It was about 11:30 p.m. Sunday night when Shorty Long and the Jersey Horns broke into their finest rendition of "The Jitney Hit Me" while playing their last show of the unofficial summer season in Surf City.
The song is a humorous take on an accident involving the famed Atlantic City public bus system and an unlucky pedestrian.
Minutes before, lead singer and guitarist John Kern gave a shout-out to the Ocean County Patch sites and, as a bonus, this reporter.
For tourists, Labor Day weekend means a return to their "normal," heading north up the Garden State Parkway or west on routes 72 and 70, where work, school and all the other aspects of upper-middle-class Americana await.
For Shore locals, the holiday weekend is one where a breath of fresh air is breathed – slowly. It's bittersweet. The air will doubtlessly turn colder, but the beaches will be in their natural, wild state, parking lots will be relatively empty and the waters of Barnegat Bay will be free of massive boat wakes and out-of-control jet-skis. For those of us in their 20s, cover charges and $8 drink prices will, temporarily, be a thing of the past.
This week, I wrote in my weekly fishing column that "local summer" wasn't a slam on tourists, but a celebration of Shore locals' lifestyle. As Sunday turns to Labor Day, and as Shorty Long (actually, Ricky Tisch, a Brick native) continues to rock the Surf City Hotel for the last time until summer 2013, it's prime time to remember how lucky we all are.
Over the past two years since Patch made its debut around here, I've gotten to know a great many people across Ocean County. Most of them know I'm something of a "dual resident" of two towns – Brick and Surf City. One town is large, one is small. One is in northern Ocean, one is in southern Ocean. And I love them both.
My mother and father, natives of Jersey City and Brooklyn, respectively, decided to move "down the shore" before I was even born. They met at Jimmy Byrne's Sea Girt Inn in Wall Township during the "summer of '69," and the rest was history. They still make it out to the bars and clubs they frequented decades ago. Go mom and dad!
For them, and for me, it was the best decision they ever could have made. My life growing up at the Shore has resulted in more rewards than any other locale could produce, and now that I'm "well" into my 20s, I appreciate it to a much greater extent than ever before. I appreciate days out fishing on Barnegat Bay with my dad, Gary, and days on the beach spent with my mom Patricia, aunt Cathy and next-door-neighbor, Kate. I appreciate participating in a Polar Plunge or two, and I might even appreciate getting my four-wheel-drive SUV stuck in the sand after forgetting to let air out of the tires. (Thanks, dad, for footing half the tow bill.)
As I meandered around the Surf City Hotel during Shorty's performance, there was an announcement from Kern: Shorty's baby was due any hour. The 3-foot-tall Shorty's impending news left some wondering: "Is he married?" "Is he really having a baby?"
The answer, to both questions, is yes. I went around the bar answering as I overheard people speculating. And I was happy to do so, not only as a reporter who hails from the same home town as Tisch, but as a Shore local.
Our community goes beyond the boundaries of most communities. We share more than a mayor, a council or a ZIP code. We share the crests of the waves that break when hardly anyone is looking, the fish that are caught when no one is counting, and the days spent on the beach and on Barnegat Bay when no one is caring.
We're locals. We're clam diggers. And whether we're from Brick, Surf City, Bayville, Toms River, Manahawkin, Little Egg, or anywhere in between: we're proud.
That's what Labor Day means to me.