It had to be around 11 o’clock last Sunday night when I finally neared the end of my eight-hour car ride, leaving behind my junior year of college in North Carolina to come back home to the Wildwoods for the summer. It was dark and deserted on the road, and I had turned my radio down to a light murmur—eight hours of blaring music had done a number on my ears. As I crossed the foot of the Rio Grande Bridge, I rubbed my eyes, struggling to fight their dryness and keep them opened. Then I came to the top of the bridge and saw it ahead of me, and I woke up.
I still get that feeling whenever I see the Wildwood skyline—that feeling of warmth, comfort, closeness—that feeling I don’t experience anywhere else besides this island—that feeling of home. And no matter how many times I leave, whether for school or vacation or what not, I always have that itching anticipation to come back, like I can’t be away for too long before I feel like a part of me is missing.
But then I see the island in all its glory, like I did that night out my windshield. I see the tiny white lights shining dimly from the houses situated quaintly on the shorelines of the marshes and bays to my left, and I see the rippled reflections cast out by the moonlight onto the water of boats docked at the marina to my right. I see Rio Grande Avenue before me, the strip lined with restaurants and stores and attractions, each one offering something different of their own unique quality and taste. And then I look up and see the Ferris Wheel standing out against the dark night sky, with its displays of swirling, flashing, bright neon lights illuminating the coastline from the other end of the island.
It’s when I see this that I remember why the Wildwoods are so special to me, and perhaps anyone else who has ever lived here or has experienced a summer here. It’s the feeling of the cool ocean water against my feet when I’m strolling along the beach scooping up shells on a Saturday afternoon. It’s the smell of cotton candy as it’s spun every morning on the boardwalk, eventually rising and flooding the entire island with its sweet aroma. It’s the happy chatter of people who come into the restaurant where I wait tables at my summer job, eager for a good meal and an enjoyable night out.
Or maybe it’s just the busyness of the island, with the crowds and the clusters of many different sorts of people, whether local or visitor, down here for one reason or another. There’s always something taking place in the Wildwoods, some event being held at the Convention Center, some band performing at a local venue around town, some restaurant opening for the first time and some bar promoting specials for the island’s nightlife scene (which I can now proudly say I can experience first-handedly, being newly 21 and all).
And with being 21, I get to discover a different side of the Wildwoods—a side I’ve never seen before—a side of which I’ve only heard stories—the nightlife side. With being 21, I get the chance to create new memories and combine them with the old, fond memories of growing up here, piecing together the two halves and making my connection with the island even more whole. I’m excited, and I can’t wait to do that.
My point is that the Wildwoods have so much to offer for people of all ages, including families, adults, young kids and even college students like myself. All I know is that I’ve crossed the bridge, and I’ve turned the music up, and I’m finally home for good for a few months. I’m anxiously awaiting the many experiences our island will have to offer—experiences that I can take advantage of in the upcoming summer. So look for me. I’ll be the girl around town.