Saturday, November 3, 2012

Shedding Tears for Jersey

I grew up in a blue collar community in industrial New Jersey, just 16 miles from Manhattan but worlds away in day-to-day life.  It was gray, drab and polluted in our town.  There were petrochemical refineries as well as large plants from just about every chemical company that existed then.  One of the reasons is that my hometown, Linden, was on the Arthur Kill, which separated New Jersey from Staten Island, and eventually made its way to the ocean.  I rarely have anything nice to say about Jersey and have on many occasions commented that it's a great place to be from because every place else that I've lived seems so nice in comparison.  Well, that's still true.  A calamity like Sandy certainly doesn't make me nostalgic for Linden.  It was a hole then, and it still is.

But the Jersey Shore is another matter.  My happiest memories of my childhood are on the Jersey Shore and that seems to be true for a lot of other Jerseyites who I've seen being wistful on television.  The biggest thrill of the summer would be to get into our un-airconditioned car, sit in steaming traffic for a couple of hours to go about 30 miles, and eventually be rewarded by being able to claim a blanket-sized piece of sand on the beach.  The Jersey Shore beaches weren't like the beautiful empty beaches that I've been fortunate enough to visit in my adulthood - they were wall to wall people.  But that's not so surprising in the most densely populated state in the country.

My parents' beaches of choice were Bradley Beach and Asbury Park.  I still remember riding the merry-go-round in Asbury Park.  My dad loved the boardwalk, and we'd usually spend as much time there as in the ocean.  He'd make me stop and watch the salesmen demonstrating the vegematic slicer as if this was serious theater.  He loved that stuff.  We'd all get hot dogs and custard and, even though we'd leave with sunburns and sit in another couple of hours of hot traffic to get back home, the beach was magical.  When I was old enough to have friends who drove, we did exactly the same thing - headed for the shore.

As an adult, I still love the beach - any beach.  I've never thought about it much, but I guess this beach attraction is a result of these happy childhood memories.  That may be why I can't exactly embrace land-locked Colorado, which is about a thousand miles from a beach.

So looking at the devastation of the Jersey shore is heartbreaking.  I've actually shed some tears, thinking of those beaches of my youth that won't ever be the same and of all of the uprooted residents who, like me, felt the draw of the ocean.  If someone had told me two weeks ago that I'd be crying about New Jersey, I would have thought them crazy.  But Sandy changed a lot of things.