This month, my husband and I visited the Jersey Shore. He really didn't want to go... didn't want to gawk at tragedy. I understood his feelings but as an amateur historian, I wanted to see for myself what had happened. Yes, it had been recorded by others but I wasn't feeling the realness of it. Similar to how those not in the Tri-State area must feel about 9/11... not really understanding the scope of the disaster. How I know I feel about the South Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
We first stopped in Leonardo near our friends' old house where we had spent many a get-together. The house was fine; even though it was on the same street as the marina, it was on a rise.
Unfortunately, the marina did not fare well... The memorial that had been created to honor Middletown residents who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11/01 had been flattened. Sand covered the parking lot. Nearby buildings and boats were battered. The flags that waved in defiance of terrorism had been ripped from their poles. But a patriot stuck a small American flag in the ropes. It flapped proudly in the wind like "The Little Flag that Could."
We took Rt. 36 down past Sandy Hook into Sea Bright. My mom and I had taken our visiting relatives to the town during the summer, and the changes were striking. Although we couldn't see the beach clubs that had been destroyed, we did manage to come across this desert.
Looking like something out of "Laurence of Arabia," this 40-foot sand pile caused us to stop and get out of the car.
"Mount Sandy" as the locals call it, was created when the DPW collected all the sand that had been pushed onto the streets. The sand is slowly being redistributed onto the beach. In the meantime, the sheer drop on the oceanside was pretty scarey.
All the buildings in the downtown were boarded up. It reminded me how lucky our town had been. We only were dark for 11 days.
We then headed down the NJ Parkway to Seaside Heights. Nothing really seemed amiss. There were some roads that used to be blocked off according to the caution tape that flapped around but it wasn't until we actually got to Ocean Terrace that I got to see the damage that's been featured on televisions around the world.
Sandy caused sand to hide what little boardwalk hadn't been ripped up. It knocked out signage and of course, wrecked amusement buildings.
However, perhaps the oddest part of it all... was that it was difficult to find parking. Not because the roads had heaved up (which they had) or that there was stuff thrown to the curb. But because there were so many people there to check out THE ROLLERCOASTER.
Since much of the access to the boardwalk was closed off, we walked to the Beachcomber Bar and climbed to its rooftop patio to get a look at the beach and boardwalk concessions. (You can see a video of the Berkeley Sweet Shop sign breaking apart on CNN's website).
Not far from the Beachcomber, bulldozers were clearing debris and rides from Funtown Pier waited to be removed. The ocean was pretty tame but there still was a strong breeze, a subtle reminder of that day months prior. You could see the roller coaster in the distance. You could also hear people complaining that the view wasn't good enough. And that's when the feeling of "darn, am I like those guys?" crept in.
We walked toward the Casino Pier. Lucky Leo's had reopened and the arcade was buzzing and clanging. Outside, barkers were selling Jersey sweatshirts. A few doors down, however, Barnacle Bill's hadn't fared as well. Arcade games that had managed to make it from new to dated to vintage, now were waiting to make their last step... to memories. Stuffed animals tinged in mildew discarded on top of moldy miscellany.
Other buildings on the shore side of Ocean Terrace were also "remodeling." And the police were patrolling in their cars, stopping at the access points, sternly requesting that people who had ignored the yellow "do not enter" tape and walked onto the sea-battered boardwalk return to the unrestricted areas.
It bothered me when one guy standing near me encouraged others to break the line..."if we all go, the cops can't catch everyone." Amazingly, this logic worked on a bunch of people.
But not me...
Which is why I don't have a super closeup photo of that infamous Seaside Heights roller coaster which used to be on the Casino Pier but now temporarily resides in the dorm called the Atlantic Ocean.
The American flag that had caused all that ruckus was still flying. (I do hope that it becomes a part of the local historical society's treasures).
We headed back to the car, passing the large figurines, bumper cars, and other items that the Casino Pier was holding in a fenced in storage lot until construction started.
And we grabbed a bite at Steaks Unlimited, "Home of the Original Cheeseballs" according to their signage. The building did not look like it had been touched by Sandy. Everything was shiny chrome and shiny vinyl. It seemed like the storm stopped right in the middle of Ocean Terrace, held back away from the two Cheese Steak places on the street.
Of course I needed to try what they were "famous" for. (I fall for that all the time). Cheeseballs are basically lightly battered and fried squares of Velveeta. A perfect snack for the cast of the "Jersey Shore." Not something I need to have again, but I understand the appeal they would have after a night of dancing.
We drove up the shore line on Route 35. The destruction came in visible spurts. Some buildings were boarded up, others looked normal but probably hid water damage, and others advertised "Sand Vacuuming" and other businesses that didn't exist before Halloween 2012. As we went further north, the houses were larger and the damage was more noticeable... Houses were all a kilter, siding ripped off, windows broken, porches propped up haphazardly.
We stayed on Route 35, passing Camp Osborne in Brick Township. During the storm, this tight neighborhood burned down due to a transformer fire and many of the bungalows washed out to sea. Because the area was built before current codes, it will be interesting to see how this will change. I think this view bothered me the most since it's in my husband's hometown and a friend lost his house here.
Just a little further, we reached the bridge to Mantoloking. At the time, it was still closed off, so we headed on home. Realizing that the beach of our childhood was gone forever. But knowing that the Jersey spirit is strong and that new happy memories were around the corner.