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Everybody on the Wildwoods boardwalk knows “Gigi” (pronounced “Gig-ee” with the accent on the first syllable).
Gigi is John Gigliotti, the 78-year-old majordomo of the tramcars, those slow-moving, royal blue and bright yellow little trains whose warning mantra of “Watch the tramcar, please!” is, arguably, the most famous catch-phrase in New Jersey.
Gigi’s actual title is supervisor and safety coordinator of the “trams,” as he calls them, although their proper name is the Boardwalk Sightseer.
Gigi gets so tan during the summer, spending 15 hours a day on the boardwalk, seven days a week, he looks as though he was dipped in a vat of chocolate.
And has the energy of a teenager. If he’s not hooking up a re-charged tramcar engine—they’re battery-operated—he’s scooting the boardwalk from end to end in his new beige golf cart, which bears the license plate “Gig-1.” The dude is astounding.
He’s also the friendliest guy on the boardwalk, the perfect man in the perfect job. He comes by his personality from spending 40 years on the old Reading Railroad as a conductor before retiring in 1992.
This writer actually remembers him coming down the aisle on the Chestnut Hill Local into Philadelphia, smiling and with a good word for everybody while he collected the tickets and punched them.
“Gigi is an indispensable part of the Boardwalk Sightseer Tramcar team,” says Patrick Rosenello, managing director of the Special Improvement District, Management Corporation, which basically runs the Wildwoods boardwalk.
“Not only does he serve as our training and safety officer,” Rosenello goes on, “but he is our primary supervisor and a readily identifiable figure for business owners and visitors alike.”
“I was born and raised in the Poconos in Stroudsburg, Pa.,” Gigi relates. “I left the Poconos when I was 18, joined the Army, and when I came out I got a job on the railroad.”
“I saw these two old railroaders shifting cars at an industrial plant and I saw the caboose attached to the train, and I thought it would be a nice job, so I asked them, and they told me to go to 12th and Market in Philadelphia and that’s where I went and got the job. I moved to Philadelphia and worked on the Reading for 40 years.
“The tramcar job was a miniature scale of what I did all my life, so when I retired, I applied for the job and on the application I put that I was a conductor for 40 years and they gave me the job.”
Gigi feels that the best part of his job on the trams “is seeing people every day, and acting as an ambassador by answering questions and helping people out and getting the trams on the road.”
He says that his biggest challenge is “teaching these kids how to drive and work safely and collect the transportation fees. Nighttime is hectic up here and it’s a big challenge for the drivers. Eight-five percent of the kids are from Bulgaria and we have a lot of retirees now from different places.”
The Bulgarian workers are part of a student exchange program under the auspices of the Special Improvement District, and, unlike many shore businesses this year, which are suffering from stricter immigration policies, Gigi says, “We have no trouble getting them.”
Commenting on his role as safety director of the trams, Gigi says that most so-called “accidents” involve someone being nudged or walking too close to the cement tramcar path and being brushed by the elbow of a rider.
Once in a while, when a boardwalker doesn’t respond to the “Please watch the tramcar!” warning, the tram will simply stop and wait for them to come to their senses.
Gigi has the following of a rock star on the boards. People make it a point to check in with him every year on their vacations, and he is also the point man for the school field trips that the Boardwalk Special Improvement District sponsors.
Gigi’s primary home is in West Deptford, N.J., and he and his wife of 41 years, Barbara, who works in the tramcar office, also have a residence on 23rd Street in North Wildwood. They have two children and five grandsons.
“Sometimes we go to Florida in the off-season,” he says. “Otherwise, I stay home and sleep until 10 o’clock every day.”
Gigi obviously loves his job. “I hope that the tramcars remain up here for a hundred years—and me with ‘em!” he crows and bursts into deep laughter.