I spent a good part of the summer of 1989 along the northern Jersey Shore, under the spell of a lady with a red pick up. Well, maybe not quite under her spell … but the few or us working for her did feel that she was somewhat of a witch, keeping us on our “hands and knees” six to seven hours a day. Well, maybe we were a little ungrateful. She did pay us $7 an hour, when the minimum wage was $2.50 an hour …
The impression given by the name the “Jersey Shore” is one of summers by the seaside, boardwalks with food and amusement, the casinos and lights of Atlantic City, and of course Ashbury Park – made famous by one of its sons – Bruce Springsteen. I didn’t get a chance to see Atlantic City, deciding instead to hop on a Greyhound on a 15 day journey up and down the eastern seaboard instead, at the end of my working stint.
Ashbury Park proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. The area around the famous beach was quite rundown, and had certainly seen better days. Nearby, the borough of Deal was a little more interesting, if only because of a particular piece of architecture – a piano shaped mansion, built by Billy Joel for his Uptown Girl, Christy Brinkley.
I got most of the firsthand experience I had of the seaside and the boardwalks in Belmar, a borough south of Ashbury Park, where I lived during my time along the Jersey shore. The apartment was maybe five blocks from the beach front, and it gave me the opportunity of walking by the white sandy beach each evening, listening to the wave of the Atlantic washing up to the shore. Walking down the boardwalk along Ocean Drive, you would come to some amusement and food outlets lining the boardwalk. A mate of mine worked at one of the food outlets frying burgers each evening. At the end of his shift, he would have to sweep the part of the boardwalk directly in front of the burger stand and in doing so would pick up the many pennies discarded by the affluent crowd that frequented the boardwalk. At the end of the summer, he had accumulated some $400 in one cent coins.
The work I did on my “hands and knees” involved contract cleaning jobs the lady with the red pick up, Jane, undertook. Each day, I would find myself, with some of the members of our team, sent to different houses along the Jersey Shore. Some of the houses were huge, and among our duties, we would need to do the laundry, change bed linen, clean windows, kitchens and toilets, as well as vacuum some very plush carpets. One of the houses we cleaned was owned by the owner of some of the food and entertainment outlets on the boardwalks. I recall seeing that he had two walk-in wardrobes adjoining his bedroom, which in area, each was maybe half the size of a apartment in Singapore. There was another house which had seven bedrooms, each with an attached bathroom, fitted with gold fittings.
Besides the cleaning job, I also spent a few weekends helping out in the kitchen of Pat’s Tavern in Belmar, washing dishes. I remember the roast beef sandwich I requested for during lunch each time – the cook always gave me a generous helping of pink thinly sliced roast beef, which I always looked forward to.