I know Red Bank, New Jersey was an upscale town. A lot of old money, new money, and of course the place by the Jersey Shore where NJ’s gems like Bruce Sprigsteen and Jon Bon Jovi call their home, even to the extent that they bought their parents homes there. You drive by mansion by mansion in awe and you know this is a very wealthy community even from the smaller houses.
While I am not impressed by all of this, I did find the main street fascinating. Loaded with very good restaurants like in New York or any popular city and the smaller stores and shops reminded me of the Village in NYC. Throw in a few Maserati and Rolls Royce automobiles and there was even a hint of Beverly Hills. But no, that did not impress me either. What captured my attention most was the unique shops it had. One completely dedicated to candy. Not just any candy, but candy I had not seen since I was a child in the 1970s. What was more interesting here was that they sold candy by the weight, not per piece.
I can remember when the price of a piece of gum went from 1 cent to 2 cents. It might not seem like a big deal today, but think of a child in the 1970s who only got about .25cents for allowance for taking out the garbage. That meant that 10 pieces of gum which should last you 5 days (2 pieces per day, one after lunch and one after dinner) was now only going to buy you 5 pieces. And let’s face it, only one piece of gum per day was not going to get you through the week, much less a pack of baseball cards, and even less still, savings toward that model rocket, car or battleship. This was my first lesson and inflation. And yes, Jimmy Carter was President. What a rude awakening for a 9-year old. But then other products came out like “Gold Rush” chewing gum. It was a small bag of gum, sure the pieces were so small you needed at least 5 of them to equal that of a chicklet, but it was a WHOLE bag and only for $2.
The great thing was you get to keep this mini burlap sack for coins for your next purchase. This place had other candies like Pez Dispensers, bubble gum cigars, and my favorite, bubble gum cigarettes. They left so much powdered sugar on them, that when you blew on them, the powder sugar would spew out like a cigarette so you felt like your adult parents (for those who smoked and many did). No wonder the cigarette companies allowed their branding and design to be used for candy. There were other things I had not seen since I was a child that I probably thought was out of business and/or stopped buying years ago when I became a teenager.
When we were teens we were now fascinated by the arcade. Normally we would find a pinball machine only on the boardwalks of New Jersey. But now they were making their way into diners, bowling alleys and even places that were exclusively only for arcade games in malls. One place in town was first a church, then Richie’s Hobby Town (toy models, kites, rockets, etc), and then Game Town – an entire building dedicated to pinball machines and new electronic games. The sad news was, you no longer go 5 balls per game, but only 3. I understood this with the newer electronic games like Asteroids, but why for pinball? Again, a painful sign of inflation.
As you probably know, you never won money from these machines, but you won extra time. Almost like the Casino. You got more time to play because you had the skills and talents to win more time, balls, lives or plays. And as the technology improved from Pac Man to Mrs. Pac Man Donkey Kong, soon they were putting out a newer breed of more complex games like Defender and Spy Hunter, two of my favorites.
There are so many to name, but some that deserve mentioning are Tron, Centipede, Caligula, Tempest and even a few that slipped in under the radar when I was eventually off to college like The Simpsons.
My heart warmed when I saw an old TV in a wooden chest with an Atari set connected. We all thought that this was the end of feeding coins into machines, and, maybe it was, but to our parent’s dismay, it came at a high price. The game console and games each were probably double of what we would have paid in the arcade. Yes, we owned it and we can play it as often as we liked, but then there were always other games emerging to suck up our cash, or more so, our parent’s cash and even taking place as birthday and Christmas presents.
As many of you might know from my previous posts, I really don’t like 1908s music. Sure, some of it is fine and would make it onto my permanent play list, but 90% of it I hate. So many of the songs I hear now piped in through the house speakers of restaurants and department stores are songs that suck and/or I remember growing pains from. But this place rocked, it had all the cool, fun music from the 1980s like J. Giels Band, and more geared toward the rock and not pop aspect of the decade. Yes, I know there were plenty of good songs but there was also an abundance of 1970s bands with a makeover who tried to make a comeback which only worked for the old fans, but miserably failed for the newer generation (if I never hear another Heart song again I will be very happy), That is just one example, and I don’t mean to be harsh, and I even saw them in concert. They had their time, its over, and I don’t need to hear it while eating out at any restaurant.
Our last stop was at Urban Outfitters. This was a modern funky clothing store with those of us who remember Spencers and those old novelty stores with prank jokes tasteful and distasteful. I guess today’s equivalent would be Hot Topic, but, this store has it all for all ages. Books on only bacon, tasteful and distasteful gifts, posters, shirts and other such items.
What made this journey so interesting for me was the fact that I was with my childhood friend of over 40 years. Yes, we went to grammar school, middle school, high school, part of college (till he went up to Rhode Island) and we’ve been friends through thick and thin up until today. Rarely a week goes by that we do not speak, even if its just to remind each other what a dumbass one of us is. Its good to know that we lived though this era, and we can recall all those memories long forgotten from 30 years ago. But what is more interesting are his children who want to go play but can’t do it without him because he knows the territory better than anyone. What is more interesting is that I am telling his wife of 15 years of how we used to “rig” the machines for extra plays that she had no clue about. No more today, today, you get a wrist band and you pay per hour no matter how much you win.
In spite of all I wrote, there is nothing better walking down memory lane with your best friend who you lived it with by your side and having to whisper about all the bad things you did so the kid’s don’t hear and still be able to chuckle. We know, by no means, we were not good kids, but our parents were out working, there were no where as many extra-curricular activities as there are today, and our parents came from a generation of immigrants. We were that in-between generation where we brought havoc and there were little consequences. I am not proud, its just what happened in that time period. We had the discipline from our parents to teach our children from right and wrong. The newer generation, sadly, thinks differently and feel that if their children do wrong, its someone else’s fault. Not all, but this is the trend I see. We made it out alive, We hold our children to a higher standard, but many afterward don’t.
A walk down memory lane is fun. It helps us to recognize an age of innocence and at the same time, an age where we were reckless and grew from our mistakes without too much pain. The best part is, our children find it as much fun as we do, but they don’t know half of what lead up to it.