A family tradition that began soon after we started our own family was to vacation with our in-laws on Long Beach Island. Traditionally we have gone after Labor Day when the crowds were smaller, but our kids starting pre-K in early September meant we had to brave the more crowded island during the height of the summer season.
Human beings have a need to feel the power of nature around them. Living in a big city has many advantages that cannot be replicated elsewhere, and I don’t regret making New York City my home for a minute. Where else in the world can you see Renoir’s By the Seashore, the New York Yankees, and No Redeeming Social Value all in the same day?
But a large city requires the conquest of nature on a large scale. Skyscrapers are their own majestic entity, they cannot compete for space with California Redwoods or the cresting waves of the Atlantic Ocean—my friends in the Rockaways do manage to surf in the Atlantic Ocean, miles away from these skyscrapers.
We lose something when we commit to living in a city, our awe is taken up by what mankind has achieved, and we lost the much-needed perspective of the power of the Earth itself. I believe that human beings need regular contact with nature in order to keep our minds right and in the general order of things. Being close to nature is the way human beings are supposed to be. We did not evolve from glass towers or produced in a sterile, state-of-the-art lab. We were born from the savages that evolved from organisms born of mud, shaped by our ancestors need to know and respect the murderously indifferent natural world around them. If we do not keep in contact with this primal truth in some consistent way, we lose our bearings and don’t function well. Though I have worked in Manhattan consistently for nearly two decades, I have always tried to walk through a park at least once a day in order to enjoy some greenery.
Long Beach Island is a tourist destination that does not put on airs of being otherwise. There are people who live there all year, but most of the people you seen between late May and mid-September aren’t from here. The island understands that it is a great destination that attracts people for its natural beauty and the accessibility of its beaches. There is a respectability that locals and tourists alike embrace their roles. There is a goodness and truth in that honesty. While you are here you can enjoy the arts at the Surflight Theatre and then enjoy singing waiters and waitresses at the Show Place Ice Cream Parlor.
But the miles of beach are what bring people here, and a trip here is not a success unless you spend some time on the beach.
While I try to stay out of the sun, I have learned to appreciate sitting on Long Beach Island and doing as little as possible. A few walks into the ocean though will give you an appreciation of the greatness and vastness of the ocean in front of you. An expanse of blue (that appears green when you’re up close) that stretches to the horizon.
Going deeper into the ocean, the current was more powerful and the water cooler. The power of this ocean, even at this calm period, was immense. You can’t help but be pushed and tossed around by the waves. A sting ray darted into my sight, close to a young boy on a body board but turned and was just as quickly out of sight. A tidal pool left behind dozens of tiny fish, numerous shells, and even a small live crab for children to marvel at.
Even when the heat is at its most punishing, the breeze from the ocean offers a cooling respite. Time moves quickly when you are away from the churning world of commerce and asphalt, and I must soon return to that savage expanse. I am grateful for the time I have here where the ocean calls the shots and people are united in their efforts to get away for a little while.
New York City is such an intense and captivating force that New Yorkers must all leave their beloved Gotham from time to time for areas more peaceful and serene, places where the air is cooler and the pace of things slower. City life is an immense trade-off. We have the greatest art and culture in the world but must endure great hardships, annoyances, and inconveniences. It’s this crucible that makes our standards so high and our quest for excellence so unforgiving.
These past few days have found me on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, a beautiful beach community that is best visited after Labor Day, when the summer season is considered officially over. Plenty of other people have had this idea also. So the island is not a ghost town but can look that way at times if you turn down one of the quieter streets. The restaurants are starting to board up for the fall and winter or have at least cut down their summer hours.
Long Beach Island is one long excuse to sit and marvel at the beach and ocean. It is a thin, string-bean like island that is geared towards renting to or selling to people coming here for the summer. It floods easily and the oncoming series of hurricanes that are lined up to punch the United States now are on the top of everyone’s mind.
While this end-of-summer escape is welcome, the travails of life remain. This time of year especially, the days around September 11, are times when we are reminded about the fleeting nature of our very existence and the fact that life commands us to enjoy every moment.
This awareness does not all have to come in tragic form. I formed a habit of quickly taking photos of the sand castles I help my children build, because before long one of my daughters will crush them quickly without hesitation. She is not yet four years old yet she is a destroyer of worlds. She has not yet grasped the value of leaving something behind that is beautiful in part because of its vulnerability. It is more fun for her to feel that collapse of the cool, wet sand under her feet.
Long Beach Island is a place where you will miss out if you don’t take the time to walk along the beach at night and enjoy the light of the moon reflecting on the ocean. It is where the best thing to do is to sit on the sand under an umbrella and attempt to clear your mind of everything. The beauty of the landscape belies the chaotic, violent, and tragic nature of our lives, which is why we seek to surround ourselves with beauty as much as possible. The world will hand us enough ugly all our lives.
In a few days my family will return to New York City, which has now been rebuilding for more than 16 years since the September 11 attacks. A whole new generation of New Yorkers are alive who did not know life before that day. Our responsibility, among many, is to give this generation an appreciation of all that we have given them as family and all that we have built as a people, because it could very easily not be here tomorrow.
Summer vacations are best taken after Labor Day, when the summer season is considered over and people are back to the grind. Leaving New York City after Labor Day is a reward for sticking it out in the horrendous heat of this summer.
My family went to Long Beach Island, New Jersey, a tourist mecca that becomes much quieter after Labor Day. The weather was wonderful over the weekend and we enjoyed relaxing on the beach while our toddler girls were mesmerized with experimenting with water and sand. I had no idea such simple ingredients could keep children entertained for hours and have a new appreciation for the beach.
While we were enjoying the ocean air and seafood, we saw the news of the string of bombings that happened in New Jersey and New York City. Long gone are the days when news like that would have sent us running to turn on the TV news. We’ve become much more accustomed to these kinds of events. But before long the damage was assessed with no fatalities, the usual Internet debates sprung up before the dust settled, and within hours of the bombing in Chelsea the authorities had their suspect.
And has been noted before, New York does not scare easily and we overcame fears of bombs years ago. Maybe you can scare a smaller city like Boston or San Francisco with a homemade explosive, but that’s plainly piddling stuff for the Big Apple.
Some of the best comments to win the Internet noted that the bombing brought New Yorkers of all kinds together to acknowledge that 23rd and 6th is not Chelsea but the Flatiron neighborhood. No doubt plenty of real estate brokers will consider it Chelsea to jack up the rent, but you have to get to 7th Avenue to be considered Chelsea. Sorry terrorists.
That the device was planted in what was mistakenly thought to be Chelsea could be a sign that the bomber wanted to target gays, since Chelsea is known as a gay neighborhood. Then again, the suspect in custody put it close to PATH train stations in both Manhattan and Elizabeth, which could mean he was too lazy to walk far in Manhattan. Seeing as he’s spent most of his time in this country working at a fried chicken restaurant in New Jersey, I’m guessing the latter. You don’t have to be hard-working to be a jihadist, just a delusional lunatic.
What warms my heart about the incident the most was not that there were no fatalities or that the suspect was quickly apprehended—and hats off to our first responders for all of that of course. What makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside and have faith that the New York of my youth is not completely gone is that the second device left in Manhattan was discovered when people tried to steal the suitcase it was stored in. That lives were saved by old-fashioned larceny means that the grit and crime that characterized our streets for decades lives on and in some small way redeems us. It figures this clown came from New Jersey; real New Yorkers know an unattended bag is going to be stolen faster than any detonator.
But like our overcoming the horrors of the September 11 attacks, it fills Americans with pride that New Yorkers did not wallow in horror or self-pity at this incident. We simply kept performing the never-ending calculus of planning around delays and diversions that becomes second-nature. Don’t lead the newscast with a body count, New Yorkers say, tell us which subways are closed.
Islamic terrorists planted bombs thinking they can stop New Yorkers from drinking in bars. Better people have died trying.
Long Beach Island, New Jersey is a tourist haven and I have no doubt that when the summer season is in full swing it is crowded and obnoxious. But going there during the off season, even a week or so after Labor Day, the place retains its beauty on the beaches but the towns take on a somewhat empty appearance, which makes it even more interesting. You can see starts at night there and the island is narrow enough that you are never far from the ocean.
The hum and crash of the ocean is constant. Even when you can’t see the water beyond the buildings or the sand dunes, the ocean keeps up its end of the bargain and sings you to sleep.