stronger than the storm

A few months ago I was contacted by the Stronger than the Storm campaign and asked to contribute an essay to their website. For those of you not familiar with STTS let me give you a quick primer; Stronger than the Storm is a tourism campaign designed to support the continued recovery of the Jersey Shore business and communities most affected by Supertorm Sandy. It was conceived essentially to let the world know that the Jersey Shore is not only back and open for business, but that it’s even better than before and ready to make some irreplaceable summertime memories for you and your family.

I’m not one to ever shy away from a cause I believe in, and since it would be impossible for my family to declare a summer complete without at least one trip to the shore, I was happy to contribute. Here’s my essay…

The Jersey Shore: Making Miracles Happen

My kids start asking when were going to the beach sometime around April. It doesn’t matter to them that it’s in the mid 60’s and barely warm enough to leave the winter coats at home, they’re all about the sand and the sea. We live in Northern New Jersey, about an hours ride from the ocean and not exactly close enough to just pop on by. Last spring, on a glorious blue sky day and amid much begging and pleading, we agreed to take them for the day to the beach; a bite of lunch, a bit of kite flying, some seashell collecting and we’d be on our way back home. Or not. They weren’t wearing bathing suits (it was only May after all) and we hadn’t thought to bring a complete change of clothes because again, it was May in NJ and barely 65°F. Yet that didn’t stop them from “accidentally” getting soaking wet. You see for my kids going to the beach embodies the perfect day; loads of things to discover, tons of other kids to play with, the crisp smell of the ocean, the salty taste of the air and the way their parents appear to relax as they slump in their chairs and talk about trips to the Caribbean “before you were born.” But that was last year, before Sandy.

Sandy. Seems like a rather innocuous name doesn’t it? I’ve known several in my time; a Sandra, a Sandy and even a Sandeee (she was a lovely kooky character). The name Sandy never caused me a moment of pause, fear or worry— that was until last October. Call her a hurricane or call her a Superstorm, Sandy devastated my Garden State and left many of us in the cold and dark with empty grocery stores and even emptier gas tanks.

Flash forward ten months, the fallen trees have been removed, the damaged homes are being repaired and the broken hearts are slowly mending. But how would a post-Sandy summer at the shore measure up? If you believe what you hear on the news the Jersey Shore is back, is open and is ready to help you make more summertime memories. But is really? Is it really “stronger than the storm”? Will our favorite beach at Sandy Hook be the same? Will Moby’s Lobster Deck, the cute little seafood shack in the Atlantic Highlands, still be there? And what about Ralph’s on 36 where we always stop for Italian ice before heading home, is it up and running again? These were the thoughts I had running through my head as we planned our first post-Sandy trip to the shore.

The morning started out much like any other beach day; packing the car to the brim with chairs, beach bags, coolers, sun screen and sand toys. Stopping on the way out-of-town for coffee and bagels and getting stuck in traffic at the Highlands Bridge. But eventually we made it to the gates of Sandy Hook and were greeted by a remarkably unscathed beach. Yes, the roads were all freshly paved and yes we spotted a few more “just incase the sewers fail” port potties around, but the only real hard core evidence we saw of Sandy barreling through was a few remaining toppled light poles and an incomplete bike path at the foot of the bridge. Clearly an awful lot of people had been working overtime to bring Sandy Hook back to life.

Our beach day went off as perfectly as any beach day had before it. The kids dug for sand crabs and splashed in the waves with new found friends. We wandered up and down the beach searching for interesting shells, drank refreshingly tart homemade lemonade and ate cold fruit salad under the shade of our umbrella. This was, according to my children, “The best day ever!” Once we had worn ourselves out and done everything we had hoped to do, we trudged back up the sand to shower and change. Next stop dinner…

If you’re at all familiar with the Highlands then you know Bahrs Landing; Moby’s is the little hole in the wall restaurant across the parking lot from it and always our first stop after a day at Sandy Hook. (In fact we joke that you can chronicle our children’s lives by the annual pictures of them on Moby’s deck.) We don’t go there because of the fine food or the cheap prices; no we go there because sitting on Moby’s deck, overlooking a little marina with Sandy Hook in the distance is the perfect post beach spot to grab a light dinner and something cold to drink. The folks at Moby’s don’t care if you haven’t yet changed out of your bathing suit or brushed the sand off your feet. It doesn’t bother them if you happen to smell less than fresh or look less than put together. And if your kids are punch-drunk from a day of sand and sea and are perhaps behaving a bit less than their best, well so be it. For all those reasons Moby’s has earned a special place in our hearts and why as we approached their driveway we all heaved a huge sigh of relief to discover that our favorite little dinner spot was in fact looking as perfect as we remembered it. And just as we had hoped; the burgers and fries, steamers and beer, sea breezes and seagull calls while perched high above the river were indeed the perfect way to end our beach day. Ahhh… but wait (the kids were quick to remind us) we still had one more stop to make before heading back north! No day at the beach is ever complete without something cold for dessert.

If we’re visiting friends in Seaside Heights then Khors on the boardwalk is always our last stop and if we’ve just spent the day at Sandy Hook, then its Italian ices at Ralph’s. We were once again relieved and pleased to find our favorite little shop open, serving deliciously cold and refreshing ices and proudly advertising that they were in fact “Jersey Strong”.

As we drove back home, the kids zoning out in the backseat and barely able to keep their eyes open, I thought back on our day and how all my concerns had been allayed. It struck me that perhaps the phrase “stronger than the storm” is not just a metaphor, perhaps the Jersey Shore really is making miracles happen and coming back better and stronger than before. I know there’s still plenty of work yet to be done and some towns have risen up and rebuilt faster than others, but from this girls perspective the shore is in fact open and ready once again to make you smile. Yes, indeed…

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If you’re interested in visiting the Jersey Shore this summer and want more information on some of the fun things going on there, check out http://www.strongerthanthestorm.com.

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