A change in the weather

November 21, 2006

It must have been about 15 years ago. It was mid-November and I had a sudden jones to see the ocean. That happens to me from time to time: I get hungry to hear the waves and feel the wind coming off the water. Swimming isn’t even a consideration — I just want to be close to the ocean.

As soon as I left work, I hit the Parkway and sped south. I arrived in Seaside Heights after dark. I don’t particularly like Seaside Heights, but I wanted a bit of boardwalk.

There was a light, cold wind coming across the beach as I strolled the boardwalk. Nothing was open except an arcade where a couple of teenagers played a video game that involved lots of shooting.

I stepped to the end of the boardwalk and descended to the beach. The ocean was an immense wall of blackness, waiting just beyond the lights. The buildings facing the beach looked scruffy and deserted. Not a soul to be seen anywhere. That’s when I thought, This place is a slum. It’s a slum by the sea.

It was hard to shake the creepy feeling even after I returned to the lights and noise of the arcade — if anything, the feeling intensified. I finally got back into my car and headed home.

Much of the Shore is beautiful year-round, and places like Sandy Hook take on their own eccentric glamor when the weather turns cold. One of my fondest memories is of sitting on the upper deck of the Sea Gull’s Roost with a few other cold-weather beach buffs, enjoying the sight of the gunmetal grey ocean and the sun glowing in patches through the clouds, filling the air with that pale, pearly light you only get on an overcast winter day by the sea.

That’s when seven burly, hairy bikers clomped up the steps and commandeered some tables. They were big and they were noisy and their presence added an unwelcome note of tension to a pleasant afternoon.

Then they all turned out their pockets. Scores of seashells clinked and clattered on the tables, and the bikers started sorting their finds by shape and size. Some of them started swapping shells. Everybody relaxed. The day was fun again.

Some places on the Shore are beautiful year-round. Some are not.

Some, in fact, turn downright menacing when the summer crowds disperse and the weather gets cold. Egg Harbor Township is one of them. There are little patches of Wild West action to be found along Black Horse Pike, and now it appears a murderer has been at work among the welfare clients, prostitutes and drug addicts living in and around the hot-sheets hotels.

It’s an ugly story that will probably get uglier in the coming days and weeks. Everything changes when the weather turns cold along the Shore. Sometimes it brings out a different kind of beauty. But it can also make bad places turn even worse.

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2 Responses to “A change in the weather”

  1. Rix Says:

    Boardwalks off season never seemed like slums to me (Asbury Park excepted), but more like empty carnivals – Twilight Zoney. Your description of a gun metal ocean says it. It’s always nice to sit in one’s car at Sandy Hook facing the bay on a day too windy cold to be on the beach for more than a few minutes, listening to the radio, sipping coffee.

  2. Bill Bowman Says:

    I used to hate the winter here when I was growing up. (This was in the Long Branch-Monmouth Beach-Asbury area). Everything was all boarded up and looked really gloomy, especially when it rained. The boardwalk was deserted. Ick.

    Of course, I longed for that sometimes in the summer when I’d have to endure the antics of our friends from Staten Island or, later on, the West Point Prep School guys who thought they owned the place.

    Ahh, youth …


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