The Deluxe cruised along the last desolate stretch of Pacific Avenue before it shot back into the residential section of the Crest. Robert carried only one passenger in his car. A hitchhiker named Nick. Robert had never picked up a hitchhiker before, but this one spoke to him. Had popped up out of nowhere beside the reed-lined road out of Cape May. Had materialized from marsh grasses and swamp gas in a pair of black shades and a matching leather jacket. Robert just knew it was a sign. Maybe one thrown down from the doo wop gods themselves.
“Make a right up here on Topeka,” Nick shouted over the music. “Gloria” by The Cadillacs. One of Robert’s favorites. He turned the Deluxe onto a narrow street lined with the usual shingle-covered cottages and condos you see in most beach towns. Towels embroidered with pink beach balls and the flowing sails of sailboats hung from the railings of each front porch, presumably drying out from a productive day of sunbathing or body surfing.
Missing were the station wagons and the minivans Robert had noticed on his drive earlier that evening. In their place were old Cadillacs with sharp fins and turquoise paint, and antique Fairlanes with their cloth tops down to the stars above—only they didn’t look old at all. It was like a classic car show had sprung up out of the ether on this quiet street near the sea.
“Ok, here we are,” Nick continued after the Deluxe had traveled about two city blocks. “Make this left on Atlantic.”
The soft glow of neon heralded the passage onto Wildwood’s busiest thoroughfare. It was flanked on both sides by crowded motels and generous helpings of classic cars. A jet-black ’57 Chevy sat parked under the sky-blue lettering, which read ‘Granada’. A sparkle of chrome winked at Robert as he passed. A motley group of teenage boys prowled the sidewalk near Louisville Avenue wearing white, straw hats over their high-and-tight haircuts. They stopped to admire the shooting star which seemed to launch its way across the glittering sign at the Biscayne. They lit up smokes and planned their course for the night.
“Take a right on Farragut,” Nick said between the last few notes of “Gloria” as the song faded to a commercial break, “and just follow it onto Ocean. We call it the Strip. You don’t have to be in a hurry on this street, if you know what I mean.” He paused to wave at a trio of brunettes in short skirts and halter tops. They giggled and neglected to return the favor as the Deluxe crawled past.
The scene on Ocean Avenue was unlike any Robert had ever seen. He was beginning to understand why his new pal referred to it as the Strip. The haze of neon was so thick it stretched down the street and all the way off to eternity. Groups of young men and women packed the sidewalks on both sides, eager to show off the fresh coats of sun they’d collected earlier that day on the sand. The oohs and aahs of doo wop music wafted in off the streets from impromptu groups singing under the plastic palm trees at the Royal Hawaiian or outside the wrapped-glass lobby of the Pan American. Couples walked hand in hand across Rio Grande Avenue and onto the beach to listen to the silky poetry of the crashing surf and to count the stars as they cuddled up on beach towels. A throng of eager fans–the guys with slicked-back hair and the girls sporting flirty bobs–lined the sidewalk outside a club where flashing light bulbs circled a marquee. It read ‘Tonight: The Flamingos.’
“Wow,” Robert said shaking his head. “I know this is Doo Wop City, but you guys don’t mess around when it comes to authenticity.”
“Uh, yeah,” Nick mumbled from the passenger seat, “it’s all part of the lifestyle, I guess.” But Nick had no idea what Robert meant when he called Wildwood a ‘doo wop’ city. As far as he was concerned it was Wildwood. As far back as he could remember, it was the only place he knew. And it had always been the same.