Welcome To Long Beach Island, NJ Also Known as LBI
18 Miles of Smiles
There’s No Place Like Home By REBECCA GEE | Jan 22, 2014
I was at the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce luncheon last Tuesday and one of the speakers was asking why do people come here (to Long Beach Island, NJ). I met with him afterward and offered a few ideas on how he could go about asking people that. But I thought about it a lot as I left there.
The Answer Is: It’s Home. People want to be here (Long Beach Island) because it’s home, only better. It is not a big European city with all the "must-sees" or a family fun resort with a million rooms and characters in costume wandering all over. Don’t get me wrong, we have lots of places to stay and we totally have our characters – but they are of a different variety.
It’s not a world-class resort where people look like they stepped out of a private jet into their waiting limo and never touch water. It’s where even the “rich people” hop out of their cars and grab their Wawa coffee and their SandPaper themselves in their ratty T-shirts and pay to stand in line in a fire company engine bay in February to eat a plate full of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and donated homemade desserts with a bunch of strangers.
It’s comfy, a place where you can go to breakfast, lunch, work and a wedding in the same pair of jeans and flip-flops and no one cares or can comment because they have done it themselves.
It’s where the guy at the bagel place knows your order and what time you’ll be in. And even if Jon Stewart is ahead of you in line, you will get yours first because you are you – and that’s just as special. It’s where your parents went, and their parents went, and where you will hopefully bring your kids. It’s where even the biggest CEO will stop and get clams on the side of Bay Avenue in Manahawkin because Blacky’s has the best and it’s where his pop always stopped. And there is nothing like it anywhere else.
As a local, a native, I admit sometimes I forget that we are lucky to live here. We have made this little stretch of beach and its surrounding area a really wonderful place. It’s not perfect – we know there are things we would change and things that will change whether we want them to or not – but it’s home.
I get to go on vacation once in a while and I have this little area of Florida that I love. People ask me why and I tell them, “It’s like home, only warmer.” That spot is casual; it’s not pretentious. The places I go are not fake or a fantasyland filled with someone else’s idea of what I should love. It’s got little restaurants with friendly staff. The occasional egret eats with you (sort of reminds me of the pig at Uncle Will’s, only this one is real and likes to eat Alligator Bites, which I find ironic).
The place I go has fun stores and wonderful beaches with shells where I can walk my dog and swim in the salty water of the Atlantic. Sure, I could go to the touristy part of town and see the “sights,” etc. and that can be fun, but it’s not why I go. I go because it is home, only better. And that’s why people come here.
They come to LBI because they don’t have to be anything or do anything. They can just enjoy. They can take a walk, see a show, eat a big meal – lots of big meals – take some photos of their family even if that consists of their dogs. They can hop in a boat and float around or get some eels and go fishing. They can Paint a Pot or read a book. They can crack a beer and shuck a clam in their boxer shorts and no one will bother them – unless, of course, it’s the last beer or clam. Then they might have to put on flip-flops and shorts and ride their bike to get some more.
People come here because they feel like they “belong here" (LBI). People want to be “from here” or to “have a place here.” They want that connection to Long Beach Island and its people. They want to be a part of this community.
I saw it firsthand when Sandy struck, the outpouring of love that came from people who visit here. I manage several business pages on Facebook for local merchants, and the support for the rebuilding and the donations that came for our fire departments and other charities were just overwhelming.
Why? Because it didn’t happen to some far-off place that they visited once or saw on TV. It happened to their “home away from home,” and they felt the pain right along with us. They asked how “our house we rent each summer” made out and praised the locals whom they probably had met only a handful of times but they feel are like old friends.
Years ago my mom was asked by someone who was trying to make a big name for himself here just what he had to do “to be a native.” Of course my little spitfire of a mom looked at him in the middle of Beall’s Market in Beach Haven and said, “You have to be born in a bed on Centre Street; anything short of that and you don’t qualify.”
She was right, and she meant it, having been born in a bed on Centre Street, but she also meant that it’s a special type of person that truly belongs here, and it takes them to make it the Island that we all love. Without the “local flavor,” we wouldn’t be a home away from home for so many. Without the characters and quirks, we wouldn’t be the place that people want to bring their families to year after year. We wouldn’t be the place that others wish they were a “native of.” We wouldn’t be home, and neither would they.
Rebecca Gee grew up in Beach Haven and lives in Manahawkin.
This LBI Letter To The Editor Is Courtesy Of The Sandpaper
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