My wife and I are about to move into our house at the Jersey Shore on a full-time basis. We bought it 23 years ago, and during that time we’ve expanded it from a single story unheated shack with two bedrooms and one bath to a year-round house with three floors, five bedrooms, four baths, and a garage apartment in back. We like our space.
Despite our ever-expanding beach house, however, we’ve only spent weekends and summer vacation weeks there. Our primary home for 28 years has been in Nutley. So, in other words, until now, we’ve been what the locals call bennies – tourists who visit the area only during the summer season.
I thought benny (or bennie), referred to the fact that seasonal visitors are only interested in taking advantage of the “benefits” of the shore during the warm weather. Others say it’s short for “benefactors” because these perennial tourists collectively spend so much money in Jersey Shore towns. Another theory, according to Wikipedia, is it’s an acronym derived from the fact that most such tourists come from in or around Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, and New York.
Since Nutley is a suburb of Newark, that makes us bennies.
We haven’t even moved in yet, but lately we’ve been spending a lot more time in Bradley Beach, and suddenly I realize why locals historically hate the bennies. For instance, in April and May there was always a parking space in the street right in front of my house. If I had to make a quick run to the supermarket, I could hop in my car, and make the mile and a half drive in three minutes flat. No problem.
No more. After the unofficial kickoff of the season on Memorial Day, weekend parking spaces on the street (at least on sunny weekends) are nonexistent. That’s really not a problem for us, because we’re fortunate enough to have a driveway. But pulling out is a total crapshoot. Because the bennies‘ cars are parked bumper to bumper without a millimeter to spare right up to both edges of our driveway, it’s impossible to see oncoming traffic as you pull out. To get any sight line down the street, you have to extend the front (or back) of your car past the parked cars, directly into the lane of travel.
Twice last weekend, as I inched out of my driveway, I had to jam on the brakes to avoid being slammed by benny-full vehicles barreling down the street without a clue or a care in the world. They didn’t even beep – just swerved and kept rolling. Both had New York plates.
At the supermarket on Saturday morning I was sixth in line at the checkout counter, and each customer ahead of me wore a Yankees cap, or a sleeveless t-shirt with loud boxer bathing trunks, or sneakers with black socks, or all of the above. Their carts were full of chips, cold cuts, salsa, and soda. Bennies, all.
We went out to dinner, and had to wait an hour for a table at a restaurant that in May had been begging for our business. A stop at the ice cream shop for dessert afterwards featured squalling babies, squabbling siblings, and their weary sunburned parents hoping to anesthetize the kids with fat and sugar for the long ride home. Bennies, again.
There’s no doubt that the Jersey Shore is a great place to be during the summer. But during the off season, when it’s unclogged by bennies, it’s a virtual paradise. Once you spend even a portion of the off-season at the Jersey Shore, you get spoiled by the convenience of unfettered access to parking, shopping, restaurants, movies, and more.
When I was a benny, I scoffed at the locals’ proprietary attitude toward their parking spaces, and dismissed as selfish their sense of entitlement to immediate service at restaurants and retail stores. Come on, I thought – people like us are pumping cash by the millions into your local economy! You should be thankful, not scornful, that I’m here at all.
Now that I’m becoming a local, however, I’ve wised up. The bennies are only fair-weather friends, here to enjoy the amenities while the sun shines. But the locals – now me – are here for the long haul, through the rain, wind, snow, ice and whatever other nasty weather nature may throw our way during the long off-season. For that, I’m entitled to my own parking space.
But only until the end of May.