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Getting back to summer daze

She was a Jersey Shore day-tripper, back in the day.

Bathers on beach chairs in Atlantic City in the late 1940s.
Bathers on beach chairs in Atlantic City in the late 1940s.Read more

I became a Shoobie in the summer of 1963.

I was 15 and desperate for a day at the Shore - so desperate I boarded a bus in Center City bound for Ninth Street in Ocean City, wearing a two-piece bathing suit under my tie-dyed tank top and cut-off jeans.

I arrived and immediately adopted an air of nonchalance - as if I'd been sleeping at or on the beach all along, or at least since Memorial Day, and had no plans to return home, at least not before Labor Day.

But in truth, I was a Shoobie - a tourist, a day-tripper. The term, meant to be derogatory, apparently originated in the early 1900s when tourists first flocked to the Shore on newly laid railroad lines, carrying all their needs in simple shoeboxes.

Having fun on the cheap is something I'd picked up from my parents. They'd pile all five of us kids into the family's red-and-white Ford station wagon and drive to Atlantic City for the day.

We'd stay in the water, jumping the waves, until our lips were quivering and blue. For lunch, we ate peanut butter sandwiches and deviled eggs brought from home, made less appetizing by the aroma of hot dogs and french fries wafting over from the boardwalk. That's what we really wanted for lunch.

Long about 5 p.m., we'd take turns changing in the car and then we'd eat out - ordering maybe five platters for the seven of us to share at an inexpensive family restaurant on Pacific Avenue. Kent's, I think it was.

Our after-dinner entertainment was a walk on the boards where we'd shake hands with Mr. Peanut and buy chocolate-coated caramel taffys. At Capt. Starn's on the inlet, we'd each get a nickel for a bag of "food" to feed the fish kept in display tanks there. Nobody we knew could afford to eat at Capt. Starn's - let alone the Knife & Fork Inn.

As kids, we would quarrel on the way down the Shore and sleep on the way back. But we were young and we could dream. Someday, I thought, I'll have a place of my own at the Shore.

Now it's the summer of 2008. I have much to be grateful for, but I don't have a beach house.

Still, I'm called by the salt air and the tides and I simply will not stay home. I've been a Shoobie on and off for 45 years and I'm not about to let $4-a-gallon gas keep me from enjoying a day at the beach.

So welcome to this new feature in Weekend. This is not a nostalgia column. I'll be writing in this space each week about particular spots on the Jersey coast where you can have as much fun as possible for as little cash as necessary.

I'd love to hear your suggestions. We may lack the agility to change clothes in the car, but we can still find a spot on the Shore.