|The Funtown Pier in Seaside Heights, NJ|
As if my beloved Seaside Heights hasn't seen in enough tragedy in the last few years...
As a kid, going to the shore meant a trip to Seaside Heights. Every Mother's Day we'd pile in the car (Mom; Dad; Grandmom B; Aunt E; my sister and I) and head down for a day on the boardwalk, playing the wheels and riding the rides; eating pizza, caramel corn and Khor's orange creme custards.
Our day always started at the south end and the Funtown Pier with it's magnificent old carousel in the Carousel Arcade. We'd play games of chance for stuffed animals (for us) and cigarettes (for Mom and Dad); ride the dark rides and eat at any number of very bad-for-you places. When we got to Casino Pier, where the bigger 'adult' rides were located, we'd have a few rides and then head back, playing more games and hitting the arcades for a few rounds of Skeeball and silliness. On the way home, we would stop at any number of farm stands ("The Dirty Lady" was a favorite) and buy fresh Jersey produce to consume after we got home. If we were very good, Grandmom B and Aunt E would take my sister and I down a few more times each summer, spoiling us rotten along the way. We always had a good time.
As I got older and managed to drive myself down, the somewhat seedy side of Seaside became more apparent, but it was always lots of fun. One time, my very dear college friend Mary and I went down in the mid-80's. We had to park fairly far from the boardwalk and walk through town, where we came across a couple of Italian-American New York girls walking across the street from us. They had very dark tans, tiny bikinis and enormous hair-dos. Mary and I tried not to gawk and giggle, but were caught staring by one of them who brazenly turned to us and shouted "Yeah! I'm a Guidette! What the f*ck!" It was all we could do to keep from breaking down in hysterics.
Most recently, my dear Matty and I met there to celebrate my birthday, two years ago. Sadly, MTV's "The Jersey Shore" had left its dirty little imprint on the boardwalk, where nearly every shop, bar and restaurant had signs proclaiming "As seen on 'The Jersey Shore'" or "Snookie Sandwich Specials" or other equally distasteful references to the TV nadir. It made me a little sad to see my beloved Seaside sullied by the decidedly non-Jersey cast of low-lifes who had taken over.
Then, last October, Superstorm Sandy devastated the region, sending Casino Pier's iconic 'Jet Star' coaster into the ocean and destroying much of the boardwalk. I was heartbroken. But the folks in Seaside fought back and rebuilt. The boardwalk was replaced and the piers rebuilt. I was hoping to go there next weekend and see what had become of my beloved childhood playground.
Today, though, a fire broke out in the Khor's stand at the south end of the boardwalk. High winds from an impending storm stoked the flames and at least six blocks of stores; restaurants; arcades and amusements were burnt to the ground. The Carousel Arcade and its historic carousel were destroyed, along with the Funtown Pier, as you can see in the photo above.
I am heartbroken again. And not just for the loss of those iconic places from my childhood, but for the people who depended on those businesses for their livelihoods. A rainy June and July combined with an unseasonably cool August had already left the resort town hurting. Today's fire just added insult to injury. And while I know that Seaside will rise from the ashes over the next few months. there are so many things and places that can never be fully replaced and Seaside will never be quite the place it was when Uncle P was a s child.
Such, I suppose, is the way of the world. But that's cold comfort when mourning the loss of something so deeply ingrained as part of my personal history.