New JERSEY'S WILDWOOD DOO WOP

by Annette Bignami

POSH all the time doesn't offer much perspective on the real world. So every now and then my husband and I go camping or stay someplace that's as far from POSH as possible New Jersey's Wildwoods defines "terrifically tacky" with a time machine of motley motels, ding-bat diners and other eyesores that add up to a wonderful spot to visit even without the comfort food, neon motels and "real" entertainment piers and boardwalks that feature wooden coasters. What can you say about an area where aluminum and fiberglass palm trees are the favorite decoration and pink flamingos look positively drab? If you're into avocado, lime green and neon, this is the place. There's even a Doo Wop Preservation League and a Doo Wopolis Times!

Haven't a clue about "Doo Wop?" Those old enough to remember the 1950's, or fans of California surf movies, may wonder where all the circa 1950's pastel motels, amoebic neon signs, kidney-shaped swimming pools, and artfully awful furniture went. In most parts of the world old-time Doo Wop between Eisenhower and the Beetles disappeared under condos. In New Jersey's Wildwoods it's alive and well with buildings that look like Elephants, drive-ins with curb service, cafes with toadstool seats and more. No place in the word has so many oddly decorated motels, Astroturf carpeted pool decks and artfully awful 1950 "modern" furniture. Granted, motels run to metal doors, a few cracks here and there and some "interesting" approaches to bathroom and other d├ęcor, but everything works and everything is real, not a plastic, sanitized Disney version of reality.

So expect traffic delays as parades; like the Mummer's Fancy Brigade - two one day on our last visit of rather rotund marching bands and such march along and, in most cases, both outnumber and outweigh the spectators.

Expect to see Doo Wop food featuring caloriclly incorrect Philly steak sandwiches, wonderful fried soft-shell crab and a school of deep fried fish and shellfish. Try to get your mouth around huge hamburgers made from real beef, with classic condiments and nary a taste of the Golden Arches. Pile on curly fries and slug down milk shakes and malts thick enough to stand a spoon and watch out for the Weigh Watchers police. There's great saltwater taffy, fudge, caramel corn, snow cones and all sorts of other tooth rotters too!

Don't overlook Italian food either. Frank Sinatra favored Jersey Italian spots and the White House in Atlantic City. When in doubt ask the locals and you'll eat well at some surprisingly badly decorated cafes, restaurants and clubs.

TWO DAYS FULL!

Spend the first morning at the beach: everyone does. Head in for hamburgers and, when it warms up either take the afternoon tour of the architecture. The Doo Wop Association does run bus tours on summer Sundays at 11:30. Then it's time to Italian and head for the wonderful boardwalks. Don't forget the dress code AKA anything goes! Plan to hit the Boardwalk the first night. Go for rides if you're tired: frisky folks and those whose misspent youth ran to pinball and Skee Ball can impress the small fry.

Second day's a good time to consider the wildlife. Wonderful bays and flats fill the lowlands behind the ocean beach Doo Wop strip. There's fishing in the passes, birding in the sanctuaries and more golf courses than anyone needs. Hit a deli for lunch and spend the day checking out the maritime and other history. Second night, if you're up to it can fill with clubs and hangouts, local theater and live entertainment and more.

Even better, try to spend a week and you can toss in the Cape May Victorians, Atlantic City shows and, if you're up to it, play a different golf course morning and afternoon. There's no better place to catch a fifty-year time machine and have great family fun!

Tip: Adults who misspent their youth with pinball and skee ball can impress kids.