for my efforts. New Jersey’s Jerry Gaskill, the drummer from the rock band King’s X, was in attendance, and he was one of the first to extend congratulations.

We fished at Helmetta Pond and Kennedy Park in Sayreville, where my son, Michael, landed 18 sunfish one afternoon. We crabbed in Cheesequake State Park and from the fishing pier in Keyport.

Michael and I toured a bunch of the minor league baseball stadiums in New Jersey. We attended games at the homes of the Somerset Patriots, Trenton Thunder, and Lakewood Blueclaws. I’m sure sitting among 53,000 spectators at Yankee Stadium when our Yanks beat the Mets is a lot of fun. Kicking back on the couch watching the Yankees pound the Red Sox five straight games at Fenway Park was also fun. If you haven’t attended any minor league games, you have to give it a try. The stadiums are family-friendly and the games are highly competive. Plus, the players are accessible. Michael added a few more baseballs and autographs to his collection.

Speaking of sports, the end of the summer stinks, but at least it’s the start of football season. GO GIANTS!

Saturday nights in the summer also means auto racing at Wall Stadium. My family attended the races there to watch our next-door neighbor, Gary Pein, race in the “factory stock” division. His number 38 car has won twice this season, and I hope he adds a third victory before his racing season ends.

Summer also means amusement parks and boardwalks to my family. At Six Flags-Great Adventure in Jackson, my son, Michael, got to feed the star attraction during the tiger show. I’m really glad that steak was on the end of a long pole and not in Michael’s hand. That tiger was hungry! One thing I don’t understand about Six Flags is how they can justify their ticket prices. Half of the big roller coasters were closed the day we were there, and it was a sunny day. Plus, the lines for the rides are incredibly long. You literally spend half your day standing in lines. Instead of adding exciting new rides that are hardly ever open, I think it’s time that Six Flags-Great Adventure finds more efficient ways to operate their existing rides. After all, we pay the big admission prices to go on the rides, not stand in long lines waiting to go on. In addition to the admission, why do we have to pay so much for parking and at the concession stands? The prices at the concession stands there are much higher than we pay for the same exact products at ball games or on the boardwalk. Why?

The boardwalk in Seaside is where I met my wife, Barbara, and we took the kids there on our anniversary. We had a blast, going on rides without long lines, and eating our way up and down the boardwalk. The boardwalk had less wheels, especially quarter wheels offering the chance to win a t-shirt, CD, or stuffed animal. Most of those have been replaced with more expensive wheels offering high-end prizes like i-pods and Coach handbags. Seaside’s boardwalk is still “the place to go” for teenagers and young adults. My children are much younger, and I’m glad we went on a Monday and not on the weekend.

The place to go for families remains the boardwalk in the Wildwoods, and the trip there was easily one of our summer’s highlights. Morey’s Piers offers an incredible selection of amusement rides for all age brackets, and the lines were never long. We didn’t have the time to try their water parks, but we’ll be back next year to give them a try. Their three piers were extremely clean, and they have restrictions on smoking. Their employees are very friendly and very helpful when you need assistance. They do everything right at Morey’s Piers.

It felt like we rode the rides from dusk till dawn but in reality it was from 5 p.m. until midnight. My head is still spinning from the Moby Dick ride, which I will never go on again. The log flumes, bumper cars, funhouses, and the Wild Mouse are definitely more my speed. Michael can usually ride the crazy, spinning rides with his sister, Diana. He was an inch short on the height restriction for the Moby Dick so I had to ride with him. I think I would have enjoyed a ride on a real whaling boat more than that evil ride.

I had spent many a summer vacation in Wildwood Crest with my family and the area is pretty much like I remember it. The movie theatres on the boardwalk were gone, but the night we were there they had movies on the beach. The salt water taffy and the arcades had my kids smiling from ear to ear. In my opinion, for families with younger kids, it doesn’t get any better than the boardwalk in Wildwood and the amusement rides on Morey’s Piers. Take it from me, it’s worth the trip and longer ride down the Parkway. Bring your kids, they’ll bring their smiles, and by the way, WATCH THE TRAM CAR please!

The state’s tourism board once coined the phrase “New Jersey and you – perfect together.” Thank you New Jersey, for the perfect summer and all of the cures that one state can offer for the Summertime Blues. New Jersey rocks!!

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