My father used to take my sister and me to Atlantic City. The funny thing is, I always hated the beach. I had sensitive skin and the sand and salt water gave me a rash. We stayed in a crappy motel just off the boardwalk where you could make the bed vibrate for a quarter. The adults would spend every day sitting around the beach in a circle, chatting and smoking cigarettes. One day, while attempting to dig for treasure, I found a single golden charm, which my dad later had engraved with my initial. I wear it to this day to remind me that one girl’s lost anklet is another’s found bracelet.
But back to the beach, where the kids would periodically be asked to fetch their parents snacks from a row of shops, up—seemingly miles up—the beach. There was sticky fudge and chewy taffy, soft ice-cream and burgers—the ocean air mixing with the smell of steamy boardwalk and fried food. I can still remember how hot the sand was on the walk up and how good the fries tasted on the walk back.
Evenings in AC were all about dress-up, pinball (for the kids) and the Million Dollar Pier, where you could ride the roller coaster and visit the fun house. Then there were the shops, places packed with hanging seashells and hermit crabs. One store-front regularly featured a glass blower and people crowded around at all hours to see what shapes he magically produced from brightly colored strands of molten glass. This was before gambling came to town and people stayed inside gaudy hotels feeding slot machines 24/7.
As a teenager, we escaped to AC—most often under the guise of a lie (“Michelle’s aunt has a house where just the two of us will be staying” was usually code for “there’s a thousand kids and we have no idea where we’ll be”). It didn’t usually get more rowdy that a late night at a club listening to Jerry Blavet spin records (no, I’m not that old, the “geater with the heater” has been around a LONG time).
I moved to NYC after college, got a job, got married and had kids. And the Jersey Shore mostly disappeared from my summer weekends (altho I visited AC once or twice in the interim, I found little left of the place I knew. Even the famous fudge shop was gone).
I discovered Long Branch when my best friend Donna and I decided we needed a weekend away to celebrate our 40th birthdays. There wasn’t much there at the time aside from a nice hotel and some spa services. We made the mistake of leaving the windows to our balcony open when we went down for a facial and came back to find seagulls nesting on our fluffy down pillows.
And then a few years after that a friend from Jackson, NJ invited us to come with them to Point Pleasant, aka Jenkinson’s Beach. It was like walking into the past; families frolicked on the beach, the boardwalk housed candy stores and funhouses. We stayed the afternoon and I couldn’t wait to return the following day. Point Pleasant became my AC replacement and we went—kids, dad and stepmom in tow—at least a few weekends every summer. We measured the passage of time by the rides the kids were tall enough to go on, gorging on Kohr’s frozen custard, grilled shrimp and fresh lemonade.
A few years later, seeing the opportunity for a possible deal, my husband and I checked out Asbury Park. My Uncle Joel grew up poor there, where—tanned and muscular—he worked as a lifeguard and wooed my aunt. Although we didn’t get the house, we did see Dylan recently perform at the Convention Hall, walking through the empty Carousel Building, marveling at the detail and decay.
Then there was the week spent with my daughter-in-law and grandkids at a rented house in Bradley Beach. The fire works every Thursday night at Jenkinsons. The spur-of-the-moment trips to Atlantic City once gambling took hold (I come from a family of slot machine junkies). The odd day during the week that my husband when my husband and I would get in the car and drive the hour just to stand on the boardwalk and smell the ocean.
This past Tuesday, Hurricane Sandy (ironic it was named Sandy, right?) washed away most of that. It flooded my stepdaughter’s neighborhood in Brick. It put most of Atlantic City under water. It burned houses to the ground. I drove down to Long Branch and through to Asbury to see the devastation for myself and it took my breath away.
Our hearts and prayers go out to all who were affected by the storm. It will never be the same…things usually aren’t. But we do hope it will come back better, so that our children can continue to create memories of their own.