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And now for something I almost never write: a personal message.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the Jersey Shore is my favorite place on earth. To those unfamiliar with my love of local history and the Garden State’s unique culture, such claims would likely seem silly, particularly given that, like many Americans, I have visited far flashier, higher-profile destinations and even briefly resided in Manhattan’s prized East Village.
Yet, even when I am not physically present, the Jersey Shore is my home. Dozens of my greatest memories were cast under a neon-glow, the colorful and delightfully kitschy illumination provided by Wildwood’s Doo-Wop motels; I spent my summers there, in the company of my maternal grandparents, as a child. Frequent visits to the shore as a young adult preceded my eventual move to Long Branch during college. Of course, this was not without familial precedence; my parents both visited the shore in their youth (my mother—Wildwood Crest, my father—Keansburg) and I always expected to someday show my children, or at least a second generation, the coastline our family had so enjoyed.
I never expected to reflect upon that lost utopia so soon, but Hurricane Sandy proved a game changer; its horrible waves swept many of our most iconic locations into the history books, leaving thousands with only memories, photographs, and stories of their majesty. It’s funny how seedy, rustic old amusements can be so sorely missed. New Jersey is a strong state; we survived the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and MTV, just as we shall persevere. What follows is an article about the Jersey Shore’s inevitable comeback; though it can’t possibly do justice to the thousands of individual stories that comprise this Herculean effort. It is merely an attempt to pay tribute to the communities I hold dear. It is my gift to New Jersey, an attempt to preserve our rebuilding efforts for the future generations that will enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Happy Memorial Day!
The Jersey Shore: Back for the Summer Season
Seven months ago, things didn’t look good for the Jersey Shore. The historic symbol of the state’s tourism industry suffered a heavy blow when Hurricane Sandy, dubbed a “super-storm” by the media, ravaged almost every inch of the beloved coastline. Boardwalks, homes, and businesses were lost; piers collapsed, two million homes lost power, and on the barrier islands, the ocean met the bay, sweeping away all that sat between the two bodies of water. Indeed, looking back, it was literally the storm of a lifetime, truly unrivaled in terms of its fury.
And yet, New Jersey rose to the challenge. Neighbors helped each other, communities banded together, and unlikely alliances were forged for the greater good. Out of the darkness of Sandy came the light of resilience. It’s certainly been a long, difficult winter; however, after what seemed like a miserable eternity, in what can be viewed as a symbolic triumph over the tragedy, the Jersey Shore is once again open for business! From Keansburg to Cape May, the Garden State’s treasured coastline is gearing up for the first summer season since the devastation, and though the aesthetics and experience will undoubtedly be different than previous summers, the cherished boardwalks are again experiencing foot traffic.
The comeback has not been without visual displays of jubilance.
On May 18th, State Senator Joe Kyrillos presided over the ribbon cutting ceremony at Keansburg’s one hundred and nine year old boardwalk, which has provided turn-of-the-century waterfront charm to beachgoers since 1904. Though the amusements were heavily damaged last October (several popular rides, including the Wild Cat rollercoaster, among this columnist’s favorite attractions, failed to withstand the heavy winds and surging tide), the Gelhause family, which owns the park, set about restoring the property almost immediately; a partial re-opening occurred as early as last spring. Though much of the antiquity, including the circa-1920s Spook House, a popular dark ride, was lost during the calamity, Keansburg still retains its magic, though the rebuilding effort is not entirely complete. New bumper cars and a Pinfari rollercoaster will arrive later in the season.
That same day, a similar re-opening occurred in the equally historic Asbury Park, immortalized by musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and Jon Bon Jovi. Mayor Ed Johnson proudly participated in the festivities, which included music by the Blue Bishops, the first in a long line of oceanfront entertainment planned for the city in coming months.
"The rebuilding of the Asbury Park Boardwalk and the restoration of beaches and boardwalks across the Jersey Shore is a symbol of the spirit and resilience of the people of New Jersey,” Mayor Johnson said during an interview. “It serves as a reminder, that even during tough times, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish when we work and stand together as one. We are indeed stronger than any storm. I look forward to 2013 being the summer of the century in Asbury Park!"
Six miles up the coast is Long Branch, another popular Monmouth County shore town, itself no stranger to disasters; the popular Kids World amusement pier was lost to a large fire in the late 1980s. Though the city remains the only oceanfront community to postpone their boardwalk’s reconstruction until federal funding, which will be used to refurbish the beach to protect against future flooding, is guaranteed, local officials are anticipating a strong, memorable season.
“I am very optimistic about the summer of 2013,” said Councilman John Pallone. “The beaches are looking good. We're getting the word out that Long Branch and all of the shore is open for business and ready to go. We really are ‘stronger than the storm’ and the support of our residents and city employees has been truly amazing and inspiring.”
Though joggers and tourists will undoubtedly miss the segment of boardwalk that previously stretched between Pier Village and Brighton Avenue, the city’s famed beaches, once frequented by seven United States presidents, are still pristine and accessible to the public; the popular outdoor events that characterize Long Branch summers, including the colossal July 4th Oceanfest celebration, will proceed as in previous years.
Further down the shore, Governor Christopher J. Christie has traveled between resort towns for the dedications of several refurbished boardwalks; the boardwalk’s return to Belmar, the grand opening of Margaritaville in Atlantic City, and the now infamous appearance in Seaside Heights, where he met Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, star of MTV’s Jersey Shore, arguably the only disaster with destructive potential capable of rivaling Hurricane Sandy. Seaside Heights, of course, was perhaps the most recognizable of the damaged communities; the image of the JetStar rollercoaster, thrust into the sea by the storm, was printed in several newspapers, featured on websites, and mentioned by Governor Christie on numerous occasions. The demolition of the JetStar’s skeletal remains was completed about two weeks ago; the boardwalk itself has been refurbished.
Of course, there is much more to the Jersey Shore than these attractions. Sure, the beaches are lovely, the boardwalks entertaining, the parking experience…”memorable,” but it is really the diverse and eclectic mix of people that make these towns what they are. They are beach communities that are truly unlike any others on earth. Unfortunately, it is at this level that rehabilitation is the slowest in coming. There are some who lost literally everything during last October’s storm; families and business owners who are still awaiting much needed relief. As of last month, thousands of people on the East Coast were still homeless as a result of the hurricane. Thus, it is important that vacationers not forget there are still those in need, and while a day of fun in the sun will make for a lifetime of cherished memories, there are those whose summer will be spent picking up the pieces, wishing for better times.
On Tuesday, President Obama will join Governor Christie (commendably putting partisan differences aside, as they so heroically did last October), and will deliver a speech in Asbury Park, which is open to the public. Summer is, after-all, a time to come together; perhaps we should take a lesson from our President and Governor and put bickering, worries and anxieties aside and just enjoy the beautiful Jersey Shore. It is truly a blessing that we have it.