I had a dream last night about an amusement park on the lawn of the Congress Hall hotel in Cape May. It was packed with kids running from ride to ride, and adults laughing, cheering, crying with joy. There was a water park, too, and, in a flat, wave-less ocean, a chair swing ride that despite being surrounded by water, still swung people around and around, spinning faster and higher than any ride should. It looked dangerous, but people were so happy. Who cared?
I walked through the amusement park, shaking hands and hugging strangers as I did. At a water slide, I picked up a red raft and carried it with me to the field of the place where I spent my childhood summers at the Jersey Shore. I laid down and closed my eyes in the warm summer sun, staying that way until I woke up.
Of course, this was just a dream. There is no amusement park on the lawn of Congress Hall, and my childhood summer place in Avalon Campground is about 30 miles north of Cape May. Today is a very cold and bitter one in Cape May, with the last clouds of Hurricane Sandy still blocking out the sun.
But the relief I felt was real, though in my dream it was untouched by grief over the absolute destruction of beach towns to our north. No, that was the reality as I toured the open Southern barrier islands and Cape May today: Sorrow that parts of our coast were so damaged, but guilty thankfulness that these communities I know so well made it through Hurricane Sandy relatively unharmed.
In Somers Point, trees and leaves littered the mostly residential streets, and chainsaws droned out the car traffic trying to get into Ocean City on Route 52. I rounded block after block, looking for my friend’s car, which may or may not have been damaged during the storm. She had moved it to higher ground from Ocean City, which seemed to be a smart move as there were three inches of water on the first floor post-Sandy. Still, she didn’t complain: tossing out water damaged carpet and electronics is part of the deal when you own a shore place, she told me.
In North Wildwood, contractors were already at work on homes near the seawall that had breached during the storm. Contents of garages and first floor living areas were on lawns, ready to be tossed or dried. The water had receded, but sand still covered some streets. Still, no one complained because that water was gone, unlike in towns of LBI where many homes are still water logged and, in the case of Holgate, have disappeared.
On Mariner’s Landing in Wildwood, I toured the damage to the largest of Morey’s Piers and reassured myself that the ferris wheel hadn’t fallen into the water, as rumor had spread during the storm. The reality in Seaside Heights is quite different, where two piers and the boardwalk were destroyed, and a roller coaster is in the ocean. In Wildwood, it’s just mud and dune grass to be cleaned up here, and a store with a wet carpet that had been scheduled for renovation anyway.
The ride into Cape May was easy. No police, no check points, no ID required to cross over. Crews worked up the Lobster House on the other side of the bridge – the classic seafood house had taken on a lot of water during the storm. I said of prayer of thanks to see a road and buildings on the other side of that bridge.
The case is so different farther north in Monmouth County coming into Manatoloking. Those images are unbearable, unimaginable, of a road leading into the ocean where homes used to be.
There is still a lot of clean up to be done from Atlantic City to Cape May. Many bay-front homes took on the brunt of the storm, and some are either wind or water damaged to the point that they’ll need to be torn down. Some first-floor restaurants will lose their kitchens and electrical systems, too, and everyone who was touched by flooding will need to worry about mold.
Still, we are so very lucky. We kept most our roads, our power systems, and the means to clean up the damage. Our shore businesses will have the opportunity to rebuild, and will work to bring people down in the months ahead to make up for lost time and revenue. The same won’t be true for all of our northern friends, who will rebuild, but many in a different way.
So breath that sigh of relief, and be thankful that many of us made it through okay. Make an extra trip to your favorite North Wildwood year round restaurant, or your top Cape May B&B.
And when the time comes to open our calendars, or wallets and our hearts to beaches that suffered the worst of damage, be ready. We are all one Jersey Shore. Together, we’ll rise again.