I've wondered since the storm, what would summer feel like this year? Would people come back after Sandy? Would it feel the same? Would it feel like people were missing? Well, the streets and beaches of the Jersey Shore, and the roads leading onto the barrier islands over Fourth of July weekend answered that with clarity. But very little elbow room. Even long time locals said they could never remember a holiday weekend that felt as choked with people as this one.
It was surely odd to see the old haunts lit up again, like Custard's Last Stand, above, in Ventnor Heights, a part of town pummelled by Sandy flooding, where homes are still vacant, many for sale "as is", newly elevated on cement blocks, simply abandoned to foreclosure or vanished to demolition, awaiting a new home and a new elevation.
Seeing Custard's Last Stand with its red white and blue bunting and outdoor lights outlining its roof and deck, all the shoobies on their ice cream missions again as dusk set in Wednesday on the eve of the Fourth, actually made me tear up a bit. Good work Shore lovers, you are as constant as the high tide that jammed the beaches the rest of the weekend. Seeing the unusual beach fireworks that lit up Atlantic City in four different places, giving the feeling that the entire town was filled with exploding color, as opposued to the usual over the ocean show, was a true statement of rebirth. Seeing people I know still aren't back in their homes back in their usual spots on the beach was reassuring. But I know a few good beach days is not enough to erase nine months of agony and uncertainty.
By Friday afternoon, as I broke my rule and got in my car to run errands in Margate, the town felt so overrun with cars and people, it made me feel like perhaps we had strayed over the limit. Should someone take a census and not let anyone else in? Were our streets, like the parking lots at Borgata on Fourth of July, filled to capacity? It was an uneasy truce, the pedestrians exercising their right of way, the cars jamming on the brakes, the intersections an anarchic jumble, the bicyclists weaving in and out - I wondered if we were really ready. On a bicycle ride early Friday a neighbor was knocked off his BIKE along Mays Landing-Somers Point Road by a BOAT being trailed by a pickup truck. Only at the Jersey Shore are you in danger of being hit by a boat when you go out for a bike ride. Not funny at all, really. Yes, the crowds were back, but I hope nobody thinks that a few good beach days, a robust beach crowd, some of the usual ridiculous shoobie behavior and lots of traffic means the shore still doesn't have a long way to go before the final story of Sandy is told.