Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ear Worm or Worm Hole?

“Welcome to Wildwoods” shouted the enthusiastic, disembodied female announcer.  I was preoccupied with looking around for the source and missed the next few words, until I heard “of our Star-Spangled banner.”

Another distaff voice, this one singing with a country-western music twang, took over.  Mars and I had stopped walking already so we remained in place for the duration.  I removed my baseball cap.  Three young tee-shirted men who were getting a boardwalk store ready for the season halted their work – but not their cigarette smoking.  The few other strollers continued strolling.  The song ended without applause – live or canned.

Without interruption or introduction Kate Smith’s rendition of "God Bless America" floated out of the set of speakers, which I now had located on a pole near where we were standing.  I recalled lining up with hundreds of runners on Thanksgiving Day morning in 2001 listening to the same tune.  They play it at the Manchester Road Race every year.  This time we all listened and some of us wiped tears from our eyes.  Today, fifteen years removed, the song still effected me.

We began walking.  Kate Smith hit her last high notes – and then we heard:

             “Spring'll soon be gone, summer's comin' on

            I'm-a dreamin' of lotsa summer love

            All I think about

            (Wildwood days)

            After school is out

            (Wildwood days)

            Headin' down the shore

            (Wildwood days)

            To have a ball once more

            Whoa whoa whoa whoa those Wildwood days

            Wild, wild Wildwood days, my baby

            Every day's a holiday and every night is a Saturday night

            Oh those Wildwood days, wild, wild, Wildwood days

            And then those party lights wild, wild Wildwood nights.”

I recognized the song – even knew many of the words.  As I tried to remember the artist, I saw the white on blue background mural with Bobby Rydell’s name and picture.

Mars and I got away for a few days to Cape May, New Jersey – four miles down the Garden State Parkway from Wildwoods at Exit 0.  It was our second trip to this seaside vacation locale where large numbers of the newly emerging Victorian middle class began “resorting” in the later 1800s when rail and ferry service from Philadelphia came on the scene.   Our first visit was three years ago when we bathed in Victoriana under the auspices of a Road Scholar program.  We came back for more things Victorian – Cape May is awash in “painted ladies” and such – but decided to also take a step into the more recent past by spending some time at Wildwoods.

 According to “The Guide to Wildwoods” created by the Doo-Wop Preservation League, “The completion of the Garden State Parkway in the 1950s triggered Wildwood’s boom making it accessible to millions of people from New York to Baltimore. Freed by the car they could find lodging far from the old center near the transit stations. This led to a new generation of car-oriented motels. Wildwood’s designers caught the spirit of the new age - not with the grim Stalinist modern of urban centers but with names and forms that conveyed the cool world of rock-n-roll, cars with tailfins, guys with slicked back hair and bobby-soxed girls rockin’ at the hop. Our name for this style is Doo-Wop. Taken from the nonsense lyrics of rock-n-roll that were calculated to enrage parents, it suggests Wildwood’s in-your-face design.” http://www.doowopusa.org/district/walking_guide.pdf

Although Mars and I grew up in the Doo-Wop era we are both much closer to the Victorians in taste and temperament – perhaps from a prior life?  Still it seemed like a fun thing, after spending after a couple of days wandering among the Palladian windows, Mansard roofs, Gingerbread trim, shark’s tooth shingles, pediments, turrets, and vestibules of the last half of the 19th century to travel forward in time and sample the bright, cheerful neon signs, space-age undulating curves, off-kilter angles, kidney-shaped pools, and blue plastic palm trees of the mid 20th.

Plus there is the award-winning Boardwalk featuring “38 blocks packed end to end with stores, shops, water parks, eateries, live entertainment and amusement piers with over 100 rides and attractions. The sights, the sounds and the smells of the Wildwoods Boardwalk are pure sensory overload!”  

Unfortunately (actually not) Mars and I were pre-season visitors – so none of the amusements and very few of the stores and restaurants were open.  This was still a little disappointing since we were hoping to have a slice of pizza at a place called Mack’s after getting recommendations from a health club acquaintance at home and from our breakfast waitress at the Inn of Cape May – the circa 1890 Victorian hotel at which we “were accommodated” for three nights, as the early guests would have said.

So we strolled the wooden Wildwoods’ boardwalk – taking pictures and turning down the discount offers from the small number of vendors who were honing their hawking skills.  In my mind I could picture a time-lapse film of the nearly empty promenade filling with more and more and more people until we were totally absorbed by the crowd.  It would be a Victorian’s (and our) worst nightmare.


 But the dreaded mob scene did not materialize, and after a half-hour or so we went back down to the equally deserted street and ambled among some of the Doo-Wop motels where 1950s travelers stayed.


At Cape May Mars and I did pretty much what the wealthy vacationers of 125 years ago had done before us: walked along the beach and the esplanade; ambled by  Congress Hall hotel where John Phillip Sousa and the Marine Corps Band provided music; wandered the streets and admired the architecture of well-maintained Victorian buildings – the major point of which was to impress other people with the owner’s social standing and wealth, and the guiding principle of which was that there was no such thing as too much; partook of sumptuous meals (although Irish Pub, Greek and Asian cuisine were not likely part of the local 19th Century palate); read Stephen King’s imagined history of JFK’s  assassination (Mars), and “The Woman in Gold” upon which the eponymous Helen Mirren moved was based; and we just relaxed.  Although we also had significant opportunities for a ”taking of the waters”, i.e. the waves of the Atlantic, we declined.  Several years back Mars and I read “Close to Shore”, a non-fiction book about the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916.  It’s been 100 years  – but still, why take any chances.  Besides, as the Victorians (and Jersey Shore residents) would say, the surf was friggin’ cold.

We returned home after four days at Cape May faintly tanned, pretty rested, and somewhat ready.

Our second day back in Wethersfield was the designated time for those of us in the Town’s Beautification Trust to plant flowers in the various concrete containers that we hope helps the appearance of Connecticut’s “Oldest Towne”.  One of my locations was right in the heart of our own historic district – 50 houses that were built before the American Revolutionary War, plus about 250 more constructed before the 20th century, about 100 of which were built prior to the American Civil War.

My Jeep’s radio was tuned to the eclectic, “Alternative Public Radio” station at which Mars and I also volunteer. When I turned on the ignition to leave after finishing my work I heard – really, you couldn’t make this stuff up –

            “Whoa whoa whoa whoa those Wildwood days

            Wild, wild Wildwood days, my baby

 Even in the midst of history you can’t get away from your past.

Listen to Bobby Rydell's "Wildwood Days" @

Listen to kate Smith's "God Bless AMerica" @

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