Ode to a Jersey Spot

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I was in New Jersey over Memorial Day this year. Some of you may have caught my video clip of the Memorial Day parade I caught the tail end of while on my run early that morning when I posted it on Instagram. It was an unusually warm Memorial Day and memories of marching dutifully, first as a pint-sized girl scout and then in later years as a member of the high school drill team, immediately came back to me. (It should be noted that the appeal of the drill team was that it allowed me to sport short white boots with purple pom poms, a tiny purple corduroy dress which harkened to earlier decades and appealed to my nascent vintage clothing sensibility – and of course our wooden faux rifles which clicked and clacked in satisfying unison.)

Virtually every annual gathering found us early in the morning preparing to march in the damp chill culmination of a sodden long weekend. I have written about Memorial Day weekend growing up at the Jersey shore before – somehow you had it fixed in your mind that it was the commencement of summer and the beach and were always disappointed as even the end of May can be quite chilly. (That post can be found here.) This year however, beach weather it was this year and I was out for an early run so as not to expire in the heat of the day.

A local home, spotted on my run last week, decked out nicely in bunting for the holiday.

The parade route has evidently moved to Fair Haven. My dim memory was that we started somewhere in Rumson (where I grew up), probably the high school, but definitely not where I found them gathered last week, coming from a different direction. The marchers had gathered and the last groups were getting into formation in a baseball field across from the local middle school at the foot of mom’s street. I run through this baseball field every time I go out as it is the turning point in my run from going north, looping back to the south before heading home.

Just a minute or so of the Memorial Day parade.

I managed to just catch the high school band which was bringing up the rear. It was a great hometown moment and I was happy to pause and record it.

That evening, after some instruction from a friend to ensure I would not blow us up, I tackled breaking in my mom’s new propane grill. My dad was the griller in the family and although I would occasionally act as his runner and lieutenant, and for all my other cooking experience I have personally not been in charge of a grill. Although we had a gas grill when I was a tiny tot, in subsequent years dad was a charcoal man. With Larry’s help (I video taped his instruction for posterity and future reference) I mastered the basics of the propane and managed to pull a credible vegetarian grilled meal together. If I can get it hot enough I can cook on it.

My maiden voyage on the new propane grill.

All this must have put me more in mind of my high school and college years in New Jersey. It was a certain kind of nice warm night and suddenly I thought of a place we used to frequent constantly called The Inkwell.

Somewhat incongruous in the environs of Long Branch, which was at that time a somewhat down at the heels beach community, The Inkwell was a coffeehouse harkening to the great tradition of coffeehouses of the ’50’s and ’60’s. It existed in a fairly stock format house and frankly I was always a bit surprised to see how it looked in the daylight because largely one was only ever there in the middle of the night. It was a constant on date night rotation, an inexpensive evening out. At night it exuded a come hither cool of a kind that was the siren call leading the likes of me to a life in New York City I guess. (Apologies for these low-res photos snatched from some local articles about the closing.)

The memory of not only cheerfully drinking endless cups of coffee (occasionally hot chocolate in winter) in the middle of the night back when evidently insomnia was not a yet a fact of life, but that the coffee was also topped with an enormous dollop of whipped cream. Oh my gosh! Well, waitressing and long days walking on the beach must have burned all those calories and still allowed me to sleep soundly.

I know we also ate food there sometimes, but what that was is utterly lost to me now and I guess it wasn’t really the point. I suspect it was along the line of onion rings, fries – maybe a burger as I still ate them back then. We were always hungry after late nights at the restaurant however and I think of the endless stacks of pancakes we consumed at diners in the wee hours of the morning more often.

Something they called a Dutch Coffee which was the drink of the house.

However, you were at The Inkwell for coffee. No alcohol was served or allowed on the premises. In retrospect, it was a great option for high school kids. Although people of all ages were always there, generations of customers who frequented it over the years.

I have not even thought of it in decades really. Until the past year when I head over to stay with mom throughout the month, my adult visits to New Jersey have been almost universally a day or two in order to see my parents. I have not stayed in touch with anyone from high school who settled there who I might see socially while in town. One ex-boyfriend, Sam, who I saw through much of high school and college, died a few years ago. (It wasn’t clear, but it seems like maybe it was suicide sadly.) I had not been in touch with him since we broke up while I was in college. Other friends have either drifted way or moved to distant locales.

A night view more along the lines of what I remember.

I am still close to my good friend Randy, an artist who shuttles between San Francisco and Los Angeles these days and who I first met in high school; he is one of my oldest friends. Kim and I just saw him on a visit to Manhattan and I get together with him whenever my job takes me to the west coast. Back in our Jersey days we worked at the same restaurant (I wrote a little about that summer and job here), and we would hit the diners mentioned above (one had oddly orange pancakes, never figured that out but they were good) and/or The Inkwell.

I don’t think I could have found it again on my own. Despite being a non-driver I remember most routes, but I am wuzzy on this one.

A recent photo of Randy Colosky at work in his west coast studio.

Anyway, I texted Randy and told him I was thinking of The Inkwell and our many trips there, even of the car he drove back then and that it was that sort of night in Jersey. He responded promptly and we had a nice impromptu text visit, late-ish night for me, early evening for him. One of the joys of our contemporary world.

On a whim yesterday I looked up The Inkwell and was surprised to find it had closed a week to the day of the evening I was thinking about it and texting Randy. Seems that over the years it had evolved to serve a wider menu of food but was largely unchanged. They remained popular and made it through the pandemic (outdoor service expanded into a yard where I only remember there being a porch before) and were closing for other undisclosed reasons.

I learned, not surprisingly, that Bruce Springsteen had frequented back when I was, or just before as his ascent to fame had already grown beyond the local. Kevin Smith the filmmaker (Monmouth County denizen and owner of Red Bank’s comic book store, Jay and Bob’s Secret Stash) was still a customer in recent years. There wasn’t much to do in Monmouth County – bars, beach and The Inkwell.

The photos bring it back fairly well although of course it had changed over time too. My memory was more toward old wooden mismatched chairs, classic red-checked table cloths with candles on each table, and Christmas lights year round. I don’t remember the first person to take me there although probably Randy’s older brother Ken who I dated for awhile. It was an excellent way station on the road to adulthood though and I am sorry I didn’t get a last visit in.

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