Introduction: IT'S COLD OUTSIDE!
January 1986 -- As I stood there in my Mom's old warm kitchen, this being the coldest month in upstate New York, I couldn't help but feel that summer would never come and the Amusement Parks would never open again. A cold front was moving Northeast in our direction and snow was in the forecast. Winter was a "Bummer-Time" for me, all the parks were closed and I was deep into the well-known "Post Holidays Blahs". "Face it Chump", I thought to myself "There isn't much for you to look forward to"
except just then my mother flew in and proceeded to Crush my unhappiness. (Something she often did for many a year -- acting as a sort of Token Monkey Wrench.) Standing --Oh, so tall and Informative-- she went on to speak to me in the tone of: "Bret, if your so B.O.R.E.D., then why don't you take a drive down to Asbury Park, New Jersey? They have two huge buildings filled with amusement rides!" "WHAT??" I thought "Amusement park rides -- INDOORS!?" I could barely even look at my mother as the words came flying out. "Are you serious?" "Yes Bret, and I think they are open on the weekends all year, even now in the winter". I called directory assistance and asked for the phone number to confirm that my mom wasn't completely cracking up. "Palace Amusements" a very deep, voice answered the phone. I fumbled for the words "Umm.... yeah, are... you guys open....?!" "Yep, 1 to 6 today" I was told follow with a hang-up. I grabbed a small sum of cash, my road atlas and a stack of coins (as those of you who have ever traveled the Garden State Parkway know, will come in handy). I kissed my wonderful mom goodbye, jumped into my Chevette and sped off, while the weatherman talked about a major storm hitting in the afternoon... Destination : ASBURY PARK!
As I drive along Route 66 from the Parkway into Asbury, my anticipation level runs high. "What if it's just a bunch of kiddy rides? " I ask myself, (my feeble mind driven by winter-blues and seeking out every negative doubt know to man.) "What if I get there and they are already closed due to the storm?!?" "What if......?" You get the picture.
But, no, on this very real afternoon, while the wind picked up and storm clouds began to gather in the near horizon, the "What if's" wouldn't be heard from, because this is where I began a very close personal relationship with the two buildings know as the Palace and Casino. I drove through a very bad town with much urban decay, store fronts shuttered for good, bars across windows
man alive, this wasn't at all what my mom described as the Asbury of her youth. But... suddenly... almost magically... the Palace loomed toward me, as I saw for my first time both a Huge and Inviting Building, drenched all over in Neon Lights --- proclaiming it's name as well as ride descriptions, clowns and what would go down in history as an Asbury Icon: "Tillie". There was the magnificent face in all the wonder and sparkle of the day!
Almost without thinking I pulled, into the lot of the sister building along the boardwalk, the Casino. Suddenly the harsh, cold winter was gone as Carousel Music touched my ears for the first time in several months. "Open from 1 to 6" the sign read. OK, that's not enough time for me, but it was something, and something very special, as I decided to explore the smaller Casino Building first. I locked up my Chevette and proceeded into the Casino, the front arched Glass Doors a blur of motion and music provided by the Carousel...