I remember Easter Sundays strolling the Atlantic City Boardwalk decked out in a new suit straight off the boys’ husky rack at Lit’s. This, of course, followed a resurrection Sunday sermon at Union Baptist Church – the same house of worship where I would meet the love of my life on Mother’s Day, May 8, 1994.
I remember my third grade teacher at Holy Spirit Elementary School, Mrs. Phillips, who first taught me a lesson that still works today – if you don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all. It was during the summer before third grade when I screwed up my ankle, landing incorrectly, sliding down a pole pretending to be Adam West’s stuntman circa 1967. I remember three of my teachers at Atlantic City High School, Mrs. Garfield who instilled what’s become a three decade dislike of anything dealing with Math (Why couldn’t I get Mrs. Hudgins??). On a more positive note, Mrs. Fordham turned me on to journalism, and Mr. Murphy who opened my mind to creative writing (A pair of writing disciplines that have helped put food on the table over the past thirty plus years).
There are memories of John Sr’s side hustle (back when it was called moonlighting), helping him during catering gigs at the Ramada. I remember slinging hash at the Trop (as in Tropicana Casino), holding down the garnish station at Shumsky’s, interning for Elyse and Sandy (who are likely reading this) at WMID/Lucky 99, and later weekend overnights – with my first FCC license and meter checking clipboard in hand – running the board a few notches up the dial at WFPG, running down news stories a few notches up the Parkway at WJLK and covering lawmakers I’d soon be working for/with during a stint at “New Jersey’s Station”, 101.5.
Those youthful days were the backdrop for dirt cheap matinees at the Beach and Charles theaters, a sip or two of a margarita at Los Amigos, never being there when Bruce would drop in at the Stone Pony, a couple of summer visits to frat brother Joe’s beach house in Spring Lake, concerts at the old Brendan Byrne Arena and more than a few Ice Capades and WWWF (yes, long before WWE) shows at the even older Convention Hall in Atlantic City.
Then I grew up and did a turn in the public sector, in Asbury Park and Trenton. In Asbury (The locals don’t use ‘Park’), I staffed Police Chief/Mayor/Assemblyman Tom Smith, who taught me a great deal about integrity and standing up for what you believe (The same thing a future former manager tried to do not too long ago with, sadly, not the most favorable results).
I still have my autographed copy of Governor Tom Kean’s Politics of Inclusion.
It was in Trenton when I had the opportunity to work down the hall from the first N.J. governor named Christie, who was also the state’s first female governor. If things worked out differently she could have made it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (which is as close to talking about politics as I’ll go in these pages).
In the private sector, I punched a few clocks. I was a government affairs official for the state’s number two electric utility (And how ironic that 16 years later, I’m working at number one!), where I was assigned to spend New Year’s Eve 1999, waiting for the world to end, in a bunker at the N.J. State Police headquarters. My Jersey work life (present employment notwithstanding) culminated in a very cool gig at a big telco supplier whose name keeps changing.
And in true Big East fashion, this 2.8 S.U. Orangeman (Sorry, my S.U. memories will always be Big East) bachelors grad actually picked up a book to become a 3.8 and change Seton Hall Pirate masters grad (Funny how one takes one’s education more seriously when one is paying for it!).
The last Garden State memory I’ll share is that life-changing morning thirteen winters ago, when a little girl named Zoe ripped (inside joke) her way into the world in the delivery room at Plainfield N.J.’s Muhlenberg Hospital.
I share these memories to provide a deeper context for my friends and colleagues who questioned my motives for returning to my home state.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoyed the past ten years spent in Atlanta. The history and the culture are unparalleled, and I’ve had the good fortune to meet some spectacular individuals whose friendships I will cherish for the rest of my life (especially a couple of guys in white coats for whom I’ll be forever in debt).
It’s today’s family responsibilities that have willingly brought me home, but equally important and more impactful are the decades of memories that came rushing back as soon as the McCullough wagon train crossed the Delaware – many of these memories I’ve already shared over the years in these pages.
Yeah, I’ll pay higher taxes (with my, thankfully, slightly correspondingly higher salary), I’ll shovel snow (a little core work won’t hurt this dad bod, but I don’t think we’ll be paralyzed by a few flakes like a certain city was a couple of winters ago, cough – Snowmageddon – cough), and yeah, I’ll miss those life-decaying minutes stuck in traffic.
But that’s OK, because I’m home, and I’m looking forward to making new Jersey memories (Get it? ‘new’ Jersey) during what’s left of my middle ages and beyond.
That’s all for now. I’m going to have my car filled up (I can’t believe we still don’t have self-service in Jersey?!?! ), swing by the farmer’s market for some Jersey tomatoes, then hit Whitehouse for a sub and a bag of Herrs.
For those of you who remember the old Piscopo bit, I’ll save you the trouble. When you come to visit, take Turnpike exit 4!