After more than ten years, I finally made it back to Wildwood.
Well, for a few hours, at least! We spent the 4th in Atlantic City with Mr. and Mrs. Sexy Armpit, but on Thursday, the four of us did a quick hit-and-run at the negotiably-nearby Wildwood boardwalk. If you’ve been with me since the beginning, you know that Wildwood is basically my Disney World.
For the clueless: Wildwood is a vacation spot on the Jersey shore, famous (and infamous) for its insanely long and insanely spirited boardwalk, stuffed with roller coasters, bad t-shirts and six thousand types of french fries.
For me, it is home.
This was a very short trip, so I can’t give you a full blow-by-blow on everything Wildwood has to offer. (Actually, even if I spent two weeks there, I still wouldn’t be able to.) Even so, it seems I took just enough pictures and saw just enough interesting things to spend the next four hours writing loving tributes to dark rides and cereal-infused ice cream sundaes.
Here are ten things I saw in Wildwood. Enjoy them as I did.
I was pleasantly surprised to see officially licensed Gremlins dolls in one of Wildwood’s 150+ crane machines, but outright shocked to see MOHAWK included. In his adorably skunky mogwai form, no less!
Characters exclusive to Gremlins 2 are less often mined for things like this, and as cool as it was to see the original movie’s Stripe lurking in crane machines a few years ago, this is even better. Mohawk was the sequel’s Big Bad, and to date, the ONLY character in the Gremlins universe to be seen in three forms. (The last of which being a gremlin/spider hybrid!)
I somehow managed to win three Mohawk dolls, a miracle that only barely falls short of Moses parting the Red Sea. I freakin’ love them. They look totally bootleg in the best way possible.
Spotted at a Mister Softee stand, the “Fruity Pebbles Storm” sundae blends vanilla ice cream with an obscene amount of Fruity Pebbles cereal. Of course, I should admit that my description is mere conjecture, because after two margaritas and a platter of nachos that could’ve easily doubled as an excessively strange football field, I reasoned that cereal-infused ice cream sundaes were pushing it. Whatever, it’s still awesome.
Okay, I need help. See that pizza guy? Is that pizza guy somebody famous? I’m guessing so, because the boardwalk was FULL of him. Pizza guy dolls in every imaginable size, from “keychain” to “gotta rent a van before we get back on the GSP.”
I fell in love with pizza guy. Specifically, I’m mooning over the fact that he has hands but no legs, which, if my endless study of cartoon anatomy is a respectable basis for this theory, means that he hops around like a one-legged frog, bopping on his crust. Picture that, and then tell me you don’t want five pizza guy dolls.
Pac-Man Smash is unreal. If you see this game, don’t you dare walk away without playing it. In this insane version of air hockey, teams of two go apeshit on each other. At least twice during each game, a billion multicolored bonus pucks fly into the arena, so the match ultimately devolves into “four people blindly swatting” until everyone is sweating and half of the players are dead. It is so goddamned good.
Almost as famous for its long tenure as its sirens, the tramcars are collectively the biggest symbol of the Wildwood boardwalk. I haven’t been on one in almost twenty years, but Wildwood just wouldn’t be the same without a dozen snakelike cabs threatening to mow me down.
Oh, and the sirens! They aren’t normal sirens. In lieu of those, the drivers warn you with prerecorded “watch the tramcar, please” messages, spoken with subtle annoyance by what I can only describe as Female Robocop. If you spend an hour on the Wildwood boardwalk, you will hear Female Robocop a hundred times.
Yep. The Anti-Terrorism Super Gun. Soulless exploitation has never been this fun! I mean that sincerely, because the Anti-Terrorism Super Gun is lined with a rainbow of flashing Christmas lights!
I hate that Anti-Terrorism Super Guns weren’t around in the late ‘80s. A producer at TriStar would’ve almost certainly insisted that Dynamo carry one in The Running Man.
This was a hot item on the boardwalk. I spotted Anti-Terrorism Super Guns in at least four shops, including one that otherwise sold nothing but hermit crabs. It gives me pause to think that there is a family currently sustaining itself through the sale of pet crabs, Anti-Terrorism Super Guns, and absolutely nothing else.
…and here’s my catchall entry for the various crap shops littering the boardwalk, which thrill me as much today as they did when I was five and desperate for a 48” Allstar Seaworthy doll.
Some are dollar stores, some aren’t. Some masquerade as sundry shops even if they mainly deal in Anti-Terrorism Super Guns. All are eclectically stocked, and all are wonderful. I’m really diving into the past with this reference, but it was these shops that brought us the Green Bamboo Mystery Peanut.
You never know what you’ll find in them, and I can’t emphasize that enough. There might be a row of New Jersey coffee cups next to a row of squeaking rubber lizards next to a row of X-rated playing cards. And don’t forget the impulse items near the registers! There you’ll find everything from plastic dinosaurs to foreign chocolate bars to rings that are supposed to light up, even if they never do. On the back wall will be cheap cigars and Tiger Jet Rocket brand condoms. And framed photos of starfish.
Even when you don’t buy anything, you always leave these stores feeling richer. You’ve seen things that everyone has seen, but never together. The feeling one gets while browsing… how can I explain it? I guess it’s like watching a sperm whale surface for air while space aliens perform a water landing ten feet away. You’ll see it all, and all at once.
The Star Donut wasn’t found on the boardwalk, but rather in a nearby Wawa. If you’re unfamiliar with Wawa, it’s basically 7-Eleven, but with a name that nobody can say without immediately repeating three or four times. I’m not sure if it’s reflexive or what, but there’s no such thing as “Wawa once in a sentence.” Once you break the seal, you’re saying Wawa until you’re explicitly told to stop. Don’t worry, it will happen quickly.
I thought the Star Donut was beautiful. I liked how the various points seemed to battle for supremacy, leaving me unsure of what constituted as the “top of the donut.” I didn’t buy one, which is just as well, because I would’ve drawn crude eyes on it and made it our fifth wheel. After saying “Wawa” a dozen times, I don’t think my friendships would’ve survived a “hey guys, we’re gonna pretend this donut is hanging out with us for the rest of the weekend” thing. I’d be lying if I said that feeding similar impulses didn’t cost me in the past.
The boardwalk hosts many fantastic airbrush artists, who use their talents to paint dated pop culture references on shirts and hats. Since competition is stiff, the artists who survive on the boardwalk have to be really good. It’s not their fault that people make them paint Katy Perry in a Spider-Man costume with a devil’s tail for some reason.
Many of the artists will do commissions, so you can get a shirt (or a hat, or a vanity license plate) featuring whatever the hell you want on it. Jay and I both regretted missing the opportunity to get our respective site mascots immortalized on tank tops that neither of us would ever wear. Next time!
I saved the best for last! We only went on one ride in Wildwood, and even with big time roller coasters and a Jupiter-sized ferris wheel on the menu, we couldn’t resist Dante’s Dungeon, a dark ride with plenty of history.
The last time I was in Wildwood, Dante’s Dungeon was called Dante’s Inferno, and it had already been one of Wildwood’s top dark rides for years and years. Despite the changes, it’s more or less the same ride, fronted by a heinous, smoke-spitting demon. As is typical with dark rides, the outside is the best part. I could stare at this thing for hours, feeling oddly serene under its fog and chamber music.
Riding it wasn’t as exhilarating as just looking at it, but it was still pretty good. Dante’s Dungeon exists as a sort of slow-moving, low-fi roller coaster. You spend most of the ride in total darkness, save for brief moments with light-up animatronics, and — in what’s probably the best part — a strong dip that actually happens in the open air.
I tried to take a video of the experience, but it looks like I accidentally stopped recording before the ride concluded. Oh well, here’s what I got:
Listen close and you’ll hear me say, “HEH OH JEEZ,” which was what mindlessly came out when I accidentally filmed one of the operators. (She didn’t seem thrilled about that, but you can barely see her. Sorry, Dark Princess. If it makes you feel better, the fifteen-year-old in me really wanted your autograph.)
We saw a lot during our few hours in Wildwood. Donuts! Dark rides! An airbrushed Rihanna! Someday, I’d love to go back for a full weekend and explore everything, because there is just no town like Wildwood, and I’m still holding out hope that I’ll find the sunglasses I lost there back in 2003.