Keep Calm and Stay Jersey Strong

By Ben

 

Six months ago Hurricane Sandy turned the New Jersey coastline into a battleground. The forces of nature razed the shore towns of Central New Jersey.

Last week, I stepped foot onto those shores for the first time in nearly 10 years.

 

I grew up in New Jersey. I lived my first 20 years biking through the Pine Barrens or walking the shore line. I had a lot of firsts while I was there: My first experience with D&D – a club in middle school, my Halfling tinkerer was somehow the only character to survive the campaign, even took out a red dragon – my first game ever perfected, my first time debating whether or not the debris from the Death Star would have just wrecked the ecological systems of Endor. I cut my teeth on nerdism in NJ. Beyond that, I loved my time there. I loved walking Jenkinson’s boardwalk in Pt. Pleasant at 3am, the young lovers huddled under a blanket on the beach, the late night clubbers wondering the boards trying to figure out if they were coming or going. I loved the way the pines smelled in late summer and the sound of the cicadas in the trees. I loved watching View Askewniverse films, classics made by our local nerd idol, Kevin Smith. This was my life for so many years. When I came back for a visit, those memories collided with the visuals of a world torn to shreds by a force no mortal – hell, maybe not even Supes – could have stopped.

As my wife and I drove up Route 35 through the shore towns of Seaside, Ortley, Mantoloking, one thing was sure to me; they never stood a chance. The storm had brought beach sand a mile inland. Buildings had been gutted by the surf. Boats lain strewn on highway shoulders and business parking lots. All this and it was already six months later. Along the way I was inconsolable. My poor wife, who had never even stepped foot on the Jersey shore could feel the sadness that still permeated the air, but was at a loss as to how it felt to have lived there. All at once I was a flood of emotion; anger, depression, guilt….guilt. I think it was the guilt that I felt that affected me the most. I felt guilty for not being there, as if my presence would have somehow negated the effects of the storm. As if I could have used some magic ability to buffer the shore, keep it safe from the waves and rain that so angrily sought its doom. I was one man, how could I have stopped it? And why had I not been there to feel the devastation? I lived a thousand miles away now. I hadn’t lost a thing. My home was safe, my life unaltered and undamaged. And this made me feel guilty.

As this guilt and sadness swept me under, I caught glimpse of a simple sign that made me remember all over again what makes my people strong. A small Mexican restaurant along the side of the highway had a hand made sign out front. Spray paint on fiber board: Kitchen back. Tacos $2.50. As the sand and debris was still being cleaned from the roads and as people still cleared out water logged homes and sifted through saturated and ruined family photos, life pushed forward. Businesses were reopening, the boardwalk, missing boards and all, was being tread on. The many people who had dealt with the shock and fright of losing it all to a storm the likes they had never seen had picked up the pieces and refused to let go. There is a reason this state is permanently inked onto my arm.

Now my trip to New Jersey is done. I look back at what I saw, what I felt being there and seeing my hometown after the storm and smile. I smile because as clichéd as it sounds I saw something in the faces of the locals and the storefronts on the shore. I saw hope. Hope and determination to rebuild and survive. It was sobering and somber to see the damage and to drive over streets that mere months ago were waist deep underwater. But it was uplifting to see people persevere and make damn sure that their towns and lives would be back to normal. New Jersey gets a lot of flak from the rest of the country. We are the “armpit of America.” But every New Jersey born individual learns real quick how to be tough. We deal with being little brother to New York and just like a real older brother NY beats our ass. We have to be tough. We have to be strong. And we take it in stride. Never let it be said that a Jersey boy will roll over and take it, regardless of what “it” is. Just like the sands on the shores we all came to know and love, we may get pushed around and scattered far and wide, but we never disappear. We are always just one step away from the surf. Whether right in the neighborhood or half-way across the country we are all Jersey Strong.

 

 

Yep, that about sums it up.

Yep, that about sums it up.

 

Snoogins.

 

 

*For more information and to donate please visit www.restoretheshore.com

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