Part One: The One with the Introduction & Context !
Who doesn’t love a J1? The thrill of a warm sandy beach or the hustle and bustle of a metropolis! Or in some cases. the discount boutiques! What a relief it is to use as an incentive to study when you are booking it in mid-December when the weather is cold and dull and you are forced to study for your pre-/post-Christmas exam(or in my experience preparing for a teaching-placement)! Personally I spent my J1 on the southern tip of the Jersey Shore and LOVED it! It wasn’t just the warm weather, beautiful beaches, and decent travel time to Atlantic City, New York City, and Philadelphia that made this the best summer of my life; it was the people. Yes! Fellow J1ers, US residents and people from all corners of the globe now living and working in the area made the stay unforgettable!
The city I lived in was Cape May, New Jersey! A quaint seasonal shore location that boasts a history that leaves modern resorts worldwide feeling jealous! It transports you back in time with its colourful old style houses and horse carraige rides! This literature student was immediately transported to the Maycomb of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ as the smell of the city’s flowers in the warm night air tickled your air on the walk home from work. The colourful houses boasted beautifully decorated porches bedecked with blossoming hanging baskets which could easily host a tired Atticus reading to an eager Scout.
What did I do for work? I worked as ‘the Irish ice cream guy’ in the Washington Street Mall’s branch of The Original Fudge Kitchen. As a trainee teacher at the time I was well used to speaking to crowds of people and keeping people invested in what I was saying, but that was in relation to my subjects, Irish students and, to the content of my subjects! How do I speak to holidaymakers from huge cities like New York and Philadelphia, when the tallest building in my home town is the steeple of the Cathedral? It was in the people of the locality, especially Ed at ACME, that enabled me to gain confidence to speak to the multitudes of people I would meet. It was in their sense of curiousity of me and my culture, coupled with their openess and friendliness that helped me through the first few weeks! The Bogle Brothers and their staff welcomed me with open arms and so I became a member of the Fudge Kitchen’s family. “Football, the weather, soccer, Irish-isms and Johnny….don’t forget the FUDGE!” were to be my conversation topics when in contact with the general public!
As the season progressed word swept Cape May businesses and tourists that the Irish had returned for seasonal work. As a consequence my three friends and I were gaining great notoriety by the guests who returned to Cape May every summer and remembered the Irish who had ventured there in the past! It was with pride that I remember being requested by name by customers throughout their stay, they would usually arrive on a Saturday and leave on the following Friday. There were many times I would put on an American accent, a southern drawl being my own personal speciality, and deny wholeheartedly my identity as one of ‘the Irish guys!’
As previously stated the job was at peak season during the summer so what fun was to be had was done during the quiet time while holiday makers went to dinner. The staff were excellent; a mixture of year-round staff, high-school students, college kids, and us, the visiting workers! It didn’t matter where you were from, from the resident owners to the newest member of staff from Europe, you were trained well and expected to help! I had a house mate Keven who was a veteran and he patiently trained me! “Take your time,” “Relax,” and “Watch me do this again” were phrases that were repeated, tremendously patiently may I add, innumerably by him! On the third day he told the boss, with great relief, that I was finally ready! Keven remains a hero of mine! A guy with a heart of gold, the patience of a saint and the ability to motivate anyone to pursue all they wanted in life!
There is a saying, ‘amongst friends you should never discuss religion and politics’ because each person’s view on the topics were so diverse and so personal that you would ineviatably fall out over the alternate view! This was never the case with Keven and the other workers there! There was enthusiasm for discourse over football(the American kind: the locals found my interest surprising), language differences (mostly teaching each other the curse words), and the differences between our countries and the land of our hosts. Learning the hilarious differences between Hiberno and American English was great fun: I too dreaded ‘Shoobies’ and will forever more pronounce ‘Probably’ as ‘prolly.’ The inevitable ‘Jimmies’ versus ‘Sprinkles’ debate remains unsolved to this very day! Naturally the survey of Irish culture was fiddly-dee music and rain! It was nice that these and other Irish stereotypes were drawn from informed backgrounds as many of the Irish-American workers had learned Irish dancing at a young age and another work mate had ventured to his father’s homeland during Christmas holidays.
The working week was tough and you were kept busy via cleaning and the rotation of confectionery, in my case in particular it was ice cream cones and jimmies! But it was always worth it when you had a WAWA lunch for your break! If you haven’t had the opportunity yo eat a salad or a WAWA ‘hoagie’/sub/roll accompanied with a brain freeze inducing iced coffee while living in the US on a J1 you simply have NOT lived! When working in a candy store/sweet shop (think Mr Simms but WAYYYY better) it makes the calorie count lower when you have a WAWA with you! My break time was when I was closer to the other workers more often then at the ice cream area; which inevitably turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the ‘hand rolled’ or scooped ice cream machine was easy access to cool air on the days when the Air Con failed to keep out the 100 Fahrenheit heat! The variety of personalities was great, and the co-workers were such a great source of fun and delight when the spectre of home-sickness did arrive! NEVER have I met a more inspirational and fun loving group of co-workers than that group of the summer of 2012! Many have gone on to other jobs and ventures; and I will always take pride that I was once able to call them colleagues, but more importantly friends!
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