In Italy, I watch Hulu over a NYC VPN, which gives me local commercials and subsequently helps me feel connected while getting my American TV fix. In the months before I left Genoa, I kept seeing one commercial over and over. An ad for the Jersey Shore: Stronger than the Storm. The commercial aims to let people know that although Superstorm Sandy devastated the area, much money and time has been invested to clean up beaches, rebuild boardwalks, and reopen businesses to lure tourists again to one of our favorite vacation meccas.
It’s kind of cheesy but super catchy, and the commercial fills me with pride for home. And now that I am home, I am happy when the commercial comes on. I’ve even wondered if there is a full-length version of the song. I am kind of embarrassed to admit it because I know it may annoy many, but for me I love the message. I was born in Yonkers, NY and didn’t move to NJ until I was 9, but I lived there long enough to get that Jersey pride, long enough to know that the show Jersey Shore might be representative of a small group of folks who get a house in Seaside (or Slea Side) but that is not what it really is. It’s families and friends. Something so simple and pure.
I think of Bruce Springsteen. I think of my childhood. I think of all the memories I had and all the memories I will have. And I cannot forget the absolute heartbreak I felt last October when Sandy hit, as I posted here and as was reposted on the blog Jersey Shore Stories.
“Do they really have to advertise they are open?” critics ask. “Are they really afraid they are going to be impaled on a carnival ride or something?” Well, that might be part of it, but the other part is to let people know that while yes, there is much work to be done, the beaches and boardwalks are there for us to enjoy once again. Coming to the shore again is step 1 in the healing process. Other critics say, “Why would they focus on the boardwalks when people are homeless?” The truth is that they must invest in tourism to bring more money and life back to the shore points. If people stop visiting, the economic damage will be even worse and the recovery even slower. I am horrified and upset at how long it is taking to rebuild after Sandy, and I speak from a personal standpoint because my brother’s two businesses suffered severe flood damage and he was denied FEMA loans for both. But I am happy that Jersey is moving forward.
This past Sunday, I went to the Jersey Shore for the first time since Sandy. I drove down with my friend Brendan who you may recall from my Spring Break posts in Italy and Switzerland. We headed for Point Pleasant, excited for a beautiful beachy day reliving fun memories from past summers down the shore. While talking in the car, we overshot Point Pleasant Beach, though, and ended up in Mantoloking where I gasped. There was clear devastation. Houses in ruins, the beach in various stages of cleanup, piles of debris everywhere. I was saddened and apologized for taking us to something we didn’t want to see, but Brendan said, “This is history. It’s important to see it. And also, this is a boom for the economy. Look at all the construction business.” That is true, but I hope people are ok.
Then eventually to Point Pleasant, with the boardwalk vibrant, filled with happy vacationers. There were many houses in various states of repair, but they had clearly worked hard to open shops. It felt right.
We darted straight into the waves, tumbling and laughing in the water. And when a wave would throw us into a pebbly mess, Brendan would say, “Perhaps we are not stronger than the storm. But you know what is? The shore.”
I took a relaxing nap on the beach and awoke, sifting seashells and pebbles through my fingers, wondering where these grains of sand were in October. Children laughed, families bickered, music blasted from the Jenkinson’s rebuilt Tiki bar. I was just so glad to be there. And afterwards, we had some homemade ice cream from Hoffman’s, which was the perfect end to a gorgeous and relaxing day. And we didn’t hit any traffic on the way home! The first of many Jersey Shore days this summer. Grateful.