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Ode to 105

November 7, 2012

Exit 105.

I grew up on the central Jersey coast amidst the millennium in flux, to the soundtracks of Ace of Base, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and the Macarena in the calm before the storm of September 11th, 2001.

We live here.

A community defined by:

our ten-foot high sea wall (built to withstand the worst mother Nature could throw as us… or so we thought…)

summer beach clubs

taylor ham, egg and cheese sandwiches

fresh catch of the day

and the lingering smell of salt and sun tan lotion that never quite comes out of towels and bathing suits…

Summers meant swim meets, friendly rivals between beach clubs – Trade Winds, Driftwood, Water’s Edge, Navesink Country Club (Oh, how we envied their heated pool…). We collected sea shells and stones, painted them with blue nail polish and attempted to sell them, along with various lanyard creations to passerbys. This was our “business” and at age ten and eleven we took it seriously. At the end of the week, when our sales had amounted to five dollars or so, we’d take our earnings to the shore gift shops and buy things – salt water taffy, ice cream sandwiches, plastic earrings.

“Halloween in July” and “Christmas in July”. Lobster cookouts. Fourth of July Fireworks on the beach meant that around 9pm you could look up anywhere north or south and see the fireworks of the surrounding shore towns, from Sea Bright to Belmar. Movies on the beach. Adult swims forced us to sit at the side of the pool, green with envy and hot with sweat. We arrived at 9 am. The grill would be running by 10 am and turned off at 9 pm. We would leave the beach at 10 pm. Go home, go to sleep, wake up and repeat.

There was mischief …

chased out of the hot tub daily by “hot” 18-year-old lifeguard meant that “hot” 18-year old lifeguard knew I existed

 told 100 times not to run near the pool

water balloon attack on cranky sleeping sunbathers

and don’t let anyone try to convince you those super soaker fights in the locker catacombs weren’t real danger

Bruce Springsteen sighting in Sea Bright.

Bon Jovi sighting in Red Bank.

Fact: Everyone on the Jersey Shore has some personal connection to Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.

Fall ushered in by the mass exodus of Bennies on Labor Day Weekend, shortened beach hours, changing of the leaves and the Columbus Day Girl Scout trip to the pumpkin patch for haunted hayrides, never actually scary… a high school boy in a Freddy Krueger mask pretending to chase after our wagon with a plastic chain saw.

We live here.

The beaches and ocean return back to life-size, no longer a magnet for tri-state thrill seekers and vacationers.

Halloween.

Driving to Bruce Springsteen’s house to see if he was at the door giving out candy (which he usually was). What is he wearing? Who is he with? What candy does he have?

Snow in the winter.

Lots of it.

Christmas Eve.

Kids piled in the back of the gray station wagon to see the lights at Bruce Springsteen’s house. What color are they? Is anyone home? Who got the best view of his driveway?

Lost my first tooth.

Learned to read and write.

Got my first period.

Had my first kiss.

Learned to drive.

Experienced my first true heartbreak at the loss of my pet cat.

Directed my first play.

Experienced my first rejection from the local community theater.

Debuted in a featured role at that community theater the following year.

Right before I left for college Trade Winds was demolished to build luxury summer condominiums for Bennies. The ushering in of the first bulldozer and demolition of the beloved beach club marked the end of this chapter of my life. Three months later I replaced the Jersey Shore with the new address of my college in lower Manhattan. I was 18.

2009.

MTV’s “Jersey Shore” debuts to big ratings and cheap laughs at the expense of the beachfront community. The mindless knock off shows are quick to follow, “Jerseylicious”, “Real Housewives of Jersey”… I imagine there are others but I don’t care enough to find out. I’m not surprised when I read in Entertainment Weekly that not one cast member actually grew up on the Jersey Shore. Television about hardworking people in a struggling economy isn’t glamorous or exploitative enough for today’s industry standards.

I feel for people who only know the Jersey Shore though MTV, similar to how I feel for people who only know the Middle East through Fox News.

We live here.

Working class.  Fishermen. Teachers. Artists. Nurses. Fire fighters. Police officers. Military. Blue collar.

These weren’t just our “summer houses” or our “beach houses”.

This was home.

These were the homes of the people who drive the local economy, the ones who made it possible for others to have “summer houses” and “beach houses” on our shore.

Sandy.

Is this the “when everything changed” mark for the generation born in the mid 90’s? Will Sandy mark consciousness of a world outside the microcosm of sand, surf and sun for folks like 9/11 did for my generation?

“I feel so sad for you,” my mother laments from her cot at the Red Cross/FEMA shelter where she’s been living at for the past week, “Your short life has been marked by disasters and wars…”

I have vivid memories of life before September 11th 2001. What about the generation born right after 9/11 who truly only know disaster? Are they better off because they have nothing to compare life to? Maybe. And is it too soon to shudder at a not so distant future where the cast of Jersey Shore is peddling commemorative Hurricane Sandy t-shirts made by cheap Chinese labor on the newly renovated Seaside Boardwalk? I don’t mean to sound insensitive but I lived and worked near ground zero for nearly a decade and have learned a thing or two about how tragedy is dehumanized, packaged and sold and it scares me – ask a New Yorker who was there on 9/11 what it feels like to be stopped on the corner of Church and Fulton and asked to buy a commemorative wine bottle, stamp collection, coloring book or teddy bear.

Terrorism and war existed long before 9/11 and there were natural disasters long before Sandy. Now there is instant kinship with the people of Port au Prince, Sumatra and New Orleans. We are not alone in our pain, our grief, our helplessness and suffering.

I cried when I saw the first photos come out of Sea Bright on Tuesday morning, wood and cement strewed upon sand like Ulysses shipwreck – debilitated, devastated, destroyed. There are no words.

Post-Apocalyptic.

I imagine a scene from The Day After Tomorrow, only I don’t have to because a few days ago, The Day After Tomorrow was today and after yesterday who really knows what tomorrow will bring.

The end of the world came in with the tide.  And in the end the Jersey Shore didn’t need any help from Hollywood, no special effects, no computer generated cinematography and finally, no MTV unscripted reality drama. Mother Nature created her own noteworthy performance.

but… We live here.

Seaside Heights

Jenkinson’s Aquarium

Donovan’s Reef

Driftwood Beach Club

Atlantic City

Sea Bright

Pier Village 

The water has receded and took with it our homes, businesses and livelihood. Now all that’s left is a blank canvas to start rebuilding.

Only memories here now.

Memories that will be packed up, restored and revived

at Exit 105.

1992 – Trade Winds Beach Club, “Halloween in July”

1992 – Trade Winds Beach Club, pool mischief

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2012 10:24 am

    hit the nail on the head- I feel like it was the best way to grow up. I hate the image MTV’s Jersey Shore’ gave us. Last year after moving to a new place- when people asked where I came from I would hesitate and say “… the Jersey Shore… But not the one on TV!”. Usually people would reply “Sure…” I honestly feel pride in my childhood and a lot of that is because of where we are from.

  2. Ann Wolf permalink
    November 7, 2012 12:41 pm

    This is great. You and the girls were so lucky for the summers at tradewinds. You forgot Virgin Miami Vices at the bar. Life continues and all of you have grown to be wonderful,caring adults.
    Ann Wolf

  3. November 7, 2012 1:47 pm

    OMG that was wonderful… I miss summer at the beach club, swim meets,Springsteen, looking for and finding my kids in the lockers, Springsteen, cooking all day and night, fireworks and Springsteen. What wonderful times of learning both educationally and socially. Life at the shore… is good!

  4. November 7, 2012 4:33 pm

    Great post. One thing I constantly struggle with myself are people discovering Seaside through MTV’s show & also how all the articles are about DON’T WORRY THE JERSEY SHORE HOUSE survived. Eff that. I grew up in North Jersey but we did have a place down there that we stayed in all year round. I actually just wrote a piece about this on my Disney blog (go figure) this week, and when I was done I’m like wait! I forgot to mention the clown fest and halloween parades and those flee markets where I bought all those bracelets and necklaces with moons on it. Or the time I watched a couple get married on the pier. There is just so much wrapped into my time there. SO MUCH. It’s just too much for me to really digest. I’m trying to be hopeful though. Ah. Loved this so much. (Pictures are great too. I just moved so I was upset that I couldn’t look through mine… next time!)

  5. Annard permalink
    November 8, 2012 2:07 pm

    I’ve seen the pictures, but this personal story really brought it home. I can’t imagine what you and so many others are going through just miles away from where I live. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. November 10, 2012 11:49 am

    What a lovely tribute. And those photos at the end are priceless.

Trackbacks

  1. Sunday Summary — November 11, 2012 « The Green Room
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