I can’t really explain the smell of the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, NJ.
Decades of cotton candy, fried dough, and pizza mixed together with suntan lotion, sweat, and cigarettes all combined with the smell of pressure treated wood. You just know it when you smell it. Add in the clicking sound of the spinning wheel games, the pop of the balloons from the water gun races, the casino-like noises pouring from the arcades, the screams coming from the rides, and general hum of thousands of human beings all on a single stretch of wood decking – that, is the boardwalk atmosphere I know and love.
An atmosphere that is mostly at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean right now, or 200 feet inland and covered with sand and debris.
That was my childhood and teenage years.
Fairfield, CT is home to Fairfield University. A great college with a gorgeous campus that offers a unique experience to its juniors and seniors – off campus housing on the beach. Lantern Point was home to a cluster of houses and was essentially the hub of activity on weekends (and Thursdays) in college. Situated right on the beach and highlighted by a large, common wooden deck between a handful of the beachfront houses, the residents there, willingly, knew no peace on weekends. Bored of The Point? Take a left or a right and go find some more friends who lived in the houses that stretched for miles on both sides. Not up for a house party? Cross the street and hit up “The Grape” for a drink at the bar.
Now, the retaining wall that separated the beach from that common deck is no longer. The Point and most of the houses on both sides are either ruined or damaged significantly, and if the pictures tell me anything, our favorite bar probably took on about 2 feet of water.
That was college.
Stone Harbor and Avalon, NJ make up what is called the 7 Mile Island. South of Atlantic City but north of Cape May, these two boroughs boast some of the most peaceful beach settings that New Jersey has to offer. Take the fictional Mayberry and put it right on the beach in southern New Jersey and you get an idea of what it is like down there. A dad calmly walking with a newspaper under his arm and coffee in his hand in the early morning, throngs of families enjoying the flat beach during the heat of the day as biplanes buzz overhead trailing signs of local establishments, hundreds of people out for a run or a family bike ride in the late afternoon along the main road, laughing cousins waiting outside of their favorite Italian restaurant in the early evening, and nearly everyone in line at the ice cream shops later that night.
All now under water and all in need of massive repair.
That was the past 4 years.
Hurricane Sandy made an all-out assault on many aspects of my life these past few days. She spared my current home in MA and she spared the NJ home I grew up in. Aside from some power loss and downed trees, she spared all of my family and friends who live up and down the East Coast.
My memories she did not.
As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said, we will rebuild, but it won’t be the same. When I bring my kids to the newly rebuilt rides of Seaside Heights, the new Log Flume won’t be the same as the old one. When I go to my next college reunion in 2013, the event will surely be dominated by walking tours of the damage and reminiscing about how things used to be, and even where they used to be. When I join my parents, brother and sister for vacation down in Stone Harbor next year (hopefully), the signs of rebuilding will surely still be present.
Yes, I still have the memories. Yes, I still have my family and loved ones. Yes, our two beautiful boys will without a doubt help me build new and better memories in new locations as well as these rebuilt, old ones. But for today and for this post, I’m going to shed one last tear for that which was lost.
I’m going to shed a tear for not being able to revisit much of my past in the flesh, but now only in thought.