I moved to north-central New Jersey reluctantly in 1994 to be closer to a New York job. I wasn’t a fan of New Jersey except for the diners and the now-defunct Pennsauken Mart. As a native of Philadelphia and its near suburbs, anything north of Trenton was like another country. All the gangster shit, the sketchy politics, the ridiculous property taxes all took their toll on my normally highly-agreeable personality. But all through my childhood and much of my adulthood, I recognized the single biggest asset New Jersey had going for it was the shore. Ocean City. Avalon. Atlantic City. Beaches. Warm water. The boardwalk. The smell of freshly cut french fries, Mack and Manco Pizza and Kohr Brothers ice cream. And, of course, Wildwood.
Charles Wiedenmann was one of the lucky kids in his northeast Philly neighborhood. His family had a house at the shore, Wildwood no less, the ultimate shore oasis–family fun, food, rides and a feeling that we wish we could have bottled.
“To get in the car, to drive two hours, go out to the beach where it’s cooler and you’re in the ocean and they’ve got the incredible boardwalk, the amusements and the nightlife, it was like going to some foreign, exotic land,” he recalls.
The good news is, Charles captures much of that shore experience in his new book Down the Shore. It’s a 400-plus page memoir of his memories of Wildwood in the 1970s. It captures the innocence of childhood, the adventure of adolescence and the preciousness of family time. It has the same easy pace as his last book, Lawndale, a memoir of his life growing up in the Lawndale neighborhood of northeast Philadelphia.
It’s always a pleasure for me to chat with Chaz because we share the same Philly geography (my old neighborhood was about a mile from his) and the same childhood experiences. I hope you’ll enjoy our conversation as much as I did. And if so, I highly recommend Down the Shore and Lawndale. Here’s our conversation: