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
Friday, November 2, 2012
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Glad to hear you're safe guy.
I am so sorry that your childhood has been erased, but memories will live on forever . . .
It will never be the same, nor can you ever bring it back. I am glad that you are among the fortunate, many have lost everything.
If I could send you a box of chocolate cupcakes I would, I don't know how to get them to you. If I bump into you on the road this coming summer, I will treat you to as many as you want
take care of yourself and I hope you get power soon
Riding the Wet Coast
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Yea, what he said.
Tomorrow's prayer times are dedicated solely to you.
Looking forward to seeing you ride in here on that 1200!!!
Glad to hear that you are well and getting by without power. Is the water still running and temperatures reasonable?
Your story was a wonderful tribute to the boardwalk and your memories will always be with you and will now live on the Internet. So what are your thoughts of rebuilding everything the same given predictions of rising sea levels? Just curious...
I'm reminded by my favourite poet not to be afraid of Laistrygonians, Cyclops,and
Sounds like you stood up well and now you have Christmas to look forward to....
Best wishes from over here, N
It is almost impossible to reply to you all... I am typing on a handheld again. Real estate in New Jersey is about $2 nil. per square inch . Many of those homes were priced in the $900.000 range. Three or four whole towns will have to be resurveyed. One now has a new inlet.
There has been an initial thoighh that thr state will use the right of emienent domain to extend the ravaged arez into Island Beach State Park. I doubt this will happen. Buy one has to wonder if the remaining residents will have thr great sense to enact new zoning codes that will make a rebuild three times more aesthetically appealing.. and valuable.
I did suffer a setback in this storm that I am not yet willing to discuss... But one that has me crazy. The fact that I have no power and limited communications has me ready to scream.
Jack... glad you are safe and dry! One thing that cannot be destroyed by nature or anything else are your memories. So, revel in them and look forward to making more. Stay well!
Never got to see any of this part of America, but your descriptions are wonderful...I can see, taste & feel your past through your words. So glad you have weathered the storm and prayers are for your continued safety & comfort. One of these days I hope to ride with you again -- on my very American Softail Deluxe.
Glad to hear you are OK Jack
It is interesting to note that no-one has signed up for your proposed run to Cape May - do they know something about your riding I don't???
Stay safe, and get back on 2W before too long!
Jack, glad to hear you have weathered the storm.
On the bright side, you don't need public utilities to masturbate so that should keep you occupied for a couple minutes.
I am halfway thru your book and it is bring me much enjoyment. I'm sure the second half will not disappoint.
Only you can elicit maniacal laughter and sobering tears in one sentence. I'll be waiting for updates on you situation once you're working at full capacity. Meanwhile, I'll start working on that cupcake. She would have to have an up-to-date Canadian passport and all her shots, but I'll see what I can do.
Jack - I'd seen some of those photos and couldn't believe the damage! Glad to hear you're okay though. Hope you get your power back and life returns to somewhat normall soon.
Hang in there.
"selling fudge so thick and sweet that your ass would inflate like a life raft" sounds like Dylan Thomas to me.
Jack, it's sad that this disaster has destroyed the basis of so many wonderful memories, but it's wonderful that you many of us who have experienced the tawdry and elegant aspects of the Jersey Shore can still revisit them in our memories.
Hope you get power and juice before the election.
Glad you weathered the storm. Great first-hand account. But watch out for the Zombies that will surely be following. What a disaster. The photos and videos look really bad but am sure they don't even come close to capturing the extent of damage.
Take good care!
setback? everything ok?
I sit here watching the news and looking at pictures of the havoc that had been done. I keep wondering if those beautiful house along the shoreline are even there, and sighing that my favorite honey brown shingled house is probably gone. So depressing.
We look at Seaside and see all of the streets we drove down! Recovery will be hard, but doable for the people of New Jersey. You are strong and determined. I still believe if America is attacked it will be the people of New Jersey, New Hampshire and Idaho that will save it. :)
Oilburner and I wish that we had sat in your bar for a drink when we had the chance. You would have had to be in attendance, of course.
How did the restaurant fare?
Count us in. We would be honored to ride there with you. I've been trying to call, knowing you are OK. Just wanting to check in. ;). Hang in there.
(Deleted last comment due to horrible, horrible spelling mistake.)
Reading your account makes it seem closer to home. It sucks to have things from your past ripped away and all those poor souls who have lost their homes. I remember when tornados wreaked havoc around my parents home a few years ago, I went down afterwards and though theor neighborhood few blocks were still there most everything else looked like it had been run through a chipper shredder and spat out. I got lost because of the massive landscape change trying to drive the area.
I'd be very afraid to have only a dim lamp to get around the house, my wife could be anywhere with a butcher knife waiting for me.
Deer?! Are you effing kidding me?!!
Stay safe, stay tough, and -you've made it this far - stay away from Lil' Debbies!
Your blow by blow (sorry..) description of the storm scared me just by reading it!
One question, how did your motorcycle fare?
Stay tough Jack.
Jack, you've painted a colourful description of life with Sandy (hell hath no furry...perhaps she was a brunette.) I can't help thinking about the last thoughts going through the minds of the poor 'deers' ... perhaps, "what the hell was I thinking, worrying about my weight this summer?" or maybe, "who the firetruck put a freaking house right here!"
I know what it's like living without power having survived the Ontario/Quebec ice storm of '97 - 10 days with no hydro. The good thing was - it was mid winter. We could put the food outside and what the animals didn't take overnight was still good next day.
Glad to see you survived and still have a sense of humor even if you have to run on battery power.
Jack, please do give at least four weeks notice of where/when the ride to the bar at the old Aztec will take place. I would like to attend. Take care, BeMoreDoLess
I was at the shore this summer, and the post storm pictures must be from some other place. We had overpriced ice cream and walked past dozens of shops selling cheap beach towels and shot glasses. Something will be back there, but it will not be the same. However, this is what our parents said about the places that they fondly remember when they were renovated or upgraded or torn down. That new reality was our childhood, and what rises from the rubble will become somebody's childhood memories. Ours are safely locked away in photos and feeble minds and great storytellers like you.
I am glad that you are not demised.
Hey Jack, do you need anything to get you by?
You paint such a lovely picture and as an irishman feel slightly jealous. I watched a film today called 'This is England'. It depicts the uk in the early 80s...what a shit hole. A simpler time but grim! In Belfast in the early 80s it was something else. Great childhood thanks to my parents but grey memories. Paddy
Good memory and a wonderful tribute to the boardwalk and your memories will always be with you and will now live on the Internet.
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