austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Midland and South Beach can wait a while

Before getting into the Friday with bunny_hugger I'd like to mention that thanks to the Splendid Bowl I've finally seen a trailer for the upcoming Star Trek movie, which looks like it will include things blowing up and someone who looks a good deal like Spock. I also saw a commercial for the upcoming Land of the Lost movie and so would like to order public slapping of Will Ferrell, along with the publish shaming of everyone involved in this film, until at least a month after the movie comes out. Longer if I see more commercials.

For Friday of bunny_hugger's visit I thought we might go to the county seat and see the local Christmas tree, which was a charmingly decorated one, and in going there we stopped at a Friendly's for our breakfast or lunch or what have you. I haven't eaten at Friendly's regularly since leaving Troy, New York, since there just aren't any that are conveniently located except the one in the Freehold Raceway Mall, and if I'm around there and feel like eating there's a Chinese buffet place that's pretty good where I might eat instead. It costs a bit more but it has all sorts of things I can't resist.

The Friendly's menu has changed a lot in the seven years or so since I was at one last, and so some of the things I had thought of --- such as a little cup of Reese's pieces in chocolate ice cream which I would treat myself to back when I worked at a bookstore next to a Friendly's --- are long gone. More, it turns out Friendly's has fewer vegetarian options than a diner proper would have, but we found things with salads attached which were just fine. The meal we finished off with some sundaes, which are what Friendly's really specializes in, and against all precedent we spent our time lingering and I believe we actually covered the gap between the lunch rush and the dinner rush. I'm not sure that our original waitress didn't go home while we were wrapped up in each other. I hope the tip got distributed fairly.

The county's Christmas tree was adjacent to the county library's main branch, and while the library was closed by the time we got there the modern sculpture in front of the library --- which I had taken to just be foggy lucite parallelepipeds surrounded in metal strips --- were turned on and shimmering wondrous light in many colors from inside. I'd never been there at night and didn't know they did that. And we took in the Christmas tree, which served to whet our appetites for a planned trip to Manhattan to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

When we were comfortably finished watching and getting colder we set off driving for not really much of any particular objective. Actually, I know how we started out: we were roughly driving back and I saw a spotlight, the kind that you see in cartoons about Hollywood movie debuts that scan the skies. I suggested we go trying to find it, and bunny_hugger thought that was a great idea, and we set off on the highway going roughly in that direction. Well, the highway gave way to other roads, and to county roads, and twisting back around other roads. Before too long we were driving past the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, where the Hindenberg crashed. If it had been daylight we might have had a chance of seeing the location --- apparently the footprint of the crash site is marked --- or finding the visitor's center, but it was quite past sunset and we just drove past none too fast instead.

Well, with some more driving around we got to various road numbers that I was very confident I recognized, and we even went past a few lonely outposts of civilization like a liquor store that I knew I saw when I went some places although I could perhaps not be perfectly precise about just where. But we did end up on a highway which I knew would take us toward the shore, so that we could see the Atlantic Ocean again, this time in its winter guise. And we came to accept that we weren't going to find the source of the spotlight this time around.

Somehow despite the goal being very easy --- ``drive East and you can't miss the Atlantic Ocean'' was my thinking, and you would think it'd be that simple, wouldn't you? --- I managed to miss the ocean. Not entirely, really, and I knew we were somewhere near it. It's just the roads I kept picking insisted on turning into southbound roads, and we couldn't make it that last little bit to anyplace with shore, or boardwalk, or much of anything. We just kept heading south back to very close to where we'd eaten for lunch, in fact, and before we knew it we were pulling into Seaside Heights.

Back in July we spent a wonderful, incredible, perfect day at Seaside Heights, taking one pier in fully by afternoon and night and walking the boardwalk and the beach and stepping into the ocean and remarkably not losing bunny_hugger's shoes. But a seaside amusement park after night in early winter ... what would it be like? And would there be anything to see? We had to see.

The boardwalk was nearly empty, and we passed only a few people such as a woman walking an enthusiastic dog. The pier on which we did so much was chained off, with some of the rides taken apart, nestled up for maintenance or just to minimize exposure. We were able to locate things like where we first stepped onto the boardwalk, and where we got a first picture together, and we walked along looking for things like the salt water taffy shop (either closed or we couldn't quite find it) or the antique carousel (closed) or even the replica modern carousel (closed). Between the cold, and the wind, and the bits of sea spray and particularly the sparse lights you could get comfortably spooked, particularly in the parts that were a maze of shops even when fully lit.

There were two places open and brilliant, though. Both were arcades with open-year-round declarations on their signs, even though they also both had glass doors that end about an inch above the floor so that at best they'd be heating the great outdoors. This is the sort of thing we think of, strangely enough. But they were present, and warm, and very welcome pit stops.

There weren't many people inside, possibly reflecting that early January after sunset is not a bustling time for a Shore town. But it gave us the chance to really look at things like the plaques commemorating people who'd earned a million prize tokens over the course of their careers, or had gotten to smaller numbers maybe over the course of a single season. (They were getting a bit overloaded with people in the 100,000-point club, and some of the plaques had variable typefaces and sizes, suggesting that they were either trying to find places to squeeze people in or else when they sent plaques in for new names to be carved in they forgot what they used last time around, or sent them to different engravers.) There was time, too, to look at such baffling figures as the ceramic Mickey Mouse and company playing Peter Pan et al, or to admire how the claw-hand games were attempting to give away iPhones and Wiis. There was also time for bunny_hugger to play a round of Ms Pac-Man on a machine that gave one five lives for the fifty cents.

It might seem like going to Seaside Heights under such adverse conditions was a weird parody of our first visit there: started by accident, at night, in awful temperatures, with so little to really do. But somehow it felt like a perfect counterpoint, a tranquil and unhurried and private time in a location so precious to us both. Neither of us doubted in July that we would return to the spot. The circumstances we would not have predicted, and they gave to the experience a new and as precious magic.

Trivia: The Philadelphia Railroad according to its annual report lost money in 1946 for the first time in history since its founding in 1846. Source: The Story Of American Railroads, Stewart H Holbrook.

Currently Reading: Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, Charles Seife.


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