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Ride the Crest at Wildwood Crest
by Robert Ruane
Sunday, August 10, 2008

Though I had been to New Jersey to visit relatives several times, I had never actually been to the Jersey shore until two weeks ago (July 10-12), but it was definitely worth the wait. When you see the ocean for the first time, the feeling is indescribable--your sense of awe is so intense that your eyes almost pop out.

The ocean is a different color, depending on the sky conditions. When my mom and I walked down by the ocean for the first time, the sky was threatening a little. The gray clouds gave the sea an almost jet-black color to the north--and a lighter shade of black in the south, where the clouds were paler. The next day was sunny, so the ocean was a shade of navy blue to black.

My parents and I had wanted to go to the shore last summer, but every motel was booked in advance. However, we made our reservations well in advance this year. My mom found a motel called Monta Cello, located only a block and a half from the Wildwood Crest shore. I remembered the address well because it was 8400 Seaview Avenue. Ironically, the last time I had spent a morning, afternoon, and evening in a motel was on 8400--last August 4 at Niagara Falls (see my epinion of last Aug. 8). Monta Cello was one of our all-time favorite motels--the owners, Victor and Betty Valerio, were quite friendly, which was a big help, since we had been on the road for seven hours when we checked in. We enjoyed chatting with Victor and Betty--they were genuinely helpful and a joy to chat with. I shared some interesting musical trivia tidbits with them--they had the 1970s Digital Cable channel on outside by the pool, which hit the spot with me because the musical selection coincided with my teen years. If you are going to the Jersey Shore, you should definitely stay at Monte Cello! The room we stayed in was refreshing and comfortable; the air conditioning worked quite well. In addition, at breakfast time they had bagels and coffee--we all enjoyed these.


Swimming in the ocean itself is an experience you won't forget. You get goose bumps seeing each wave crash in. The first few waves felt very cold at first, but I slowly acclimated myself as time went by. Since I had little experience with salt water, it took a little getting used to. I figured that a little salt wouldn't hurt me anyway. As I gazed out to the east, I speculated how far I would have to sail before I reached land again. If, hypothetically, I had begun swimming east, I'd probably still be swimming now--and still months away from Spain! Such is the ocean--a seemingly infinite, vast expanse. It made me think of Lee Ann Womack's excellent hit, "I Hope You Dance," a song about maintaining your sense of awe toward nature.

I found a variety of seashells on my travels--I must have waded in the water for half a mile, riding the waves and looking for souvenirs of my travels. These shells and rocks were a pristine beauty, forged by wind, waves and tossed about an endless number of times. It seemed that the tougher a time the shell had in its travels, the more striking it was to look at. I took about 25 of these shells home to share with family and friends. Some shells were generic fare, while others were essential finds: essential for any mantelpiece. One shell looked as though it could be an earring worn by my future wife, whoever she may be.

You can always judge the character of a beach by its sand. This beach had some of the best, finest sand I've ever seen--or touched. This sand was soothing to my well-worn, calloused feet, though it was a bit hot near the surface, especially away from the shore. I was fascinated by the gradual transition of sand color: from sodden dark brown near the water to bone-dry whitish-beige inland. You can see how far the waves had penetrated inland by looking at the outlines of the waves on the sand.


On our first night there, we had dinner at a restaurant called Alfie's, about a mile north of where we were staying. The restaurant itself was adorned with excellent paneling which was lined with exotic plants. Although the food was very good (My mom and I both ordered spaghetti& meatballs), the service was perfunctory--about a five on a scale of 1 to 10. The waitress was apparently miffed because we hadn't ordered any fancy drinks. What's it all about at Alfies? Service as much as food! Alfie's needs to work on the service a little more.


Midday Wednesday saw us check out the boardwalk, which was located at Wildwood, as opposed to Wildwood Crest. Parking was $4--a little steep, but it was worth it because we got a parking spot very close to the walk.. It was my first time ever on such a walk, and I couldn't help but think of the Drifters' 1964 hit, "Under the Boardwalk." On this strip you will encounter a variety of shops, such as Laura's Fudge (75 years in business--their vanilla nut fudge was perfect). In addition, you will see T-shirt stores, many of which were blaring the latest in top-40 dance or hip-hop music, none of which I recognized (a sure sign I'm getting old!). I also saw a Win-a -CD booth, so I decided to take my chances. Unfortunately, I did not win. However, the girl working at this booth was likable.

Later on Wednesday we decided to take a drive to Cape May. We had a hard time finding the exact location of the lighthouse, but it was worth the hassle. When we arrived, I decided to walk up the stairs--up to the top, which is 159 feet above the ground. I was definitely huffing and puffing on my way up, but I was determined to conquer my fear of heights. I told myself that if I could handle St. Louis's Gateway Arch at 29, I could handle this lighthouse at 40. The view was unbeatable--we saw nothing but ocean to our south. There was also a light breeze, cooling us off nicely. At each landing of the lighthouse there was some fascinating historical tidbits, showing how the coastline has receded due to erosion over the last 150 years or so.

On our second night we had a pizza at a place about half as far from the motel as Alfie's. This experience was more pleasant--our waitress went out of her way to ensure that we had a pleasant stay, and the pizza wasn't too bad, either.

After we left on Thursday morning, we ate at a diner that featured a congenial, attractive, dark-haired, 20-ish Latino waitress who was in her first day there. She was a little confused by our orders, since she did not understand English well. However, I found her to be very likable and personable--she has the potential to be a great waitress. If, by chance she ever reads this, I hope she knows that, despite its being her first day, she did quite well--she was one of the most charming waitresses I have had in a long time.

Wildwood Crest is an excellent place to take your family for a weekend or a vacation. There's a lot of accommodations, but it is advisable to make your summer reservations in April or May to ensure that you'll have a spot. We stayed a block and a half away from the ocean--it was quieter and more relaxing there. Check Wildwood Crest out this summer, and stay at Monta Cello!

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