Archive for Geographical Notes

The Boardwalk Diaries: Avon-by-the-Sea

To begin, as Chandler on Friends would say, “Could the name Avon-by-the-Sea be any lovlier?” I think not. “Avon” conjures up Shakespearean sonnets (or coral-colored lipsticks, depending on your frame of reference). “By-the-Sea” is delightful in its hyphenation, and also sounds Seussical or e.e. cummings-ish. There is truly something in a name, and Avon-by-the-Sea wins name point galore.

It is winningly pretty, too. Witness the charm of the seafoam blue benches.

The boardwalk is a bit of heaven, with an unobstructed view of the beach and a feeling that you could be strolling one hundred years ago. Dr. Seuss might have written this about it:

To-be, to-be,

At Avon-by-the-Sea,

Where the pretty blue benches

Line up 1 – 2 – 3,

And the waves go back and forth,

Calling “Whee! Whee!”

Take-me, take-me

To Avon-by-the-Sea!

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The Boardwalk Diaries: Belmar

We can think “boardwalk” and be in Belmar forty-five minutes later.

After parking the car in front of a modest Victorian house on Tenth Avenue, we can choose to enjoy an ice-cream cone from Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (the Jersey Shore shamelessly promotes its affiliation with Bruce Springsteen) before hitting the boards. The streetlights are a nice touch and always make me want  to stay until dark to see them lit.

Except for the car styles, it looks much the same.

As you head toward the Shark River Inlet, the ocean is to your right and parked cars are to your left. Inlets are one of my favorite things about boardwalking: it is bliss to lean against the railing and look down at the rocks on either side of the vertical body of water, and to witness that water’s meeting with the horizontal body of water, the ocean, that stretches out ahead.

The river water is familiar—slightly muddy, with stones and perhaps even fish visible in it—but in a moment it will join the ocean water, which is pure mystery—all movement and rolling, roaring sound.

The lucky members of the Belmar Fishing Club can walk to the end of this long pier and see the ocean’s mystery up close. Even without that privilege, simply looking at the pier is lovely. Again, it’s a vertical/horizontal thing, where the concrete and the abstract combine.

Belmar is pretty, not beautiful; picturesque, not stunning. And that is enough, especially if there is a good breeze, and considering the low, low price of a forty-five-minutes ride.

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The Boardwalk Diaries: Point Pleasant

The first thing that’s special about Point Pleasant is the little community where you park your car. Once you’re off the main road, you find yourself within a grid of streets dotted with small beach cottages—little homes, mostly with gravel instead of grass out front, and flower pots on the porches, and beach towels hanging over the porch railings. You drive up and down the streets until you find an empty spot, and then you begin the walk to the boardwalk. Stephanie can tell you that I always comment on how walking toward the ocean can look as if you’re walking toward the edge of the world: all you can see ahead of you is the sky, until you get close enough to see—ahhh, the ocean.

We usually begin at the most densely populated end of the boardwalk, where the amusement park is located. It’s a good amusement park for small children because it’s large enough to be exciting but small enough to be manageable; nobody’s going to get lost or overwhelmed here.

Photo courtesy of Dan Beards.

Stephanie and I skip the rides (although we often comment on her past fondness for the train ride that circles the park) and walk on to the part of the boardwalk that contains eating places and games. A stuffed banana-person with scraggly hair is a popular prize at the stands this year.

Photo courtesy of http://www.boblucky.com.

From there, we continue on to the less traveled part of the boardwalk. To our right is the railing that separates us from the beach and the ocean. We can see the sunbathers and swimmers and volleyball players, and we can watch the waves and the boats and the small airplanes dragging banners advertising local nightspots. The view to our left is equally tantalizing. Here’s an example:

Image courtesy of Vacation Rentals in Point Pleasant

These houses, and many more like them, are situated right on the boardwalk. Each little dwelling has its own personality. Some have small pools out front for toddlers to wade in, and some have patio sets. The owner of one locally famous house plays Frank Sinatra music all day long, and you can hear it as you walk by. Stephanie and I love looking at each “front yard” behind its low fence and deciding whether we’d like to stay there. I’d like to stay at any of them, actually, just to be that close to the beach.

Our boardwalk journey isn’t over yet. After the last little house, there is another eating/shopping area along the boardwalk and then, finally, the boards end with some benches facing an inlet where boats go back and forth from the bay to the ocean.

Photo courtesy of Dan Beards.

It’s a lovely place to stop and let the wind beat against your face, listen to the swooshing the pumping of the water against the boats, and watch the gulls (and people) walking on the rocks below. And then it’s time to turn around and walk the entire length of the Point Pleasant boardwalk again, with the ocean to your left this time. I always hope Frank will be singing Summer Wind.

*Thank you to Dan Beards.


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The Boardwalk Diaries: Introduction

Growing up in New Jersey, there was one summer destination: the Jersey shore. Just knowing it was there made the less blissful aspects of living in New Jersey tolerable. Actually being there made New Jersey a wonderful place to live.

The Jersey shore has many moods, and in an attempt to define them, two women will walk the boards this summer—mother and daughter, exploring the promenades of our fair state, feeling the heat and the wind, smelling the salty air, and looking all around us for the things that make each precious piece of the Jersey shore unique.

Look for blog posts marked “The Boardwalk Diaries”; you’ll wish you lived here, too, if only for an afternoon at a time.

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Inside the Tunnel

Photo by Stephanie, driving by Mom

I’ve been away from home—happily and with wild abandon. Stephanie and I have had long car rides together, talking and laughing and talking some more, and desperately trying to find healthy food at the Love’s Travel Stops in Indiana, where there is an entire aisle devoted to beef jerky and pork rinds. (Who says travel isn’t broadening?)

In the course of our journey, we went through some tunnels. That took me back to my panic attack days in my early thirties. Head held high, I am a very proud panic attack survivor. After a solid eighteen months of intense behavior modification therapy, anti-anxiety medication, and a great mantra (face—accept—float—let time pass), I’ve spent the (mostly) post-anxious years of my life able to spot a panic attack fifty miles away and calmly walk in the opposite direction. But back in the day, I had a problem with tunnels.

When you’re driving through a tunnel, you can’t stop and you can’t turn around. If you panic about being inside the tunnel, you are suddenly in an impossible-to-solve situation, which makes you panic more. I used a tape recording of Joni Mitchell singing Coyote to get me through tunnels—once I was strong enough to attempt them again. The strength and sassiness of Joni’s words and voice gave me the strength and sassiness to keep my foot on the accelerator and my eyes on the road. To keep myself within “the fine white lines on the freeway.” Even inside the tunnel.

And now, tunnels are a breeze. Every time I drive through one, I whisper a thank-you: to my therapist and to Joni Mitchell. They both gave me a lot of “girl power,” for which I am forever in their debt.

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Gone Down the Shore

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Riding the Escalator

In the early, heady days of homeschooling, when the freedom to go wherever we wanted to go on a weekday was still a new concept, I packed up my “New York bag” (sandwiches, water bottle, hand cleaner, snacks, and extra cash) and hopped on the train with my daughter.

About an hour later, we were in Penn Station, walking toward the 7th Avenue exit, climbing the stairs up to the street, where the city hits you like a burst of smoky perfume. We entered the sidewalk the way you join the circling skaters at a roller rink, picking up their speed and hanging on to it, for fear of falling back and being trampled.

We began to look up, at the billboards, at the blinking lights, at the skyscrapers, and at the skyscraper: the Empire State Building. We walked the few blocks to our destination: Macy’s. I explained that this was the Macy’s — the one in the movie Miracle on 34th Street (the original version, with the utterly lovable Natalie Wood). I pointed out that we were indeed on 34th Street.

And then we entered the store. But how can anyone call it a store? The CVS down the block is a store; the Macy’s on 34th Street is a palace, a museum, an art gallery — anything but a store.

We walked through the impossibly chic cosmetics department, smelling every flower scent in the world. We found what we were looking for — the escalator — and we took that step you can’t do over. You just have to hope that you land on one of the moving platforms, and we did land on one. We began to climb.

We got off on every floor. We giggled at how many floors there were (nine, I think). We looked open-mouthed at the collections of brightly colored non-essentials on each floor. We marveled at how the escalator changed at some point — from a newer-style metal one to a more old-fashioned wooden one. We loved the wooden escalator. It seemed a sacred thing.

After we had been to every floor, we took the escalator back down, all the way down, and we reversed our steps. We went down the stairs from 7th Avenue back into Penn Station and took a train home.

We still do things like that. Whenever we want to. We still pack our bag for places. We still giggle and look open-mouthed at things. We’re still just riding escalators, seeing where they take us. It’s a good life.

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