Long Beach Island, New Jersey
How does an area centered on catering to crowds of tourists manage to keep people safe during the heavy tourist season? Long Beach Island is coping in the time of the pandemic. It has been a family tradition to come to Long Beach Island for about a week every summer and we hoped since March that this year would be no exception.
Early in the pandemic my in-laws, who invite us down ever year, mentioned that there would be new social distancing guidelines for the beaches and restaurants, that LBI had moved quickly to adapt.
The beach is still too crowded on some days. While being outdoors is a help; it’s still not safe enough during the heavy morning hours to go there. I went to bring my kids to the beach and quickly turned around when we saw the size and density of the crowd.
One of the key tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic is that things that were once routine now require serious decision making. Can my kids play with that little girl in the pool? Can I take my girls to the beach to build a sandcastle? Those were no-brainers in the past; not anymore. There won’t be easy answers for a while.
Whether or not people wore facemasks on Long Beach Island is random. Being from New York City, we feel naked without them, but people from this part of New Jersey have not had the same level of virus infection to make mask-wearing second nature and it’s not as real to them. Shortly before coming down to Beach Haven, we saw that lifeguards in nearby towns had an outbreak of the Coronavirus, not from their time on the beach as lifeguards but from partying together after hours.
You can hear people partying into the night and see them moving unmasked and in irresponsibly large groups everywhere. The island is full of visiting young people and people old enough to know better traipsing around as if there is not a global pandemic still raging across the country.
If you tried to lecture everyone acting foolish about how to wear a mask or distance, you would do nothing else. Calling people out or trying to deliver street justice would quickly evolve into fistfights or some other unproductive screaming match ripe for the viral internet montages of hostility that are already plentiful. Instead you do your best to lead by example; keep the mask on if you are near people, keep six feet apart.
There is not much you can do but do the right thing and keep away from people who don’t. It is easier to do here than in New York, so this still counts as a vacation. Things are not going to be back to normal soon and it would be a rancid lie to pretend otherwise.
Life in this vacation spot goes on; those businesses that have survived on Long Beach Island have adapted well. The Chicken or the Egg is still in high demand and they offer only outdoor seating and to-go orders; the Jersey Devil sandwich still provides a terrific serving of pork roll and I was able to feast on their Buffalo shrimp again. My wife and I had a date night at the excellent Artisan Café that made an amazing Italian mac & cheese and moved its dining outdoors as well. Buckalew’s created an outdoor beer garden and has very on-time pickup service.
The Surflight Theatre survives not only from the Coronavirus but from Tropical Storm Isaias that knocked over its outdoor tent. We were still able to enjoy a Frozen musical with the kids and a comedy night featuring Mike Marino and Sheba Mason—outstanding.
This past Saturday I walked the beach at night. There were a few other people walking about in the darkness, some with cell phone flashlights, and a patrol vehicle that drove back and forth. Only a few yards away from masses of humanity, I took comfort in seeing two shooting stars and a blood orange moon that looked like a nighttime sun.
I stood in awe of the moon, which was sitting low in the sky and casting its bright colorful light over the sea. The thunder of the Atlantic Ocean drones on, its waves crashing to shore in a powerful chorus When our world appears cracked, nature has a way of putting human civilization in perspective.
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.
Last year I was waiting for a bus on Main Street in Flushing when the guy on line next to me began complaining.
“You see that snowflake, right there,” he said to the woman he was with, referencing a large snowflake make of lights suspended over the heavily trafficked street. “That represents everything wrong with society today.”
While it was definitely too early to put up holiday decorations, the snowflakes over the street are not the ultimate illustration of our society’s ills.
Holiday decorations before Thanksgiving are definitely bad taste, but complaining about the holidays to prove how edgy you are is probably worse. I have no idea if the guy bitching about the snowflakes over Main Street celebrates any holidays this time of year, but judging by his appearance and the language he spoke the odds are good that he gives and receives gifts in the month of December.
Years ago I worked in a department store and the store had its own full-time staff that were in charge of all decorations. No matter what the season or the sale, they were always hard at work taking down or putting up something different. I remember seeing them put up a giant wreath in either August or September and I thought it was ridiculous, so I asked one of the guys about it. “It’s not that we want to be putting up holiday decorations this early,” he said. “It’s that there’s so much of it that if we don’t start on it now, we’ll never get all of it done by Black Friday.”
I’m as jaded about the holidays as the next New Yorker. People take them way too seriously. It’s supposed to be such an enjoyable time of the year that people go into it expecting perfection, when perfection just isn’t part of normal or happy life. Last year people bitched that the Starbucks cups weren’t heavy enough on the Christmas theme (I remind people that 7 Eleven has green and red coffee cups all goddamn year).
The proper response to the flurry of early holiday decorations is to not bitch about them and just go about your normal life. The holidays will be there for you when you want to pay attention to them.
One of the things I’m looking forward to most this holiday season is watching Bad Santa 2. The original Bad Santa became my go-to holiday movie after I saw it in the theater in 2003 and it cracked me up with a depraved holiday cynicism that ought to resonate with any skeptic.
And I’m sincerely looking forward to the holidays this year. It’s been a long year in a lot of ways. The world is indeed a dark and depressing place most of the time and there are a lot of things to be worried and anxious about. But if you have family or close friends you can spend time with and have a roof over your head and food in your stomach this holiday season, you have a reason to be glad.
And New York is beautiful over the holidays. Even the most jaded denizen of the Big Apple can find beauty among the schlocky tourist crap that permeates everything. Enjoy.
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.
It is time to escape New York for a week as our beloved city continues to bake in the summer heat. We are headed to Cape Ann, Massachusetts to attend a friend’s wedding and then enjoy the New England coast.
Summers in New York City are marked in part by our efforts to go elsewhere as weekend getaways snarl traffic on Friday and Sunday nights and holiday weekends can send people away from the five boroughs in droves.
I find it more enjoyable to stay in the city during some of the more popular times to leave. Going around the city on Labor Day can make New York feel like a ghost town in parts.
But New Yorkers need to leave the city for long periods of time over the summer in order to maintain our sanity. New York is an intense and crowded place. It can get even more crowded and oppressive in the summertime as our transit system and the areas near where we work are flooded with slow-moving tourists who are often clueless about the way to behave in a big city and slow things down. We don’t hate tourists; we like and need tourists, but their increased presence intensifies an already strained existence.
And the often unrelenting humid heat of New York helps bring our regular misery stew to a high boil. The city traps the heat with its high buildings, blacktop and concrete, jacks it up a notch with the captured exhaust of car and bus traffic and tops it off with some extra hot blasts from air conditioning units. Too many weeks and months of New York City heat can drive you insane and long for someplace, anyplace, where you can enjoy looking at trees or relax with cool grass under your feet.
When I was growing up my family made Lake George in upstate New York our regular vacation spot. Lake George is far enough north that it is cool at night and not obscenely hot during the day. You can see lots of stars in the sky and the place is enough of a popular tourist destination that they have large amusement parks. There are also historic forts you can visit that are rich in history of the Revolutionary and French and Indian Wars.
This is the first year my wife and I are taking our daughters on a vacation. We had a brief visit in Maine with family but we are about to embark on our first vacation of the four of us as a unit and we are heading to Cape Ann, Massachusetts.
My father’s family vacationed in Cape Ann when my Dad was growing up and he and my aunts and uncles were photographed in front of the Fisherman’s Memorial in Gloucester. We plan to recreate these photos as best we can with our girls. Rockport is also going to be having its annual Lobster Fest while we are there and I have promised to attend.
I plan on eating seafood, visiting with friends and otherwise doing as little as possible. It’s not too late to plan your own summer escape from New York. Be sure it’s temporary.