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Thursday, November 1, 2012

The New Jersey Shore

This is a classic case of "you don't know what you've got til it's gone." Taking something for granted, then having it taken away and realizing what a huge part of your life that something has been. When I woke up on Monday morning and heard the woman on the Weather Channel utter the phrase "zeroing in on New Jersey," my heart dropped. I was thinking about what I would do with my two small boys if the power went out for a prolonged period of time. I was thinking about how to explain a cancelled Halloween to my four-year-old. I was thinking about my trip to Las Vegas for the Vegas Valley Book Festival this weekend and whether or not I would be able to get out on Thursday (update: I was not). While I was so focused on me-me-me and mine-mine-mine, I gave a passing thought to the shore and how scared the people that lived there must have been at that moment.

I had no idea.

As the "future-casts" got more and more dire on Monday, I sat at my computer and searched for LBI on twitter. LBI, as some of you may know, is short for Long Beach Island, my go-to summer destination. (The setting of my novel He's So Not Worth It.) When I was in middle school, my best friend Meri had a house down there and I'd go down with her and her family a few weekends each summer and sometimes for a whole week. I was obsessed with LBI. All the houses on stilts, the weathered wooden shingles, the boys riding their bikes to the beach with a surfboard tucked under one arm, a leash clasped in the other hand, leading their dog along for a run. I loved the huge Bay Village pizza slices, watching the sun set over the bay, hanging out at the Fantasy Island amusement park or in the Bay Village shops, giggling whenever a pack of cute boys came by. I made a vow to myself somewhere around eighth grade that I would one day own my own house on LBI and bring my family there for the whole summer, every summer. Which I would have done by now, if I were a millionaire. Instead, we've settled for a one-week rental each year and my older son loves it there almost as much as I do.

So I'll just say that the pictures I saw online on Monday took the breath right out of me. The storm hadn't even hit yet, and Bay Village was already under water. (See photo below.) It looked like something out of a movie, something even my vivid imagination couldn't have conceived. Not long after I saw those first images, our power went out, and was out for two straight days. When we "woke up" from our electrical coma last night, the first thing I did was go online and look for pictures. I saw the aerial coverage of the entire shoreline. Then I cried.

I realized, as I was watching harrowing image after harrowing image, how much it all meant to me. And not just Long Beach Island, but Point Pleasant and their beautiful boardwalk, Seaside Heights and their loud game kiosks and crazy-awesome french fries, Sandy Hook and its wide, white beaches, Wildwood and its "Watch the tram car please." (Below: That's me in Wildwood as a college frosh) In my entire life, there has never been a summer when I didn't hit the shore at least for a day trip with my family. We didn't have ton of money when I was a kid, so those day trips are my vacation memories. All I wanted to do was share those same types of memories with my own kids, but now the shore will never be the same. It just won't be the same.

My heart goes out to all the people who do own places down there, especially the families who live there year round, who own those businesses that make our trips to the shore the incredible, fun-filled, homey experiences they always are. I believe what our governor has said, that we will rebuild and come back from this, and I'm going to find my own ways to help. You bet your butt if there's somewhere for us to stay this summer, we'll be there and do everything we can to help revive the places we've loved so much. I realize now that I took the shore for granted, that I assumed my home-away-from-home would always be there. I won't be making that mistake again.

I know that a lot of people outside the area are probably sick of hearing about this storm and what it's done, but I urge you to take a moment and look around you and realize what you have, realize how lucky you are to have it, and just hold that feeling close to your heart for as long as you can. You'll be glad you did.


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