Growing Up Jersey — Welcome Guest Libby Klein

The winner of Libby’s book is Jane Dietz! You will get an email from Libby!

I met Libby at a Chessie Chapter of Sisters in Crime meeting last fall and was delighted to hear about her new series, the Poppy McAllister Mystery series, from Kensington. The first book, Class Reunions Are Murder, came out on January 30, 2018. Libby is giving away a copy of the book to a commenter! Please join me in welcoming, Libby!

I grew up in south Jersey. Exit Zero. Technically the Villas which would have been like exit two, but they didn’t make an exit two because no one wants to go to the Villas. I lived down the street from a seemingly defunct button factory. It was apparently in operation until recently, but we never saw anyone there. No cars, no people. It’s like there were secret underground tunnels that only night workers knew about. In a word – creepy.

The Villas was not exactly a hotbed of activity since it was mostly populated by summer homes and settlers who had arrived on the Mayflower. Most of Cape May County was deserted in the off season.  If my dad passed more than four cars during his fifteen-minute drive home from work he was like, “Whoa! What’s with all the traffic!” Then he complained that rush hour was out of control.

When most people refer to New Jersey as the armpit of New York, they mean north Jersey. In south Jersey you’re the armpit of Philly. Yoose eat your cheese steaks and Italian hoagies and root for the Flyers and the Eagles or you’re a mook. Everyone knows it.

My high school was small, my graduating class had roughly 200 students, and I had to walk four blocks to catch the bus – which I think constitutes child abuse in today’s society. After school activities were very popular because there was literally nothing else to do other than going to the mall. And by mall, I mean the tiny little strip of about fifteen shops in Rio Grande with the K-mart, two screen movie theater and Rick’s Pizza.

When I was a kid this was a huge culture shock for me. I came from the urban sprawl of the suburbs just outside of Washington DC. We had high rise apartments, public transportation, and a different nationality of restaurant on every corner. New Jersey was cornfields and asparagus farms. You rode your bike to the deli to get your mom capicola and provolone and the good hoagie rolls because she bought tomatoes at the farm stand on the way home from work. You can’t have a good hoagie without the good hoagie rolls.

In the summer, the population of Cape May exploded from four thousand residents to forty-thousand shoobies. Shoobies are what we call the tourists who wear socks with their sandals and order everything on the side when they know they’re gonna eat it anyway. You want to be known as a shoobie all you gotta do is order a “steak and cheese” or a “sub.” We’ll still sell it to you, but now it comes with a side of disdain. You gotta learn the language if you don’t wanna be a mook.

Our little two-lane roads get so clogged with shoobies it takes forever to go a couple blocks. They descend upon the beaches and bed and breakfasts in a clash of humanity fighting for a blanket sized patch of sand to call their own. They come to rent bicycles and beach chairs, line up for miles to buy water ice and frozen custard with rainbow jimmies. They loll about in the Atlantic Ocean, basking in the blistering sun under the constant rumble of single prop planes pulling banners that advertise everything from Reef and Beef Happy Hour to Marry Me Tina.

Growing up in a resort beach town means you’re the one who works those pancake breakfast shifts before going to your booth on the boardwalk. Your nights are spent trying to cajole shoobies into three for a dollar balloon darts and water gun horse races under the constant drone of “Watch the Tram Car Please.” You gotta mind your Ps and Qs because your tenth-grade science teacher is making the funnel cakes next door.

Everyone works as much as possible in the summer because they gotta make the money last all year. Your uncle works on the fishing boats at the crack of dawn to bring in tonight’s clams casino while grandma chambermaids for tips, so she can blow it all in Atlantic City on her day off. Your teachers don’t got time to put together lesson plans the last few weeks of the school year. They’re too tired from bartending now that the clubs are open. No one’s complaining.

Some people say there’s a rudeness here, a brusque attitude common to south Jersey. Maybe it’s the Philly influence. Maybe it’s the rampant humidity or the mosquitoes the size of salt water taffy. Maybe they’re just tired from working two jobs on their feet all day so they can have the luxury of heat this winter and they don’t got time for no shoobie funnel cake emergency. Whatever it is, they don’t mean anything by it. Once you get to know them, they’ll give you the shirt off their back. Just be aware that the shirt will probably say “Welcome to New Jersey. Now go home.”

Readers: Have you ever lived or visited somewhere that was a culture shock?

Bio: Libby Klein graduated Lower Cape May Regional High School sometime in the ’80s. Her classes revolved mostly around the culinary sciences and theater, with the occasional nap in Chemistry. She has worked as a stay at home mom, climbing the ladder up the ranks to the coveted position of Grandma. She also dabbles in the position of Vice President of a technology company which mostly involves bossing other people around, making spreadsheets and taking out the trash. She writes from her Northern Virginia office while trying to keep her cat Figaro off her keyboard. Most of her hobbies revolve around eating, and travel, and eating while traveling.


72 Thoughts

  1. What a marvelous introduction! When it come to culture shock, I transitioned from county to country, as well as shifting from urban environment to extreme rural a number of times. The charm of being somewhere new inevitably morphed into the frustration of missing places, people, goods, and services from the old place.

    1. The hardest part for me was missing my grandparents. They were such a huge comfort and influence in my life. It was very difficult to only see them a couple times a year.

  2. Yes, we have traveled to several areas that were quite different from our home town with all its southern charm. Traveling to the southwest to Arizona we found that water was indeed are rare commodity that you didn’t get a glass of water unless you asked for it and an extra plate constituted and additional charge on your bill cause there was another dish to wash. We also learned that if you burned your butt in the daytime from the heat didn’t mean that there were air conditioners in the motel room because it drops down to brrrr at night. Guess that’s why your apt to see livestock laying in the middle of the road at night trying to get some of the last bits of heat from the black pavement so best be on the lookout for them when you go over that one rare hump in the very straight road.

    Then we went to the northeast and found that the food was quite different. Every restaurant had a zillion forms of cod or lobster and something called garlic potatoes on the menu but good old southern fried chicken, a southern stable, or a plain baked potatoes were unheard of. Also found out that unlike the edge of a lake in the south where you can lay down on your blanket and relax forever, you best not lay down for long on the beach down by the water’s edge in low tide unless you have water wings on your arms and ankles to let you float back to shore once the tide rolls back in.

    All in all though, we love to travel and experience other sections of our wonderful country through meeting the people seeing our differences and the things that we share, seeing sites not found in our region and exploring the foods of the region.

    I also have to admit that my greatest cultural shock was when I was 14 my Dad retired from the Army in California and moved us to Arkansas. The adjustment between being an Army brat to just another civilian kid on top of moving from California with all it’s free education (can’t say about now but what way back when) to Arkansas who said that I had been taking what they consider college science in the 9th grade was definitely a major cultural shock. However, you adjust and learn just as I did to where I am now proud to say what state I live in and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Still love to travel and explore but at the end of the vacation, there really is no place like home!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. I remember how strange it was when all the kids kept commenting on my southern accent and asking me to say words. I was like, what accent? I was an alien dropped in the middle of Consolidated Elementary School in south Jersey.

  3. Welcome, Libby! I have friends who rent the same house in Cape May every summer. I have lived abroad in several countries – Brazil, Japan, Mali, and Burkina Faso – so I sure know culture shock. I’m also a Californian who moved to Boston – yikes! Tell us why your family moved from DC to Cape May, and what the book is about.

    1. We moved to Cape May County when my mom got married to my step dad. We had never been anywhere other than Arlington, VA, but he was from Norristown PA. He was used to going down the shore every summer with the other shoobies for vacation. When they got married, they were looking for work, and a lower cost of living hometown. That’s how we ended up in the Villas. There was a lot I didn’t like about growing up there, and in a lot of ways i couldn’t wait to leave. Now i pay top dollar to rent a beach house and go back every summer so my kids can eat wooder ice and get the frozen custard with crunch coat. It’s funny how your attitude changes as you get older.

      Class Reunions is about Poppy McAllister, a woman in her early 40s who gets cajoled by her best friend from high school into coming home to Cape May to attend her twenty-fifth reunion. Sawyer wants backup to face the bullies who made their lives miserable for four years. The reunion is a disaster on many fronts, hitting an all time low when Poppy stumbles into one of the bullies lying motionless in front of her old locker. The cheerleader is dead. And when you think things can’t get any worse, Poppy’s found in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets arrested for the murder. Her great Aunt Ginny has to help bring her out of her funk to fight for her life and keep out of prison. As sidekicks go, Aunt Ginny brings more crazy to the table than help, so Poppy has her hands full.

      It’s a very fun read with a lot of themes about body acceptance, bullying, and changing your life in your forties.

  4. Fun post, Libby! The year I lived in the Deep South was filled with life lessons. I will (one day soon) write a standalone mystery set there. . . Although, maybe it needs to be a series to play out the full force of that life-changing experience! Like Edith, I want to know more about your book and series! 🙂

  5. I loved hearing about your backstory! So fascinating to learn more about that part of the country. I’ve lived in various parts of the States and each one has its own vibe and traditions, which is what makes it so interesting.

  6. Welcome, Libby! Moving around the country has provided plenty of culture shocks and it’s so much fun. I need to spend sometime in Jersey!

  7. I definitely agree with the tile of the book. I attended the 10th. year reunion back when my first child was a baby. I was on the search and rescue committee tracking down classmates and contacting either them or their parents (depending on the phone number available). We had over 200 attendees out of a class of about a thousand.

    Over the years life and finances got in the way of my attending any further get togethers. Some were held in Florida and or California where people had moved to. At this point in my life I’m satisfied just keeping in touch with old friends by finding them on Facebook and chatting that way.

    I have a copy of the book on hold at my local library but I’d really rather own a copy for my kids to borrow (library is 2200 books and growing).

    NoraAdrienne (at) gmeil (dot) com

    1. Facebook is a great way to keep in touch. It’s like you never leave home no matter how far away you live. I’m a library girl at heart. I read my way through most of adolescence in our library in the Villas.

  8. Welcome to the Wickeds, Libby! I know whereof you speak having done a weekly rental in Stone Harbor with my side of the family for almost 30 years! There’s always a trip to Cape May for shopping in the mix and maybe a day with the kids at Wildwood.

    I had a similar culture shock when my parents moved me in the middle of seventh grade from the suburbs of Philadelphia to Wilkes-Barre. I had grown up until then in the northern New Jersey suburbs of New York and then spent two years outside of Philadelphia, so Northeast PA, with each of those cities two hours away, was an extreme culture shock. I’m still not over it.

    1. Your accent never really recovers, does it. Some people still ask me, “where in the world are you from?” The culture shock was hard, but i would never have been introduced to cheesesteaks without it. So…worth it!

  9. I moved from Dallas–land of big hair, high heels and football to Minnesota in high school. Definitely a culture shock! Looking forward to reading Libby’s new book! Thanks!

  10. I’m from the pacific northwest and one summer, in high school, my parents let me go visit my aunt in Alabama…that was culture shock! The way people acted, spoke and drove threw me for a loop. I’m really looking forward to this new book!

    1. Wow, that would have to be a huge difference. Food, dialect, climate, attitude. If i even drive a couple states south I’m amazed at how much more approachable and chatty people are.

  11. Great blog. I haven’t personally had a culture shock, but I took my then-15-year-old daughter down to Fayette County for a friend’s book signing. She walked around the Uniontown Mall and saw some…interesting people based on her Pittsburgh upbringing. They don’t call it “Fayette-nam” for nothing. 🙂

  12. I started traveling to Peru thirty years ago when the culture there was vastly different from today. I had a hard time describing it because there were so few common denominators to use as comparisons. I absolutely loved it!

  13. I want to read this! I look forward to the day I am in your shoes! My culture shock was moving from the country in the midwest to Virginia Beach, VA. First scary, awe-inspiring experience were the tunnels under the water…and traveling in them

  14. This book looks great, cannot wait to read it. My Dad told me when he was young (late 1920’s) they were referred to as shoobie’s because they took their lunches down the shore with them in shoe boxes. All the Philly kids would be seen on bus’s carrying their lunch that way when they went to the shore for the day. As a Jerseygirl myself, the shore was the place to live (Ocean City was our place) and we visited Cape May all the time. A great place to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere.

    1. Thank you! We visited Ocean City’s Boardwalk many times. It had a much cleaner, more wholesome family feel to it than Wildwood in the 70’s and 80’s.

  15. The culture shock was moving from the Midwest cold and snow to sunny Tucson, Arizona. I grew to love the beautiful desert and mountains, so the greater shock was the difference between there and the overgrown Phoenix with wild traffic and no longer dry heat. Thank you for another chance to win your new cozy!

    1. I’m sure that was a big change. I have been to Arizona once when i went to the International Hot Air Balloon Festival in NM. That was quite an experience. The desert with their oranges and yellows and mesas – it was so otherworldly. Like being on a movie set. Good luck in the giveaway!

  16. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced culture shock when I moved and/or traveled. There are always differences to get used to, but nothing that I’ve ever felt shocked about.

    1. A friend and i went to London years ago. She was one of those weird friends that doesn’t realize she’s marching to the beat of a different drummer. It was our first trip to the UK, and she didn’t want to visit the tourist attractions like Buckingham Palace. She wanted to take the bus out of town and visit rural flea markets. We were in the little village, looking at their yard sale items, and we struck up a conversation with a couple locals. They said, “This is where all the miserable, unhappy people in the UK live. Where do all the miserable, unhappy people in the United States live?” My friend and i looked at each other and said, “New Jersey.” Sometimes our differences show us how alike we are.

  17. The culture shock of moving from Tulsa, where I grew up, to a town of 8000 just 45 min. away, was greater than the culture shock of later moving to Michigan! This small town had a lot of Mennonites and some Amish communities nearby, and since I was an RN in obstetrics, I was exposed to a lot of families and especially young girls, still wearing the traditional garb (even as many gave birth out of wedlock, which was rather surprising.) The whole small town atmosphere was just very different for me–I’d never been to a Walmart in my life, but in these small towns, if you don’t shop at Walmart, you’re going to be extremely limited in your shopping, as there were only some expensive boutiques downtown for clothing, some antique shops and places to buy (overpriced) country crafts, and some restaurants. (Back in the mid-80s, no one was shopping online.) I’ve since become a lifelong Walmart customer, although I rarely buy clothes there anymore, as I resorted to back then. Anyway, I’ve learned to love small towns, but that was a bit too small for me. I’ve since lived in 2 towns of approximately 24,000, and even though they’re much farther from metropolitan areas, they’re much more to my liking.

    1. Having lived just outside of Washington DC for the past 30 years, I’m accustomed to life in the city and city-like-suburbs. We had to travel to a very small, economically challenged town in the Florida panhandle. I found myself shopping at the Piggly Wiggly with tobacco juice on the floor and toddlers running wild. Shoppers wearing dirty overalls, walking around barefoot, stocking up on Beer and Jerkey. I was afraid. They were probably the nicest people in the world, but all i could think was a gang will kill you, but a hillbilly will keep you.

  18. Thanks for the peak behind the scenes into what life in a resort town is like for the residents. It always seems so nice when you vacation there.

    I’ve read this book, and it is a lot of fun. Be sure to get it.

  19. Culture shock for me would have been Amsterdam. It’s a wonderful, beautiful city in the daytime, but changes a lot at night (still beautiful) but there is literally nothing you can’t see. I’ve got a high school reunion coming up this year — all of us are saying “We can’t be that old!”

    1. Just wait until you get there! We had people show up that we thought had the numbers backwards. Maybe they thought this was the class reunion of 1968. One thing i saw clearly at my reunion was that life had been a lot harder on all of us than we’d thought it would be when we were seventeen, and we all need to cut each other a break.

  20. Cultural shock for this Midwest boy was living in San Francisco in my early 20’s & then Wildwood, New Jersey (Cape May County) in my early 30’s. What a difference from Iowa & Missouri!

    1. Wow! Corn Fields to Cable Cars to Sand Dunes. Three very different areas. Cape May must have seemed dead and abandoned after living in San Francisco.

  21. Libby, your books sounds like fun and it goes right on my list. Adding to the fun? My first long ago book (in a different life, almost) was called Murder at the Class Reunion! A 20-year out visit back to my home town in rural ( and vacation country) upstate NY. I laughed reading your post today – we often visit friends on Long Beach Island so I do sort of get it.

    1. Oh my gosh! What a coincidence. I think there is something very familiar about returning home to where you felt the most vulnerable and misunderstood that we can all identify with.

  22. Whoops! HIt Send too soon. I’ve only lived in a few places, but my biggest culture shock was probably from home to college. For real. Now I live in Brooklyn and write about different neighborhoods there – all of them have some culture shock, even for my native Brooklyn heroine. But that is fun. And one of the ways we grow as people.

    1. I love to read stories in places that I’ve never been to. To get immersed in the rhythm of new town and the culture of a place. The US is so big, we have many different backgrounds and they all fascinate me. You’ll have to let me know the name of your series so i can check it out!

      1. Thank you. I guess the series title is Erica Donato Mysteries, but all the title include Brooklyn – Brooklyn Bones is the first. Then Brooklyn Graves, Brooklyn Secrets and most recently, Brooklyn Wars.

  23. Thank you all so much for reading and responding. I’m sorry it took me so long to come in today. I had a full day of celebrating the release of Class Reunions. My plan was to silently watch the bookstore shelves to see if anyone bought my book and enjoy the smug satisfaction that I’d written that. Then my husband went rogue, and started showing people my picture inside the cover and pointing to me. I threatened to leave him home next time. He is so proud you would think I walked on the moon. I will keep checking in and answering y’alls questions and comments as I can. And thank you for reading Class Reunions Are Murder!

  24. My first cultural shock was when I went to Argentina to improve my Spanish when I was 20. I stayed with a family with 7 kids, 2 maids, 2 kitchens, a swimming pool, and an estancia in the country. I had one brother. Although they were clearly richer, our TV and appliances were more modern. I’ve traveled since including to Cape May but I think since I stayed for a month that that was the biggest difference. My Dad had a cousin in Ocean City, and we always went to Cape May, too, when we visited. My Dad loved to ride the ferry. Your book sounds great.

    1. Thank you! Argentina sounds fascinating! I’ve never been to South America other than a couple stops on a cruise. I remember riding the Ferry as a kid every time we’d visit my grandparents in Arlington. It was a rusty metal death trap with french fries. Now, they market it as a pleasure cruise with dolphin sightings. Oooh aren’t we fancy. Dolphins.

  25. What a fun post! When I was little, I would go with my grandmother to spend a week in Atlantic City, because that’s where she used to vacation. This was pre-casinos, when it was a stretch of those fabulous hotels they should have left up. I can still smell the tar from the boardwalk. Your series sounds great!

    1. Thank you so much! We go to the Bellagio once in a while to see stand up comedians. I almost worked in Atlantic City in the 90’s. Dealing Blackjack was a very profitable option for those who lived in Cape May all year because Atlantic City Casinos are always open. The 45 minute commute seemed far to difficult and we couldn’t handle it. So we moved to Northern Virginia where it can take over an hour to go fifteen miles in a bad rush hour.

  26. Interesting getting to know Libby. I experienced culture shock when I moved from a small town in Illinois to the much bigger city of Chicago when my husband was transferred. I was surprised how friendly people in the Chicago area are.

  27. Hi Libby! I loved this post. I’m from South Jersey too and always spend summers at the Jersey shore. I also set my cozy there as well. I can spot a shoobie a mile away. Good luck with the release!

    1. Another Jersey girl! Thank you! What part of Jersey are you from and what is your series called? What is your favorite place at the shore? I love walking around Cape May looking at the houses. I’ve even stayed in the Abbey once before it was sold to be a vacation rental. I also recently found out that one of my best friends from high school ran the front desk for the Abbey when it was a B&B.

  28. OMG! Libby made me laugh the whole time I was reading her story! I’m from Jersey too(exit 18) and now I live in Upstate NY right next to Rochester! Talk about culture shock!! If peeps think us JERSEY GIRLZ tawk funny they should get a load of these people!! It’s so bizarre.

    Weird but now I’m missing the Jersey shore but not all the way down where you are from, I miss Seaside HEIGHTS…….😞😞

  29. I’m catching up on my Wicked posts and I’m so glad I did. I love Libby’s voice and setting – a tourist beach town. I have relatives (that I like!) in south jersey. I’m putting this book on my list!

  30. I did not get an email!! This is Jane Dietz. Could you please send another?? My email is: gmad5(at)ymail(dot)com

  31. Eastern Shore of Maryland is more of a soothing calm: if you don’t like SLOW, don’t come here!

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