Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Observations from the Road, six months after the storm known as Sandy

A combination of things sent me south this past weekend. The weather was gorgeous, I had a chance to check out the beach house in Stone Harbor, and a friend was already doing some work in the Asbury Park area so we decided to pack Foxy and take her on the road for a much needed drive. I honestly didn't think of it being six months after Sandy hit but that it was.

The photo I posted with this isn't the best I have ever taken but I have a reason for using it. The road in the photo is Ocean Drive between Avalon and Stone Harbor and it's a road I have driven every summer since I learned to drive. Actually, like many things at the shore, I drove on it before I learned to drive but that's another story. Ocean Drive runs from one end of Seven Mile Island to the other, through Sea Isle City, Avalon, and Stone Harbor. I have driven it in at sunrise in search of fresh sticky buns, in thunder storms, in pre-dawn fog, and at sunset going to Sylvester's for seafood. To me personally it's one of the great roads in the world and seeing a road closed sign on it was one of the saddest things I ever saw. Supposedly going to be open before Memorial Day but if not I'm going to borrow my brother's jeep and drive it anyway.

Stone Harbor itself is in good shape considering it had record rainfall amounts along with record flood levels during the three high tides of Sandy. I was talking to someone who stayed in Avalon during the storm and than helped friends farther north. He said one thing he will never forget is the sight of people's lives piled up at the curb. Furniture, rugs, shore stuff, all water damaged and covered with sand and muck. One of my favorite shops, the Suncatcher, is just off the ocean on 2nd Avenue in Stone Harbor and had two feet of water inside at the worst of the storm but you couldn't tell now other than the total newness of everything inside. Fred's Tavern was also in good shape but nobody would admit whose idea the new menu item was. I passed on the Indonesian Shisk Kabobs and stuck with the burgers and beer.

The barrier islands north of Atlantic City were much more heavily damaged than those to the south even though Sandy came ashore roughly over top of AC. We didn't spend much time in the north but there was one spot I had to see. To most people one of more lasting images of Sandy is the Star Jet roller coaster sitting forlornly in the surf of Seaside Heights. The coaster is still there now, drawing flocks of tourists along with the flocks of sea gulls, but its removal is supposed to happen before Memorial Day too. I'm not so sure about that one.

Politically one thing I found was how dearly refusing to quickly pass Sandy relief legislation cost the Republicans. So many people I talked to swore it would be a long time before they even thought about voting Republican, they felt betrayed. I should note that two Republican lawmakers from Texas, including Senator Ted Cruz, who voted against Sandy aid now want federal aid for West, Texas following the fertilizer plant explosion. I think the Texans should wait a respectable length of time, say six months.

Governor Chris Christie for one doesn't fall into the same category as Congressional Republicans. In Jersey Chris Christie is still a god on the level of his idol Bruce Springsteen.

Many people are still hurting, they can't afford to rebuild homes, the insurance money they get doesn't begin to cover the cost of building at the shore today, and some places are in areas that no longer can get flood insurance. FEMA was working on new flood elevation maps when Sandy hit and now many older homes are in the FEMA's most restricted zones and must be raised or see their flood insurance rates rise from $1,000 a year to $15,000. In the end I think many people will sell family homes to developers who will build more of the million dollar monsters that even now line parts of Ocean Drive.

Sadly I think one of the lasting effects of Sandy on the Jersey shore will be the acceleration of some parts of it turning into a rich man's playground.