Ok, so pretend that you have an extra $2000 or so, and you have a week’s vacation coming up.  Where would you go?  Florida maybe?  Take the kids to Disney?  Maybe drive to the mountains for a week?  The possibilities aren’t exactly limitless, but you have options for sure.  Which leads to my next question…do you go someplace you’ve already been a bazillion times?  If so, WHY?  Why do so many of us, given the choice, end up returning to the same spot?  (Time-share and condo ownership notwithstanding.)  What is it about a place that draws us back time and time again?  Why are some of us born with wanderlust, like my parents, who never want to go someplace twice?   They want to see the world, and while they may have favorite places they’d go to again, they always go somewhere different whenever they have time and money to do so.  Then there are the rest of us, who are (vacation) creatures of habit.   We have a week and we go to the same old place we always go.

 I was thinking about this as we were packing for our trip to the beach a couple of weeks ago.  We are spending a small fortune to go to the same place we always go when we have time off.  I thought, “Why aren’t we going somewhere new?  We could go to Florida, or the mountains or someplace. Hell, why don’t we just bring my husband home for week?  That would be a treat by itself, and we’d save about a grand!” 

But, we aren’t those people.  We are LBI junkies.  We don’t even try to break that habit.

 So, why LBI? (That’s Long Beach Island, NJ for the uninitiated.)   Why not be adventurous and go somewhere new?  I was wondering this myself as I endured yet another harrowing 9 hour drive up hell’s highway, a.k.a. I-95.  Why was I putting myself through the torture of kids whining “Are we there yet???”  umpteen times, only to end up in New Jersey???  [Insert obnoxious but true NJ stereotype joke here] 

 And then.  Then I hit Exit 63.  (I hope the aforementioned joke was the one about how everyone in NJ tells you where they are from by giving you an Exit number.)

“Mommy, why are you rolling down the windows?”  comes the latest whiny question from the back seat.

 “Just inhale” I reply.

 “Whaaaaat?” they return in unison.

 “Can’t you smell that?”  I ask.

 “Did you fart or something mommy?”

 Sigh. 

 “Just listen then,” I say.

As I approach the causeway connecting the mainland to Long Beach Island, I slow enough for the sounds and smells to waft in the open windows. 

 “Oh mommy!  I hear  seagulls!”

“Oh Wow!  I see the water!  Are we there NOW mom?!”

“Ooh, I can smell the salty air momma!”

 And just like that, the memory of nine traffic-filled, whine-infused, cranky hours in the minivan is dissipating.  The cries of the gull, the scent of sea spray, and the sight of sandy salvation on the other side of the bridge are keeping those thoughts back on I-95 where they belong.  The causeway becomes my connection to a place where much better memories reside.

 THIS is what keeps me coming back time and again.  It is the fact that a simple thing,  crossing that causeway, can simultaneously open a floodgate of happy memories and the promise of new memories to be made.   I first crossed over that bridge in 1988.  Twenty years ago my new college boyfriend drove me to LBI in his old Mustang.  We didn’t know it then, as we rumbled onto that island, but we were about to fall in love.  Twenty years later, that boyfriend is now my husband.  Our love was born on that island, and over the years, each subsequent visit there has only served to enhance it.  Now we are bringing our children there, and watching them build not only sand castles, but happy memories of their own.

Matt’s family owns a house that is exactly 6 houses from the ocean.  That alone makes it a no-brainer when we want to get away for a few days.  But even if we could go somewhere else for vacation,  why should we?  The town is called Beach Haven.  No misnomer there.  As soon as the minivan wheels touch the island, we have left not only the mainland behind, but also all its stresses and bills and responsibilities.   We are on the island now.  We are instantly transformed.  We feel lighter, more at ease,  ready to plop our butts in a beach chair and not move for week…and not feel guilty about it either.

We pass the place where Matt and I had our first date twenty years ago.  (I don’t even have to say it out loud anymore.  My girls say it before I can.)  Down the road a bit we drive past the street where Matt and I rented our first place together after college.  It was scheduled for demo once the summer was over, so we got it dirt cheap and were able to go crazy and paint the rooms purple and orange.  We had the best summer of our lives in that shack.  We didn’t care that there was no indoor shower or that the kitchen was falling apart. The house was a dump, but we were starting our lives together, it was at the beach and we couldn’t have been happier.

Driving on down this little island (just about 18 miles long or so) we pass lots of places that hold a special place in my heart.  I begin to feel a bit like an addle-brained old woman who can only communicate with statements that include “well in MY day…”  But I’m not old and bitter.  I sometimes miss those days of carefree youth, but being on this island only makes me serenely happy.  Here I am still carefree.  That I can share this feeling with my children, and watch them grow attached to this same place gives me such a thrill.

We’re almost to the beach house now.  The temperature reading on the dashboard has dropped about 15 degrees.  Another wonderful aspect of island life.  Not only can you leave your worries behind, but the heat and humidity too.  The breeze is cool, courtesy of 58 degree ocean temperatures, and I can’t wait to don my swimsuit in the morning and a cozy sweatshirt at night.  As I’m appreciating this, we drive by the little shop where I can pick up that $10 LBI sweatshirt for me and cheap and cheesy souvenirs for the kids.  Not far past that is the spot that elicits squeals of delight and anticipation from the backseat.  The girls see the big ferris wheel that announces “You have arrived in Beach Haven and you certainly don’t plan to leave town without first dropping mondo cash at Fantasy Island Amusement Park do you???”  We do indeed plan to spend one thrill-seeking, nausea-filled, midway game losing night there, giving away wads of cash, but getting back tons of fun and great memories for the kids.

Before we know it, we’ve arrived at our haven in Beach Haven.  The crunch of the pebble driveway beneath the tires is the final, auditory signal:  vacation has officially begun.   As we clamor out of the car, shaking off 9 butt-aching hours , we are ready.  We shudder the last bits of mainland living off  as we prepare to be island beach bums.  We don’t even bother to unpack the car just yet.

“MOM…lets run up to the beach first!”

“Right now?  Why?”

“I want to see it again.  I can hear it.  So now I have to see it.  Come on mom.  Don’t you want to stick your tootsies in the sand again?”

Yes.

Again.   And again.

 

 

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