I can't say the Jersey Shore is the worst place in the world, because I've never been to Turkmenistan.
Before I committed to the idea of a trip to Seaside Heights, New Jersey, my friend Juan, being of a generally honest comportment, made sure I knew what I was getting into.
"We're going to the Jersey Shore," Juan said. "Watch these videos. These are the people we'll be dealing with."
"These are the clubs we'll be attending."
"This is the food we'll be eating."
"Do you still want to come?"
Well, fuck it. At least the cheeseballs will be tasty.
So we went, shooting down the east coast like a blood comet, a portent of doom for all to see. Would it be our doom, or the Shore's? We rolled five deep: our planner and driver, the aforementioned Juan; our minister of hair gel and graphic tee-shirts, Ron (also the one who, in a pinch, could pass as a native); AP, champion drinker and latter-day ninja; Phil, my roommate and the man in charge of music; and finally, myself, purveyor of refreshments and widely acclaimed as the one most cynical about our prospects of having a good time.
Immediately, the mood turned ugly. It centered around the snacks.
"You brought baby carrots?" AP said, more of a deflated statement than an actual question.
Heads swiveled. I found myself on the defensive.
"I don't see the problem," I said. "They're nutritious, easily snackable, tasty, and they'll improve your eyesight. Plus, I didn't just bring baby carrots. I brought apples, and pears, and grapes."
Glares all around. AP warily took a carrot. We ended up polishing those carrots off, but at the cost of this conclusion, preserved through the magic of mobile phone updates to Facebook:
Andrew is eating baby carrots on the way to the shore. that’s the last time we put joey d in charge of the food. 5:51pm
I swear, guys. Three years ago I would have totally gone for M&Ms and such. I eat healthier these days. That didn't stop them from expressing abject horror at the mere prospect of eating baby carrots for the entirety of our four hour-ish trip.
Consider this my apology. Next time I'll bring macadamia nuts or something.
Have you ever heard of the story of Nate the Snake? It's a Shaggy Dog story, which is a tale that begins with great promise, descends into redundancy, and concludes with infuriating ambiguity. The intent is to stretch it out as long as possible. While stuck in traffic, I took advantage of a captive audience and regaled them with the story for a half an hour.
I won't reproduce it in full. I do want you to finish reading this.
There's this guy, Jake, who gets stuck in a desert, and he's about to die. Just before he does, he happens upon the Garden of Eden, here represented by a lever stuck in the ground, guarded by a talking snake. The snake, named Nate, promises him eternal health and wisdom if he promises to oversee the lever in time of need. The lever will end the world if pushed by the guardian, so he is being given a great responsibility. If, at any time, he judges the world to be past saving, he is to travel to the garden and push the lever.
Jake says yes, and spends his next few years attaining wealth and fame. He visits Nate and the lever now and again, and one day Nate reveals that he has a son, named Sammy. Nate says that it's past time he retired, and wants Jake to train Sammy to be Nate's replacement, after which he wants Jake to kill him in a highly ritualistic manner.
Jake and Sammy travel the world, and when it's finally time, Jake purchases a samurai sword and, with Sammy, travels back to Nate and the lever. He crests a hill, and to his horror, realizes that his brakes have failed. He's pointed straight at the lever that will end the world.
Jake struggles with the steering wheel. He sees Nate next to the lever. He realizes that the only way he can avoid striking the lever and ending the world is if he runs over Nate. So he turns to Sammy, tears streaming down his face, and screams:
"BETTER NATE THAN LEVER!!!
Groans. Facebook updates send the highly abridged version to the world at large.
Keith Jackson is is amazed that they made it to the Jersey Shore without killing Joe D. 9:36pm
The traffic soon abated, and we hit the home stretch. The GPS system in the car showed us on a long strip of land, surrounded by the bright blue of the Shore. We'd made it.
The character of the land is quickly revealed in the stores on the side of the road. We wound our way through an endless strip mall, which seemed to consist only of tanning salons. Tanning salons and Italian places. Five spires, brightly colored garish neon, soon rose in the distance. The GPS led us to them, as if we were wise men following a perverse Star of Bethlehem, inexorably drawn to the birthplace of some wretched Anti-Christ, just waiting to devour us in its birth throes.
But we ended up being a thirty-second walk from the cheeseball place. So it all evened out.
Our minds weary, our legs numb, and our nostrils foully assailed by Juan's unfortunate gastric tendencies, we spilled out of the SUV and surveyed our surroundings. A motel next to our apartment shrieked with the cries of high schoolers on a prom bender. The boardwalk of Seaside Heights lounged not two minutes away from us, uncoiling like a great Wyrm, grown fat on hair gel and silicone. Bike-mounted cops rode past us, giving us and legions of tattooed, muscled guidos the evil eye.
This was truly the raging hemorrhoid of America.
We had arrived.
It was going to be a great time.
NEXT: The First Night, or what parts of it I can recall.