8:30 am Jul. 27, 2010
The Jersey shore’s reputation hasn’t exactly been enhanced by the absurdly popular MTV reality show of the same name, the second season of which debuts July 29. But that didn’t deter two stars from an ostensibly classier reality show—one whose social-climbing cast members are not infrequently filmed traipsing around the Hamptons—from paying a visit the weekend before.
“Because we’re on a reality TV show, we know not to judge a place by the way it’s presented on TV,” said Simon van Kempen, from Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York City. It was a little before 5 p.m. on Saturday, and van Kempen was on the Asbury Park boardwalk, sitting next to his wife and fellow cast member, Alex McCord, in a precious little housewares boutique. “This is not Snooki and Situation Land, really.”
Actually, Seaside Heights, the town where Jersey Shore is filmed, is Snooki and Situation Land. Every summer, hordes of orange-skinned 20-somethings, just like the ones portrayed on the show, flock there to drink copious amounts of flavored Absolut and perform house-music-induced mating rituals inside sweaty clubs where the booze is served in plastic cups. But things are different in Asbury Park, the storied, steadily gentrifying shore resort.
McCord and van Kempen had made the trip down to Asbury at the behest of some friends from New York who have been summering there for the past few years. One of them, Joseph Magnone, a Housing Works board member, got in touch with Shep Pettibone, the one-time Madonna producer, about putting the couple up in the legendary Empress Hotel, which Pettibone bought and restored in 1998, helping to kick off Asbury’s gay-friendly comeback. Magnone also called his friends at Bodega Shoppe, the aforementioned boutique, to arrange a late afternoon signing of the couple’s new parenting book, Little Kids, Big City.
A fashion and style publicist named Aaron Coleman, who lived in Asbury for 10 years before moving to Manhattan last month, got involved and expanded the whole thing into an all-day, cross-promotional bonanza with local businesses and city officials. McCord and van Kempen would get press for their book. Asbury Park would get press for itself. Everybody wins.
Their day began downtown with hair and makeup. Then they stopped at two local boutiques, where McCord was fitted in a silky pale dress and bright gold heels, and van Kempen in a nautical-looking light-blue button-down, knee-length dark-blue shorts, and blue Sperry Top-Siders.
“I was wearing pink ones earlier today,” he said.
At around 2:30, after lunch at McCloone’s—which in its past life was a Howard Johnson’s—McCord, van Kempen and their young ones, Francois and Johan, boarded a golf cart and headed down the boardwalk with two locals, Teresa Minnick and Carol Avale, who work with the investment firm that’s been redeveloping it, Madison Marquette. The temperature had reached a skin-melting 102, and McCord was cooling herself off with a wicker fan.
“This is the first time in 25 years the entire boardwalk is leased out,” said Minnick, though her plug was drowned out by shouts from passing fans who seemed pleasantly surprised to see the Bravo stars cruising the boards.
“Hi Real Housewives! We live in Brooklyn, too!” one girl yelled.
Minnick offered some local gossip as they passed by The Stone Pony, a famous music venue. Bruce Springsteen—who lives a few towns north in far wealthier Rumson, but has long been a regular in Asbury—had made a surprise appearance there the night before to sit in with Alejandro Escovedo.
“So where is The Stone Pony?” McCord asked. Her tour guides pointed it out. Van Kempen turned around to check on the boys.
“Are you enjoying yourself, Francois?” he asked his son, who seemed more interested in the rock candy he was nibbling on.
After about ten minutes, the group arrived at Bodega Shoppe on the far southern end of the boardwalk, greeted by a few dozen fans with books in hand.
“Hey Simon, Jill said she’d be here any minute,” a mustachioed middle-aged beach bum joked as van Kempen entered the store, alluding to Jill Zarin, McCord’s rival housewife on the show.
“Ahhh. Great,” Simon said. He smiled and shook the guy’s hand.
After they got settled at a large wooden table inside the store, it was time for questions from the crowd. But first: “The hell with the Hamptons,” said a tan woman with cropped gray hair, “because this is where you should be. This is the great place. Asbury Park is great. This is where you need to be.”
“We’re having an amazing weekend here,” McCord replied. “It’s really wonderful. I’m sure we’ll be back.”
Then the signing started. Van Kempen picked up his BlackBerry. “I forgot to check in on Foursquare,” he said, tapping away on the keypad.
About an hour later, at around 4:30, things were winding down. The boutique’s owner brought McCord and van Kempen two glasses of champagne. They toasted and posed for a photo with him before sitting down to speak with a reporter, who was less interested in hearing about whether they would be appearing on a fourth Real Housewives season (it’s still up in the air) or whether they’d patched things up with Zarin (the answer is no) than he was in hearing what they were saying about the Boss.
“He’s always been around the people,” van Kempen said. “No matter how big he got, he never ceased being a guy from working class New Jersey, and being proud of that.”
“I think it’s great that he gets out of his house and goes and sings in a bar. It’s phenomenal,” McCord said. “Who can forget ‘Glory Days?’”
As for how the shore compares to the Hamptons: “I think that perhaps there is an energy that—although people aren’t necessarily working in the Hamptons, they are still networking in the Hamptons, trying to make the next big deal,” said McCord. “Here, it appears that people are really just on vacation.”
“It’s not as high-pressure,” van Kempen said.
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