When they started the trolley service it cost a quarter — exact change. It wasn’t a real trolley. It was actually a bus designed to look like an old trolley car: flat roof, boxy shape, no A/C and windows that opened. Of course, it was red.
It only ran during tourist season and was implemented to reduce traffic congestion and parking to get the tourists from the hotels, motels and rental houses to the boardwalk.
This was when families went on vacation to get away from work and home and their everyday lives — completely. Before everyone owned a PC or any other electronic toys. When everyone hit the shore with just bathing suits, a blanket and towel, sunscreen and sunglasses, coolers, sand and pool toys. Wireless meant a portable radio that operated on batteries (non-rechargeable). Some of us brought a book, made of paper and pulp. And we reveled knowing vacation meant being incommunicado because there were only landlines — and public pay phones. Metered parking accepted cash coins and it cost twenty-five cents for an hour.
The attraction of the area wasn’t just the beaches and boardwalk, but the strip of motels and hotels along the ocean. It was retro and funky and lots of neon and colored lights and each had a distinct personality. There’s no other place along the coast like it and it just screamed “Fun!” It was a summer playground for the middle class.
I’d gone down for the weekend. My parents were staying there for a week, but I was working for tuition money, so I couldn’t afford to take a week off. Riding the trolley was perfect for hitting the boards at night. I wouldn’t have to lose my parking spot near the motel and waste time trolling for parking near the boards.
The last trolley leaving the boards was at midnight, so a few minutes before midnight I headed for the trolley. I intended to board at the last/first stop, but since it was a very dark corner beneath the ferris wheel I decided to walk two blocks to the ice cream parlor. I knew the parlor was well-lit and always well populated. I debated getting a cup of ice cream, but I didn’t want to miss the trolley since it would mean another two-mile walk. In the years before the trolley I had walked — along the beach.
As I watched to trolley head up the street to turn and come back south, nearly everyone at the parlor got up to stand with me at the intersection. Apparently the general M.O. was to get some late night ice cream before calling it a night. (The memory of their waffles and ice cream still makes me swoon.) As the trolley approached us, we prepared to board. And then it passed us by. It had already filled up.
We got nervous. There were only 2 trolleys.
As the last trolley approached we started inching into the street. Someone in the back of the group called out “You in front. Good idea. Keep moving forward.“ No one wanted to walk that night.
We nearly filled the trolley to capacity. As the trolley approached the next corner, the driver checked his mirror for seats. He knew his was the last ride south. He let everyone on and most had to stand in the aisle. Then he drove past all waiting passengers along the avenue.
As we came within two streets of my stop, the trolley was still nearly full when someone pulled the cord to signal a stop. I only needed to walk about 50 feet diagonally to the next corner, so I got off. The trolley emptied at that stop.
As we waited to cross the street, I noticed that everyone who had gotten off had gotten on at the ice cream parlor. As we crossed the street and split up someone called out “OK everybody. Same time tomorrow night!”
Some of the funky architecture and neon have been demolished, replaced by common looking condos. And people go now wanting spa/fitness centers and internet amenities, trendy cuisine and upscale coffee bars instead of casual motels and motel eateries. They want new and modern and their everyday familiarity. Instead of going there to enjoy the unique ambiance, they want to strip away all the personality.
They are people who took the wrong exit — or should have stayed home. And they probably shouldn’t visit Europe since it has lots of old.
The trolley service has been expanded. But now it cost way more than a quarter.