austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

This is the place I used to know

The hard part was not waking up, although we were getting sluggish about doing that. Nor would it be going to our diner for a light breakfast-or-lunch, whatever you wanted to call it. We're always glad to go there even if it is under a new name and has a gently expanding menu. It was a happy touching, back to the day we'd got engaged one year before, and to all of our visits, all the way back to our first meal together. The challenge would be to the other touch of our previous New Year's Day. We were going to try going to Seaside Heights.

Neither of us had been there since Hurricane Sandy. When I was back in the state in early December the town was still limiting access to residents only; the day I flew back, I think, was the first allowing just ordinary curious folks to come in and look around, outside curfew hours. We'd both seen pictures of the wreckage, certainly, some particularly harrowing, but we hadn't been there in person.

We also weren't sure we wanted to. The place, Casino Pier in particular, is so important to us, and we'd not missed going there near New Year's yet, and after all it was the anniversary of our engagement. We could go to Seaside Heights at least during the day, so, we decided to see how close we could get without it being too much for us.

So we set out first driving, along a road flanked with those emergency information displays warning about what streets were still closed or restricted to residents only. From west of the Barnegat Bay things didn't look very different, although as we approached the town proper, we could see, not just the beating that buildings had received but also how the skyline of the piers had been damaged, or just knocked down.

We felt all right, so drove into the town proper, determined to see how close we could get to the boardwalk. The buildings had that curious look of the majority standing, but with large swaths freshly repaired or replaced or repainted, and that crazy-quilt tiling you get in shingles that've had emergency repairs. Also piles of broken wood sitting on the sidewalks. And television sets, many, many television sets.

We felt all right, so we parked, near the Lucky Leo's arcade. It was proudly open, and we thought that we could at least be somewhere. The small street leading to the boardwalk ended in police ribbon, and a police car, as apparently all the beachfront streets do. The ribbon marked where people were huddling together to take photographs and gaze at the sand and the wrecked piers. The police car was there to scold the people walking past the tape with the warning that the beach was closed and don't make them get out of this car. The boardwalk was gone.

It wasn't destroyed in the storm, at least not fully. It was taken up because the whole everything needs so much structural repair the only course was to remove it all and start from foundations. The result is eerie: there are all these boardwalk concessions, with concrete patios that just end, eight feet or more above the sand level, including those of boardwalk-residing buildings that are just volcanic outcroppings in the the sea of sand. We walked up to the ribbon --- we would not try going past --- and looked up and down at the remains.

Everyone's seen the pictures of the Star Jet, dropped into the ocean (actually, it's a modest bit north of its former location; it blew into the sea). No less compelling was the remains of the log flume: the topmost part of it was gone, and much of the pier under it was also blown away. The legs of the climb and the main drop were still there, though, with even their legs hanging out into the middle of the air, as if the ride just happened to drop past the edge of the universe.

Inside Lucky Leo's was warmth, physical and spiritual. We weren't the only people to make a New Year's Day pilgrimage to the location; many people did. It was crowded. It was alive. It was maybe as packed as it would be any New Year's Day, with people doing things. bunny_hugger had one mediocre and then one pretty good game of Skee-Ball. We couldn't find anything to buy with her modest redemption game ticket winnings. Maybe later.

We couldn't get to the carousel; that building's still closed, the ride itself still not properly inspected. And we didn't go too near the FunTown Pier, or to the candy shop where we've bought salt water taffy before. It'd be too heartbreaking to see if it was closed or destroyed.

But we managed what we could, and it was more than we'd expected.

Trivia: Boris Iofan's design for the Palace of the Soviets featured (by the late 1930s) an effigy of Lenin which would have been about 330 feet high, with an outstretched right arm pointing towards the Kremlin. The 20-foot-long fingertips would be lost in cloud much of the year. Source: The Edifice Complex: How The Rich And Powerful --- And Their Architects --- Shape The World, Deynan Sudjic.

Currently Reading: Great North Road, Peter E Hamilton.


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