Salty Stories

A Blubbering Whale of a Tale

Whale hello there! I’ve been chugging away at my New Jersey Bucket List, just trying to earn my stripes as a Jersey Girl and my next big check, my white whale so to speak, was peeping some big booty big ole humpbacks. My affinity for sea mammals begins and ends with my obsession with the cult classic, Free Willy. Ever since 1993, I’ve made it my life goal to become besties with a killer whale, set him free from greedy waterpark captivity, only to call him with my harmonica anytime I want to grab onto his fin for a quick ride or just talk through my hardships while I pet his smooth rubbery back. As it turns out, my life is not scored by Michael Jackson, and orcas don’t make great pets. So, I had to settle for taking a spin on The Royal Miss Belmar to feast my eyes on what guido and guidette whales are cruising around the Jersey Shore.

I had been casually slipping whale watching into conversation for a solid year, hoping someone would think that sounded like a krill-iant time. I had no takers and I finally decided to seas the opportunity and stop feeling so tide down. My sister (who went whale watching in Cape Cod) confirmed that it wouldn’t be weird to go by myself because everyone is looking at the water anyway and not the loser with a fanny pack full of snacks. So I decided to take the day off Monday and have myself a breachin’ time. Alright, I’m done with the whale puns…OR AM I? I found the top-rated whale watching tour in my area and when I went to purchase my ticket I saw the options were: general admission for $55, reserved seating for $85 and a “best view of the house” upper deck seating for $125. I wanted to guarantee as best as possible–within budget–that I’d have a banging view for ample pics and vids. After texting with the company (their only form of contact, big yikes) they advised me that there’s still an opportunity to get good seats with general admission but you’d have to arrive early, whereas the reserved seats are all at the front of the boat. I decided to splurge and laid down that extra cold hard cash to get myself those tip top seats. $95 later, I was ready to see some mother-F’in whales on a mother-F’ing boat.

I got to the marina, circled twice looking for a parking spot and finally found one under the bridge at the train tracks…the furthest away. I was *very* excited for this fancy whale watching experience that I paid top dollar for and kicking things off by emerging like a troll from under the bridge, huffing and puffing on a 10 minute walk to the boat ain’t it. A precursor for what was to come. I was met with the crew upon boarding and when I gave them my name, the Captain started to tell me to follow the rest of the general riffraff but then stopped and went, “OH, you’re VIP.” Yes, sir, I most certainly am. I sit VIP or I don’t sit at all. I’ve never felt more elite than that very moment. I sauntered up to the front of the boat behind my whale watch escort and he pointed to the roped off section and told me to take my pick.

I sat down with a healthy distance from the next group, thinking I was being polite, then promptly said F that and scooted as close to the bow of the boat as I could get, remembering that my sister told me that’s the hot zone for prime peeps. Then I sat in the direct sun for 30 minutes and roasted, sliding all over my VIP seat before the trip even blasted off. I’ve never felt like a bigger dirtbag imposter than when the deckhand came around to collect the reserved flags off the seats that I had accidentally been sitting on top of and I pulled it out of my swamp ass and handed it to him sopping wet. At least I managed to face my fears and ask the couple next to me to take this adorbs pic of me on the bow pre-swass, so the image I curated was very shi-shi even if my slippery limbs couldn’t cooperate.

We set sail and the ocean breeze was life changing for my overactive sweat glands. A woman sat down on the bow of the boat and declared that she didn’t show up early enough to get a good seat so she’ll just make her own. Ope, ok. This was my first indication that my expensive reserved seat meant absolutely nothing. That point was hammered home even further when the boat suddenly turned into a zoo of activity. I don’t know what it is about moving vessels or confined spaces that make people feel like they need to get up and jazzercise but it is downright infuriating. As we were on a modestly sized boat, the seating was similar to a row at a concert or the aisle of an airplane. Every time someone wanted to get through I had to shove my knees up into my eyebrows so they could scoot on by. No exaggeration, I spent an hour crunched in the knees to chest position as every passenger on this boat bee-bopped back and forth because they couldn’t possibly just SIT FUCKING STILL IN THE STUPID SEAT THAT THEY PURCHASED. At one point a guy stopped and stood directly in front of me and leaned over the boat, not only obstructing my view of the water, but putting his butthole in my face. That’s when I finally had enough and stood up to stretch out my legs which had been slung over my shoulders like a continental soldier to accommodate the “I just want to feel how the air is on this side of the boat” general admission crowd and stake my spot for prime blowhole views, not to be confused with prime butthole views.

Was there a ticket option for “I’ll sit where I’m not supposed to and you can’t stop me?”

We were an hour in and still hadn’t seen no stinkin whales and our naturalist (a PhD student from Rutgers) had been eerily quiet on the mic. Knowing that they don’t guarantee a whale sighting, but they offer a free trip if none are seen, I didn’t have a GREAT feeling about it. Finally with the NYC skyline in sight, the naturalist got over the loudspeaker and told us to keep our eyes peeled because 80% of the whales they see are in this area. Why humpback whales would kick it near a large city is beyond me, but I’m no expert. More time passed with no whales and she popped on again to say that we’re approaching a busy shipping channel and the whales like to hang here because it’s deep. Again, an area with tons of big-ass boats cruising through doesn’t seem ideal for a 30 ft whale to sunbathe. At this point the jig was up. I knew these fools had no idea what they were talking about or where they could find us some whales. I had been duped. I mean I could’ve cupped my hands to my face and spoke “whale” into the breeze like Dory and attracted more whales than this crack team could find with all their fancy boat equipment and the eyes of 100 amateur passengers searching the waters. They slowed the boat down and started circling a certain area and that’s when the naturalist nervously announced, “Obviously we don’t know where the whales are on any given day,” to which I laughed and replied out loud “NO SHIT.” But they decided to lurk near the shipping channel hoping to catch one, Chris Hansen style. Since they changed direction to go against the wind and try a different angle, they told the left side (my side of course) to be careful of waves. Not two minutes after I snarked the naturalist, I caught a little sea spray to the face. It was enough spritz for me to decide it was time to sit my ass down.

I wiped off my glasses after taking this silly little splish-splash selfie and no sooner did I put my phone back down that I got full on waterboarded by another wave. I was securely in my seat and looked like I got dunked under water. And then another one hit. I paid $95 for a VIP super-soaker seat.

After getting womped about 3 times, and one particularly spicy wave getting past the barrier of my sunglasses and hitting my eye, making it burn so badly I basically went blind, I decided it was time to find a new location. The boat had now been put in neutral and was rocking back and forth quite a bit, so with my one good eye, this disabled drowned rat hobbled over to the bow of the boat and latched onto what I believe was an electrical post. I turned to the couple who snapped my pic and told them “this is not a fun time.” They uncomfortably laughed, probably wondering why a sea urchin in need of an eye patch was speaking to them. It was at this point, drenched and blind that my sea sickness decided to turn up full blast. The bow where I was clinging for dear life was slapping up and down and we still had yet to see anything other than some crusty old balloons floating on the surface of the water. Don’t need binocs for those! As I tried to dry off and also not throw up or fall over, the naturalist continued to urge us to do her job for her and find us a whale. KEEP LOOKING! THEY’RE OUT THERE! It’s as if she wanted to rub it in that I only had one working eyeball.

We start to creep back to shore, already late for our 4pm return time, when finally the lady who made her own seat on the way there pointed out a whale off in the distance. Credit where credit is due, at least she was pulling her weight cause I was 100% over scouring the sea for a spout. We got all up on that whale and stalked it like their “complimentary next trip if you don’t see whales” policy depended on it. This company was not about to lose another cent. I learned that several people on this boat were on their second trip after not seeing any whales on their first so clearly this is much more common than they lead on. Shocker. We rotated around this whale who was lunge feeding and took turns with each side of the boat having a view. In my fake world brain, I was imagining I’d have a front row seat to whales flopping around the boat and I’d leave with amazing pictures. The reality was incredibly underwhelming. I had finally regained vision in both eyes but 20/20 really wasn’t necessary here. Everyone was crowded around each other, pushing to see, while also playing bumper passengers trying to keep balance. My phone almost fell overboard every time I snapped a picture and every picture that I took was of the water with a teeny tiny glimmer of a whale blending in with the waves. You could never tell when it was going to pop up and when it did (usually not where your eyes were) it dipped back down 3 seconds later. I’ve never been more unimpressed with something in my whole life, but that didn’t stop me from taking 100 pictures and videos of nothing, hoping for the miracle money shot that never came.

As the whale got closer to the boat (still not close at all), the naturalist chose that moment in time to share that this year in Plymouth a humpback flopped onto a fishing boat out of no where. She emphasized that whale was a juvenile just like this one and you just never know what could happen as the whales are only focused on getting fed. READ THE ROOM, LADY. While I’m on a boat choking back pukes trying to stay upright, the absolute LAST thing I want to hear is that the whale we’re trying to get closer to could just come aboard and launch us into the bowels of the ocean. Did I laugh at the YouTube video of this incident in Plymouth? SURE DID! But I was cackling because I was safely on land and the possibility of this ever happening to me was almost nonexistent. There is a TIME AND A PLACE for sea monsters can kill us without even trying stories. Gawd.

After we spent far too long watching this whale do virtually nothing but eat fish underwater, we found a second whale to creep all up on. This was one they’d seen before. Whale #91 to be exact. Y’all can’t even name your whales?! Come on. We watched him also do virtually nothing but eat fish underwater for another half hour (now an hour off schedule) and I counted down the minutes until I could get back to my seat for the hour ride back and hopefully eat my Ritz bits snackpack to stop myself from hurling. As someone who went on the Himalayan at the boardwalk last month and QUICKLY learned that I’m way too old for rides without getting motion sickness, I’m not sure why I thought being a first mate for the day would be kewl and not stir up my insides. Ya girl may be called The Salty Ju, but she was not cut out for the boat life.

I sat down for our journey back, relieved that we were in the final stretch, and my seatmate turned to me and genuinely said, “That was worth getting wet for!” Uhh, no ma’am. Without a doubt it was not. Did she also get salt water in her eyes because there is no shot anyone could’ve been impressed with what we saw. And as if she manifested that same fate into the air just by speaking it, within 1 second of the boat going full speed, I got the dunk tank treatment again. One little girl was standing in front of my seat with her head over the side of the boat LOOKING to catch waves to the dome and this is why kids are beyond stupid. (PS there was not a safety speech or lifejacket in sight on this ride and all of the children on board were running RAMPANT without parental supervision. Almost made me wish one got tossed over the side on a rough wave to teach those parents a lesson. ALMOST.)

This is it. This is the best whale picture I got.

Obviously there was no chance I was going to sit underwater for an hour and everyone else had already gotten the memo to get the hell away from that side of the boat. Unfortunately, the combo deal of high speed boat and lack of balance pretty much guaranteed I wouldn’t be making any big moves. I was able to essentially run/crawl to the dry half of the bow, lean my body weight into the side and get a two-handed death grip on the edge. Picture “I’m the king of the world” positioning but instead of a majestic cruiseliner gliding slowly through the air, the wind was whipping in my face and I was bruising from the amount my body was slamming into the side trying to stay upright. F-U-N! I somehow managed to “stand” this way for about a half hour. There was no one in sight, as they had all figured out a better way to endure this ride. All of a sudden, the boat went from full speed back to an even more nauseating halt and the naturalist hopped back on the hot mic to tell us they’ve spotted another whale and they want to photograph it for their own records. Oh ok, sure, babes! I guess I’ll just live at sea now while you do research and find another whale to assign an inmate number to. A three hour tour, indeed.

Now that the boat had somewhat stabilized, it was time to try and find a seat since the one I overpaid for I was only able to sit in for about 10 minutes. (In case you somehow forgot I got ripped off hoard.) I went to the inside part of the boat where some of the staff took one look at my about-to-Ralph face and said everything ok? Certainly not, Skipper, thanks for asking! I told them I was feeling a little nauseous and was looking for somewhere to sit. They directed me to the back of the boat, said it was less rocky there and told me to look at the houses on land to feel better. I told them it probably didn’t help that I was sitting in the splash zone and the deckhand goes, I did notice that. SIR, IF YOU NOTICE A PAYING CUSTOMER GETTING BOMBED WITH SALTWATER AND VISIBLY NOT ENJOYING IT DON’T YOU THINK IT WOULD BE NICE TO HELP HER TO ANOTHER SEAT?! Guess not. I thanked these two jabronis for absolutely nothing as they were about as useful as a poopy flavored lollipop and wobbled to the back of the boat, where everyone else had already migrated long before me. I found a seat on the very end and dropped into it, met by an incredibly dirty look from the lady next to me, even though I left ample space in between. Oh, exsqueeze me, is this real estate taken?! God forbid I take your precious buffer away from you for the last 20 minutes of this shitstorm.

My ass hit that plastic seat and I’m about to focus on the shore and take a deep breathe when I’m distracted by the woman two seats down launching into the air and projectile vomiting off the side of the boat like a velociraptor. Not only did I get to see her red puke soar through the air, but I also got to smell it! Then I got to jam my thighs into my brain so she could get by me and probably go upchuck some more. And it was in that very moment, as I tried not to start a chain reaction of vomz, that I decided this blog must be written. The rest of it could be chalked up to a crappy experience, but this horrible day being capped off by moving locations and sitting down in the exact right moment to catch the backsplash of an off-boat gommick?! PURE GOLD. That’s sitcom-quality no good, very bad day right there. There is no other way the experience could’ve ended. After the crew selfishly got their pictures of the whale (that they didn’t even tell us where to look for), they sped us back, making sure to hawk their merch and shove their tip jars in my facehole. Everyone on the beaches waved as we passed by, probably smiling and saying “what a bunch of IDIOTS” under their breathe. But I didn’t care because LAND HO, I finally got off that damn boat from hell. I would’ve kissed the ground if I thought I’d be able to without crashing into it.

This wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time my unrealistic high hopes for a mediocre activity gets the best of me. The good news is that I’ll always turn my disappointments into entertainment for the masses (family members that read this blog) and the even better news is it wasn’t me who red wedding retched all over the Royal Miss Belmar. I’m proud of myself for going alone especially because if anyone went with me I would’ve had to tell them to shut the hell up because I was so naush anyway, which probably would’ve been less than enjoyable for them. But at the end of the day, I went whale watching and all I have to show for it are 75 identical mediocre pictures of the ocean, some of which also include my own finger. If I ever get the mermaid urge to go under the sea again, I’ll just stick to a Free Willy 1 & 2 dubz feature, pretend my BFF is a killer whale and call it a day.

My hair was straight when I boarded this vessel.
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Salty Stories

One Year as The Jersey Ju

For anyone who read the angry novella of the worst moving experience of my life, not only did I somehow make it through that, but it was ONE YEAR AGO! I survived a whole ass year in New Jersey. And let me tell you, after almost dying every time I dared to get behind the wheel in my first few months, I did not think I would live to tell the tale. Luckily for all of us, not only did I survive, but dare I say THRIVED? I dare not. I’m totally kidding. I did not thrive in my inaugural year as The Jersey Ju. I waffled at best. And even though I believe I’ve become a more aggressive driver, and grown thicker skin (just a touch) like the combative people of my new home state…I have not forgotten my roots. And if there’s one thing I’ll do no matter where the hell I live, it’s create a bucket list in order to force myself (and unwilling victims around me) to explore and take a bajillion pictures. Since I haven’t blogged about my life in a hot minute, I decided to chit chat about all the things I’ve done in my first year as a Jersey Girl!

Can we call me a Jersey Girl now? That’s for you to decide and me to find out. I suspect no one truly becomes Jersey until they’ve completed a “locals only” journey of experiences much like Robin on How I Met Your Mother became a real New Yorker. What Maury Povich is to NYC, The Boss is to New Jersey and I trust that as soon as I catch that sweet goatee trolling around Asbury, I’ll be well on my way to being a true New Jerseyan. (Good news I have this hilarious Bruce shirt I got at a boardwalk tourist shop that definitely doesn’t scream BENNY and one can only hope I’ll be wearing it when I see him.) But for now, please accept the fact that I embraced my new home state in bucket list form as a giant first leap to becoming JERSEY STRONG.

Since I am nothing if not extra, I split my list into 4 categories. The first three categories I ripped EXCLUSIVELY from an NJ.com series that was published when I first moved here where Peter Genovese pointed out *the* thing to do in every county in New Jersey. I furiously scribbled down the ones that were up my alley (wine, food, biking) and then let friends and co-workers add in their own recommendations.

Obviously you have a set of eyes and can see that these two lists remain largely unchecked because both eating and boozing in public require an iota of a social life. I’m fine going out alone when I’m traveling because I’m moonlighting as a work jetsetter AKA #TheCorporateJu. Going out alone because I have no friends to join me?! MORTIFYING. There will never be a time where I’m out solo dolo and do not think every single person in that establishment has turned their chair to stare at me and wonder why I’m such a smelly loser. This is a hump I am yet to overcome and it would be cool if you could just support me in my insecurities here. If you recall, I did boldly show up to Taylor Swift Trivia alone. And it didn’t go well so that really set me back on my progress. Regardless, here’s a highlight reel of the Eats and Booze bucket list items.

Pete & Elda’s (Neptune City) Staring out hawt by ruffling some Jersey feathers…WHAT THEY SERVE HERE CANNOT BE CALLED PIZZA AND I WILL THROW HANDS WITH ALL OF THESE CENTRAL NJ NUTS WHO TOLD ME I JUST HAD TO TRY PETE AND ELDA’S IF I WANT TO KNOW WHAT REAL PIZZA TASTES LIKE. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. The sauce was weird, the crust tasted like a sweet croissant with flaky pastry consistency and I honestly could barely choke down my normal 2 slices that at a good pizza place I can delete in mere minutes. Sorry, not sorry.

Laurita Winery (New Egypt) is bumpin with events. I attended 90’s night in the dead of winter where I dressed like it was ’97, drove 45 mins with 2 brand new friends only for them to promptly tell me upon arrival that they actually don’t really like 90’s music and we should split. I drove more than I grooved in my overalls that evening so we’ll guh ‘head and take an L there. Still looking for any takers who want to attend line dancing night at Laurita so I can check line dancing off of my master bucket list (much alcohol will be involved.) Hit me up if you want to boot, scoot, & boogie.

Windmill Hot Dogs is the Hoffman’s/Heid’s of the Jersey Shore. If you know me, you know why I absolutely NEEDED to go there. A hoffies hot dog, cheese fries and a medium birch beer is my death row meal and I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than 3 weeks without tossing that five star cuisine down my gullet.* So it was time to see how the Jersey version fared and folks, it was NOT good.

*I just received my routine bloodwork results from my annual physical and my cholesterol was high. Can’t imagine why. My doctor noted that perhaps I’d had a greasy meal or alcohol in the days prior to the test. Uhh…yeah babe. All of the above. She also suggested I eat more leafy greens & legumes. I’ve never laughed harder at a doctor’s note in my entire life. A LEGUME?!

Not only was the hot dog about a solid foot longer than the bun, but this wrinkled ween looked like it was not a day under 100 years old. That dawg was on the rollers for a cool 8 hours just shriveling out of existence yet ironically, not getting any shorter THUS CREATING MY NIGHTMARE OF A HOT DOG. What am I supposed to do with that? Just take a raw dog bite until I hit bun a foot later? Get outta here with that trash. This wiener was so hard to stomach that I did something I’ve never once done during feeding time, I shared. Charlee Girl got to try her first two bites of hot dog (after I bit it off and peeled the skin because I was terrified she was going to die eating it) and you know what? She approved. So at least someone liked Windmill. Wasn’t a total loss but rest assured I will not be returning (sober.)

Alright, now we’re cooking with gas, a list exclusively of things I can do without companions! Although, the most disappointing discovery this year: both climbing activities have been ripped from my greasy little paws. Barnegat Lighthouse AND Lucy the Elephant are currently undergoing renovations and will not be open for climbing in the near future. My legs thank them, my excitement for taking a photo from the inside of a metal elephant trunk does NOT.

Manasquan Reservoir is not for casual bikers who take their beach cruiser out for a stroll as my vagina may never recover from the uneven gravel and overgrown tree roots for all 5 miles of this trail. Also I had Covid when I went so I really deserve bonus points.

Mantoloking Bridge County Park is actually just a boat slip (Thanks, NJ.com 🙄) and I really wish I hadn’t driven 40 mins with an over-eager pup looking for a walk to learn that. Even Charlee was like this place stinks.

Ocean Grove is the cutest G-D Victorian house beach town and I creeped the HARDEST on all of the adorbs porches and front yard gardens. (I’ve also been touring each beach town with Miss Charlee Pervs and so far Ocean Grove is #1 for quaint views & vibes.)

Thompson Park (Lincroft) became one of my go-to bike routes in the fall except for the fact that I still never figured out how to loop around it and got lost in it more times than I’d wish to admit. One time someone stopped me as I was putting my bike away and asked me which way to go on their bike and the jig was up. I was forced to confess that even though it was maybe my 5th time there I am directionally challenged and shouldn’t be allowed to bike without a GPS guiding me every step of the way. Gr8 golden fall views though.

Visiting Cape May Historic Lighthouse was the byproduct of REALLY wanting to see NYC at Christmas for the first time ever (an unchecked item to come in the next category) but Omnicron taking a giant dump on those plans. I settled for Christmas in Cape May instead and of course had to squeeze in a beach visit for lighthouse views on a freezing December day (after warming up with espresso martinis first obvs.) 10/10 would recommend taking the trip to Cape May regardless of the weather. Their downtown area was beautifully decorated for Christmas, they had lots of cute restaurants and bars to pop into and catching the sunset at the beach was the cherry on top. I took about 15 billion photos in the 6 hours I spent there and *not to brag but definitely to brag* my shot of the lighthouse from the sand has been posted on Cape May Point’s Insta & a random Cape May fan account no less than 3 times. So I am basically a Cape May legend. I mean this was their Christmas social post:

Not sure why they didn’t want to post this Buzz Lightyear selfie with the lighthouse instead, but whatevs. I accept.

Here’s a small sampling of photos I snapped that day:

Holland Ridge Farms (Cream Ridge) found itself a new seasonal sucker in me. A farm full of in-bloom flowers and photo props? SIGN ME UP. Fall gave us a Salty Ju birthday sunflower photoshoot (and a lesson learned that cutting your own sunflowers is basically an arm workout.) And Spring transported us right to the Netherlands with Tulips as far as the eye can see and a full day of Mother/Daughter flower bonding and modeling.

Mt. Mitchell Scenic Overlook (Highlands) has a nice view of New York City across the water (I confirmed this after texting a fellow Jerseyan because I would’ve hated to be the nerd who’s like check out those city VIEWZ and it was a peek at Red Bank or something.) There was also a 9/11 memorial and patriotic flower arrangement that I especially thought was cool as I was exploring it near the 20th anniversary of the attacks. I took about seven thousand pictures for such a small spot so clearly I enjoyed it.

And last but certainly not least, the bucket list that I created from my own brain, the experiences that I decided were vital to becoming a Jersey Girl AKA shit that I wanted to do now that I live 15 minutes from the ocean and one hour away from two major cities.

Eat a Philly Cheesesteak in Philly was my first check off the list at a social media summit last August, and it felt right to kick things off with a greasy food item. It felt even more right that after INHALING this cheesesteak, my boss witnessed a mouse scurry across the floor behind my chair. We were just starting to get to know each other and she got to learn real quick how afraid I am of creatures as I played can’t touch the ground and Usain Bolt’ed right down the stairs and out onto the street without a backward glance. Grateful the rodent waited until AFTER I finished my meal to show himself. Could’ve really ruined the experience at Jim’s South St.

See a show at The Stone Pony, a seedy rock club known for its affiliation with Springsteen. I knew I wanted to see a live show there but the usual suspects who perform there are *much* cooler than I will ever be. So all I had to do was wait for my middle school crush and favorite musician (former lead singer of Something Corporate/Jack’s Mannequin) to swing through. Happy to report I didn’t have to wait long because Andrew McMahon stops at the Stone Pony on every tour. I got to see him stomp all over his piano for the first time in four years and also learn that this historical music venue looks and smells like the basement of a frat house.

Place a bet in AC. Pretty spicy of my job to send me to both Philly and AC so that I could mix business with pleasure and accomplish two items on the BL. Knowing that AC is the epicenter for white trash gambling addicts, I was not all surprised to walk into Harrah’s on a Wednesday afternoon and instantly be smacked in the face by a cloud of cig smoke and a bunch of degenerates placing bets. Other than my tried and true $1 WPS bet at the Saratoga racetrack, I was a gambling virg and wanted nothing more than to have a very main character-esque on a heater at the blackjack table movie scene. I recruited my boss to document this which resulted in walking around looking for the easiest game to play but having no clue what we were doing and eventually asking a pit boss to direct us to a table for baby’s first gamble. He pointed us to craps and said they would explain it to us because there wasn’t a big crowd. They did not explain it but thankfully a fellow gamblin librarian held my hand and told me what to do. Within seconds of a stranger rolling the dice, I lost $10 and was frowned upon for bringing a paparazzi with me to the table. (Peep the pit boss holding up his hand, the universal sign for “cut the shit.”) If there’s one thing that I know about gambling, it’s to always walk away on top. I had a taste of the juice and I needed to finish my glass. So we found the ever-classic slot machine so I could feel the rush of pulling a lever and seeing dolla dolla bills, y’all. And lo and behold, I won $22 on my third spin. It’s a miracle I didn’t quit my job right there, saddle up to this machine for the rest of my visit and yank that lever on repeat with a fag hanging out of my mouth. Instead, I collected my cash (to be spent on a rubbery bagel and a water the next morning) and rode the high of being a winner for the rest of the week. See below for my US Weekly, Stars They’re Just Like Us photo spread.

Also important to note that I talked MAD shit about how boring this conference was going to be because there’s no way librarians get turnt, and then was proven very wrong when I took advantage of the awards ceremony open bar, got fuzzy on the deets, made a bunch of new work friends and stayed out until 1AM. Took me two days to recover. #IssaVibe AC, BAYBEEEE!

Go blueberry picking. Once I found out that the NJ state fruit is the blueberry, I knew that plucking my own was a must to become at one with my new roots. Turns out no one cared to share this experience with me, so I went ahead and did it by myself on the very last day of the season. And it showed. Pickins were real slim. But I got to dress like an actual blueberry, saunter around a farm on a Sunday morning and pick a healthy snack for the beach later. Win, win, win.

Try pork roll sammy. I learned immediately upon moving here that one of Jersey’s greatest and most fiery debates is over a piece of meat. South Jerseyans (and most of Central) call it Pork Roll, North Jerseyans call it Taylor Ham (a brand of pork roll.) It’s basically like calling those things that hold your boogz a tissue or a Kleenex. As a tried and true crispy bacon lover, it was going to take a lot for me to invite in a new breakfast meat…especially one that looks exactly like Canadian bacon. (Yea I got a lot of dirty looks for that, but I stand by it, COME AT ME BRO.) I asked several people how to order my pork roll and practiced it in the mirror so I didn’t look like a noob at the deli and there was literally no reason for me to get so worked up because the second I stammered out “pork roll egg and cheese on a bagel,” the guy behind me ordered a Taylor ham egg and cheese and the owner goes “A WHAT?!” The guy immediately apologized and said he just moved down this way and hasn’t adjusted to calling it pork roll yet. I giggled nervously thinking the owner was just messing with him. He WAS NOT. The owner legit almost kicked this poor soul out of his shop for ordering his breakfast sammy wrong. He shouted, “TAYLOR HAM IS A BRAND, YOU KNOW, SO IT’S JUST WRONG.” And before I could bear witness to a pork roll slapping, my sandwich was ready. I scurried out of there to enjoy my first PR with a side of fisticuffs over the name. I’ve grown to love a good pork roll egg and cheese, salt and pepper on a roll (bagel is too thicc) so I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Find Jersey’s best espresso martini. I got the best espresso teens on LOCK in Saratoga, so it was only natural that I begin the quest for the best in New Jersey. Since spressy marts (workshopping some sassy names here) are all the rage with the millennial crowd right now (may I remind you, I’ve been drinking them since I was in college, trendsetter 4 lyfe) NJ.com curated a list of the best spots. This was a good start for my list (see below) but I also like to go off the cuff and just order one anywhere I go for a full rating. This bucket list item is checked off because it’s a work in progress. I won’t stop until I reach the top, but trust that I’m working on it every chance I get. Very sorry to report that I got lost in the sauce and forgot to formally review at Wharfside, Birravino, The Shrimp Box or the second bar whose name I don’t remember in Cape May. Guess I’ll just have to go back and get anotha.

Eat crab legs. This one got added to the list after I admitted to my boss that I’d never tried a crab leg because I was intimidated by all of the tools needed to eat it and never want to be stressed while eating. Shouts to my girl Tiffany who was like oh we’re going to getchu some crab legs and I want to walk you through this v. buttery experience. So that’s how I found myself having a big ole plastic bag full of crab legs and shrimp for lunch on my birthday and then going back to the office with butter stains on my dress, smelling like a crustacean. Did it taste like buttery garlic deliciousness? YUP. Did I struggle the most to get even a morsel of meats? Also yes, which is why I don’t think I’ll be a regular crab-eater. If I can’t toss food down my gullet at warp speed, I don’t want it.

Mets Game @ Citi Field. Having been to a game at four major baseball stadiums, but not having checked both NY teams off the list, I knew seeing the Mets at Citi was a must and waiting until they were having a hot streak of a season really worked in my favor. Despite my dad peeling open a nanner on our drive to the train station and almost ruining the day completely with this stench-filled car snack, I’d say my first Mets game was a great success. Even though they lost, they held their own against a top MLB pitcher and I got to see what Mrs. Met is twerkin’ with when they brought in the trumpets for Diaz. Also GREAT game day dawg. WAY better than Windmill’s trash wiener. Next up to round out the Northeast: Citizens Bank Park in Philly.

Nascar at the Wall Speedway. Never even knew what the Wall Speedway was until I switched up my route to work and passed a sign that said Nascar was coming soon. As a born and bred people watcher, I knew this was a can’t miss and just needed to rope someone else into it. Luckily, I made a new friend from the South who was itching to watch cars spin around a track and we got ‘er done. Before I even entered the stadium I saw a gentleman wearing jean cargo shorts and I knew I was about to be in for a real visual treat. Follow that up with a kickoff prayer over the loudspeaker (because, and I quote: we put God before country) and 5 hours of cars driving in circles and spinning out, it was surely a sight to see…one time and one time only. Unfortunately I didn’t do my research and learned when I got there and looked to buy a beer that the speedway is BYOB, so I had to raw dog this night on pure exhaust fumes with no alcoholic lubricant. Fear not, I channeled my inner Ricky Bobby and got through it. SHAKE N BAKE, BABY! I saw a wife lap her husband in a race (who run the world? GIRLS) and this guy pictured below in a wheelchair yelled at my friend and I for standing too close to him. A true Jersey night.

Oh, did you think this marathon blog was done? YA RIGHT. Those were my formal lists so that I could get that orgasmic satisfaction of physically checking a box every time I accomplished something. But OBV I haven’t lived exclusively by a list for the past year. So here’s noteworthy things I did that didn’t come from a list! Honestly if you’re still reading at this point, God Bless.

See a show at Starland Ballroom. This venue has no historical significance and it’s on an old country road across from a VFW (I’m not sure if that’s true or if that was just one of the many jokes my sister and I made when she asked me where the F I was taking her because it looked like deliverance out there.) We caught Breland and Russell Dickerson on a cold wintery night and it was without a doubt the most fun, high energy concert I’ve ever been to. If you ever have the chance to see Russell throw it down onstage, GO. There’s a reason he calls his shows the RD Party. Also FWIW, this venue was way better than Stone Pony–ample parking, space to stand, and multiple bars for booze refueling.

Do a Jersey Shore Vacation fit for a 5 year old. The last time my family and I did a beach vacation was the summer before I went to college where I was fresh off of my wisdoms being pulled (still swollen) and we all wanted to murder each other on day 3 of sharing a rental. So it’s been a minute since I’ve seen the magic of a beach vacay, which I got to do when my niece came to visit. It was her first vacation and pretty much first time doing every single thing we did. We quickly learned that she’s a woo girl in training by all of her excited outbursts for each and every activity. It’s cool when you get to do childish things but no one gives you dirty looks because you’re with a child. From finding treasure in the Metedeconk River (not worth the $25 ticket price if you’re over the age of 5) to almost ralphing on the Himalayan and learning that I’ve finally aged out of theme park rides, this viz was easily the most jam-packed 3 days of activities since I moved here. If you want to see pure baby’s first vacay joy, check out the home video I made like it’s 1993 and I’m Uncle Joey carrying around a camcorder to document everything my nieces and nephews do. Honestly there’s never been a better description of me, so whatevs. Everyone will thank me someday, probably not after wasting 14 hours getting through this blog, but SOMEDAY.

PS save yourself from Jenks Aquarium…I’m not sure we can officially call this place an aquarium as it was giving basement apartment of a guy who lives with his mom and keeps a bunch of snakes vibe. I should’ve known from the second I walked in when they had a guard at the stingray tank and told everyone they could only go wrist deep and only touch the rays that come to the surface. BRO. What stingrays are coming to the surface at a crowded boardwalk aquarium? Ya gotta get your grabbers down there and rassle em up. Amateur hour.

Beach it up at least once a week…even in the dead of winter. Look, you can’t talk a big game about how you’d be infinitely happier if you could just live near the beach and then get here and not take full advantage of that. I specifically chose to live 45 mins away from work so I could be as close to the beach as my bank account would allow and even that hasn’t been satisfying. That 15 minute drive is a real boner kill when there’s people who can just walk outside their home and hit sand. I couldn’t manifest living at the beach harder if I tried. Anywho, I walked, biked, lounged, swam, peeped many sunrises and photographed the beach like nobody’s biz this year and if you don’t believe me, here’s proof of my love affair with all things sandy and salty. (For the elite few who received a Christmas card from me, I wasn’t kidding, I basically lived on the beach like a crab this year.)

P.S. When I went in January and the only other soul on the sand with me was a seagull that was keeping pace with me on a walk, I legitimately questioned my sanity. I also may or may not have cried because that was the terrible day that I got my mugshot NJ license photo and Roz from Monsters Inc wouldn’t let me smile or switch my registration over and my only companion was a damn sky rat on a deserted beach. Real talk though, this was easily the loneliest year of my life so big ups to that salty bitch the sea for being there for me on good days and a whole lot of bad days too. Yup, sure did just personify ocean water like a total looney toon but there’s a reason waves crashing is auto-programmed onto every sound machine…it’s soothing as hell. It’s also super loud and great for drowning out the sounds of an ugly cry, jus sayin. All in all the beach is my favorite place on this earth and is probably the main reason why I’ll be sticking around here for years to come.

Champagne spray on the beach. Seems fitting to address this activity after yapping about how I pretended to own beachfront property all year rather than shoving a beach cruiser into my car and driving into the land of the rich from sketchy Neppy. I paid off my student loans this year which means ya girl is 100% debt free and ooh baby is it sexy to be financially stable for the first time in my life. So I celebrated by tossing on a tutu, buying a bottle of champs & hitting the beach to give myself a little extra in a rap video booze-soaked dance. Best part about the beach in the winter? No one else is there. So I got to take a bunch of champagne spraying videos and sashay around like an idiot without any witnesses. It was a good time until my hands were sticky and frozen so I scampered back to my heated vehicle to regain blood circ.

See the Twin Towers Lights on the 20th Anniversary. As someone who grew up 6 hours away from NYC, I had a very distant perspective of 9/11. I was 10 years old and I couldn’t quite grasp the magnitude of what had happened and instead of observing and shutting my yapper, I decided to ask my parents to take me out to dinner that night to celebrate. Before you can compare me to a terrorist, I quickly backpedaled when I saw the look of horror on their faces and added “you know, to celebrate the people that survived.” I’m not gonna try and dig deeper on what was banging around that middle school brain of mine but it was obviously nothing profound. Regardless, I was able to go to a park in South Amboy that overlooks the NYC skyline and see the lights of the twin towers and talk to someone who had a much different perspective of that day, which really opened my eyes to how people were affected far beyond the site of the attack. It was a very cool night and although my pictures are absolute dogshit, and it wasn’t the clearest of views, it was nice to step outside of my idiot child brain and see the bigger picture. I’d still love to go to ground zero and walk through the museum, so maybe that’ll be on my list for this upcoming year.

Drink out of a stein at Oktoberfest. I always wanted to go to the real Oktoberfest but also didn’t have any friends that could be trusted to control themselves and not die of alcohol poisoning, so I’ll settle for a local version at a biergarten. Mostly, I’ve just always wanted to drink out of a honkin stein while wearing a trendy Euro hat and I feel like the extra I paid to get said stein of a beer that I didn’t even like was well worth it for the photo opp. PROST!

Get solicited for feet pics on Facebook marketplace. This one is really a reward (happy ending, so to speak) for the few, possibly none, that read this entire blog which pretty much turned into a scrapbook of my entire year. It doesn’t surprise me that it wasn’t until I moved to New Jersey that an innocent posting of brand new Sperry wedges catapulted me into the seedy underbelly of foot fetish internet.

And since I’m me and I live for content, rather than immediately blocking my podiatry perv, I played it through.

I’d like to say I’m a comedian who’s committed to a bit, but realistically, if I can snap a well-lit photo of my tootsies in a pair of trendy wedges and cash in on $50 without even leaving my couch, I’mma do just that. As it turns out, my man Tito decided after looking at my profile picture, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free. What I thought was a tasteful sneak peek (the first one’s always free, it’s the next one that’ll cost ya) apparently was enough to get the job done without exchange of currency.

I’ve changed my profile picture to one with closed toed shoes and going forward, I’ll drive a harder bargain. YOU WANT A SHOT OF THESE POINTED PEDICURED TOES? WIRE ME $100 OR KEEP IT MOVIN, FREAK. DON’T PUSSYFOOT AROUND THE DEAL. So whatdya think? Am I a Jersey Girl yet?

If this ratchet flip phone shot circa 2011 of me in my authentic Seaside Heights Shore Store pinny (personalized with my last name on the back) tells you anything, then yeah I’m JERSEY, bitch.
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