Chip Braymes's father and grandfather both worked at the Steel Pier - his father, Mark, as an assistant manager and his grandfather, Daniel Wolfe, selling all the usher's uniforms on the Pier for decades. So it was natural that Chip, an Atlantic City native, would gravitate there.
"I worked there for 14 years," Braymes said of the years 1961 to 1975. "My first job was selling programs, and my last job was as an assistant manager on the pier. The greatest experience of a young person's life was to work on the Steel Pier. When you went back to school in September, the first date you looked forward to was Easter Sunday, when the Pier would open for one day."
One of his jobs was to stand at the front of the Pier as a sort of greeter, Braymes said - because owner George Hamid Sr. stressed that "the most important person was the first person they met."
"I remember on a rainy Saturday - and the Pier would get a few thousand people on a normal day, on a rainy day the Pier was jammed with maybe 10,000 people - the lines were all the way from the box office down to the Garden Pier," he said. "But George Hamid Sr. would come out and work with me. He really did believe that was a very important part of the Pier."
As an assistant manager, Braymes would walk up and down the Pier day and night - in addition to his more physical duties.
"I had to go into the Tony Grant Theater every night and had to grab the piano and lift it up to put on stage for the big bands," Braymes said. "I had to grab a bunch of people to help, but my manager was short-tempered and was invariably pissed off at somebody and would fire everybody I needed to lift the piano on stage. I'd have to rehire them, then go to him and say, ‘Let's give ‘em one last chance!'"
He would also get the chance to meet the visiting celebrities, including a stint driving Herman's Hermits up to the stage door from their hotel.
"I ran into the orchestra leader for Diana Ross and the Supremes," Braymes said. "I saw him and another man walking with him, and I said, ‘Oh, are the Supremes coming to the Pier?' The other man said, ‘No, I'm here. I'm Marvin Gaye.'"
Even when he wasn't working, he would go down the Pier - even in "the dead of winter," when he would join the guard as he made his rounds.
"We would go into all the theaters and dressing rooms," he said, "and I remember how eerie it was at night. ... At the same time, you could hear the wind howling. It was a little scary as a young kid."
By that point, the staff had already had its annual end-of-season barbecue at Ski Beach in Ventnor, and had gone their separate ways.
"The saddest day was the day after Labor Day," he said. "I had all these friends, and then they were gone."
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