The news reports were confusing.
The ocean was slamming against the dunes. The tides were running heavy. Minor flooding was being reported from various shore points as dire warnings were being cited by weather experts.
Looking out the window, conditions seemed not much stiffer than an afternoon pushing a thunderstorm. It had drizzled for a bit and the litany of reporters (one of who showed us a line of six sandbags against a pizzeria doorway) kept talking about the doom that was crawling up the coast. I thought, “This is a piss poor excuse for a hurricane. I’ve been to union meetings that were rougher than this.”
I was under the impression we’d been in the storm for hours.
Then the reporter said, “The hurricane is expected to make landfall in about 5 hours.” It was still a couple of hundred miles away. According to the weather map, landfall would be between my bathroom and kitchen. The gentle Twisted Roads reader will understand that I thought that this was one of the longest build-ups I had ever seen for a weather event. Star War: The Empire Strikes Back didn’t get this kind of hype.
The wind was shortly gusting to 50 and 60 miles per hour and the house was considerably noisier than my preferred Nolan helmet. The rain started but never reached the frenetic levels I had been told to expect. There is a brunette friend of mine who occasionally captures my fancy (isn’t there always), and she races sailboats. Her description of the wind whistling in the forestays and her stories of heeling a boat on the edge of a knife-like breeze fascinate me. I was working on a story in which I thought to compare the gentle moaning of the wind on a moonlight Atlantic night with the raging anguish of K1300GTs engine, balls to the wall in a horizontal interstate Messerschmidt power-dive, when the lights began to flicker.
A brilliant flash bathed everything outside in a micro-second shade of electric blue as a pole transformer exploded outside. The lights came back on and wavered again, as another pole transformer blew up minutes later. In that second of darkness, I remembered I had bought the cheapest surge protector the store had, and I yanked the magnetic power cord off the Apple. The lights made one more attempt to stay lit and ran the the gamut from dim to brilliant — as the last pole transformer on the block evaporated in sparks and loud “boom.”
The room was not totally dark. The screen on my faithful Apple laptop still glowed with the thrill of whatever the hell it was I had just typed. It was 9:55 pm and wind gusts were pulling the ton (100 mph). I switched on my Coleman LED camp lantern and called it an early night. While an LED lantern is the ultimate in disaster convenience, it’s not much for ambience. The sterile light is ideal for finding the bathroom but not conducive to reading. Stretching out in bed, I thought the wind like sounded passion on a sailboat. Then something blew into the side of the house. It happened two more times, and I plastered my face to window. Far above the hell of the storm was a full moon and it wasn’t real dark outside. I expected to see zombies staggering in the street. What I saw was almost as amazing. Wind gusts were blowing deer into the siding. “Good,” I thought. “Fucking rats on stilts.”
I put my head on the pillow and closed my eyes. There was nothing romantic in this howling of the wind. I would lie awake for the next 5 hours. The wind did its best to twist my balls. It counted the tiles on the roof. It tore at the siding at the house. It shook the tree on the lawn. It even peered in the window and made fun of my comparison of the noise of made by a racing sailboat and the classical music cadence of a finely-tuned Teutonic motorcycle. (Sorry, brunette cupcake, riding a motorcycle will keep you 19 forever.)
So the wind did the only thing it could do to hurt me: it destroyed my childhood. Ten miles to the east, Barnegat Bay rose like a hissing shit-bitch from hell and swirled over Pelican Island, before venting its seething fury on the backstreets of Seaside Heights and Seaside Park. The Atlantic surged over the beach... over the dunes... over the boardwalk... and over the houses, some of which were rented by my family when I was a kid. It ripped everything before it with an indescribable rage.
Click here to see for yourself...
These were the beaches where my mother, a beautiful blond, chased three kids in the sand. These were the honky-tonk amusements where my dad went on things that went upside down with my cousin Claire. This was the home of Casino Pier, where kids on Union Street (1962) discussed a roller coaster — the Wild Mouse — in awe and fear. It was where my dad handed me my first oyster on the half-shell and watched my face as I slurped something with the consistency of a used flem ball.
“Thank you, sir. I’ll have another,” I said.
Casino Pier was where I would park a motorcycle in 1975, and have a rum and Coke at at the outdoor bar — the Aztec — while watching girls in bikinis walk by. (I’d wonder if I’d ever nail one.) It was where I parked my motorcycle in 2005 and had a few rum and Cokes at the same outdoor bar, while watching girls in bikinis walk by. (Can you guess what I was thinking?)
The back of Casino Pier is broken. A newer roller coaster is in the water. The old spook house and the rides that have been there for 20 years are gone. The stretch of boardwalk with the sausage sandwich stands, the orange custard stands, and the chintzy clackerty wheel games (where you had a better chance of getting elected Pope than of wining a decent prize) are gone. The stands were you could get the worst pizza in the world are battered. The souvenir shops, the tee shirt warrens, and the ear piercing places are bust up. I am assuming that the chocolate stalls that my mother so loved, selling fudge so thick and sweet that your ass would inflate like a life raft if you ate one piece are heavily damaged. Each was someone’s livelihood. Each was a family legacy.
Funtown Pier is a shambles. The best places for clams on the half-shell and corn on the cob (boiled to a soft yellow, knobby pulp) may have been spared. And the jury is still out on the antique carousel. The place where I played miniature golf with my brothers and sisters (on a carpeted course that was like the lobby of a shit-house hotel) is sandblasted. And the last place I ever had dinner with my mother — The Berkely Fish market — well, who knows. Maybe that was spared.
Writing of the Jersey Shore, I once described Cape May as a national treasure. And I recall describing Seaside Heights as the Jersey shore’s painted whore. Cape May is where you go with a new lover when every detail in life is just perfect. Seaside Heights is where you go when your heart rides a motorcycle. Any motorcycle. It’s where you went to smell French fry oil with scented sun tan oil, with a hint of salt in the air. It’s where you didn’t have to apologize for thinking about that tanned tartuffle in the thong. (But you did have to behave... The cops would mercilessly break your balls.) Bruce Springstein never sang a damn thing about Cape May. (Actually, he sang about Asbury Park, which used to aspire to be Seaside Heights.)
I can’t believe that this is the end of Seaside Heights. I can’t believe that a newer, stronger, phoenix won’t rise from the mangled beams, stripped boards, and fractured neon. And I can’t believe it won’t be there on Memorial Day, 2013. My legs are like the boardwalk at Seaside. But they’ll be tougher and stronger next year. I plan on riding a 2004 K1200 next summer. And I am going to lead a ride to the bar at the old Aztec. I plan to spend the weekend there.
Who’s with me?
This is the end of Day 5 without power at the Jersey Shore. I have no lights... No internet... And intermittent phone. I have not had snack cake since May. I would now kill for chocolate cupcakes. Send me some.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2012