Unplugged

About this time two Mondays ago my brightly lit world went dark.

Super Storm Sandy made her presence known and took away our lights, the Internet and the soft glow of our 42″ flat screen tv. Oh, and lest I forget the necessities: heat, access to money or gasoline and any semblance of fresh produce.

But we survived. We had water, a decent amount of non-perishable food items and candles. Make that oodles of candles (side note: one bag of 100 tea lights will last you 9 days without power and light up to 4 rooms/day. And you’ll still have some leftover to decorate the votive holders stashed around your house. You’re welcome).

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108

I stared at brightly colored postcard, turning the number over in my head for a long while, trying to figure out what it meant.

They had me at Yoga Festival by the Sea — an outdoor yoga event in Asbury Park to support of the Global Mala Peace Project. I envisioned a beautiful, sunny Indian Summer morning participating in an outdoor yoga class as a way to start my day, my $25 entry fee serving as a donation to various charities. But, 108?

I didn’t think much of it, shrugged my shoulders and went about my business. Little did I realize what I had gotten myself into…

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In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

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Or at least 6am in Newark Penn Station. In a few hours time the station will become nothing more than a pass-thru for busy commuters rushing to work.

But for now all I hear is the quiet hum of clacking tiles on the train information board, the muffled tones of the Amtrak ticketing agent through the thick glass and the ramblings of a lonely old man, gesticulating wildly to the empty space of air directly in front of him before the announcer punctures the air with the latest track announcements calling out stops along the way: Rahway, Princeton Junction, Trenton.

My spine ergonomically melts into the curved wooden bench as I survey my surroundings. The opulence and grandeur of the train station is abundant. The freshly polished marble floors that gleam, the ornate details that decorate the doorways, ceiling and windows take me back to a stylish time when train travel was the epitome of chic. If I close my eyes I can see Cary Grant dashing in to find his girl Friday.

So here I sit, coffee in hand waiting for the announcement that will pull me out of my daydream and back into traveler mode, the Acela whisking me away to Boston. But for now, I’ll enjoy the quiet and delight in the scenes unfolding before my eyes.

The Three Bs: The Beach, Boardwalk and Bruce

Tillie @ The Wonder Bar

Asbury is by far my most favorite beach town on the Jersey Shore. It could be because it was my first shore town or the fact that my boyfriend and I strolled along these very sands when he told me he loved me for the first time. Even without these memories, Asbury Park has inexplicably drawn me in with its perfect blend of history, spunk and individuality.

Take for example its prominent landmarks, Convention Hall and the Casino, which bookend the boardwalk and tell the tale of another time. A time when Asbury was a regal seaside town and the place to be. Truth be told, it kicks my imagination into overdrive and I find myself thinking of swimming costumes and women with parasols strolling alongside the beautiful, briny sea.

However, these same structures also tell the tale of a town that has weathered some serious storms, and not just the saltwater and weather variety. From a generational shift in summer retreats to the riots of the 70s, as I understand it, the tumultuous history of Asbury Park could fill multiple blog posts. It’s a history that I have yet to really dive into, let alone fully understand. Suffice it to say, Asbury Park has a healthy dose of remembering its past and an eclectic group of inhabitants that breathe new life into it, giving it its “rough around the edges” image and a solid place in my heart.

As for the third B, no post about Asbury could be complete without mentioning the illustrious Bruce Springsteen who put The Stone Pony on the map and made this town famous with his first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park.” Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan, but now that Asbury and I are kindred spirits, I feel I may have unfairly overlooked Bruce. Note to self: rectify this immediately.

And while this post barely scratches the surface, I hope I’ve done it justice and given you an insight into this seaside jewel. So, if you find yourself pondering where to go on the Jersey Shore, may I recommend Asbury Park. To sweeten the deal, here are some favorite pearls.

Know & Go: Asbury Park

  • You can surf in Asbury. North of the boardwalk, there is a small dirt parking lot (note: you have to pay to park here now* – bummer) where you can find a decent break off the jetty. It’s not always consistent, but if there’s a swell there will likely be a crowd. Worth checking out
  • Say you had your morning surf session and want to keep that stoked feeling all day, where do you grub up? Why, Sunset Landing of course! Set on Deal Lake, this small, unassuming luncheonette whips up the best breakfast grub with a distinctly Polynesian flair along with NJ breakfast staples (read: pork roll). Try the Hawaiian bread french toast — it’s like a little taste of the islands at the Shore
  • Convention Hall is the flagship of Asbury Park. Easily recognizable, it’s a shame that it has fallen into a bit of disrepair, but has a lot of character and history to make up for it. I love looking at the blown up old tickets that are poster-sized and lined the walls inside. It makes me curious as to what this place was like in its heyday. Notable acts over the years have included: The Beach Boys, The Who and Bruce (natch). In fact, Bob Dylan is playing next weekend
  • Roller Derby is alive and well here, thanks to the Jersey Shore Roller Girls. I’ve been to two matches this season and I’m hooked. It could also be the $6 Yuengling in a can and watching the girls take the corners with that skate crossover move and a body check. Oh, and I love the creativity in each girl’s handle: M8T, Black Eye Betty and Tamel Toe Stomper to name a few. I have writer’s block just trying to come up with something even one iota as clever. Simply put, these girls rock
  • And say you want to take a break from the boardwalk and experience another slice of Americana. How about Asbury Lanes? Or “The Lanes” for those in the know. Here you can bowl 10 frames, listen to live music, grab a bbq tofu sammie w/ tots at “Snack World” (the most aptly named snack bar I’ve come across in my 34 years) and a frosty brew at the retro, 60s-style bar
  • Asbury also has some stellar cuisine and establishments that rival my former city’s offerings. From Langosta Lounge (vacation-inspired), Brickwall Tavern (good pub grub and beer on tap) and Trinity and the Pope (Cajun Creole – can you say collard greens mac ‘n cheese?), you can eat your way to happiness

Hope to see you there!

*Note: Coastal access is a hot button issue along the Jersey Shore right now. I’m attending a Jersey Shore Surfrider meeting next weekend to get involved. So you can bet there will be a post in the future.

The Jersey Shore: An Introduction

Ocean City, NJ

Growing up, my next door neighbor John was a tall, boisterous man. Born and raised in West Orange, New Jersey, he had a non-descript accent you couldn’t quite place, which really only came out when he tried to say my name. Instead of pronouncing it “air-in”, John called me “uhr-un” in a declarative way that would make you think he had a bone to pick with me. The life of the party with a wicked and bawdy sense of humor, John was, to me, my only exposure to the Garden State until I moved to New York in 2004.

Although truth be told, I don’t often think of John. Life gets busy and you don’t often have time to remember those “halcyon days of yore” — that is, until your parents come to town. For the Graves family, it seems that every time we get together there is a good amount of time spent reminiscing. This trip was no exception as the conversation inevitably turned to John, our Garden State ambassador and his opinions about what to see and do when my parents came to NJ for the first time. One mandate, “visit the Shore.”

Of course, for my generation the Jersey Shore conjures ups the MTV set (as much as it pains me to type that), but for the vast majority of the population, the Jersey Shore represents a summertime tradition. Weeks spent holed up in a shore town, days spent lounging on the sand, cruising the boardwalk for beach treats and diversions (with everything from amusement park rides to mini-golf). There is something distinct about the Jersey Shore — maybe it’s the blend of beach, boardwalks and barrier islands — that you don’t find in other beach towns.

I know some may be upset by the previous statement. To be fair, as someone who grew up on the beaches in Southern California, I’m the first to admit that a beach in one city is fairly similar to another, they tend to offer a laid-back vibe and easy-going attitude that can only be attributed to the ebb and flow of the ocean (it just instills a peacefulness and appreciation of its natural glory). But there is just something about the Jersey Shore I can’t quite put my finger on. No doubt it will give me plenty of blog fodder.

Stay tuned…