Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It does make me sad

My grandmother's sister lived in Ventnor, New Jersey, the town next to Atlantic City. As a matter of fact they lived on Ventnor Avenue, with which you are familiar if you have played Monopoly. When I was a kid, we used to visit in the summer. Aunt Mary and Uncle Oby didn't have kids so they shamelessly spoiled us. Uncle Oby was a local macher so he had free passes to all the rides on the Steeplechase Pier. They took us -- me, my siblings and cousins -- to all the shows on the Steel Pier: Herman's Hermits, Dave Clark Five, Wilson Pickett. We'd go to watch the diving horse and walk along the boardwalk scarfing up the salt water taffy, cotton candy, Planters Peanuts (they had a guy in a giant Mr. Peanut costume) and Taylor fried pork roll (basically a Spam competitor but a greasy treat for a kid). It was the greatest!

Atlantic City hasn't been all about the wholesome family entertainment since they sold out to Donald Trump and the Mafia and brought in casino gambling in the '70s. But the Boardwalk and the Steel Pier were still there. Until Monday, that is. The Atlantic City boardwalk has been destroyed, and judging from the pictures, the Steel Pier is history.  At least half of it is gone and I'm guessing they won't rebuild it.

I don't know whether the ocean made it as far as Ventnor Avenue, which is the second avenue paralleling the ocean behind Atlantic Avenue. I don't know whether Aunt Mary and Uncle Oby's house is still standing. Of course they died a long time ago and I haven't been to Atlantic City since I was maybe thirteen. I did visit Avalon, further south on the Jersey Shore, when I was in college. But anyway that whole area is deep in my family lore and my fondest childhood memories.* Now it's gone, just gone. Gone. The governor has said the Jersey shore will never be the same, and I'm sure he is right.

Was this a natural disaster? Partly. But it was also one of the greatest monuments to human folly of my lifetime. Yes of course war is a great folly and we've had plenty of wars that have been even more destructive and killed far more people. But these events will just keep happening, all around the globe. Good luck to us all.

* Don't know what to make of it, but of course Bruce Springsteen's famous ode to Asbury Park is subtitled "Sandy." According to the narrative of the song Sandy was his goodbye girl as he prepared to set out to make his fortune. "For me this boardwalk life's through, you ought to quit this scene too." The Asbury Park boardwalk is gone too, but I expect they'll rebuild that one. Haven't heard what happened to the Stone Pony.

Update:  Friend Steph says the section of the AC Boardwalk with the main attractions is in decent shape. That's good to know. Of course the social and economic decline of the old Atlantic City was only accelerated by casino gambling, not arrested.


robin andrea said...

I never made it to Atlantic City even though I grew up in New Jersey. My family spent time in Asbury Park. My father's family had an old (very, very old) hotel that was walking distance to the beach. It was quite a time to be a teenager on the NJ shore in the mid 60s. I saw Jefferson Airplane at some venue on the boardwalk in 1967. I can hardly imagine what the storm must have done to those haunted places.

I also remember a guy in Planters Peanut costume. He used to dance outside somewhere. How interesting that you saw one too in Atlantic City.

I love that you described your great uncle Oby as a macher!

steph h. said...

Do you remember the Steel Pier show in the 60s or was that just a local Philly show?

If it's any consolation, the Steel Pier and most of the AC boardwalk are alive and well, except for the extreme northern portion which was in disrepair and closed off anyway. This section was in "the poor" part of town. The casinos and the rest of the boardwalk sustained little to no damage and the casino reps are talking about re-opening by Friday. The media kind of exagerated the extent of the destruction in AC.

Other boardwalks did not fare as well. The one in Seaside Heights (summer home of Snooki and the cast of Jersey Shore)was severely damaged with an entire amusement pier pulled down into the surf.

But will any of the recent destruction stop them from rebuilding in all the same places??

By the way, I was the Planter's Peanut on the Wildwood boardwalk one summer in the 70s until it got too hot inside the costume and I took a slightly less uncomfortable job as a waitress in a diner!

Cervantes said...

Thanks, that's good to know.