I’ve been spending a lot of my weekends this summer down the shore.
If you are from New Jersey, and possibly New York or Connecticut, you know what that means.
If you are from anywhere else and have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll briefly fill you in on this regional idiom. Going “down the shore” is how north Jerseyans talk about going to the beaches in south Jersey. We don’t say, “I’m going to the beach this weekend,” or “Let’s drive down to the shore today.”
No, when you are from north Jersey, you go “down the shore.” I don’t know who coined the phrase or how it came about. What I can tell you is that this phrase did not just become popular a few years ago when that god-awful MTV show aired. For as long as I can remember, this has been the phrase we use whenever we drive down to one of Jersey’s beaches.
People who live in or near the beach towns year-round hate when people from northern NJ come down the shore during the summer months. And I understand it, even though I am one of those northerners. We make traffic worse, we take up more space on the beaches, we make it impossible to get a table at a local restaurant without a long wait.
But when you grow up in northern NJ, going down the shore is just what you do. It’s what families do for vacations when they don’t want to worry about driving out of state or flying. It’s where teenagers go after prom. It’s where college students and young adults go on the weekends to party.
Going down the shore is far from an exotic tropical vacation, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a Jerseyan who doesn’t have at least one memory of being down the shore. Stopping at Wawa in the mornings for coffees and Taylor ham (or pork roll, if you live south of exit 130ish on the Garden State Parkway), egg and cheese sandwiches (with salt, pepper, ketchup, of course — again, if you know, you know). Going back to Wawa or stopping at a sandwich shop later in the afternoon to grab subs for lunch. Walking up and down the Seaside Heights boardwalk at night, eating either sausage and peppers or gigantic slices of pizza along the way. Topping it off with a Kohr’s ice cream cone before heading home.
(By the way, I’ve brought up some more regional terms. Wawa is a convenience store that, although found in other parts of the northeastern US, is synonymous with the Jersey shore. And people from North Jersey call sandwiches “subs,” not hoagies or heroes. Also, the Taylor ham/pork roll argument is a classic debate between Northern and Southern Jerseyans. It’s a highly processed pork product that’s a staple in almost every single Jersey diner and bagel shop. The product itself is called pork roll, but the most popular brand that makes it is called Taylor ham. Northern New Jerseyans are known for calling it Taylor ham, while the rest of NJ calls it pork roll.)
For me, since I’m fair-skinned, the Jersey shore also represents a slew of bad sunburns, sitting under a beach umbrella instead of laying in the warm sun, and lathering up with sunscreen every hour. But for every painful sunburn I’ve gotten, I have about seven or eight funny memories of being with my friends or family members down the shore.
After all, there is nothing quite like the Jersey shore. Bruce Springsteen summarized it best in his song “Jersey Girl”:
’Cause down the shore everything’s all right.
Truer words have never been spoken.