WILDWOOD, N.J. — The Dutch engineer who could make the rebuilt Sea Serpent coaster at Morey’s Piers finally roll was forced to quarantine — in Aruba.
Meanwhile, games manager Anthony Sinnerard was trying to convince people he was smiling behind his mask. “Everybody was like, Are you OK? Are you OK? You look mean, you look angry.”
Mean? Angry? So many summers with Morey’s Piers, and it has come to this, during the strangest, most dire season at this Wildwood institution: People could not tell that the jolly Morey’s lifer was smiling.
This is very unacceptable at Morey’s Piers, even when parents are on the edge, a pandemic is in the air, rides are going unstaffed, and families are showing up in scorching heat like a last stand in 2020′s war against fun.
The line is holding, barely. Fun is being had, at least by some.
Just look: The other day, Jacob Lester, 4, of Philadelphia, positioned his Batman mask over his face and rode the flying Pink Elephant ride while his mom and sister watched. Fun.
But owner Jack Morey would not be in that group. “It sucks,” he said in a recent telephone call. “We’re going to get to 2021. But the experience is causing some shocks.”
‘Car number 20, please make sure your mask is on'
Things at Morey’s are both the same and different this summer, full of paradoxes.
Crowds are down, so the 50% capacity limit imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy is mostly moot. But waits can be longer as rides require sanitizing for every turnover. Staffing shortages have kept various rides closed.
“I wouldn’t want to be a cruise ship operator,” Jack Morey is saying. At least there’s that. But his half-century iconic Shore business is wobbly, at best. He laughs when asked if he’s making any money. He’s not.
With three amusement piers (one is closed this summer), a water park, the PigDog beach bar, and four hotels, Morey’s typically employs 1,500 people, including 700 international students. This year, after a July 2 opening, there are around 700 total, Morey says. When New York amusement parks failed to open at all, Morey’s poached lifeguards from Long Island.
Seats are kept empty for distancing, even as people scream through masks as they go racing against the sky, or swinging in the Moby Dick pendulum ship ride, where two seats are off-limits between each family or friend group. This will not be an experience shared with strangers.
It’s one thing to check heights and secure bars, another to police a virus.
At the Musik Express, ride operator Brianna Garces, 18, says she’s endured awkward waits as she holds up the ride back in the booth, where her usual role is to encourage screaming before switching the ride to run in reverse.
“I’ll have to tell each car, ‘Car number 20, please make sure your mask is on,’ until they listen,” she says. “They yell, ‘I can’t breathe with the mask on,’ on the ride. They try to fight with you. They’ll try to take it off once I start it. Once they figure out we can’t start the ride until your mask is on, then they listen.
“It usually it takes a few minutes.”
It’s not easy being pushed into the role of mask monitor.
“They get a little wound up,” said rides supervisor Allison Walker, 21. “Mostly a bunch of verbal altercations, [but also] it’s physical against [other] guests. We walk around the pier saying, ‘Hey, put your masks on,’ but sometimes guests take it into their own hands.”
With the little kids, Morey’s operators, hired largely for their buoyant personalities, say they miss their usual tools of engagement: high fives, hugs, big smiles.
“The hardest part for me is we can’t see anybody smile,” Walker says. “We try our best, and do our Morey’s pier SWAG: our Smile, Wave, and Greet. We always try to smile with our eyes, wave, and say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ ”
Sinnerard, the games supervisor, ended up buying a mask with his face on it. “I was going for, like, the nose down, but they just put the whole picture on there.”
Now he’s got four smiling eyes, along with Jack Watson from accounting, brought in at night to run the Candy Spin wheel to help with staff shortages.
A duck into a photo booth
All in all, Morey’s has tried to give people most of what they came for: a quick snatch of abandon, some simulated danger, thrills. Most people have shown up with masks and fairly low expectations.
The Magic Bus ride designates the every-other available seats with a green light. Musik Express attendants tap their toes waiting on mask resisters, a couple of whom dared an operator to fist-bump the other night. (She did.) Kite Fly kids sanitize before lying facedown, shoes off. Mike Mawson and his family got turned away at the gate, and grumpily went off to buy masks at a Boardwalk store they were sure was part of a vast Morey’s conspiracy.
At the Candy Spin wheel, 7-year-old Addison Molnar and her sister Audrey, 4, crossed their fingers hard before not winning candy.
Kelly Dougherty, of Philadelphia, noted, “I’m not seeing a lot of familiar faces.”
Cierra Bowman, of Coatesville, ducked into the photo booth, where her group removed their masks behind the curtain.
Vicki Irvine, of West Chester, with seven children ranging from 11 to 22, said, “It’s still allowing that laughter, that innocence.”
Jaclyn Foster, an emergency-room technician from Philadelphia, roamed the Mariner’s Landing with her daughter, a niece, her boyfriend, and his two children, and said, “We didn’t want to completely let the summer go by without bringing them down.”
All Morey’s special events have been canceled, except one: a cornhole tournament Aug. 22.
‘Happy seaside carefree environment?'
“Yes, I did see the Sesame Place thing,” Jack Morey says of the incident in which a 17-year-old ride operator was punched over a mask dispute at the Langhorne attraction. “That’s one of many you probably have not heard of. It’s causing us to think differently about the future.”
Some people, he says, are belligerent and on edge, bringing a different attitude, the various weights of the world pulsing through the pier, pushing the limits of the atmosphere his family has nurtured for 50 years. A lot of the regulars seemed to be sitting this summer out, he says.
Morey has always prided himself on open piers with no entry gate, a true public space. This year’s gate, to enforce masks and capacity, may stay, he says. “We want to protect our staff. Our staff doesn’t need to be putting up with that bull―. We’re supposed to be in this happy seaside carefree environment.”
The big 2020 news was supposed to be the refurbished Sea Serpent, an iconic boomerang coaster that has cut through the sky over Morey’s since 1984. It was built by Vekoma, a Dutch company.
But the new cars and updated control boards required Eric Peters, an engineer from the Netherlands, to come to Wildwood for final approvals.
And that required Peters to quarantine for two weeks in Aruba, a Dutch island, before the U.S. would allow him in earlier this month, said Morey’s spokesperson Maggie Warner. Finally, on Aug. 8, Sea Serpent was back, with a 2020 dragon breath of masked screams and 360-degree loops, as a bunched-up line waited outside. Sea Serpent operator Joey Pabon beamed with pride.