Yesterday, a friend and I ventured to the Jenkinson’s boardwalk at Pt. Pleasant Beach. The first thing I noticed when we pulled up was a collection of houses in ill repair. The one closest to us was wrapped in yellow caution tape. Wooden pillars held up the balding roof. Shingles littered the porch and the door hung awkwardly on the hing. To complete the scene, a red dumpster sat in the driveway, filled to the brim with debris. It was hard for me to determine whether or not people had been there in a while. Footprints littered the sandy sidewalks, but with the amount of people journeying to the battered beach, it was impossible to distinguish the prints of the owners. As I stood there, I wondered what they felt when they looked at their house for the first time. It could not have been easy to see the hub of your existence destroyed by one good gust of wind.
The other houses on the block were in a little better shape, but the front yards were still dusted with sand. It was a marked improvement from the immediate days after Sandy when mounds of sand covered the streets and surrounding areas. Things got better the closer my friend and I got to the boardwalk. There was evidence of construction all around. Masons piled rocks and blocks on cement in the ditch that once held the mini golf course. A small bulldozer sat unassumingly beside a group of cars. Why someone needed a bulldozer the size of a smart car was beyond me, but the image of it parked beside the cars caused me to chuckle.
The sand around the boardwalk was all uneven. At some points, it touched the boardwalk while it huddle safely below at others. With great difficulty, my friend and I scaled the high boardwalk and looked immediately to our right. The section was gated off and filled with warning signs, but it was obvious by the planks of wood in the ground that the boardwalk was being rebuilt.
I turned my attention to the beach itself. Large hills of sand obscured my view of the water, but from what I could see, life was returning to its normal routine. Boats were on the water, seagulls scavenged litter and, most remarkably of all, people populated the beach again. Some children climbed the hills of sand, jumping and screaming on top as though they had just scaled Everest. I had the desire to join them, but I didn’t want to disrupt the natives’ migration back to the beach.
As my friend and I continued along the boardwalk, we were greeted by a fragmented world. Some buildings looked untouched while others were completely redone. There were even buildings that hadn’t been polished off yet. They were wooden skeletons, rough and uneven like a project in wood shop. The South Beach Arcade had been refurbished The new carpet was bright and the colorful, circular design blinded me for a few seconds. The windows were new and the whole placed smelt of the fresh leather seats that populated the gaming area. I knew that the moment the summer started, that smell would be replaced with the breeze of the beach and the natural odor of the people who flocked to the arcade.
The construction continued as we walked. I took note of the planks of wood that were both new and old. As I took a seat on one of the benches, I noticed that the fence behind me had buckled and the sand was spilling over onto the boardwalk.
Martell’s–a popular bar on the boardwalk–was completely destroyed. The rest of the area near the aquarium was gated off. Through the metal circles I saw a trio of people building the beginning of a large sandcastle. I assumed this was part of the charity sandcastle project designed for Hurricane Sandy relief. The houses on the other side of the gate were in ill repair: shingles were missing and the place was enveloped in an eerie silence. Still, as I stood there, I saw the beginning of a rebirth.
Going on this field visit really opened my eyes. Everything I have been reading about came to life as I walked along the boardwalk. I saw the construction of the new boardwalk, the elevation of houses, and the fabled sand on the street. Most importantly, I saw that you cannot keep people away from the beach. They are attracted to it like a magnet. It lives in their soul and they will do whatever it takes to protect it.
There isn’t anything I would have done differently. I was very quiet during the whole process, allowing all of my senses to really absorb my surroundings. Later today, I will be visiting the Belmar Boardwalk and observe that area. It holds a close place in my heart, for it is where I spent most of my summer days.