OCEAN CITY, N.J. — It was, truly, the summer of their discontent.
The weather was great, coronavirus was mostly in abeyance. Masks were off, restaurants and stores were fully open. People were on vacation again. Shore towns were thriving.
But still, so many complaints.
Flies, teenagers, dogs, Shoobies, being called a Shoobie, ungrateful locals, the direction of the wind, bicycles, teenagers on bicycles, cars, golf carts, flags, dogs, the cost of ice cream, flies again, water park lines, rabbits (alive and/or dead), trash, tides, parents of those teenagers, the help, the lack of help. The flies!
They complained on Facebook, relentlessly, so much so that people started complaining about the complaining.
“... [F]or a place that’s known the world over as one of the world’s great family resorts that people here have loved so dearly for generations and for soooo many reasons,” Gene Godfrey wrote Aug. 25 on the “Ocean City N.J. 08226″ Facebook page after a summer of griping, “COMPLAINING about the littlest things on this page (en masse) makes this wonderful city seem like no one should ever come here!”
And they complained in real life.
“A lot of complaining,” said Ariana Hellein, owner of two stores on the Ocean City boardwalk near 13th Street: Jewelry Hut and Fisherman’s Cove. “My one store didn’t have air-conditioning. I get it, it’s hot in that store. People would complain to me. I’d say, I’m sorry, we don’t have air-conditioning. And they would complain, why isn’t there a breeze? Like they were personally offended. You just came in off the ocean, it’s summer.
“We can’t control flies. They would say, I can’t shop in here, the bugs are attacking me. I have fans. I have bug spray. I can’t walk behind you with a fan.”.
Fueled by the always-ready-to-start-a-gripe-session Facebook groups and perhaps an intensity brewed during a year of lockdown, the culture of complaint was intense.
Last year, Hellein noted, people seemed just thankful to be anywhere that felt like a vacation. This year, expectations were higher.
And people were spending more time at Shore homes, encountering mystifying Shore phenomena like land breezes and sea breezes and their effect on flies, not to mention ocean temperatures and, not for nothing, general mood. (A land breeze, from the west or bay side, means flies, cold ocean and irritation; a sea breeze: tranquility, ocean warmth and no flies.)
It was a lesson that never seemed to stick.
“Beside the dreaded bugs is there somewhere that I can search whether it will be a land breeze or sea breeze?” wrote one woman May 27 in the Margate City Community Group. “I always forget the trick with the flags.”
Some people did try to explain it to her (again). If the flag is blowing toward the beach, that’s a land breeze (stay home). If the flag is blowing away from the beach, that’s a sea breeze (rejoice). Others mocked. But the issue was raised again and again, as it did seem to be a bad summer for flies.
Or maybe until you’ve literally felt the moment the breeze will switch from land breeze to sea breeze one mid-afternoon and felt your heart lift, you won’t remember. It also helps to have the windows open.
In Margate, the bickering and griping was so bad leading up to Memorial Day that administrators of the Margate Community Group on Facebook pulled the plug on the group altogether.
“Your Admins are putting this group on ‘pause,’ ” Beth Beggs posted to the 6,600 members of the group on May 31, before archiving the page. “Yes, it’s a strange time to decide this, since summer will soon be in full swing. But that’s just when most of the ‘us-versus-the’ squabbling and nastiness happens.... . We’re just not up to the fight this summer. ... Enjoy Margate, everyone.”
In an interview, Beggs noted the snowball effect of complaining on Facebook. “One person complains, and ten people pile on,” she said. “And then the opposing factions piles on.”
She said the admins were not planning to revive the group. “Not one of us misses it,” she said.
Of course there were numerous other groups to fill the void, including the spin off “Margate Community Group Elite” page.
Over at “Summers in Ventnor, Margate and Longport,” summer residents were shocked (!) to repeatedly discover that locals tended to (lovingly) mock them. And not amused at all.
“Any thoughts on this?” posted one woman, referring to a meme that had Homer Simpson cheering on “Two more days” until Labor Day. “A lot of these ‘shoobie’ haters are business owners whom we are all supporting. Including the guy that refinished my deck. Ridiculous.”
While one woman attempted a reasonable, “I’m a shoob in Ventnor for the last 50 years ... it’s not that serious ... not offended ...”, a group administrator declared the term “offensive and not permitted on this page.”
The origins of the word “Shoobie” are typically traced to Atlantic City’s original day-trippers who packed lunch in shoeboxes (rather than buying lunch) when they rode the train to the Shore.
In any case, Beggs noted that the word Shoobie, which, as a second homeowner from Wyncote, she admits to being and considers to be a benign “level one insult, maybe not even a full one,” had become something at which people took great offense.
“It was just a ramping up of nastiness,” Beggs said. “On the flip side, there was the ramping up of very easily hurt feelings. Some people would really take umbrage at being called Shoobies. It would generate huge amounts of arguments, and we were tired of it.”
Over at the Avalon and Stone Harbor Facebook page, “7 mile Shenanigans,” people were griping about teens on skateboards, teens gathering en masse on the boardwalk, and, of course, the black flies. “It’s all part of the little nuisances that make Avalon great, even the bike stealing, garage grab, underage drinking, beach parties etc.,” was one reply.
Hellein, the Ocean City boardwalk shop owner, said irritated patrons gave her employees attitude all summer long. With summer help difficult to find, these employees were actually her children.
“It was amazing to me how many people not so much yelled at my kids, but gave my kids an attitude,” she said. “My son is 13 and has autism. It’s very obvious. He didn’t make mistakes. People were rushing him.
“It always amazed me when people were on vacation and seem so stressed and ready to snap,” she said.
In Ventnor, Police Chief Doug Biagi said he and his fellow Downbeach police chiefs noted the short fuse of people newly sprung from COVID lockdowns. The summer itself was fairly typical, he said; nonetheless, complaints about mundane things were off the charts, between strangers, and also among neighbors.
“This was the summer of bitching,” Biagi said. “The tolerance level of people down here, when they got out into public, I think their filters were just gone. People just had zero tolerance for anybody invading their bubble.”