Mar 01

Submarines…The Kind You Eat!

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Cousin John, around the age he was becoming an Atlantic City Submarine sandwich junkie

Submarines, the sandwich, Atlantic City’s version, are the topic of this post which is being guest hosted and contributed by my cousin John Vanstone, who is himself a lover and aficionado of this unique gourmet’s delight.

Submarine sandwiches have long been a staple junk food of the Atlantic City populace and later of the many visitors, renowned and unsung, who came to know of their indescribable but unforgettable taste.

Originally they were all of the Italian variety with meats like salami, coppacola, prosciutti (sometimes), provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, red pepper flakes (if you chose) and olive oil. Later on they got into other combinations of ingredients that eventually led to such comparable delicacies as REAL Philly cheese-steak subs.

While they can be found in many USA cities and may be called hoagies (NewYork), grinders (Boston) or other names, the distinct feature of the Atlantic City sub is the authentic Italian hard-bread, rolls that surround all that good stuff.

In Atlantic City, entire Italian bakeries like Rando’s, Formica’s, Panarelli’s in the Georgia-Mississippi Ave. neighborhoods were primarily dedicated to producing submarine rolls. Some claim that A.C. water is the secret part of the savory submarine rolls but this may be purely myth.

Submarine sandwiches anywhere that don’t use real Italian bakery bread are doomed to non-distinction, regardless of the quality of their ingredients. I only wish my Albany, N.Y. purveyors of subs would come to realize that basic fact.

When I discovered A.C. subs in the 1940s, only Mancini’s shop at Georgia and Arctic Aves.

White Hose Sub Shop, A Mainstay of Atlantic City Since 1946

World Famous White House Sub Shop, Atlantic City, N.J.

next to Club Madrid was nearby and their pretty daughter, who made the subs, was an added attraction. One of her brothers, Nick Mancini, was the Marine machine-gunner featured in that famous Technicolor movie documentary, the Battle of Midway.

At that time the Delaware Sub Shop also had a good reputation but was too far away to be tested by me.

In the postwar 40s, the now legendary White House at Mississippi and Arctic Aves. was opened. An original part-owner was Ralph Sacco, Sr., the father of my good pal Fuzzy Sacco. Both Fuzzy and his brother Ralph Jr. worked there for many years before Fuzzy started his own chain of sub shops called Sack O’ Subs in Margate, N.J. and other offshore towns.

My brother Joey was a lifelong fan of White House subs and had them whenever he was in town. I believe my Aunt Pat once shipped unrefridgerated White House subs to one of her drooling sons, who was in the service and stationed in Hawaii, that produced somewhat questionable results.

East Coast Super Sub in Tucson, almost as great a museum as it is an eatery

Later my cousins Bob and Mick McNesby made and sold the incredibly good McNesby’s Irish Subs at their shops in Cardiff and Brigantine N.J. Fortunately, they didn’t trade in Italian cold cuts for the Irish variety (whatever that may be) and maintained the traditional A.C. submarine sandwich quality standards by using Italian bread from Formica’s bakery.

In keeping with tradition Mick’s son Keith, who’d moved to Arizona, opened his own sub shop across from the University of Arizona.

In his effort to maintain the quality of an Atlantic City sub, he took a trip to the resort for the purpose of visiting Formica’s Italian Bakery. He had the owner Frank make him up a half dozen loaves, packed them in dry ice and tenderly nursed and cared for them until they reach their new destination.

Upon his return to Arizona, he solicited several bakeries to see if they could duplicate this unique Italian sub roll. He found one that came so close it was hard to tell the difference.

And today, East Coast Super Subs, now operating in the Old Pueblo, has taken its place among the finest sub shops Atlantic City or Tucson has to offer.

 

 

Feb 24

Dinosaurs Never Die

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Russel, as a young guard, probably after a training session.

Dinosaur was a much used expression for old Atlantic City lifeguards who finally had to come to grips with reality. For all of us, whether you leave after one year, or fifty the feelings are always the same. Your days of fun in the sun are over and you’re now ready to join your fellow dinosaurs.

Most guards go to college and realize after four years, of living a life one can only dream of, they have an obligation to themselves and their parents who financed their education that it’s time to move on and find their place in society. They are the young dinosaurs

In my case I fell somewhere in between. Having been a beach junkie all my life, I had no intention after graduating college of moving into the corporate world. Plus, I’d paid my own way through school, thanks partly to my Uncle Sam and the rest through working various jobs. I was not yet ready to become a part of the dinosaurs club.

I hung on until age thirty four at which time I met a girl who made me aware of how I was capable of doing much more with my life. So, it was, with much regret I finally decided I would join my  brother dinosaurs who went before me. I married in 1967, moved to N.Y. State with my young bride and settled into a teaching career.

Now segue forward 30 years. I was in my sixties having left N.Y. in 1979, and back in Atlantic City. I had been through two wives, nine years in the teaching profession, five apartments, two houses, four businesses and now, in 1996, worked as a slot attendant at one of the resorts casinos.

One evening while heading for work I happened across an old lifeguard buddy I grew up with, who was with a bunch of other young guards. They were coming from the boardwalk, obviously having spent a night on the town. Russell, a former rowing partner, who was two years plus my junior greeted me warmly, all the time playing grab ass with his fellow guards who looked to be in their twenties and early thirties. It seemed they were carrying on an old lifeguard tradition of going out every bi-monthly payday getting drunk and raising hell.

We exchanged brief pleasantries and hustled on to our respective destinations. I thought of Russel through my entire shift and wondered if he was still happy being a lifeguard into his sixties.

Jim and me where I was just a few years away from dinosaur status

I recalled Russell in his youth, a person filled with ideas and energy. He was a talented song writer and lyricist and someone we thought destined for celebrity status. To reinforce those thoughts, he had met and married a beautiful English actress named Juliet Mills, whose family was steeped in the theater. Her father, John Mills, was one of England’s most important actors, her mother Mary Hayley Bell, was an established author, and her teen aged sister Hayley Mills  was soon to become an established Hollywood star.

Russell and Juliet moved to England for several years after their marriage where Russell was building connections and making some inroads as a song writer. After a few years they moved back to Atlantic City, with intentions of Juliet trying her hand in the New York theater and Russel carrying on with his songwriting career. I believe it was 1965 when Russell and I teamed as rowing partners in order to enter the annual beach patrol boat race.

Juliet loved being being in Atlantic City that summer which I witnessed first hand because I often ate breakfast at their apartment. Juliet was outgoing, fun loving and I was crazy about her. But several years later the couple was divorced and things started unraveling for Russell.

I left the casino industry in 1999 and moved to Arizona where I went back into business. I only saw Russel rarely after that.

Two old dinosaurs, me and buddy Joe at his 80th birthday bash

At times, when I did run into him he didn’t seem comfortable in my presence which presented a shock, since we’d had much in common, such as the arts, our fun filled youth growing up in Pitney Village, and of course, the beach patrol. His interest in song writing had dimmed and I was told he’d become more of a drinker. But he was not yet ready to embrace the dinosaurs who wen before him. He eventually made captain and those times when I did see him, he seemed content.

But like all of us, at some point came his time to retire. What prompted it I know not. His age was certainly not a factor since guys are still working the beach into their mid seventies. It eventually becomes a personal decision we all make. Whatever it was, that drove Russel into retirement, he was now a full fledged member of the exclusive dinosaurs club.

At times I think of Russell, and reflect upon what his life might have been, had he chosen to leave the beach while still a young man. Of course I’ll never know but believe with his talent, looks and personality, he could have become a person of significant accomplishment.

 

 

Feb 16

Guilt By Mother

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Typical profile of what can become a lost child

During my years on the Atlantic City Beach Patrol (1950′s and 60′s) a common source of aggravation was the problem of lost children. This aggravation was not because children got lost, but because of the incredible amount of guilt we had laid on us by the mothers of those children.

A typical scenario went something like this. My partner and I would be sitting on our lifeguard stand watching the bathers. All of a sudden a  woman would appear hysterically screaming that her child had drown. Immediately, our blood would turn cold and guilt would soar through our veins, even though we’d been through this same scene many times.

Trying to calm her, while assuaging our own guilt, we’d ask when the last time was she saw the child, and invariably the answer would be as she was heading for the ocean. (like the kid was bent on drowning herself).

We’d try and calm her by saying that just about 100% of the time children wandered off on their own up beach. Her response: “No, I know she drowned” further adding to our guilt and sending shivers down our spines.

Now let us visit what was happening from the daughter’s perspective. She had wandered to the waters edge where, for awhile, she amused herself by playing a game of retreating from the dissipating waves, as they halfheartedly chased her up the beach. Then she’d reverse this scenario by chasing them back into the sea. She was soon bored and started looking around to see what other nuggets of interest were to be found. Looking up beach she saw the piers, and something else that looked like a Ferris wheel. Well what inquisitive child can ignore that temptation? So off she wandered, happily on her way, to explore these wondrous new sites ahead.

After covering half the distance to the pier she became disoriented, frightened and full of guilt for wandering off. As she continues walking toward her goal she realizes she’s lost and begins to cry. Passing a lifeguard stand a guard spots her and recognizes her familiar predicament immediately. He takes her to the South Carolina beach patrol tent, the one he works out of, and turns her over to the medical doctor. While the doctor soothes her, he covers her shivering little body with an “A.C.B.P.” sweatshirt, and hat, and tells her she’s now an official mascot. This distracts her and she stops crying.

My niece Robin and her mother. Robin would never have been a lost child victim. She knew the beach too well

Earlier the Captain at Michigan Avenue had put out a call to all the beach tents informing them they had a missing child. The phone rang at Michigan almost as soon as South Carolina discovered the child. The beach patrol ambulance was immediately dispatched to Michigan.

The mother was informed and we were relieved of guilt as she was waiting with the captain when the ambulance pulled up. I don’t think I nave to describe the scene as I’m sure you’ve seen hysterically happy mothers before. When all the commotion died down the mother ask her daughter why her face was so dirty. She said the nice lifeguards had bought her a fudgie wudgie from the man selling ice cream on the beach and they also made her a mascot for the day.

And so friends, concludes another happy ending in the annals of Atlantic City Beach Patrol history.

 

Jan 29

Surfing by Boat

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Shooting seas on a small wave day but still able to hone our skills and get some thrills

Long before surfing became popular on the East Coast and Atlantic City in particular, resort lifeguards found a way to hitch their lifeboats to the back of a giant comber and ride that sucker for all it was worth.

We were not allowed to use the lifeboats for any thing other then their intended purpose during the hours between 9:30 AM and 5:30 PM.

Many of the guards rowed in the annual boat races and in order to train, had to do so between the designated hours mentioned above. But there were other guards who were just as interested in honing their boatmanship skills and would arrive to the beach before working hours to challenge King Surf.

Surfing, using a 500 pound boat required the agility of a leopard and the cunning of a Houdini. Here, we’re talking about skipping about inside this craft while being buffeted and sideswiped  by waves. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Surfing by boat is much like surfing by board. However, technically, our beach patrol name for it is “Shooting Seas.” The first thing you have to do is get your craft through the break. This can be a bit more challenging using a two man lifeboat since a single wave can fill you with water, or turn you over, in the blink of an eye.

Once you’re beyond the break, you turn the bow toward shore and wait for the right wave. As soon as you see the swell you want, you start rowing with it making sure it doesn’t peak too soon, so as to be caught off guard, or too late, missing it altogether.

The moment the bow dips and you feel the pulse pounding acceleration of that wave taking hold is when you have to react quickly. The stern man jumps to the stern with one oar, hanging it out the back side and using it as a rudder. He must be lightning quick in assessing the situation. The boat will give you only a split second to react as to whether she’s trending port or starboard.

These were the kinds of waves we dreamed of

The bow man leaps to the front where he uses his body as a counter weight. You must be instantly ready to bring her to center, otherwise she will shear off in either direction whipping around and turning over in an instantly violent manner.

When you’ve succeeded in catching one of these locomotives and riding it to the beach the thrill is indescribable. As good as two guys were at doing this, watching a single guard surfing this method by himself took tremendous skill and lightning quickness.

If you also rowed in the annual boat races knowing how to surf the boat was a tremendous asset. Many an oarsman who lost a race did so because he never learned to hone his skills by  surfing the boat, thus turning over just prior to crossing the finish line.

When surfing became popular we had no trouble adapting to the long board since the principles of surfing were basically the same as shooting seas with the boat.

Jan 19

Summer of Fun

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This could've been us.

During my junior year of high school, the summer before taking the test for the Atlantic City Beach Patrol. I had been looking for a summer job but without much luck. I had started to meet some of my buddies at Pennsylvania Avenue Beach every day.

Pennsylvania Avenue was a unique beach because the avenue had two piers on either side,  Steel Pier to the left and Steeple Chase Pier to the right. There was only a distance of about 75 yards between the piers giving the ocean a cove like look. It was like having your own private beach.

Because the waves squeezed between the two piers they would compressed and form big fast rolling swells. This was at a time when surfing was still making its way over from Hawaii and just starting to gain a foothold in California. Here on the East Coast we were still years away from the popularity the sport of surfing would eventually enjoy.

It mattered not though, since any beach junkie worth his salt was already steeped in the art of body surfing. We would gather out beyond the break where, on the right day, the big combers would roll in. We’d look for the best one in a series and then swim like hell to get aboard that big train. Just as we began our descent we’d lock our arms by our sides and ride that roller coaster all the way to shore.

A further perk of this summer of fun was that girls from both our high schools had chosen Pennsylvania Avenue as their beach to hang out. A couple of our Holy Spirit High School football players were big stars and one of the Atlantic City High School cheer leaders was interested in one. As a result she brought some of the other cheerleaders with her.

One particularly beautiful summer day we were all down by the water messing around, flirting, when one of the cheerleaders started showing an interest in me by kicking water my way. Instead of acting suave and manly I acted like Dumb or Dumber from the movie, by grabbing her towel and dragging it through the water, and then through the mud. She was really a good sport about it but the more gracious she was the bigger jerk I was.

The famous Steel Pier where we tortured the guards

Eventually, we left them and swam out to about the middle of the pier. We played this game of climbing up on the pier via the pilings. Once we were up on the pier we’d yell catcalls to the guard. He’d come running full speed and just before reaching us we’d dive into the ocean and catch a wave to the beach. This of course was all for the benefit of the girls.

Imperceptibly, I made some headway with my pretty cheerleader and even took her out a few times. To her credit and my chagrin she met someone a bit more mature who appreciated her.

Well, not too long after that first romantic heartbreak my summer of fun ended. Little did I realize, at the time, it would be the last summer I would spend as a civilian on the beach for many years. My next fourteen summers would be spent in service as an Atlantic City Beach Patrol ocean lifeguard.