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In Some New Jersey Towns, "Old Fashioned" Ain't a Drink

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Imagine riding a bike upside down ... with barely a strap to keep you from falling on the street.

That's what the Loop-O-Plane felt like, a zippy ride that turned in ovals -- and all that kept it running was an old motor with something that looked like a bicycle chain pulling through it.

First it was in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., the scariest of all the scary, stitched-together rides at the now defunct Herman's Amusements on the Boardwalk. When Herman's disappeared in 1987, I thought the ride would, too.

When I worked at Herman's in the early 1980s, we kept this ride together with practically tape and glue. When it needed to be cleaned, the maintenance guy sounded the same alert:

"Get the hose!"

Back in the 1990s, while I was walking on the Ocean City, N.J. Boardwalk, doing work for The Press of Atlantic City, I could hear it again. I could hear that grinding noise that sounds like somebody unzipping their jacket, over and over.

There it was, amid the rides new and old, the two-pronged ride with the small, metal and cramped cars that looped in opposite directions.

"I've seen this ride before," I told the guy running it.

"Where're you from?" he asked.

"Point Pleasant."

"That's where we got it from," he told me. "After some place closed, we got it."

I noticed this, just after having a jaw-dropping flashback as I looked at the Ocean City Boardwalk for the first time. I saw the movie theater on the Boardwalk, the same kind I used to see in Point Beach (remember the Arnold Theater?) and Brick when I was small.

They had the salt-water taffy and the old arcades with games that people stopped playing when Nintendo came around. I saw places where people played music out in the open without a cover charge.

I saw some Jersey version of peace and serenity, with mothers and fathers holding their hands as they walked the wide boardwalk. It was like I was in the movie Pleasantville, and a postcard was coming to life.

All the while, I kept thinking to myself: What would this place be like if it had booze?

For many, this scene would disappear. What we know about Ocean City would be no more, they say -- even as critics say that any attempt to recreate or maintain "Pleasantville-by-the-sea" in either Ocean City -- and, to some extent, Point Beach -- is unrealistic and outdated.

In Ocean City, that feeling of no-liquor serenity was validated just last week. In a 2-1 vote, Ocean City residents defeated a ballot question that asked voters if they want to change the local ordinance prohibiting "Bring Your Own Bottle" (BYOB) restaurants in the dry town. The vote ended 16 months of passionate debate in Ocean City about the issue.

In Point Beach, the council voted on Tuesday night, with Mayor Vincent Barrella breaking a tie vote, for bars to close at midnight, two hours earlier than the current 2 a.m. closing time.

In the meeting room, the tension was pronounced, with employees saying it could hurt or even eliminate their jobs, and residents complaining about bar patrons urinating, defecating and dumping litter on their properties.

Critics say the latter scenario is too simplistic, and unrealistic. Restaurants need it in Ocean City to survive; Point Beach needs to keep its closing times late, so the bars can last and, with Seaside Heights nearly 10 miles south, compete.

Now 45, it's hard to put myself in the shoes of others who would be affected by this. I've never been much of a drinker, anyway. But I've had as much fun as anybody had back in the 1990s, when bands like the Nerds and Hyperactive played Jenkinson's on what seemed like every other night.

I jumped off the stage at Jenk's after feeding plenty of Budweiser into my sleep-deprived brain. I paid the steep cover charges to get into Martell's Tiki Bar, even if it left me with little left to buy booze (and just about anything else I needed that week).

All that was happening around that same day I walked in Ocean City, back in the 1990s. On that day, I felt like I was home. On that day, I felt more comfortable than I ever felt in a bar, at night, or in the early morning.

I felt like I had seen something that had disappeared everywhere else. In the mid-to-late 1990s, I was in my late 20s, a time when a lot of people care about little else other than where they get their next drink.

But, that day, I didn't want to be anywhere else. I wanted to be in Ocean City.

This article originally appeared on Patch.