Top 10 Things I Miss About New Jersey
After many long battles with animal rights groups the zoo finally shut down years ago. A chief complaint was the zoo wasn't like the large, sprawling natural habitat enclosures of today. A bear on a cement floor. A tiger in a cage. It was definitely old school, but when you're a kid you don't connect all those dots and it was fascinating seeing what they had without having to travel all the way to Bronx, NY or Philadelphia. Remember the pony rides they had out front always led by the young girls in the red cowgirl hats? How about the deer that were allowed to wander the grounds with us kids and we'd feed them right out of our hand? Maybe the protestors had a point as I remember one day when a buffalo somehow got out of its pen and you never saw girls in red cowgirl hats move so quickly to keep the kids safe. Oh and the unbelievable hazmat odor of that monkey house? Still when you were a kid you weren't thinking of animal rights, and the Terry-Lou zoo is a part of my childhood forever.
Long before it became the Union County Performing Arts Center it was a movie theater. Back when movies were shown beneath ornate chandeliers and watched from crushed velvet seats. No, no drink cup holders. So many great memories though. All of the Planet Of The Apes movies and James Bond films that filled my childhood were seen there. Plus that quirky little foreign woman who managed the theater and ran such a tight ship. She was afraid of nothing and you didn't dare give her lip. If she thought you were too young to see a movie she'd make you call your parents from the lobby and send you packing. My father was even an usher in that movie theater going back to the 1950's.
Okay, ANY drive-in movie theater, how about that? This was just the one we went to. Crackling speakers that you hung on your car window and hopefully didn't forget to remove before you drove off at the end of the night. Camped out in the back of dad's station wagon. The guy who played DJ from that little concrete bunker in the middle of the field and played tunes til the movies started. The food from the concession stand that you could pick out blindfolded as drive-in movie concession food because it was so mediocre yet unique that it was great. Drive-in movies are missed in my heart. They once dotted the Jersey landscape like diners. Now there's only Delsea.
Even the building is gone. Across from the Rahway train station it sat there for years, one of the true American diners. Stainless steel inside and out and looked just like the train car. Had it all. Jukeboxes in every booth. Mini boxes of cereal behind the counter and desserts under those plexi-glass domes. Owned for years by a Greek family, it was as authentic as a true diner gets. My grandmother worked too hard there for years. Everyone in that town back then knew her, but never knew her name, only knew her as "Mom".
Anyone remember these? Those Chuck E. Cheese looking tokens you used to buy in advance for your trips down the shore? Although they accepted them for years after, the last tokens were sold in 2001. This is the only "thing" and not a "place" on my list, and I suppose part of the nostalgia is that for me it represented a time when the idea of keeping the promise of eliminating the tolls once the roads were paid off was still in play.
- 5This was my family's lunch spot. Crushed when it went away. It was like finding out your uncle died. You maybe didn't see him all the time, but when you did you had nothing but fun memories. They sold those huge ice cream waffles up front that you could drip all along the boardwalk while the seagulls tried to wafflejack you. Or you could settle into a booth and have the best food the boardwalk had to offer. Remember the swordfish hanging on the wall? Looking back I don't even know if it was real or a decoration. But it was my childhood, so I'm going with real.
- 4In the Rahway/Avenel area, where 27 meets up with what us locals called St. Georges Ave more than 35, was this ridiculous jumbo size sign of en elephant. I think it wore a tuxedo. I think it was there to advertise a dry cleaner. All I know for certain is that it was a giant elephant. My brother and I stupidly got excited every time we saw it and we'd race to throw imaginary peanuts out of our car windows to feed said giant elephant. Stupid. I know. But we were kids and that's what you do, and I miss it.
- 3This one haunts me. I can no longer even pinpoint the building on 27 that used to house it. So many changes over the years leaves it unrecognizable for me. If you were coming back from Menlo Park heading towards Rahway it sat on the right hand side of the road, a two story building with all glass walls on the downstairs (all glass at that time anyway). Through that glass you'd see the entire downstairs was one huge indoor miniature golf course. Then up those long stairs was everything else...arcade games, ping pong tables, they even had an archery range. Kids gave their money to a counter guy and he'd hand you a bow and a bunch of arrows. Real arrows. Imagine a place doing that today? Edison Tower Playland was total magic.
- 2Anyone remember when Menlo Park Mall was still open, and failing, but BEFORE they renovated it entirely into what it is today? Yes it was a dying concern, and there was really nothing to love about it, but for some dumb reason I did anyway. The charm of walking past three closed stores to get to every fourth one that was open. That big open air greeting card kiosk that stood there conspicuously out of place for so long. The girl's hand I held as a teenager walking through that place in it's dying days.
- 1If you've seen the arcade scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, then you've seen the spirit of Space Port. Dark, narrow, cramped and noisy. You walked through that door out of the mall and into your element. Space Invaders, Pac Man, air hockey tables, you name it, they had it. And in the mind of a 12 year old boy the guys who worked there had the ultimate dream job. How did you GET that gig? I walk through that mall now trying to remember just where it sat. Like so many things in life, I know it was there once, but can't quite reach out and find it.