After the false alarm that was Irene, we elected to stick it out. We were prepped and we live on (relatively) high ground, across the street from Reynolds Channel. You like to think you’re smarter than the average Joe, but at the time, the hassle of evacuation seems to outweigh the unknown. You think, like everyone else, “How bad could it be?”
Between Sandy’s two tragic tides (on the morning and evening of October 27th 2012), the wind picked up dramatically. There was talk on News12 that in Long Beach the “ocean could meet the bay.” I went outside to tour my perimeter. In a pure hallucination, I watched the ground under our fifty foot spruce buckle and sway, creating waves three feet high on the lawn. I waited, then got closer. The ground did it again: A swelling, undulating curl, the gnarled roots of the old tree sticking through the sod in a grotesque compound fracture. That was enough for me.
The car was already packed. I went inside, gathered Melissa and the boys and left for our friends’ place in Oceanside. From our guest room, we watched as the flood waters filled the streets there, swallowing our VW Routan and everything in it. Then we saw a brilliant display of bombast and pyrotechnics as transformers in the area began to explode, sending an apocalyptic cascade of fire and kaleidoscopic color into the torrential night. With a sudden finality, the lights were out. The chaos had begun.
What followed is the story that hundreds of thousands lived to tell. After Sandy, so many Long Islanders experienced extended periods without essentials and the subsequent mass scrambling in search of food, clothing, gas and shelter. Long Beach knows it’s been hit badly, but we also know we’re not alone in this challenge of recovery. Just like us, our brothers and sisters from Montauk to Manhattan to the Jersey Shore are battling their way back day by day, brick by brick, stud by stud. In Long Beach, what we all seem to have in common is some kind of instinctual knack to turn the tide—quickly. Maybe it’s the peculiar yin-yang of our “city by the sea.” We’re crazy enough to stand in the face of nature at our own peril and tough enough to pull together and lift ourselves back up when we have absolutely no choice.
Those who can rebuild are doing so better and smarter. For those who continue to struggle mightily, the community continues to rally behind them, prop them up and search for solutions. But don’t kid yourself. For all its feel-good ocean vibe, Long Beach can be a divisive place and partisan politics can endanger progress like anywhere else. So far the powers that be seem to be pulling in the right direction as a team; we can only hope this continues long term. All we can do is make sure the community’s voice is heard in a meaningful way. House by house, family by family, the strength of our recovery to this point has been inspiring. But go into any deli, any pizza joint, any restaurant in town and the active chatter about endless litigation, lack of compensation and uphill remediation persists. Not everyone is back to normal yet, but the resolve is palpable. We know we’ll get there.
This catastrophe has made first responders of us all. My contractor took three feet of water on his main floor, but came to my house first to pump me out during the initial hell of the first 72 hours. On more than one occasion in those first weeks, there were several complete and total strangers in my fetid house, faces covered with surgical masks, armed with crowbars, tearing apart my soggy, sewage-infested basement. These people came. They saw. They gutted. They moved on. And they’re still doing it. That’s the Long Beach that no incompetent insurance adjuster, no condescending mortgage bank representative and no insipid FEMA phone operator can ever break.
Several months after the ordeal, I was sitting over a beer with a close friend who felt close enough to say, “You have no business living there, guy.” And he’s likely right. The water table isn’t getting any lower and we all know that moving forward it’s not a matter of “if” but only a matter of “when”—as it’s always been. Yet when the sun, the sand, the sky and the sea all come together on the head of a pin on a Tuesday at 10:15 am, when July’s nighttime bike rides end in skies full of fireworks on the boardwalk, on a balmy October Sunday when the Beach House is teeming with Giants fans (and Jets fans, ugh!), when some reggae band is grooving in the jam packed parking lot of Cabana on Irish Day, when my boys are climbing up and tumbling down the lifeguard stands at Lincoln as the sun sets afire, when my wife does elegant pirouettes in the white water as the gulls float in concert above, when I look down and see my feet buried in the sand, that magical, fairy dusted, ever intoxicating sand… That foreboding “when” doesn’t matter. Because when Long Beach is right, which is most of the time, there’s only “now.” So pray for us. And then come visit.
Just don’t block the driveway when you park. That we can’t handle…