Thursday, November 01, 2012
Sometimes you need to share what friends send...
Greetings from a ravaged and powerless Jersey Shore. First, let me thank all of you who emailed, sent texts and called (repeatedly) throughout the storm and its aftermath. I was very touched and remain grateful for your friendships. Forgive me for sending this group email, but we've only just seen cell/Internet service restored and it remains spotty. I wanted to get to everyone as quickly as possible since many of you have been awaiting word from me for 3 days. I am quite humbled by your outpouring of support and concern and remained inspired, via technology, to keep the faith throughout the hurricane and the long days that have followed without power, water (some have no running water, others have only ice cold water, no pleasure to shower in I assure you), no access to gas to run generators or additional food and water. I took the warnings about the Hurricane seriously and stockpiled gasoline, water, food, candles, batteries and such to last for two weeks. Many of us who have generators are powering neighbors and friends who don't own one, and turning out meals while everyone charges up cell phones and laptops, comparing notes, boosting spirits and reminding each other that despite the widespread damage that will surely bring the state to its knees for some years to come, we have our health and the ability to start over.
We'll need it. For those of us in our 30s and older, Gov. Christie is correct. Everything from our youth is gone. There is an emotional and cultural pall hanging over us in the wake of this storm. It's a feeling I can't describe. While I have lived in Manhattan for the past 20-plus years and consider myself a New Yorker despite maintaining a home in Jersey, I, like everyone else who grew up on the Jersey shore, have this past that's hard to ditch. It's like being in a relationship that only you can understand. Well, you and everyone else from Jersey. It's the only place where when asked where you live, you say "Jersey" and before you can get the second syllable out, the person asks: "What exit?" (as in off the Garden State Parkway) and you simply respond "109" (Red Bank/Lincroft). It's our short hand—we know by exit what type of Jersey guy or girl you are, and, when dating as a kid, it's a GPS of sorts for determining how far you reside from that person of interest.
Long before the rest of the world worshipped The Boss, we knew him as Bruce (Springsteen), a local musician we thought was pretty talented. He played the Stone Pony, which, for anyone who was ever into music on the Jersey shore, was the place to see bands. And many, many decades before The Sopranos returned Asbury Park to the mainstream as a worthy destination, we had grandparents and parents who lived there and knew it was the shore town to visit. Every Easter, you dressed up and went to Asbury Park, or Atlantic City, or one of the many shore towns in between, walking the boardwalk, riding the amusements, buying salt water taffy and parading your Easter Sunday best (my sister and I were always made to wear matching plaid Easter coats over our dresses with white gloves). Yes, the Jersey shore culture has always been about beaches, bands, boardwalks and better days.
The devastation on the Jersey shore is overwhelming. While it's not Katrina, it's not something you're ever prepared to live through or see. My house sustained very little damage, mercifully, as none of the many 200-year-old oak trees on my property fell during the high winds. My 1988 Red Camaro with T Tops took the bullet for me, for which, at 6 am on Tuesday morning, I found myself grateful, if not a little saddened. It was the first car I ever bought and, while I haven't driven it in years (I'm not kidding), I haven't been able to part with it. Make all the jokes you want, but as a kid on the Jersey shore it was only natural to aspire to own a muscle car or a motorcycle, or date someone who did (or both). There was nothing like cruising Ocean Avenue from Sandy Hook down to Asbury Park and then back again and across the Sea Bright Bridge and down the long, winding streets of Rumson and Fair Haven in a 5 speed with the tops off. So with a shattered windshield, ripped off side mirror and plenty of body damage compliments of the storm, the Camaro and a piece of my youth were gone, but I felt pretty lucky and, by the looks of things on my street, my neighbors fared pretty well, too.
It was a short-lived illusion. By 9 am, I began to learn that the Camaro would be the smallest, least significant part of my childhood destroyed. Because cell and Internet service died for many of us during the height of the storm, we got news the next day by word of mouth—and each piece was more shocking than the last. Friends and neighbors on other streets and in nearby towns lost half or entire houses, every beach club on Ocean Avenue was smashed to pieces, every boardwalk from Long Branch down to Atlantic City was torn apart and strewn about, the amusement rides at Seaside Heights washed out to sea, including the roller coaster. Every bar and restaurant along the beach either largely or completely devastated or washed away, including most in Sea Bright, Long Branch, Belmar, Point Pleasant and Asbury Park, the famous shore town where my Dad was raised and which has spent the past 30-plus years rebuilding itself after terrible race riots in the late 60s ushered in a dark period of economic decay, corruption and abandonment. Only in recent years had the city finally risen from the ashes, thanks to the concerted efforts of many to restore the shore town to it former glory. Almost all of that rebuilding is now a pile of ruins. Ironically and as if a beacon of hope and a sign that we must rebuild, the Stone Pony, the musical venue made famous by Bruce and other local musicians, survived. But everywhere you look there is devastation. Boats tossed into the middle of parking lots and roads, stretches of beach that are no longer recognizable, rows of beach houses entirely gone. Long Beach Island—our version of the Hamptons—is completely underwater. Atlantic City is flooded and its casinos damaged.
The impact on the shore's businesses is hard to assess at this point, but suffice it to say that many establishments which we all frequented over our lifetimes—bars, restaurants, clubs, hot dog and concession stands on the boardwalks, and Mom-and-Pop small businesses—are gone for good. For most of us, a lifetime of memories has been washed out to sea. While we remain committed to rebuilding, it will be different...another new normal to which we must adjust.
With power expected to be out for at least another 5-10 days, I will remain on the shore. I am reachable via cell and email now. Again, many thanks for reaching out before, during and after the storm and for indulging my trip down memory lane in this note. I hope at some point you had a chance to experience the Jersey shore that I've always known. It was something, and I'm sure we'll do our best to make it something again.