Sonny: What the hell is this?
Clemenza: It’s a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.
It may not have been a Sicilian message, but it was as brutal a message as Mario Puzo might have painted in the Godfather. Another assassin struck, and the east coast was its unwilling mark. Sandy was the henchman and the eastern seaboard was Luca. And sadly, all too much of New York and New Jersey now sleeps with the fishes.
None of my pre-Sandy readiness could have prepared me for such brutality, such devastation. When I awoke that Tuesday morning October 30th at 7:00 AM, it was quiet, uneasily quiet. No howling wind, no rain, no train whistles, not even car sounds. It was spooky. I got out of bed and looked out the window. The sky was still gray, but you could see it was clearing. That thug – Sandy – had come and gone in the night. Thankfully, with the help of earplugs, I slept through her menacing howl. Upon waking, I still had no electric. I wasn’t really counting on it. But it sure would have been nice!
I decided immediately to get dressed, eat something, grab my camera, and go see if my city was indeed in ruins. Without electric, there was not hot water to shower with, even though my heat and hot water come from the same gas-fired on demand system, it takes a spark of electric to ignite the warming flames. I also realised I had no cell phone service. So much for modern technology. I got dressed, grabbed a few crunch bars, a bottle of water, my camera, and decided to take my car and drive around.
Got around the block to Sunset Ave and Bond Street and I pulled over. Bond Street was flooded. There were trees down all around. Sunset Lake had overflown its banks, and receded during the night leaving fish stranded in puddles and on the street to die. It was an odd sight to behold — fish out of water. It’s one of those things you’d never think of — fish as storm casualties. But there they were. They looked so helpless, so hopeless, stranded in puddles, awaiting their fate. Doing what fish do — swimming. And stressing. If fish can stress.
Within that same area there were some huge trees down, luckily none had hit houses, yet.
Just surveying the area, you could not tell how far Sunset Lake had overflowed its banks during the storm surge. Oddly the only way you could — fish carcasses. By my estimation Sunset flooded north across Sunset and half way up to my street, 6th.
Next I started traveling east up Sunset toward the boardwalk. Before I got to Kingsley Ave I realized it would be easier for me to just leave my car and do the rest of my journey by foot. I parked around Kingsley and 5th Ave and started walking towards the boardwalk.
I don’t know why I expected to see more damage than I did. Not to say there wasn’t any, there certainly was. But somehow fish in the street and downed trees didn’t seem like much. Mind you, I had not seen the news or any other areas for days. But so far, my sense was, Asbury was spared.
As I moved towards Kingsley the police presence was abundant. There was some flooding around Kingsley and Sunset, but not much else. And you couldn’t really tell if the flooding was leaf clogged storm drains or the Atlantic doing a little traveling.
It wasn’t until I hit Ocean Ave I saw the ravages of Sandy. It looked like, what I can only imagine a war zone might look like. Sand covering the street, as if a sand-bomb exploded. Sand bags lying willy nilly all over the street, having been moved by great currents of water. My heart slowly sank. The emotion of what had happened was starting to set in. The shock and awe of it all, literally. What was once a vibrant seashore town only a few months earlier, was turned into a disaster in a matter of hours.
As I walked along Ocean Ave I could hear police and other first responders telling people to get off Ocean Ave and move towards Kingsley. Hearing that, I just walked like I was moving towards Kingsley but stayed on Ocean Ave taking pictures as fast as I could. At one point I was able to walk up onto the boardwalk. I was at Ocean and 4th, right next to Madam Marie’s. I raised my camera photographed Madam Marie’s and then looking south down the boardwalk started snapping, in rapid succession, as many frames as I could as I turned to look north up the boardwalk towards Convention Hall.
All the while I can hear a policeman on his car bullhorn telling me to leave. At one point he got out of the car and started walking towards me. Knowing I had to leave, I turned and started walking towards him. He asked, “didn’t you hear me?” No, I said, with my hood up and wind in my ears … couldn’t hear you … sorry. He then told me to get to Kingsley … NOW! Being the jerk … I mean the diligent photographer I am … I kept walking towards the Stone Pony taking photos as I went, still on Ocean Ave. At one point I even photographed a policeman motioning me to move off Ocean Ave. Yeah … right.
On some level I was relieved. I thought that things would be so much worse than they were. For the most part, as far as my eyes could see, the boardwalk was mostly intact. The only visible damage was a bit of railing and boardwalk ripped up and displaced. The children’s beach playground pushed and twisted like a pretzel into the boardwalk. Stores being flooded. Loss of merchandise and livelihood. But I know in hindsight, we were extremely lucky. The entire boardwalk could have been pummeled and washed away … to sleep with the fishes, like so many towns both north and south of us. The businesses that lined the boardwalk could be completely gone. Yes there was still physical destruction … but nowhere near what could have been. The most spectacular thing I encountered, was the Crepe Shop being lifted from it roost on the Boardwalk and floated, pushed, shoved, to its new resting place, several hundred feet across Ocean Ave. But even in Sandy’s furry it still remained upright. Maybe a fitting metaphor for Asbury Park itself.
As I continued walking toward Main Street down 1st Ave, more downed trees, more debris, a little siding missing from a house, and even more downed trees. But no homes leveled beyond repair. A smashed glass window on an empty storefront on Main Street. But nothing gut wrenchingly catastrophic. I realize statements like these are relative. As I walked back to my car I realized … in the scheme of things, Asbury Park did come through this determined and upright.
It was time to see how the rest of the world fared.