Saturday, November 3, 2012

Remembering the Jersey Shore

I grew up in New Jersey. I lived there until 2007 when I moved to Florida and reinvented myself as a writer. This past week has brought out emotions in me about my home state that I didn't even realize were there. Hurricane Sandy, which had only a slight impact on Florida with tropical storm conditions from its outer bands, slammed into New Jersey with unprecedented force, causing monumental damage to its famed beaches. Lives were lost. People were left homeless, their houses turned into a pile of rubble. The damage extended far beyond New Jersey's shoreline. Flooding and heavy winds impacted many states in Sandy's path. New York was also hit hard, particularly Manhattan, Breezy Point, and Staten Island.

Seeing the photographs of Sandy's aftermath, and watching the benefit concert on Friday night, November 2, with storm footage shown between performances, I couldn't help but think about the time I spent "down the shore", and realize many of the things I most enjoyed about it were washed away. When I was a child, every Wednesday during the summer meant a day trip to Asbury Park. My father was a barber, and since his shop was open on Saturdays, he closed it on Wednesdays. We lived in Paterson in northern New Jersey, and Asbury Park was about a ninety-minute ride down the Garden State Parkway. It seemed like forever. You've probably heard of Asbury Park, even if you're not familiar with New Jersey. It's where Bruce Springsteen got his start, playing in the local clubs, particularly The Stone Pony.

I loved going on the rides that were on the boardwalk. It was a major achievement when I graduated from the kiddie rides to the "big kid" rides. Asbury Park's Convention Hall is also on the boardwalk. I remember walking into it with my sister, probably in 1965 - I would have been 13 and Silvana almost 15. We wandered into a free concert by The Temptations. At least I think it was free, nobody stopped us. Music was always a part of any trip down the shore. I would bring my transistor radio, prop it up against one of my sneakers that was holding down a corner of my beach blanket, and listen to WABC, the best radio station at the time. The first time I heard Light My Fire and A Whiter Shade of Pale was lying on that blanket, through that crappy speaker. Over the years the family trips expanded to include Sandy Hook and Beach Haven, the latter on beautiful Long Beach Island (LBI to the locals), with the Barnegat Lighthouse at its northern tip. I spent a lot of time in the ocean, swimming and body surfing back to shore on the waves.

When my friends and I finally got our driver's licenses we were able to go on our own. Seaside Heights was the place to go for us in the early '70s. Sometimes a few guys would go for a weekend, get a room at some fleabag motel and cram six of us in it. When we were able to untie our tongues and speak to a female, we'd actually have a date for the day. I have some fond memories of the few girls I dated during those years. We'd walk along the boardwalk, Grand Funk Railroad blaring from the arcades, and I would inevitably fail to win them prizes at those rigged games. But one of those girls became my wife, so fortunately my arcade skills weren't a factor.

My wife, Evelyn, and I have one daughter, Jennifer. The shore cycle began again, as we took her on the kiddie rides at Seaside Heights and watched her graduate to the big kid rides. Surprisingly, she also grew up and preferred going down the shore with her friends, rather than with me and my wife. She also ended up going to college in the area, Richard Stockton College to be exact, in Pomona near Atlantic City. Atlantic City's boardwalk was destroyed although the casinos got through the storm relatively unscathed. I'm not a gambler and only went to an Atlantic City casino once, when we were there for my daughter's graduation. One thing I learned - experienced gamblers do not like to play blackjack with an amateur.

As empty-nesters, Evelyn and I changed our beach-going routine and in the last ten or so years of living in New Jersey preferred Cape May, on the southern tip of the state. It was quieter, had cleaner beaches, a nice pedestrian mall with shops and restaurants, and I always managed to get a big bag of almonds at the Nut House.

A lot of great memories, many more than I want to bore you with, but you get the idea of how much the area meant to me, and to so many other people. It will take time - a lot of time - but I'm sure New Jersey will rebuild the areas into even better destinations. If your impression of the Jersey Shore is Snooki and her brain-dead friends, please don't believe it. The people there are wonderful. They are going through a difficult time, but they're resilient and will overcome this tragedy. You can't keep New Jerseyans down!

20 comments:

  1. Nice commentary John ... very nice.

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  2. Lovely piece, John. Had a few brief visits to NJ when living in CT or MA but never saw or experienced naything like the way you have told this. Even back here in UK our thoughts and prayers are with those suffering from Sandy but I am sure you are right - this tragedy will be overcome.

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  3. Camels - Up until about 10 years ago the "Monkey Mural" was still on the side of one of the buildings, I believe in Asbury Park? Paint peeling off, but still the same unmistakeable chimp that announced that "you made it" when we were kids sitting out the drive down the GSP.

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    1. Thanks , Steve. A high school friend of mine is a community activist in Asbury Park and in spite of a "renaissance" in recent years, the city still had some formidable problems. Obviously Sandy has dealt them a serious blow in any forward progress.

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  4. As, come on John..... It's time to come home to the real people. You know you miss us !!! :). :). :)
    Xoxo Linda P.

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    1. Hi, Linda. Actually there's a lot that I miss about New Jersey. Winter's not one of them, though. Still waiting for you and Frank to pay us a visit here!

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  5. I think this is great, John. I loved reading it and I, too, love that Jersey Shore. I vacationed in North Wildwood every year of my young life. Owned a home on LBI in the 80's and 90's. Still rent a place there at the end of every summer. We've graduated to Loveladies. So many fine moments smelling the wonderfully tangy air of the salt marshes. Building should probably not have been allowed in most places, but I hope we can continue swimming there and seeing the world from LBI.

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    1. Thanks! I could have written about so much more, Wildwood being another place I went to on occasion. It was amazing how many memories came to me as I was writing it.

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  6. Camels, you really captured the essence of the Jersey shore. We native Jerseysans still refer to the shore that way don't we. I missed the concert not having power, cable, or internet service. I'll have to look for a rebroadcast.

    JERSEY STRONG!

    Al D

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    1. Thanks, Al. It was amazing how many memories came back to me as I was writing this entry. By the way, it was some of the brothers who were in that fleabag motel with me!

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  7. I loved this blog John. I felt like I was reading about my own feelings about down the shore. I love the music you referred to. Some of my favorites. I am heartbroken by the pictures of New Jersey...it will always be home. Thank you for sharing. Joan

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    1. Thanks, Joan. It was difficult to write, both from an emotional standpoint and the amount of memories that came back to me - what to include and what not to.

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  8. Thank you so much John for your reminiscence. I was on a virtual blog tour in October and my last reviewer was JerseyGirl. On Oct 29th she wrote that she hoped to post her review before Sandy came through. She lost power and I was absolutely floored to see her review on Amazon on Oct 31st. She was a bit inland and her home survived the onslaught. My hat was off to her and everyone in NJ, NYC and all affected areas. To see a storm cross half a continent and half a hemisphere is unprecedented... Sandy affected so many millions. Thank you, John, for putting a personal face on this. Best, Mary

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    1. Thanks, Mary, I appreciate your comments. JerseyGirl's perseverance is just one indicator of how resilient - and honorable - New Jerseyans are.

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  9. Nice memories, John. You must feel a bit like I did when the State of Connecticut blasted and bulldozed through the area where my childhood home once stood. It's called "Route 8" now.
    G

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    1. Thanks. Yes, it's always difficult seeing things that hold memories for you change, no matter what the reason for the change is.

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  10. Danielle MinerviniNovember 5, 2012 at 1:46 AM

    John, this was a great piece and so true to how all Jersey people feel. I just got power back yesterday. Gas is still in short supply. I was able to go today because my license plate ended in an even number. Tomorrow it's for the odd folks. :)Thanks so much for thinking of us! Glad Florida escaped ok. All my best! Donyell :)

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    1. Thanks, Donyell. I've been thinking of you and the rest of the BD gang since Sandy blew through. I've been hesitant to call in the past because I know how busy you all are, and now this. I'd love to talk with all of you. Call me whenever you can.

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  11. Hello Camels;
    Great piece. Certainly captures the essence of the "Joisey Shoah". I can't begin to recount the days I spent all along NJ coastline - from Monmouth Beach - to Seaside / Pt Pleasant - onto LBI. An avid surfer in my HS and college days, we'd load up the car with our boards and head down to the beach first thing (before sunrise!) to beat the Parkway traffic, often just making a day trip to catch waves, chase girls, have a "few Buds", and eat dynamite sub sandwiches. Over time, and as I earned some $$$ working during college, my college GF (whom I married after graduating from RU - and is still my wife) and I would vacation in Beach Haven at the Strand Guest House. A great B&B with a wonderful owner at the time. I'll never forget her hospitality - inviting us to private BBQ in the back yard - grilling fresh seafood with all the great side dishes, Jersey corn, and salads with NJ tomatoes. Being only a block from the beach, I am sure that place got hammered. I hope the folks out there build and recapture the summer magic that is - The Jersey Shore. My best - Richard

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