Wednesday, July 20, 2005

At last, Asbury Park wins a kewpie doll!

The "sea breeze" at Asbury Park wasn't even reaching the boardwalk at noon on Sunday, & the a/c inside Howard Johnson's didn't seem to be working either. So Glen Jones & X-Ray Burns sweat more than usual doing their live WFMU broadcast, & the enthusiastic crowd just drank more beer - which was good for the atmosphere & for the cash registers of George, the owner of Hojo's who's stuck it out in Asbury for many very lean years; maybe it's time to replace that hand-written "menu" nailed outside the door. I can't vouch for the coherency of the actual broadcast. It hardly made any sense in person but it was free form. Jones plays Asbury because he endorses only what he loves & has fun doing it. Culturally, Asbury has a long history & is a proudly provincial place with popular local acts, & generally solid taste in "name" performers. It always seeks to entertain outsiders, & most of the important insiders are traditionalists, so you won't find much innovation or outrage. The best spirit of the town is in some of the performance venues. Jones & X-Ray skillfully improvise a sophisticated & physical F.C.C. safe show next to a largely gay beach in the early afternoon at a family restaurant that looks like a nightclub getting over a hangover. One can only wonder what the act would be like at midnight, full house, same room.

For awhile, I had my eyes on an attractive moon-faced blonde in a floppy white sun hat. Then it occurred to me that she was a physical composite of three former girlfriends; The Artist, The Grammar School Music Teacher, & the "Isn't she too young?" college student. She disappeared when I wasn't watching. My dharma was to chat with two longtime WFMU listeners now living in the shore area. They said they knew me & if they were lying to be friendly I still appreciate it. This was not a husband & wife comedy team but a solidly married couple who had moved down to suburban Monmouth County from Kearny over twelve years ago just before such modest family folks had to win the lottery to come up with a downpayment. Bill Clinton was President then & there was hope in America. As my charming couple were saying how they were looking forward to the upcoming DB's reunion at Maxwell's, their two pre-adolescent sons came in & presented their very lovely mom with a kewpie doll. Two things immediately struck me about this: First, these kids were wandering Asbury boardwalk by themselves. Second, they won something at a game of chance - a slightly slutty-looking variation on Raggedy Ann. One year ago you wouldn't have wanted your kids out of your sight in that place & they really wouldn't have had anywhere to go anyway.

For a long time there was little for a kid to do on the Asbury boardwalk except look at boarded up buildings & peculiar people - some of them genuinely demented. When Casino was totally shut, the Ocean Grove & Asbury boardwalks were disconnected & the detours could be real adventures in socio-economic disparity. Even vacationing Methodists inclined to be charitable weren't looking for that. Last Sunday there were a lot of people strolling & rolling up from Ocean Grove, riding the bikes with fat tires called beach coasters. the kind of bike you keep at the shore place or rent.

What novel ideas! Encourage some intrepid entrepreneurs (& a major candy store chain) to start businesses on the boardwalk with generous leases & "opt out" clauses, reopen the Casino concourse to allow easy access from Ocean Grove. Also increase police visibility & let people ride their bikes anytime. I wonder why the city didn't think of that years ago? I bet the city government had little to do with it except caving in to the designs of some motivated soul in a nonprof re-development agency.

The condominiums are coming to Asbury Park & so is a wave of new residents who will spend money on Cookman Ave. This is good. But I don't go to Asbury Park to see condos, Cookman is not my kind of browse yet, & I admit I never wander west of the train station. I'm a life long benny* who loves boardwalks with crowds & carousels. No matter what Asbury Park becomes, for me success depends upon what happens on Ocean Ave. & the boardwalk. HoJo's flying saucer is a wonderful building of the space age style & era Wildwood hypes yet allows to be torn down. This great structure must stand. I've always loved the haphazard qualities of our egalitarian boardwalk towns, & right there in Asbury Park at the corner of 5th & Ocean one finds Convention Hall, the Berkeley Carteret, Wonder Bar, and a creamsicle space ship.

*Derogatory term Jersey shore natives use for out-of-towners. I won't let anyone below Belford call me a benny who hasn't lived within ten miles of the coast or a navigable tidal waterway for at least twenty years. & that's being liberal.

My take on Asbury Park from Summer 2004: A Perfect Day for Ruins

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Got me reminiscing about the '60's and my youth in Long Beach, and the treks we made to the Pike to ride the Cyclone Racer!
I found this blog through the New Jersey Carnival of Bloggers. You really are a boardwalk boy.
Bob, On Thursday, Aug. 11 at 1:30 pm at the Rahway Public Library, Helen Chantal-Pike, author of author of Greetings from New Jersey will be speaking on her new book, Asbury Park's Glory Days: The Story Of An American Resort, which is about the Asbury Park of yore. Admission is free.
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