As we slowly churned, I rotated my body counterclockwise, taking in the long and wide spread of the island. I saw Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic on opposite sides, and the Monopoly-size homes wedged in between.
Sandy was nowhere to be seen.
To find her, I had to travel to the bottom of the island, to Holgate. The community, a vulnerable target near the rendezvous point of the bay and the ocean, received quite a bruising. Today, the laid-back community is a humming hive of activity, with contractors fixing windows, porches, doors and driveways. I could barely hear the cackles of gulls through the din of bulldozers, hammers and drills.
“Take pictures of the nice things,” Eileen Bowker told me when I stopped by her deli for a soda, “the beaches, and the restaurants that are open.”
A few minutes before meeting Eileen, I had snapped a picture of the rah-rah sign — “LBI is Alive” — hanging from the store’s second floor. Before driving off, I took a photo of Holgate’s beach and its new fence, which smelled of fresh pine.
Seaside Heights rebounds
If you want to support the restoration and revitalization of the Jersey Shore, be hedonistic and self-indulgent. Follow the T-shirt gospel, “Jersey go hard or go home.”
Here are some suggestions for Seaside Heights: Take a long, REM-deep nap on the beach (remember to buy your $5 badge). Fill your chipmunk cheeks with thin-crust pizza, Hershey’s ice cream and fried Oreos on the boardwalk. Chug $2 pints of Budweiser or $10 shakers of shots at EJ’s bar. Pass out in a local hotel (I suggest the comfortable Colony Motel). Rouse yourself for a henna tattoo or a Monroe piercing. Or, for less bodily intrusion and mutilation, spring for a “Restore the Shore” magnet or sticker; all proceeds go to recovery efforts, according to the accompanying sign. And if there are any javelin throwers in the house, toss a sharp object at an inflated orb that never meant you any harm.
“Wanna play the darts? We’re trying to restore the shore,” an arcade vendor shouted at a family of four walking past the game. “Help us.”
The dad, who was toting his daughter on his shoulders, abruptly stopped. The little girl tightened her grip on the two stuffed mermaids in her hands.
“We were here twice to restore the shore,” Papa Bear retorted. “Second time in three months. Stop acting crazy. We’re doing what we can.”
Indeed, restoring the shore can turn ugly. But without passion, muscle and loud voices, Seaside Heights might not have risen again — or, at least, recovered so swiftly.