LBI’s Last Gasps of Summer Vacation

How the earthquake played out at the Jersey Shore

So, I’m in Beach Haven on LBI this week and at one point, I thought I was going to write about the $4 cupcakes at Yo Babycakes, but I’m not (oh hell: almost as small as a mini-muffin, light as air, FOUR DOLLARS?!?!?!?!), and things like that—the $12 for two tiny scallops appetizer, the $35 beach chair that costs $14 at Target, etc., but these are things we expect at the Jersey Shore … and then, the earth quaked.

Within 90 seconds of the quake, at least 80 percent of the people on the beach pulled out their cell phones and began texting or calling people they were not with. Almost every face was planted in a phone, except for the guy under a huge cabana, who said: “We all better start drinking!”

A Crackberry myself, I have been leaving my phone at the house. I tell myself I am taking better care of it by leaving it at home, perfectly protected from sand and water. The reaction was amazing to see, though: People were not talking to people they had just shared the experience with, but calling other folks to tell them about their experience.

Later, we were at one of those huge discount souvenir and t-shirt shops, standing in line behind a couple who were buying a good amount of things and had two children with them. We were buying a couple of boogie boards to replace the ones we inadvertently left at home. The man was telling the woman how he had forgotten to tip the server at the restaurant where they had just eaten. They were laughing about it.

The wife turned to walk away, maybe to wait outside for him, and when she did a small red, child’s t-shirt fell to the floor. My boyfriend and I both dove for it and were saying whatever you say, things like, “Excuse me. You dropped this.” It didn’t even register to me that it was a new t-shirt from that store and she hadn’t paid for it.

The woman behind the counter—young, blond and Bulgarian—said something like, “You need to have all of your items on the counter.” And the woman snapped, saying, “You should be paying attention, not standing there talking to your friend. You should have noticed.” The Bulgarian said something else I couldn’t really hear, and the shopper yelled, “Yeah—like I’m going to steal a four-dollar t-shirt.”

The shopper walked out and the Bulgarian continued to talk to the other cashier, with the only word I could understand being “vacation,” though I did understand their tone.

When we went outside we saw the couple putting all of their purchases in their minivan, and we expected to overhear them talking about what just happened. They weren’t; they were talking about the next place they were going to go (and maybe not tip or start fights).

Later still: My boyfriend was lining up for his second mini-golf hole-in-one of the evening when a family cut in front of him and started playing the same hole. Grandma, granddaughter and a grandson I only heard referred to as “Bam Bam” proceeded to traipse from hole to hole, not playing in any particular order, and not noticing when they were breaking up entire groups of people—they were even oblivious to each other—frequently standing on the green or taking shots while their own family members were taking their own shots. It was a wonder they weren’t also texting.

Another group, Mom, Dad and a five-year-old child, were also golfing. They were very loud, and the mother was very competitive about the mini-golf game. They were also odd: The parents only referred to themselves in third person—“It’s mommy’s turn.” “Daddy is going to get it in this time. Don’t worry.” But odder still, the mom kept saying things to him like “Shove it” as in “up yours” and “shut up” and at one point, slapped him. When she slapped him he began to cry—as loud as you’d expect. He choked out, “You slapped me,” and she said, “Yes, Mommy did.” I wondered if she realized that, most likely, the slap would be what he’d remember about this trip.

Even later: Bay Avenue is Beach Haven’s boardwalk. All the shops and restaurants, as well as the tiny amusement park and arcade, are on Bay Avenue. This makes for lots of foot traffic. Crossing an intersecting street along Bay Avenue, the light turned red for us pedestrians when my family and I, along with about 40 other people, were midway across. A woman yelled out of her car: “You’re not supposed to be walking now!” with this look of full-on disgust and anger. I was merely stunned that anyone could be that angry over such a small delay—while at the beach. Without thinking, I think I may have quoted the Bulgarian as I called out: “Happy Vacation!” and then blew her a big kiss Quite a few strangers cracked up laughing, and I loved humanity again.