Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Don't Walk Away from the People of the Jersey Shore

My newest novella, "Miz Scarlet and the Vanishing Visitor" , begins with a wild chase through the streets of Bay Head, New Jersey. If you've ever been there, you know how out of character it would be. This quiet little seaside town is really quite civilized, but in the wake of the great storm of 2012, much has changed. The mystery that unfolds is really all about what happens when people try to take advantage of ill-gotten opportunities. Life can turn dangerous in the blink of an eye when unscrupulous people try to leverage situations to their own advantage. Download it for free here.
Hurricane Sandy was devastating to the people along the Atlantic seaboard, especially in places like Staten Island and the Jersey Shore. For many visitors who don't want to deal with the storm's devastating aftermath, it seems easier to find another place to go for fun. Sadly, the solution only seems to punish the people of the Jersey Shore with more economic hardship.

Having returned recently from a trip, several things stayed with me as I thought about what I had seen. It's hard to describe what it's like to stand in front of the condemned houses that only last year I photographed for their beautiful gardens. The posted notices inform passersby that the buildings are uninhabitable. Everywhere you walk, there is still rubble to be removed. Here it is, nearly a year later, and the rebuilding is barely begun. And then there are the empty lots, wide swaths of beach and bay now showing where once there was a family home and generations returned again and again.

Adding insult to injury, the storm-ravaged Seaside Heights boardwalk, newly completed, burned down just a few days before I arrived. A relative had been at the scene, popular with locals who want to stroll on the boardwalk, enjoying an ice cream cone, just before the fire took hold.  I stayed in a quaint seaside town just a few miles away, and yet the soot still hung in the air. Its black residue could be wiped away from the porch table long after the flames were extinguished. It's like the people of the shoreline just can't catch a break.

In this day of instant communications and quick solutions, we've been trained to expect things to be fixed ASAP, but that's hard to do in a place where damage is so significant. In the small town in which I stayed, 90% of the summer rental homes were off the market. That loss of income isn't just affecting the homeowners. It's affecting the shopkeepers, the farmers, the fishermen, and the people who still need to earn a living, even after the hurricane winds are just a memory.

Wandering through the streets on my walkabout, I saw so much work still to be done, but I also saw signs of hope. People are still friendly. They greet you with "hello" as you pass by. They make eye contact. They understand the draw of the Jersey Shore. What's hard to comprehend are the losses. Streets are still barely usable in some cases. Bridges still under construction. The dredging of the bay is necessary because all of the wild winds whipped up sand and sea, flooded the overburdened waterway, and changed the bottom of the bay when all that was deposited where it did not belong. The stench of the muck on a late summer day was overpowering to the nose, a constant reminder that things are very different.

Yes, Hurricane Sandy changed life for the people of the Jersey Shore. It makes it that much harder for its citizens to go on in nature's war zone. With every dollar that is spent elsewhere, the people take yet another economic hit. After months of deprivation and determination, the Jersey Shore is slowly recovering. It won't happen overnight. It won't even happen in a year. There's just too much work to be done.

What the Jersey Shore really needs are consuls to stand by her and support her. The state motto is "Liberty and Prosperity". If you've ever loved her pristine beaches, her healing waters, her glorious sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean and sunrises over her bays, be a consul. Spread the word that the Jersey Shore still lives. This Grand Old Dame deserves our respect and support. Her comeback won't be easy. Temptation lurks as we feel the tug of other beaches luring us away with golden promises. If you've ever been touched by this magical place, stand firm. Speak out. Speak up. Support her in her time of need. Real people live here, work here, and want to stay here. Don't turn your back on them. Look to the future. Look to what will be, even as you mourn what was.

And when you see the trucks loaded with port-a-potties drive down the streets, don't think, "Ugh! Disgusting!" See those harbingers of better days for what they are -- signs that the rebuilding continues. More homes are being repaired. People can return again when that last nail is pounded in. The Jersey Shore may have been hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, but it's never over till the fat lady sings, and she ain't even close on "da Joizy shaw". Amen to that.

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