Pollution In Paradise
Recently, we took a ride on the little speeder train that’s been taking tourists, for just $10 a person, on a scenic trip from the train station to the West Cape May bridge and back. We highly recommend it, as it provided lovely views of Cape Island Creek. We just wish there’d been a little less trash along the way. Even in Cape May, we realized — even in our pristine marshlands — there’s litter. Bottle caps, deflated balloons, shampoo containers… plastic, plastic, plastic. We couldn’t help but cringe thinking about the fish who must be puzzled by this strange and invasive new species.
Which is just one of the reasons why we’re so grateful for Clean Ocean Action.
Since 1984, the non-profit has been working to identify sources of pollution and “mount an attack” on each source through the use of research, public education, and citizen action (like the annual beach sweep done in conjunction with the Nature Center). Or, according to COA’s south Jersey delegate and Board of Trustees member, Jeff Martin, “the goal is to put themselves out of business.”
It’s probably easy, one would think, for a person like Jeff Martin to take up the cause. Owner of Aqua Trails kayaking business and an avid stand-up paddle boarder, he spends a lot of time in the ocean. It’s his office and his playground. One might think he’s got more at stake than the rest of us if things like contaminated sediments disposal, wastewater discharges, and oil and gas drilling negatively affect our ocean. But the truth is, Jeff says, the entire tourism industry in south Jersey “relies on a healthy, sustainable ocean.” And you’re affected even if you don’t care about hanging ten in clean water.
When we got home from our trip on the speeder train, we looked it up: fish off the coast consume 12,000 tons of plastic per year. Which means there’s a good chance, we would think, if we eat seafood, that we’re consuming harmful plastic chemicals — like evil sperm-count lowering bisphenol A (BPA) — too. “The plastic situation is pretty grim,” Jeff told us.
And even if you’re not one of the jerks leaving your trash behind on the beach, you could be an unassuming culprit in the fight to keep our oceans clean. Jeff explained Nitrogen Eutrophication to us. (He happens to be a marine biology teacher at Lower Township High School.) When we manicure our lawns with pesticides, the toxins make their way into the ocean, where an excess of nitrogen steals oxygen from, say, the eel grass that depends on it. “Eel grass is an important part of backbay ecology,” Jeff said… plus, bay scallops need it for part of their life cycle. Thus, the pollution caused by our desire to “keep up with the Jones’, means our scallop supply is seriously depleted… and so are our dinner options. Clean Ocean Action’s work is part of the reason New Jersey passed more stringent fertilizer legislation this past year.
Now, the non-profit is advocating for a designated “Clean Ocean Zone” between Cape May and Montauk that would “lock-out harmful, polluting, industrial activities off our coast and lock in permanent protection.” Protection that the 20 species of whales and dolphins, four species of seals, five species of sea turtles, and hundreds of fish and bird species along our coast greatly need. Not to mention humans. In 1984, this stretch was the ocean dumping capital of the world. There were eight dumping sites in the New York/NJ Bight, or the area where the two states form a wedge, and some of these were designated for “sewage sludge,” creating a huge public health concern. “There’s a lot of pressure to start dumping in the ocean again,” Jeff explained. “You have to be ever vigilant.”
As an awareness-raising endeavor for this federal initiative, two COA members took part in Tour For the Shore, a mission to travel by outrigger canoe and bicycle from Cape May to Montauk, New York. The journey took from August 10 to 24. But you don’t have to make a two-week, 850-mile trek in order to pledge your support. For more information, or to find out how you can help, check out cleanoceanaction.org and cleanoceanzone.org. And pick up a plastic bottle or two the next time you see them on the beach.
New Owners On The Block
Barbara Tillman was born in Ethiopia because her parents were missionaries following “a call from the Lord” with the Sudan Interior Mission. When they eventually moved Barbara back to the US, she was twelve… and in a state of severe culture shock. “It was 1969,” she told us, “the heart of desegregation. I couldn’t wrap my head around this prejudice thing. All of my friends up until that point had been black-skinned. I wouldn’t say shunned, but I was strongly criticized for being so freely friendly to the African American students in my public school. I gravitated toward them, because that’s what came naturally to me. I was colorblind. I wanted so badly to go back to Ethiopia.”
But then Barbara met IC, who attended the same church youth group in Towson, Maryland. “Already, at the age of twelve, he was so kind and gentle,” she said, “and he became one of my very best friends at a time when I was having trouble trusting.” Nearly thirty-five years ago, at the ages of 20 and 21, Barbara and IC were married.
Now, the couple is engaged in an entirely different kind of love affair. They’ve fallen for the Abbey, the nine-bedroom Gothic Revival Villa on Gurney Street, built in 1869, that they purchased this past March. “We used to bring our four children to Cape May when they were young, and we’d walk up and down the streets, saying ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to own one of these big Victorians?’ It was a dream.”
So, when the Tillmans came into some inheritance between 2008 and 2010 — they lost both of Barbara’s parents and IC’s dad — they decided to honor their memory by realizing this dream and taking over The Breakers house rental on Ocean Street. Never mind that their professional experience thus far was unrelated to the hospitality industry — IC works as an electrical engineer and Barbara was formally trained as a medical secretary — they loved Cape May. “It’s unto itself,” Barbara said. “It’s just charming.”
But owning The Breakers and operating it from Maryland, where the couple is still based, wasn’t enough for the Tillmans. “We began looking for a permanent residence in Cape May,” Barbara said. “Our real estate agent jokingly suggested the Abbey because it was for sale. My husband fell in love with the idea. I did not. It needed a lot of work. I was scared of it, honestly! But then we started to change our thinking: If we do another full-house rental, we thought, then maybe…”
The Tillmans spent this spring renovating so that, after 30 years as a bed and breakfast, the Abbey would open as a full-house rental, restored to its original beauty. “We gutted the kitchen and what was once the galley/office area to replace them with two state-of-the-art kitchens with hickory plank wood floors, LG appliances, and a French door refrigerator. We put in a new mahogany porch from where you can listen to horse and carriages clip-clopping by, and we renovated all of the bathrooms. But we kept the antique furniture which was in such great shape. The idea was to bring in the modern amenities while keeping the incredible charm of the house.”
A house that, IC says, is very much a “man’s” domain. “Victorian Cape May is certainly something that appeals to women,” he told us, “but there’s something about the workmanship in this Victorian home — some of the furniture is hand-carved, even — that really spoke to me. And I think it’s something men will enjoy experiencing and exploring just as much as women.”
And the Tillmans will enjoy hosting you when you come to explore… even if you show up early. “Our very first tenant arrived at 10 in the morning on July 21st,” Barbara told us. “The air-conditioning men, the plumber, the electrician, the painters, everyone was still there, trying to tie up loose ends, and he arrived with a giant pot of Italian sauce he wanted to put in the refrigerator straight away. That was just so funny to me. We’re having fun with this, finding our sense of humor under the stress, and that’s a very important thing. I feel like I’ve found my niche.”
As for moving to Cape May permanently, that’s still in the cards… likely in the next year or two, when the Tillmans’ youngest leaves for college. “People in Maryland don’t know what it’s like here,” Barbara said. “Sometimes they say ‘Really? New Jersey?’ because the state has such a stigma. We just ask if they’ve ever been to Cape May. It’s a very special place.”
Peeved About Parking
In June, we published a piece on parking in Cape May — the good, the bad and the ugly. But mostly, the bad and the ugly. With so many different ways to pay, there’s a lot of kiosk confusion around these parts at the height of summer. There’s no option to purchase a season pass, which we think would make parking a great deal more user friendly. And for all of the meter technology the city has invested in, we’re still behind the times… We recently took a trip to Wildwood where we found you can add time to your meter via your mobile phone, no pesky quarters required.
Then today, we decided to test some of the kiosks located across from the Island Grill on Mansion Street, because we’d heard they’d been gypping people. We put in two quarters (supposedly good for 15 minutes each), and the machine spat out a ticket worth 35 minutes of parking, grace period included and all… no problems there. But then we walked to a different machine, inserted a credit card, hit the button designated for 15 minutes (at least, we think it was the 15-minute button… it’s hard to tell), and the machine charged us for one hour. So we tried again. Same button. And this time we were charged for one hour and 20 minutes. What’s up with that?
Even more disturbing, the machine didn’t “authorize” our credit card; it “authorised” it. With a big, fat S. Oy!
But since we’re just coming off another Labor Day weekend — the time of year when you reflect upon what a great summer it’s been in Cool Cape May — we’d like to devote some space to the best thing about parking in Cape May: The Parking Angels.
This week, we paid a visit to Bill Causey — former chamber president, owner of The Antique Doorknob in West Cape May and, as we like to call him, head angel. Bill explained that the angels program, run through the Chamber of Commerce, got its start five years ago, and that every year since (with the exception of last year when Bill underwent open heart surgery), a few dedicated volunteers have used money donated by local merchants to buy more time — an hour, to be exact — on expired meters around town. The idea is to get to your car before a ticket-toting bike cop does. “We’ve had as many as 2,000 saves in a single season,” Bill told us.
The angels carry approximately $30 worth of change and hit the streets for at least a couple of hours at a time. Even on days that are unbearably hot (“The Fourth of July a couple of years ago was especially so,” Bill said). And even though saving between eight and 30 people on a given night can sometimes require walking up to five miles (“At least it’s great exercise.”) And even though not everyone is supportive. (“Sometimes, I’ll turn down a street and two bike cops will try to beat me to cars, to write tickets before I get there.”) And even though people often mistake Bill and his cohorts for the parking police. (“I could write a book about the number of times people have had an anxiety attack thinking that I’m issuing them a ticket.”)
So what would compel someone to devote their time so generously? We have it on good authority that Bill even devotes some of his own money. “Anything that makes the experience of people visiting more positive is a good thing. And this doesn’t cost anyone a penny. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would object to it.”
The program, Bill says, is also great PR for the city, as so much of his time on the streets is spent directing tourists to the nearest bathroom or ice cream cone. “Interacting with the people is what makes it fun,” Bill told us.
Plus, it’s a “win-win” for the merchants in town, many of whom offer discounts to their restaurants or shops to those who’ve been saved. We spoke with Kay Bush, manager at the Mad Batter, which offers 15 percent off. “We’ve had customers tell us that their parking tickets have spoiled their trip to Cape May,” she told us, “and we’ve had customers who’ve had to get up in the middle of a meal to feed their meters.” Never mind the number of employees who’ve been ticketed, Kay says. “So the Parking Angels is a nice thing… it generates a sense of goodwill. A lot of people have stopped by to say thank you.”
They’ve also expressed their thanks to Bill… in the form of free pizza from Blue Moon and free ice cream from Dairy Queen. “I’m blaming the Parking Angels for my open heart surgery,” he joked.
So thanks, Angels. You’re much appreciated.
On another positive parking note, the city may be getting change machines before next year. “Someone came to a council meeting to say that some of the tourists were angry, or miffed at least, that they couldn’t find change for their meters,” council member Bill Murray told us. “They were asking hot dog vendors and motels, and no one could change their dollars into coins. Rehoboth Beach has the coin changers, so I rode my bike over the following day, to gather information.” Right now, Murray told us, council is in contact with a sales manager who will send the pricing info, to see if this would be a feasible option for Cape May. Here’s hoping.
Until next time, don’t forget to feed your meter, Cape May.