When writing a travel blog one doesn’t usually think that a destination to be written about would be Wildwood, New Jersey. But this past weekend, I ventured down to this somewhat squalid Jersey-shore town, to join the hundreds of Ukrainians in what has become known as “Ukie Week.” And just as I remember, it ROCKED!
Ukie Week takes place the third week of every August, as hundreds of Ukrainians from all over the country gather in the Wildwoods, to vacation with their families. Most are from the East Coast, Midwest and Canada; but some have been known to have traveled, from as far as California.
No one truly knows how and when Ukie Week began; but what we do know is that Ukie Week has been a tradition in the Ukrainian community for as long as anyone can remember. The event is totally organic and grass-roots – nothing is formally organized and there is never any agenda; other than hanging out on the beach, socializing with friends and playing volleyball. AND oh yeah, drinking.
Drinking is a fundamental part of Ukie Week. I hate to portray Ukrainians as a bunch of booze bags, but truth be told, we are. Drinking is a large part of the Ukrainian culture, but not in a dark, alcoholic way; more so in a fun, social, celebratory way.
I arrived in Wildwood early Friday morning and went straight to the Fleur de Lis Motel, where friends of mine were staying. Most people were just waking up from the evening party, which claimed its last victim at 4am – my ex-brother in law. I knocked on the door of room 315, which was partially ajar. The door slowly opened. My niece and nephew sat on the sofa and stared at me through bleary eyes; it took several moments before their minds were able to process who I was. Even the kids were nursing what we call kiddie hangovers – a result of going to bed way past their normal bed times.
While everyone got ready for the beach, I walked around the motel to scope out the scene. It has been the better part of two decades, since I last came to Ukie Week, yet the place hasn’t really changed all that much. Almost every single room at the Fleur de Lis was occupied by Ukrainians. In fact, every motel in Wildwood Crest, was almost fully occupied by Ukrainians.
But regardless of where people stay, all the Ukes gather on the beach in front of the Pan Am hotel. They begin to mobilize around noon time, setting up clusters of umbrellas and beach chairs. By 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the entire beach is one big clusterfuck, as far as the eye can see.
I spent most of day playing beach volleyball, a pastime which I immensely enjoy. The other part of my day was spent socializing, bopping from cluster to cluster and catching up with old friends. But as I heard myself tell my story it became increasing apparent to me that not much has changed in my life, over the past twenty years – for better or for worse.
Laughter is another key component of Ukie Week. Ukes are jovial in nature and when alcohol is added to mix they become silly and ridiculously funny. The genre of Ukie Week is Comedy, and gut-splitting humor is one of the many reasons why Ukie Week has always been the highlight of my summer.
After the sunlight started to dim, I knew it was time to head back to the motel and recharge for a night of partying. That evening, the Chicago contingent of girls invited everyone to their room for a vodka party. With the arrival of every new guest, everyone had to another shot.
After dozens of shots and with almost two cases of vodka gone, the noise level started to get out of hand. We were asked by the motel manager to move our party to the sun deck so as not to disturb the other two guests of non-Ukrainians who were staying at the motel. We did as we were told and party continued until dawn. And the last man standing – my ex-brother in law.
The next day was kind of rainy which usually means one thing, oof – more drinking! Now I have trained for a number of endurance competitions and races, but Ukie Week requires a special regimen of its own; one for which no exercise program can prepare you. Having been out of the Ukie social scene for quite some time, my partying skills have grown rusty, so for that reason, I decided to pack it in and head home.