In praise of slightly boring, family-friendly seaside towns…

Years ago we were on holiday in New Jersey. At the time I was a fan of the HBO show Boardwalk Empire. If you are not familiar with the show, it is set in the world of gangsters during prohibition in the 1920s. Most of the action takes place in Atlantic City, which is a traditional American seaside resort that was a popular destination for visitors from New York.

I was looking forward to paying a visit to Atlantic City. In addition to Boardwalk Empire, it appears across American pop culture in many movies and in the songs of Bruce Springsteen. I assumed there would be some historical sites to visit, and I imagined there would be some gangster walking tour that would regale you with tales of the prohibition era.

The reality was a great disappointment. Atlantic City is a complete hole of a place. All the historical buildings have been razed to the ground to make way for ugly casinos. The boardwalk strip is an endless stream of junk food and tacky shops. In the words of Morrisey, it was ‘the coastal town that they forgot to close down…’ The entire town had an air of despair that was palpable – like a broken gambler who had lost his last dollar. This is a good article that explains how Atlantic City fell on hard times, and how a certain Donald J Trump features prominently in its downfall.

After the disappointment of Atlantic City, we headed down the coast to Ocean City. I had never heard of the place, but Ocean City is Atlantic City’s good-living twin brother. Founded as a Christian holiday resort by some Methodist chaps in 1879, it banned alcohol and gambling was definitely a no-no.

Ocean City is a bright and cheerful place with lots of nice restaurants and shops. It has a more relaxed and prosperous feel than Atlantic City, and it was very clean and friendly.

I was thinking about Ocean City as I read an article about Bundoran by Rosita Boland in the Weekend Edition of The Irish Times. This part got my attention:

During the time I’m in Bundoran, people tell me the town is a much more pleasant place for being quieter at night. They don’t want to name names because they don’t want to seem as if they are criticising people in the pub and entertainment industry.

“There used to be men out drinking all night and never going home to their families all weekend.”

“There is no hassle at all on the streets in the evenings now.”

“The place is dead at night now, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”

We used to holiday every year in Mullaghmore so Bundoran is a town I know well. I always remember we used to avoid it during the 12th as the town got very rough with an influx of my fellow Northerners, many of whom viewed a good holiday as getting really drunk and fighting each other.

I think an upside to the lockdown has been a re-evaluation of pub culture. I like pubs and Bundoran has many fine traditional bars like Brennans and the Bridge Bar. But I dislike binge drinking; alcohol abuse takes a terrible toll on our society. One upside to the current situation might be fewer exhausted kids sitting bored in bars watching their parents get drunk.

Also, it should be pointed out that while many bars are still closed people have been drinking at home, where the potential to abuse alcohol is even higher than if you are at a bar. Even Ocean City for all its good living can’t seem to avoid booze. From Wikipedia:

Despite the prohibition in the city, 18.3% of adults in Ocean City metropolitan statistical area (which includes all of Cape May County) drink alcohol heavily or binge drink, the highest percentage of any metro area in the state; USA Today listed Ocean City as the state’s most drunken city on its 2017 list of “The drunkest city in every state”.

I am the first to admit that in my younger years I used to be out till all hours. I have been in more than a few lockins where you went home at dawn. But as you get older you just can’t do it anymore, you need your sleep. Maybe we need to take a lesson from the continental tourists – go out for dinner, have a few drinks, but get to bed early and wake up refreshed for the next day.

It’s boring, but maybe some of us need some more slow and steady in our lives.

Donegal Bay & Bundoran, Ireland” by jmenard48 is licensed under CC BY-SA