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muriel j smith   Trying to put a Sunday early afternoon ride along Ocean Avenue in Sea Bright into a History and Happenings context is only possible since I made that trip Sunday. That gave me 45 minutes from the Highlands to the Rumson bridges to reminisce about the 1950s when the same trip at the same time on a sunshiny-y weekend day would have taken three minutes, maybe five if keeping below the speed limits.

     The new and beautiful Captain Joseph Azzolina bridge is successful in its purpose of keeping boat traffic sailing smoothly along the Shrewsbury River.  No longer do bridge tenders stroll out, close the gates and stop traffic, to reappear again in the same slow pace to reverse the pattern and let vehicular traffic pass, once the boats are safely through. There was even a time when the bridge opened on demand of the river traffic; that was improved somewhat when openings were changed to twice an hour and even boats had to occasionally wait or improve their own arrival timing at the bridge.

highlands drawbridgeThe old Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge opened to allow marine traffic to pass.

     But for the vehicular traffic on the state highway between the two communities, the improved situation only works  if drivers are courteous, polite, and intelligent. This past Sunday, it was a tough combination to find.

     Heading towards Rumson from Middletown along Route 36 at 1 p.m. Sunday seemed like it would be a quick trip.  But once I rounded the last curve before Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, I realized I should have tried the Oceanic Bridge instead.

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    Traffic in the ‘through’ lane, the one NOT heading into Sandy Hook,  was moving slowly but steadily, but one wonders why the lane heading into Sandy Hook was stopped.  I had already passed Two SIGNS  that indicated the park was closed, drivers had other options rather than continue across the bridge, options that included going under the bridge, into the wonderful town of Highlands, and visiting a river beach…same water, same beautiful sand, a lot quieter, and much calmer. Far better than sitting in a car with impatient kids, angry drivers, and no beach in sight for an afternoon’s enjoyment. Or going down into Buttermilk Valley and perhaps stopping at Hartshorne Park for a walk through the woods or heading back to Atlantic Highlands for a stroll through the Yacht Harbor. Or up the hill either to the magnificent Twin Lights or via Portland Road to see the newly renovated defense site complete with that huge gun from the Battleship New Jersey (and the temperature inside the battery hovers somewhere in the ‘70s!)

    Yet the cars were at a stop at the top of the bridge all waiting to get into Sandy Hook… for what? To turn around and head back? Didn’t drivers see signs saying the park was closed? To visit the Sandy Hook Lighthouse? Getting to Twin Lights would take less time, offer more spectacular views, and include a sensational museum full of great history and artifacts.  Did you even know a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient was once a lighthouse keeper here?

   And it was about the middle of the bridge where the rudeness showed up.  Among all those cars in front of me in the NOT going to Sandy Hook lane were half a dozen drivers who WERE going to Sandy Hook, but knew they could move faster in the opposite lane and cut in at the last minute. Forget about the anger that caused; the stopping it created in BOTH lanes, the near misses, and the language children shouldn’t be hearing. Think of the idiocy of it. Why would you still try so  hard to cut into a lane heading to where the Park folks were going to turn you back anyway?  Even the smarter folks who made that apparently illegal turn at the end of the bridge to head back toward Highlands didn’t impede traffic as much. 

     But something happened to drivers on the other side of the bridge, once the vehicles going to Sandy Hook were out of the way. Suddenly, they seemed nicer, calmer, more polite.

     The cars coming off the Hook…turned back by rangers who advised them once again the signs were telling the truth…the park really was closed to beachgoers…..had to get into that lane of traffic heading through Sea Bright. But they were waiting in line for a break, waiting patiently in line for a break. And they got it.  Drivers continuing to Sea Bright from Highlands began to cooperate with the outgoing Hook cars; they were taking turns, the way it should be done! One car would continue the road, the next car would pause to enable a car leaving the Hook to blend in, then another road car would proceed, then a Hook car would blend in.  Alternating, one care at a time. There were hand waves, signs of thanks, even smiles. It worked!  Alternating cars actually worked! No more foul language, angry looks, instead, smiles, signs of appreciation. Life was getting better.

     Because of the added traffic, the situation continued slowly along Ocean Avenue, but steadily moving with no horn blowing, no fist shakes, nothing but peaceful driving. What’s more, drivers were not only stopping at cross streets to enable other cars to get out, they were even stopping to allow those leaving the ‘rocks’ to cross safely. More waves, more thanks, more smiles.  For the drivers, there was time to enjoy the unique houses along the Strip. Sadly, these are not the gracious old Victorian mansions that provided many a fire drill for the volunteers in the Highlands, Sea Bright, Rumson, Atlantic Highlands and Navesink fire companies in the ‘50s and ‘60s when alarms sounded in the middle of the night and these volunteers rushed out to ‘save the fireplace’ and surrounding homes. But they are magnificent new dwellings, both single and multi-family, well-kept, attractive, and a credit to Sea Bright.  

rumson sea bright bridgeRumson – Sea Bright Bridge

     The twice hourly bridge closure at the Rumson bridge slowed traffic somewhat, but people didn’t seem to mind so much. At that point, there were walkers to watch, cyclists to see, and motorcyclists who carefully wended their way creating their own lane but safely moving forward. And when there was some type of emergency in the north end of Sea Bright requiring police from the center of town, cars moved quickly and safely to the sides of the road to create a lane for the police cars to pass.

     Ocean Avenue is the same width it was 60 years ago. The ocean is still the same, albeit not visible because of the higher sea wall. The land side view is different, and the river is still vibrant to see in many areas. Actually, driving slowly along the Strip can truly be an enjoyable experience, once angry and frustrated drivers realize it doesn’t get them there any faster, any happier, or any safer, than simply accepting how popular we’ve become and enjoying the ride

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Muriel J Smith

Muriel J Smith an award-winning journalist, former newspaper editor, book author and historian, Her newest venture is her blog, in...