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Jersey Shore Ties That Bind: Sympathy for Seaside

By JON COEN | Sep 18, 2013
Photo by: Ann Coen Seaside Park’s FunTown Pier in better days.

“Julian!”

I had wondered why the kids of the family renting across the street seemed to be constantly screaming all week. But every time I heard their parents yell at them from inside the second floor to the yard instead of going to the deck, or (heaven forbid) going down the stairs to talk to them, I realized where they’d picked up this vocal trait.

“Julian, I told ya tree times! If youz go past the bumpa of that car, I’m gonna wring all yuz necks!”

Brilliant.

Normally all of the homeowners on our street are very good at vetting weekly renters. But the four or five families in the three-bedroom house with no volume control that first week of August must have slipped through a crack. The code enforcer had already placed a warning sticker on the mountain of unseparated trash they had growing at the curb. But it was only a week. You drown them out with a fan, ask them to pick up the trash, and wait for Saturday changeover.

Saturday morning came and they struggled to fit all their crap into six cars. I was cutting my lawn when I noticed the new tenants arrive, ready to start their week of LBI bliss only to find this overbearing crew was still packing out of the house for another 90 minutes. By the time the nightmare renters left, the arriving family had to deal with a pile of debris twice as big as it was on Friday.

From the accents and all the yelling, we determined that this was the first Seaside refuge family of the summer. We figured the house they normally rent in Ortley, Seaside Park or maybe the Heights itself was still under renovation from Sandy. And with Seaside missing a little bit of its luster, they decided to give the next barrier island south a try.

And hey, we were happy to have them. We worked hard last winter to ensure that people knew we were open.

And yes, we like to make cracks about Seaside, but that’s all it is. After all, we have a pretty strong connection to the Seaside area in our house.

My grandfather was among the last of the pound fishermen, literally living on the beach in South Seaside Park – relatives of the salts who had the same kind of operation on LBI. My parents met in the Heights. My dad had lifeguarded at Casino Pier. 1968 surf champ Corky Carroll sat on his stand at the Eastern States Surfing Championship. My wife’s parents met in Chadwick Beach. We love Kohr’s ice cream and Sawmill Pizza.

Growing up in Forked River, we were equal distance from Routes 37 and 72, learning to surf between Ship Bottom and Seaside Park. I remember climbing under Casino Pier and hanging over the waves in a northeast blow at some point in high school. Even after moving to the Island, we still went up there to surf the pier or eat clams on the boardwalk. My wife worked briefly at the Aztec in the Heights before becoming a full-time photographer here. As a writer, I covered dozens of surf contests in Seaside.

My grandmother used to visit Seaside from Hell’s Kitchen as a kid. She remembers the first rides. She moved down to Seaside Park when she got married and she talks about the joy later of putting her kids, her grandkids and great-grandkids onto the rides at FunTown Pier.

So when Superstorm Sandy came through and bit Seaside’s leg off, my heart broke. Of course, we had our own issues to deal with here – the evacuating, the weeks of uncertainty, the gutting, helping to rebuild and raise funds. Thousands of people in New Jersey didn’t just see that Jet Star sitting in the ocean; they saw a part of their childhoods washed away. And even though we live in our own coastal town, the feeling was universal. Not to mention, we had dozens of friends – people who live, work and love the exact kind of beach and bay lifestyle that we do just 30 miles north of here. And they are going to be dealing with the immediate effects of Sandy for far longer than most of us.

I know there are folks on LBI who think Barnegat Light is end of the Earth. And some look down on Seaside, but those little barrier island boroughs with their beach patrols and elementary schools and crabbing docks are just like ours. I’ve done some work with Jetty and Waves for Water since Sandy, and as we reached each new point in recovery, we did what we could for our brothers and sisters up in northern Ocean County who were a few stages behind: sent excess shovels, drove up dozens of cleanup kits, and the Jetty Rock Foundation made several grants to families there.

They had another rough summer. My mom’s friend in the Heights who owns a boat rental operation reported an abysmal season. Our friends in the Park had to knock their house down. Surf shop owners said some days it was a ghost town.

This summer, my parents wanted to take our little 1-year-old on some rides. I knew that the Seaside Heights Boardwalk had been rebuilt (pilings driven by our local Buterick Bulkheading), but only a few rides had been replaced. My parents decided to take him to the amusements on LBI. I opted out to get some work done.

I wanted to carry on the FunTown tradition and was willing to wait until Seaside was back to its former glory. And yeah, it’s become a caricature of itself since MTV fame, but LBI’s amusement park is a sanitized experience. Seaside has that bawdy charm – the skeeball, the overbearing game attendants, the non-ironic mustache on the guy tossing pizza dough, the pierced freaks, the smell of the grill, the who-knows-what going on under the boards, and a general diversity you’re just not going to get on LBI.

So it was with a heavy heart that I watched NJ 12 last Thursday night as the fire, aided by the same wind that was whipping across LBI, blew that conflagration out of control. And as the Ship Bottom Fire Co. readied hoses to ensure that the fire didn’t get north of Lincoln Avenue up there, I thought about the work already done to rebuild. Businesses built smarter to withstand the next storm were engulfed in flames. Not to mention the very stands, rides and relics that we had enjoyed as kids were ashes landing in Mantoloking.

I never wanted to live in Seaside. Sure, LBI can seem sterile and dull, but I can’t handle that guy yelling at Julian for more than a week. This is our home. But like so many, we have deep connections to Seaside. The boardwalk is the draw on which the economics for miles around is dependent.

I’m not overly patriotic. If Canada decided to take over our government, I’d just shrug, enjoy my new health care and worry less about guns in schools. But if anyone tried to change anything about the New Jersey shore – the red and white of Old Barney, the cedar-shaked houses, the cats that live under the boardwalk in Seaside, the amount of confectionary sugar on funnel cake or the creakiness of the Ferris wheel – I would go off to war. If we think of ourselves as a common population of our coastline, the fire in Seaside was a horrible kick to the head while we’re just getting up from the last beating. We sympathize and stand by our fellow barrier island residents.

Jon Coen lives in Ship Bottom and is The SandPaper’s surfing columnist.

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