The Shore Was Made for Scavengers

Following my graduation from the Jersey Shore beach paradise that is Monmouth University, I did the most reasonable thing and I could think of rented a house a block from the beach for the winter with no job prospects in sight. What could possibly go wrong?

As I signed my name in blood in that overly-air-conditioned Century 21 office three months before graduation, I knew, as a hopelessly logical human being, that what I was doing was stupid. I was panic-struck I wouldn’t be able to afford my rent, I was petrified that it was much more difficult than I had imagined to find a job, and I knew that employment down by the shore was few and far between. However, that panic was outweighed by an even greater fear – that of returning to the mountains with my parents. I hoped it would all just work out. 

I couldn’t even bear the thought of leaving my one true love, the shore. I couldn’t imagine not hearing the waves as I slept or taking an afternoon walk down Ocean Avenue or staying with all my beachrat friends in one-square-mile seaside towns. I literally didn’t know if I could fathom the loss of the paradise that I had grown accustomed to for the last four years.

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So I signed, and nine long months proceeded to drag by, similar as to how I dragged my tattered suitcase on the floor back-and-forth and back-to-forth from my dream-like beach home to my new-found place of employment… two hours north.

Even though I had fun (on the weekends) – I enjoyed long crisp runs on the Long Branch boardwalk, supplied a boarding house for my backpacked friends, and wandered to my favorite seaside bars and restaurants only miles from my house – the whole debacle was a nightmare. I totaled my car, put 9,000 miles on my new car in six months, spent money people spend to live near their jobs only I lived two hours from my job, and pretty much gave up my life for a constant view of the ocean. It was not worth it. It did not all work out.

I grew resentful of the place that I loved. I angrily drove down Ocean in my 9,000 miles-older car, glaring at the winterized and empty version of the place that used to be mine. I probably spent most of my time in my room, drinking wine alone and packing my things for the next journey north, which came every four days at which point I would camp out at my mother’s home for three days (an hour and a half away from my work also) before returning back to the shore.

But, thankfully, all bad things must come to an end. The lease ended, I got a new job, and… I moved back to the mountains. With my parents.

This transition seemed equally daunting. Move home? Back to the middle of nowhere? With my… mom? Oh god. Why life.

However, the summer started up quickly and my friends rallied me to their places in Seaside, Point Pleasant and Long Branch. Most weekends, I run around my room, eagerly throwing my belongings into a patched backpack before getting in my car and eating my dinner on my lap so I can make it to my friends’ homes before they go out for the night. I sleep on dingy basement couches, I eat Jersey bagels from my driver’s side, I shower at the beach, and… I’m so happy. 

Things will probably change once the summer hoopla wears down and I miss my beach (and my old reliable beach house) once again, but for now, I think a lot of the shore appeal for me is the nomadic pull of it all.

Part of the fun is wondering on Friday afternoons, How am I going to get there? and Where am I going to sleep? I kind of like trying to find a secluded spot to change clothes in my car or sketchily sneak into bathrooms. I like not knowing when my time in paradise is going to end and who I am going to end up seeing from my favorite spot on North Beach. If paradise becomes the everyday, is it still paradise? If it becomes your home, can you resist not taking it for granted, not counting its flaws? Can you get sick of the most stunning window view you could ever think up?

I really don’t know.

But what I do know is that the shore was made for scavengers with backpacks in their cars and dirt on their faces… which is why that’s where you’ll find me every weekend, every time.

A Pirate’s Life for Me

As a frequent cruiser, while wandering around various ships like the lost nomad I am, I often make friends with international cruise staff. More often than not, cruise workers are from countries where job opportunities are not as great, and having the chance to see the world, make money to send home to loved ones, and create lasting friendships with like-minded adventurous people is something that can’t be passed up.

However, I will also stress that this isn’t always the case. On a recent Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas cruise,  I met a Swedish girl who told me that she wanted to be a singer and dancer, but in Sweden, if you don’t follow the traditional career paths, you are often shunned by friends since there is a push to fit in and be “normal,” so working on the ship was her chance to meet new people and follow her dream of being an entertainer.

Regardless of why one works on a cruise ship, there are a ton of perks you literally get paid to travel, hang out with other kids who are fun as you, and meet people from all walks of life. Cons exist as well, of course – one being that working on one is really freakin’ hard. You work long hours, seven days a week, only pausing for a little under two months after each six month period. You have little time off in port and you live in close quarters with people who start off as complete strangers to you. You’re away from your friends, family, and children, which becomes a huge burden as you grow up and become a real-life adult.

Often when I go on cruises and meet these cruise workers, I ponder the pros and cons of the operation, since it seems like a pretty fun job and a great way to live in a college dorm again and travel the world. When it comes down to it though, I end up figuring that I’m probably not really cut out for such a life and I’m better off trying to find an easier way to see the world, have some fun, and pursue my career aspirations.

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On my last cruise, though, I really wondered what the hell I was thinking. The last stop on many Caribbean cruises is Coco Cay, a small touristed-out island near the Bahamas where ships unload their passengers so they can hang out on the beach, play some water sports, and snorkel or scuba dive. Each time I visit this island, I participate in a fantastic hour-and-a-half long jet skiing tour, where one tour guide leads happy adrenaline junkies around some Bahamian islands, periodically stopping at points to see sharks, swim around, or look at starfish. It’s a really cool, fast-paced and independent tour that makes you feel like you just hit the jackpot at Six Flags.

Since my parents locked all my crap in a locker when they went jet skiing and I was stuck wandering around half naked burning like a lobster, I hung around the hot Brazilian tour guides (who did not even notice I existed). The snippets of conversation I heard went along the lines of:

“Yeah, when my seven month contract ends, I’m going to go home to Brazil for a week or two, but then I’m off to Mexico to cave dive and then to Australia for a few weeks of backpacking.”

I was stopped dead in my fried, red tracks. Had I been living on another planet? How had I dared to think that a life like that wasn’t worthwhile just because they had to work a few extra hours a week? The bottom line was pretty simple. I live in freezing-cold New Jersey, where I commute an hour and a half and get home around 6:30 so I can make dinner, feed the cat, plan my outfit for the next day. On the weekends, I go out; try to make plans with friends. This Brazilian dude conducts jet skiing tours in the Bahamas and then after seven months of sunshine, he goes friggin’ cave diving and backpacking. Who am I to say my 401k is more rewarding than that?

I’m not saying that I’m the newest applicant for Royal Caribbean (or Carnival, either). I’m not saying I’ll ever work on a cruise ship or volunteer to bust my ass seven days a week or make it seven months without seeing one familiar face. All I’m saying is that a little patch of life like that from a tanned, happy man can pretty quickly make you reconsider what you’ve been doing everyday for eight hours a day – whether it makes you appreciate a quiet life with family or a wild life on the open seas.