My Life As a Beach Tagger

My first job ever was working on the Jersey Shore.

Photo credit: Pilar Berguido, CC BY 2.0.

I grew up on the mainland of Ocean City. Not to be confused with our nemesis, Ocean City, Maryland, this island is located between Atlantic City and Cape May on the southern New Jersey coastline. Our resort town’s tagline is America’s Greatest Family Resort, which was likely inspired by a town ordinance that prohibits alcohol sales.

Another ordinance, which many tourists (or, as we like to call them, shoobies) are disappointed to learn, requires all beachgoers over twelve years old to purchase and display tags between June 3 and September 4. The rule applies to locals as well, but active military members and veterans are eligible for free tags with proper identification, according to the city’s website.

That’s where my teenage self came in. For three summers, I was employed by the municipal department as a seasonal beach tagger. The question, “Do you have your beach tag?” was part of my daily terminology.

My first duty was to sell the tags: $5 for a daily pass, $10 for a weekly, and $25 for a seasonal. Every morning, I was given a pouch of five and ten dollar bills because beach tags are cash-only.

On my first day, a middle-aged white woman told me I was useless because I didn’t have change for a hundred dollar bill. Tourists who weren’t aware of the tag requirement would take out their frustrations on me, and I became the regular recipient of passive-aggressive transactions or more straightforward outbursts of anger. I was also regularly shit on by seagulls. Shoobies fed them fries, pizza, and funnel cake, despite the many “do not feed the birds” signs along the boardwalk, causing a cloud of them to hover over my stand.

But that was just half of my job. My second duty was to enforce the tag ordinance.

Often, I was assigned to sit by a stairway entrance and check for badges as beachgoers entered. I got a half-hour lunch break, but was otherwise left alone at my stand for hours at a time.

When it was time for “beach sweeps,” we’d form groups of three to six taggers and trawl the beach, inspecting every beachgoer for tags. Ten blocks at a time, we marched through a crowd of umbrellas and a sea of kites, dodging volleyball courts and children buried in sand. You could spot our uniforms — a white shirt with the official City of Ocean City logo, navy shorts, sunglasses, and flip-flops if we wore shoes at all—from at least a block ahead. Whenever we approached a new stretch of beach, we’d see people dash into the water or pretend-sleep, making it obvious who didn’t have their tags. Depending on how serious you were about your job, some taggers would wake beachgoers up from their naps or even chase them into the ocean.

I was a teenager earning minimum wage in a job with no possibility of advancement, providing customer service to arrogant tourists. My job performance was lackadaisical at best.

However, beach tagging was where I rekindled my love for reading. During my hours alone by the staircase entrance, I discovered James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. I read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, fell in love with the rest of his prose, and started dreaming of someday visiting the Czech Republic. I even read an issue of the Canadian anti-capitalist magazine Adbusters for the first time, exposing me to the world of radical leftism after growing up in a conservative household. That particular issue also advertised Occupy Wall Street, which would later spark my interest in politics.

Fast forward to 23-year-old Danielle, who has been published in publications they read as a teenager: Teen Vogue, Salon, HelloGiggles, and Upworthy. Who once embraced their religious, conservative upbringing but has since traded it for fluid sexual and gender identities. Who I am today was shaped by the slower days of working on the beach, reading grotesque short stories and flipping through leftist magazines.

Also, I can still pick out the beachgoers who don’t have their beach tags.

Danielle Corcione is a freelance writer with bylines in Esquire, Teen Vogue, Vice, etc. They run a newsletter called Rejected Pitches and a blog called the Millennial Freelancer. To learn more about their work, visit their website and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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