If Cape May County's economic engine is fueled by tourists, it would seem high-octane filled the tank to overflowing on Memorial Day Weekend. Generally, I stick very close to home on that weekend, but this year decided to venture forth, to "peek under the hood" of the tourist engine, to see how it was humming. Like many countians, I am not used to endless lines of traffic. When we decide to go somewhere, we know almost to the second how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B. Not so in summer.
Knowing that Wildwood's Kite Festival was a visual banquet, I decided to head there to join the crowds, to gawk in awe of those whimsical flying designs of cloth and plastic.
I took North Wildwood Boulevard on the island, knowing that the Rio Grande Boulevard over George Redding Bridge would likely be backed up. There was more traffic than I was used to, but it wasn't as awful as I expected. Then again, that was May 25 and the mass of tourists was well-slathered up with suntan lotion and basking on the white sandy beaches.
I saw the kites; my camera was silently leaping for joy at the prospect of snapping a few colorful views. (In the old day I'd venture that the festival was "a whole roll of color film," but there was no longer any film to be exposed).
Car after car after car was parked wherever there was a space large enough for one. My theory is, I only need one parking space, and one usually magically appears.
There it was. That one parking space about a block from the kites. They dangled and dipped, zig-zagged and tugged at their strings. I pulled up to the hungry parking meter, feeling the thrill of victory.
That swelling of pride soon turned to dismay when I read the sticker on the meter. It only took quarters, $2 per unit of time.
Curses, foiled again. I had no quarters, not one lonely coin in the car or on my person. I looked up and saw the kites, my blood pressure crept upward as I looked skyward and down, again at the meter, as if anything would have changed.
Lesson learned to have a roll of quarters (preferably two) when parking is anticipated and meters are in action.
Cheap me, I thought this was a one-time shot, so I'd pay the $15 rate to park in the municipal parking lot by the boardwalk. That way I'd be close to the action of the kite fest.
"LOT FULL" declared the sign at the entrance, with an arrow that pointed to the next northern municipal lot.
As those hopeful folks who watched Casey advance to the plate in Ernest Lawrence Thayer's epic poem, "Casey at the Bat," "A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, "If only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We'd put up even money now, with Casey at the bat."
I had hope. I was planning to lay $15 on the line as I was ready to turn into the lot. Then, to my disbelieving eyes appeared the sign, "LOT FULL." Mighty Casey had just struck out.
Yes, there were other private lots, and their price was $20, but their fee was beyond my price point, so off I drove, disheartened.
All that was left of the Kite Festival were a few fleeting memories, a rainbow of colors in an azure sky, never to be viewed by Herald readers.
We opted to head north, to a less colorful but relatively peaceful tourist destination, the Stone Harbor Point. Might I add there was no parking meter to feed in this peaceful place? All it took was a swipe of the E-Z Pass toll over the Grassy Sound Bridge, still under the $2 parking metered minimum and far less than the $15 or $20 to park in the boardwalk lots.
The scene was filled with a red-sailed Hobie Cat on the beach ready for launch into the surf at 121st Street. Up the beach was a strand filled with people.
Stone Harbor seemed filled too, at least the 96th Street business district. To avoid the crowd, I exited via 93rd Street.
As a last check on the first tourist weekend of 2019, when I bicycled to Middle Township's Memorial Day parade, and later to the county's ceremony at the Veterans Cemetery, the traffic on Route 9 in Court House was bumper to bumper. On the Garden State Parkway, lines of traffic moved slower than normal.
Pedaling through the County Park, it was jammed.
All that is to state, from an unscientific measure, the tourism season here was off to a dramatic start.
For those caught in long traffic lines, especially through Dennis and Upper townships, exiting via Route 47, Route 347 and other routes, that is exactly why better roads are needed if the lifeblood of Cape May County is to continue into the future. Road work is being done in Maryland to ease the flow to Ocean City. If this county is to vie with those seaside resorts for the tourists' dollars, something needs to be done without any more delay.