I don’t grieve often, I don’t weep over the little things, but my heart aches tonight. With all the news surrounding Hurricane Sandy, this open letter is geared towards a specific group of human beings. This letter goes out to the kids who surfed under Casino Pier twelve months out of the year. This letter goes out to the kids who frequented the beaches in the winter just as much as they did in the summer, not for the tan, but for the feeling it gave them. This letter goes to the kids who turned a beach block into their own personal world as soon as the sun set. This letter goes to the kids who met lifelong friends at a renovated old garage arcade. This letter goes out to the kids who sat in their beach chairs the minute the forecast broke 60 degrees. This letter goes out to the kids who were pushed out of the good parking spots the minute Memorial Day Weekend hits. This letter goes out to the kids who have “beach feet.” This letter goes to the kids who get their food, money, and gas at WaWa. This letter goes out to the kids who still go to “Steaks” at 4am on a Saturday in April. This letter goes out to the kids who experienced “Teen Night” at Joey Harrison’s Surf Club. This letter goes out to the kids who drive on the streets while the traffic lights still blink yellow and the “One Way” signs aren’t yet in their place. This letter goes out to the kids who played beer pong on their parent’s white carpet. This letter goes out to the kids who know not to feed the damn seagulls. This letter goes to the kids who drive to the ocean when they are having a bad day. This letter goes out to the blue eyed arcade attendants, badge checkers, and ice cream scoopers. This letter goes out to the kids who never cared about the sand in their sheets.
This letter goes out to exit 82. This letter goes out to the locals.
I am not the first or the last person to comment on how, in mere hours, many of us lost our childhood to rain and winds and, ironically, the one thing we loved the most: the ocean. The traditional definition of a “skyline” is usually synonymous to a busy urban city like New York or Philadelphia, but we locals had a skyline too. And this past weekend, that skyline was forever changed.
The ocean and bay have swallowed up everything, demolishing the boards where we have carved our initials. The boards we road our bikes on. Sitting on Ortley Beach, staring at the ocean, and looking to the right we always saw the same thing: our skyline. Our childhood. Our adolescence. We saw the silhouette of the Jet Star rollercoaster sitting almost magically over the Atlantic Ocean. We saw the Ferris wheel and its changing colors. If the ocean wasn’t too loud that day, you may hear the rise and fall of laughter. All that is gone now.
I don’t want to get too anecdotal, but I remember 7 years ago my best friend and I brought my younger brother and his friend to the boardwalk. Their reaction that night is forever seared into my heart and mind. It captured the innocence of a shore kid. This trip to the boardwalk was different from all of the other countless trips I took. I was with two young kids who never were on the boardwalk without adult supervision and at night. The freedom they felt that night…the light in their eyes…if I could have bottled it up, it would have lit up the entire city just the other day. They were only ten minutes from home, but a world away.
Now, what I find most saddening about this life altering event is just that: it’s life altering. The day will come when I have children of my own and I will not be able to walk them around Casino Pier and say, “Mommy went on this ride,” like my parents relentlessly told me and my siblings. My parents, my father especially, were able to pull out old photographs and match them up to their present day setting. My father put me on the same carousel horse he sat on when he was a kid. Any human being can find comfort in that. In knowing that though everything in life changes…in certain moments…nothing in life can change too.
Our generation will not be able to connect with our children like that, and that is very unfortunate. I will not be able to drive around the shore town and point out most of the landmarks that have shaped me into the young adult I am today. I am positive our children will have a beach, and a local hangout-which may or may not be an arcade…and I am positive our children will be able to experience a boardwalk with rides and games and first kisses. I am even more positive though, that it will just not be the same in our hearts.
Like I said, our skyline has changed forever. The gazebo is gone. The gazebo, which was a town landmark and late night teenage hang out, located at the entrance of the beach and a centimeter from the dunes that had been “adopted” by some affluent family in 1992. All gone. The block we just called “3rd” is gone. A block that gave so many kids their first taste of freedom and their first taste of alcohol. The block where so many young people fell in love over and over again.
Now don’t get me wrong, we would pump our own gas before we gave up rebuilding something so many true New Jerseyans believe in. We are resilient. As a race, humans are born to survive – to face true devastation and grow. It will be rebuilt; all of it, but it won’t be the same. It will be new and shiny, just waiting for the next generation of locals to carve their initials into it and make it their own.
Here’s to the future, while remembering the past,