Whooo boy. I'm not really sure I ought to write about the Bennies* again. Last time I did that, two years ago right around when I started my blogging, I think I ticked off a few people, including one friend I hadn't met yet. To this day, I get comments on that entry telling me I should "get a life," "get a clue," or just "go to hell." I do regret sounding so high-falutin' and all, and the nasty comments almost put a quick end to my new blogging hobby. But you've got to understand one thing: the annual arrival of the Bennies beginning on Memorial Day weekend each year is a big deal around these parts. The DJs on the radio have already been talking for weeks about the coming "Benemy Invasion." It's huge, it affects the lives of us clam-diggers** in countless ways for 25% of the year, and it's near impossible for me not to write something about it. I didn't last year, but the urge has built to an uncontrollable level and . . . I must.
But I'm turning over a new leaf. Instead of ranting and complaining about our visitors, I'm trying really hard to welcome them. I know they help the local economy and pretty near completely support many businesses who would remain shuttered year-round if they depended on just "us" for their income. I know most are well mannered and really love this area, and treat it the same way I treat my far-away vacation destinations. And I know all of them are entitled to share in what we tend to take for granted because we're here year-round. But there are a few bad apples, and they're the ones who are responsible for giving the Bennies a bad rap, and for my blog getting so many hits on people searching for "Bennies Go Home" bumper stickers. For the few bad apples (whether they be Bennies OR clam-diggers), I'm suggesting they follow just a few rules for the next 14 weeks or so.
1. Pull Over if You Don't Know Where You're Going or if You're Distracted by all the Beautifulness. This is easy. We know you don't know the area like the back of your hand. We know you need to look closely at street signs, restaurant signs, billboards, and gas station prices. But for heaven's sake, you do not have the right to block traffic while you make up your minds about where to eat dinner.
2. Speaking of dinner, tip your waiter or waitress or bartender like you would at home. True, the chances of you being served by the same person again this summer or next summer or ever may be slim, and your service may be less than spectacular on a Saturday night a few weeks into the season. The poor server or 'tender has had two tables, max, every weekend since last Labor Day. Now the place is full with a two-hour wait, and you're not the only table. Be nice.
3. Enlarge your perception of "personal space" when you're on the beach. Yes, you may be from a more densely-populated area and are quite comfortable with being all up in someone else's territory. But if there is plenty of sand available when you arrive at the beach at noon, don't park your blanket and your boom box and your Frisbees and your kites and your kids building McMansion sand castles two feet from someone else's set-up. If you didn't get there at 9:00 AM to snag a spot close enough to the water, deal with it. Find a different spot further back and get up earlier tomorrow. (ooooh, I'm starting to sound snarky now. I'll back off.)
4. This kind of goes with Rule Number 1 but sort-of not. Pay attention when you approach the tolls on the Garden State Parkway. They are clearly marked and are visible from nearly a half-mile away. The signs giving clues start two miles before that. Purple is E-Z Pass Only. Blue is for Exact Change. Red is for the unfortunate few who have no E-Z Pass and no Exact Change. Under no circumstances should you get within fifteen feet of a purple lane and realize "Uh-oh. I don't have E-Z Pass! I don't have Exact Change, either! I am entitled to cross twelve lanes horizontally to on-coming traffic in order to get to the Red lane!" And you really ought to remember the colors after you have passed through 5 previous toll plazas. In fact, if you are coming down every weekend, make it a point to remember the exact lane number you want to be in.
5. Carry In, Carry Out. A lot of our beaches have this rule nowadays. It generally means the township or state park that you're visiting doesn't have the money to pay for garbage collection on the beach, in spite of the $12 you just paid for a daily beach badge. If you see this sign, be prepared. There will be no trash cans, and you'll need to bring a bag or two to carry out the trash you generate while you're visiting. And out means OUT, not deposited next to the restroom or food stand. It is not OK to leave a dirty diaper half buried in the sand, and in some towns (e.g., Belmar), you shouldn't leave so much as a cigarette butt.
6. Don't Feed The Seagulls. This is in italics because it is especially important. Not only are you teaching them a behavior that is un-seagullish and can't be replicated so as to keep them alive the other eight and a half months a year, but as with all living creatures . . . you eat, you poop. Except that seagulls have this reaction almost instantaneously, most likely right over the family next to yours on the beach. Don't Feed The Seagulls.
7. Finally, if you're having such a good time you can't decide whether to drive home on Sunday night or Monday morning, let me decide for you. Sunday night is better. Believe me. There's going to be traffic either way. But the Sunday night traffic is way easier than getting in the way of the regular Monday morning commuters trying to get to work while you're driving off your hangover doing 40 miles per hour in the fast lane and going horizontally across the toll lanes. Why in the world do you want a hundred clam-diggers flipping the NJ salute*** at you? On Sundays evenings, you can hang out in the traffic with all the other folks who are nice and happy after a wonderful weekend at "the shore," slowly returning to their weekday homes, passengers with one bare foot stretched out the side window. In fact, the toll-booth approaches on Sunday night are a veritable ballet of cars weaving in and out. Enjoy it.
So those are just my suggested rules. Play nice with others, don't run with scissors, and come September, we just might miss seeing you around.
Y'all come back next weekend, ya hear?
* Bennies is a word of undetermined origin. It refers here to the masses of people from North Jersey, Northwest Jersey, West Jersey, or lower New York State, or NYC, or Staten Island, or Long Island (Lawn-Gigh'land?) or god bless them, even Quebec, who come down to "Da Shore" each summer.
** Clam-diggers refers to those of us who live here year-round and never use the phrase "Da Shore." It's either "the beach" if you're going local, or the specific town name you're driving to. E.g., "LBI," or "Seaside." More likely, it's the name of a specific bar, such as "Martel's," or "Bar A."
*** NJ Salute is the bird. The finger. But I don't know that from personal experience, of course. Nah.