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Month: June 2015

The Perfect Cape May Photo

Point and shoot. It should be just that easy to take a photo.  But when my mom tries to recreate her favorite shot of my brother, Michael, and I on the boardwalk, it is never a simple task.

The original shot of my brother and I was one of those candid shots that were taken in a quick moment. We did not even realize it was happening. I’m bending over to hold his hand and leading him off to show him something.  It was taken around 2000 when I was six and Michael, one and a half.

The original photo.

The original photo.

The reason my mom loves this shot the most, is because it has all of our favorite boardwalk spots – the arcade, Morrow’s Nut House, Convention Hall and the Oasis (since gone) – and the newer pictures have Henry’s on the Beach (since gone) in the background.  She took it on our point and shoot, automatic Nikon camera.

Every year since she took that photo, my mom tries to recreate that shot. In fifteen years since the original photo, she has only been successful twice.  Now in the days of iPhones, she can take the shot as many times as she wants, until she is satisfied. Of course, both Michael and I have to be in the mood to cooperate – a difficult task.

Once we were old enough to cooperate, it meant we were old enough to be uncooperative.  Especially in our teenager stage, where any request from our parents was met with an astounding “no way.”

2003 was the first year my mom tried to take the photo again.  I was ten and Michael was five, so we were a little more agreeable. We must have been goofing off before she took the picture, because we both have silly expressions on our faces. She took the photo during the day, not totally recreating the original nighttime shot, and there is more of the boardwalk visible than in the original picture.

2003 retake.

2003 retake.

The most recent time she almost successfully recreated the shot was in 2009, I was sixteen and Michael eleven. The shot was taken around the same time at night as the original shot, but it is not in the same spot. The retake is posed, which just does not have the same je ne sais quoi as the original shot.

2009 retake.

2009 retake.

Fast forward to present day, 2015. I am twenty-one and Michael is sixteen, and all attempts to recreate the shot are even more difficult than before. No one wants to cooperate with my mom. So I took Michael to the boardwalk for a funnel cake, and very kindly asked if we could take a selfie of mom’s favorite shot, to update it – and to my surprise, he agreed! Mom did not even need to be involved in this retake (thanks to the popular iPhone selfie) – kind of an ode to how much things have changed in fifteen years.

2015, a selfie.

2015, a selfie.

I think the great thing about the original photo, is every time my family looks at it, we smile. It was one of those photographs that you cannot help but love. It not only captured the moment at the time, but kept that memory alive fifteen years later.

It does not take much to get a photo that will continue to be talked about many years later. It was a simple shot that is not perfect and is slightly blurry. In the days of iPhones and digital cameras, we strive to take the perfect shot, over and over again. But there is something charismatic about a photo that only got one chance to come out right.

It might not be the best photo, but it is perfect to my family because the memory lives on a decade and a half later.

Connect with Rachel on Twitter @capemayrachel.


A Light For More Than Boats

Often I catch myself in a trance-like state as I ride my bike down Second Avenue in the evenings. The streetlights are few to none, leaving the concrete beneath my wheels to be illuminated only by the glow of passing houses and the hanging moon above my head. With the steady hum of my tires and a calming breeze that rustles the branches of the trees on either side of me, it’s easy to get lost in thought until a light flashes for a brief moment in the distance. Many times I’ve thought this strange flash to be a stroke of lightning until I come to realize that it is the ever-faithful lighthouse.

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Countless treks have taken me up and down the 199 steps that create the spiral staircase of the lighthouse. If you added up all the steps I’ve climbed after going up and down so many times, it’s probably enough steps to take me to the top of Mount Everest. While the actual climb itself may seem repetitive, as I’ve done it more than my fair share of times, the view from the top is one that never gets old.

There is no way to fully capture the first peak outside as I burst in to a gust of salty air. I spend the climb peering through porthole after porthole, increasing the speed of my feet as my flip-flops clang louder and faster on the winding metal steps. The closer to the top, the quicker the pace, until finally a light can be seen leaking in through the doorway. It seeps through and demands my gaze, my eyes attracted to the light just like those of a moth. As I near and it grows brighter, finally stepping on to the round ledge, everything is too bright to see until my eyes adjust, at which time I feel enveloped in a sense of home.

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The water spans all the way to the horizon, and I see rooftops and bodies of water and marsh that stretch all the way down to the Cove beach. From the time I was 5 to now 18, this view has always been one that has greeted me with happy memories. I’ve climbed the lighthouse with grandparents, family, and friends more times than I will ever be able to count, and there are still many more times to come when I one day have a family.

As I will soon be leaving for college and a whole new world riddled with change awaits, I know that the reliable lighthouse shall always be standing strong and unmovable upon my return. While her revolving light provides boats with a knowledge of where the shoreline sits, she shows me where home is. Where the waves gently crash upon the sand and the treetops are illuminated by occasional flashes, where bike rides are often and uneventful nights are few, that is where home is. Wherever my travels take me, the lighthouse will always show me the way back to my beloved Cape May.


My Cape May Past, Present and Future

The Atlantic Ocean is the only body of water I have ever known. Family trips to Cape May have filled my summer vacation fantasies from before I was even born. Cape May has been my tropical destination for 21 years. And I have no desire to change locations.

I will be forever grateful that my aunt and uncle told my parents about a quaint little Victorian town, called Cape May back in 1992. My dad does not like to fly (a trait he has passed on to me too) and prefers to take vacations to which he can drive. So my parents set out to explore Cape May, not knowing that they would be spending the next 21 years vacationing here.

Growing up with the anticipation of summers in Cape May has thrilled me for as long as I can remember. We have rented a house on Stockton Avenue, a condo in the Morning Star Villa (my earliest memories of Cape May are from there), a few hotels and finally two houses on Sewell Avenue.

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My younger brother, Michael, and I on the boardwalk. Circa 2003.

Having to squeeze in all my favorite activities in a two week span was not easy, but with a whole year to plan my vacation, it was possible. I counted down the days until the day before we left for Cape May.

I love every aspect about my trips to Cape May. I enjoy packing my bags, and loading up the car. Even the tedious waiting for my parents to pack the roof rack the morning we were leaving. I looked forward to eating fried chicken at our favorite spot on the ride up and probably seeing dolphins on the Cape May Lewes Ferry.

When we would stop at the rental company to pick up the house keys, I knew my vacation in Cape May had truly begun. And I could not have been more ecstatic the year that I was old enough to hold on to one of the house keys.

Coming to Cape May each summer was always a mystery. I would wonder if my favorite stores and restaurants were still in business. I longed to sit on the beach with a good book in hand and a plastic baggie to hold my shells and beach glass.

Visiting with my neighbors has also been such an important part of my summers. I kept in touch with them throughout the year and kept them up to date with my schooling. I was even lucky enough to meet, become friends and stay in touch the girl next door, who shared the same birthday one year apart from me.

Fast forward many years, I never thought I would be blessed enough to skip stopping at the rental company and drive all the way up from Virginia with a house key in my pocket. In 2012, our dreams of owning a house in Cape May became real. The Cool Cat Cottage on Sewell Avenue is now my actual dream home.

Suddenly, I did not have to fit my entire vacation into two weeks, because I now had six weeks to spend at my leisure. I was able to channel my love for Cape May into writing and interning for Cape May Magazine.

I even got to come up every few months to the house. Soon we were celebrating Passover, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and my birthday at our home here. Swiftly, my special summer trips to Cape May lost their sparkling appeal. I still anticipated my trips to visit, but as the visits became more frequent, Cape May became slightly less special. I could not quite place my finger on why exactly.

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Quiet Thanksgiving 2014 on Sewell Avenue.

Maybe my vacations were not as special because I did not have to condense beach trips, mini golf, shopping, antiquing, baking and running around town into just 14 days. I did not have to spend all year planning the perfect two weeks in Cape May. I could now skip going to the beach every day, and not feel like I was wasting time. Even now, six weeks’ worth of beach visits and fun is not enough time in Cape May.

Now, with one year left of college – I plan to move here after graduation and begin my journalism career. How will living in Cape May full-time compare to a few weeks’ vacation? I don’t want to take living in Cape May for granted.

I never thought there would be a day where I would be telling people that my plans to move to Cape May might actually be a reality. I have wanted to live here for as long as I have been vacationing here. And presumably soon, that wish will become reality.

A repeat renter. Return vacationer. Vacationer local? I’m not sure what spending 21 years here and then moving here will make me. But I cannot wait to find out!

Connect with Rachel on Twitter @capemayrachel.


Caged But Not Contained

Being raised by a birder, I have always been aware of the stunning wildlife that is a massive part of Cape May County. From the dolphins that seem to swim within an arms length of the shore to the Laughing Gulls that steal my French fries, I spent my entire childhood surrounded by animals. Not only is there incredible wildlife on the island itself, but just a few miles up the parkway lies a variety from every corner of the world tucked in to 85 acres: the zoo.

I couldn’t tell you the hundreds, possibly thousands, of hours that my family has spent in the zoo. Take me there blindfolded and I could walk you to any habitat in the park. As a wide-eyed youngster, there was nothing that could beat it; all of the animals that I saw in The Lion King and The Jungle Book were waiting for me and larger than life. The tiger paces the perimeter of his cage back and forth and the lion perches regally as he gazes at children in awe. Of course I wanted to pet any furry animal that could easily swallow me in one bite, but I would just have to settle with feeding the ducks and the goats.

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We would walk around the zoo for hours on end, observing the animals that the majority of us only know from a distance and within a cage. I never fail to be amazed at how majestic they look, even when held within their cages. How lucky we are to be able to see animals from other corners of the world, corners that some of us may never be lucky enough to visit. With the youth of the future wandering in awe at the many animals that the Cape May County Zoo is able to share with the public for free, it is possible for the phenomenal existence of these animals to continue on. Not only that, but the zoo educates these children about the animals they are seeing, even the ones that are in danger of extinction.

My hope is that the zoo inspires others not only to appreciate the beautiful animals within, but also inspire them to want to help. The next time a little boy points and says, “Look how cool that tiger is!” maybe he’ll learn that only a few thousand exist in the wild today. Maybe he’ll set out to change the fact that one day the zoo might be the only place to see a tiger. The zoo provides knowledge of the presently living animal and a future for those who can’t fend for themselves. Everyday those animals leave the zoo in the minds of hundreds of children and adults, freeing their spirits and spreading knowledge for the generation to come.

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Forever Young at the Arcade

Rarely does it ever happen that there’s a place where people of all ages are able to have an equally enjoyable time. If you take a five year old out to bar, which I highly recommend avoiding, he or she is more than likely to be crying the whole time. Likewise, if adults sit in Chuck-e-cheese’s for three hours, they’re probably also crying (and looking for a bar). And that’s where the beauty of the arcade comes it. Kids, adults, and teenagers alike enjoy the arcade.

Growing up in Cape May, I couldn’t tell you the hundreds of dollars in quarters that my family has spent there over the years. “Just one more dollar!” I would always ask, which led to another, and another, and before you know it, it was ten dollars instead of “just one more”. I guess you could say that I had a specialty when it came to working my parents for spare change. It’s a good trait to have; I still use it from time to time.

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As a child, I was absolutely obsessed with the arcade, wanting to go at least once a week. My favorite game consisted of a spinning wheel where you had to slide the quarters in a small slot at just the right moment in order to get any tickets and, by the time I was ten, I had it down to a science. But as I reached my early tweens, I was embarrassed to go to the arcade for fear of being seen in public with my parents. At the time, that was lame. So I would casually stroll away from them and start playing a game on the other side of the arcade, because for whatever reason I thought playing a game all alone made me look so much cooler?

Currently long over my worries of being seen at the arcade, I dash there whenever I get the chance so that I can take pictures in the photo booth with my friends. My walls are lined with countless shots of two, three, and even five of us crammed in to the little booth as the automatic voice says, “Smile for the camera!” The best part about the arcade is the youth that it revives. Surrounded by young kids, I’m reminded of my earlier, carefree years. The joyful smiles on their faces inspire me to appreciate the simple things, like winning five tickets from ski ball or even getting a bouncy ball as a prize. The flashing lights, ringing laughter, and continuous smiles fill my childhood memories of the arcade, and I’m sure there are many more memories yet to be made. Regardless of how old we are, the arcade brings out the inner kid in all of us.

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