It is late September 2012. Robin and Dale walk ahead as I take pictures, trying to see what I used to see so many years ago. The boards have been replaced many times, but still feel original. They’re still wood. They splinter and rot (especially evident while on a bike). They smell. There are still seagulls and pigeons flying around and landing practically at our feet. There is still the beach and ocean to our right as we are walking heading uptown. So what is to our right feels the same as it was, what is below us feels the same as it was. But the heart of the boardwalk has been usurped since 1978, the last summer I spent living and working in Atlantic City.
The places I worked. Juice-a-rama: Gone. Hi Hat Joe’s: Gone. King Kone: Gone. The Steel Pier: Gone. Well, technically not gone, since there is a “pier” called Steel Pier
across from Trump’s Casino. But it’s not my Steel Pier. That Steel Pier burned to the ground (sand? ocean?) in 1982. No, the “new” Steel Pier” was built over the ashes of the previous one in 1993, and it’s about 1/4 the size. But before I moan, imagine what the “sealine” of Atlantic City looked like in those ten years before it was sort of rebuilt? Kind of like the west side of Manhattan with all of its ghost piers. The new Steel Pier is a pygmy, but at least something is still there. It doesn’t stretch a mile into the ocean. There’s no diving horse show at the long end of the pier (you’d have to walk past a mile of honky tonk to get there), where a woman on a horse rode up a ramp to the top of a platform, then the horse and rider “dove” into a pool of water while the crowd gasped and cheered (my first job at age 15 was selling peanuts to said crowd). There’s no diving bell, an iron lung of a contraption that would slowly take you a mile down (it felt that way) into the briney depths of the Atlantic, then after a minute or two on the sea bed, would whoosh back up to the surface. There’s no double movie theater where I remember seeing “The Day of the Triffids,” a movie about trees (or tree-like creatures) that ate people (and I was really scared). There’s no musical attractions – I visited Steel Pier on my own in 1969 and saw a brand new group, the Chicago Transit Authority, whom I though were tremendous. And all of this – all of this – for one “low” admission (but I think the diving bell was additional).
Steel Pier is near the “end” of the boardwalk as I remember it. Not technically the end; Garden Pier came after (as a youngster: zero interest. There were no rides nor amusements to be had. It was a garden. On a pier). But the fun of the boardwalk, the lights, the dazzle, the riff raff, the smells, ended after Steel Pier and it was just just residential urban Atlantic City until the inlet where Garwood Mills and Captain Starns restaurant was. The inlet was only visited early mornings on my bike (or when we used to shop at Garwood Mills, probably the original dollar store. I seem to remember buying my very first 45 there, Crazy Elephants’ “Gimme Gimme Good Loving” (though maybe I bought it at our local Woolworth’s in Philly. Not sure. Damn). The inlet had lots of docks. Sea lions used to perch on the docks. But this was all a long time ago.
Many other boardwalk memories come back along the walk
Dad used to love taking us into Planters Peanuts. There were huge replicas of Mr. Peanut throughout, probably someone dressed as Mr. Peanut as well. When I look at Times Square today, with all the Trademark stores (for example Hershey’s World), I think back to the boardwalk of yesterday and Planters Peanuts. Dad would always buy a bag of freshly roasted peanuts (in the shells of course), then go wait outside on the beach side of the boardwalk to watch the parade of people walking by. Letting the peanut shells fall wherever and just watch the throngs. I’d join him, which is where I too learned the joy of people watching. And the AC boardwalk was always ground zero to see the tide of humanity in all their summer glory strolling by. Inside the store – for some reason – there was a water bed on display, and customers were invited to plop down for a slurpy moment on it, and Dale, Robin and I did just that.
Our Atlantic City trip happened five weeks ago. And, in the life of the Jersey shore, it was a lifetime ago. Last Monday, October 29, Hurricane Sandy rearranged it all. The pictures I saw were of devastation. The boardwalk north of Revel was destroyed. The streets by the bay were flooded. Dale, Robin and I were hanging by the bulkhead on the bay on our visit to Bartram Avenue (previous post). How did it all fare? Mike sent a picture of their vacation home on the bay in Ventnor, and it looked like it is now existing as part of the bay. Lots of images floating (no pun intended) on the web for all to see.