Greetings from Asbury Park
Two months ago, my daughter The Heir turned 21. Her request for a birthday gift was simple enough. She wanted to go spend the day in Asbury Park, NJ.
The Heir does not particularly like Bruce Springsteen. She simply had seen some pictures of Asbury Park portraying it as a Jersey Shore destination that is down on its luck. Anything crumbling, deserted, rotting, or just plain weird is candy to The Heir. She adores New Jersey because it's chockablock with crumbling, deserted, rotting, and extremely weird locations.
I'm actually very partial to The Boss and his music, although not to the extent that I've ever tried to get a ticket to one of his concerts. Nevertheless, I thought it would be splendid to biff off to Asbury Park for a day amidst the crumbling ruins.
Little did I know how easy it is to get to Asbury Park from Chateau Johnson. You'll think I'm kidding, but literally, you turn out of our street, turn right at the second stop light, and go straight. Absolutely straight. Not a single turn. When you come to the beach, you're in Asbury Park.
Some people like their shore destinations to be bustling with tourists and shops and candy stores and amusement parks. I began to like Asbury Park the minute I saw the shoreline. First thing, it was ridiculously simple to find a parking space. No driving around for hours or trying to shove the economy car into a spot big enough for a bicycle.
I pulled into the parking space. I said to The Heir, "I wonder how far we are from the Stone Pony. I would like to see it before we go home."
The Stone Pony was across the street from the parking space. Literally.
Heir was correct that Asbury Park features some crumbling structures, but it also has some charming architecture from the early part of the previous century. Another feature I loved about the place was the proximity of the surf to the boardwalk (always good except for during Nor'Easters) and the affordable beach tag price. The boardwalk wasn't crowded, nor was the beach -- but there were people, and shops, and pubs.
Best of all, Heir and I found a charming pinball parlor where you paid by the hour and not by the game. It was all pinball -- none of those hideous modern killer games that give off such bad vibes. Each vintage pinball machine had a little poster on top of it with the history of that model, the year it was designed, the artist, and how many units were made. There was a hotdog stand with old 1960s-era tables. And the place just radiated happiness and good energy. Heir and I both love pinball, so we could easily have stayed longer than the hour we bought.
The weatherman had predicted thunderstorms, and as we sat on the beach I was able to teach Heir how to see rain on the horizon and how to judge how long until a thunderstorm hit. She was baffled that I made her run to the indoor pier, but just as I warned, the hard rain began practically the moment we got a roof over our heads.
On the way home, Heir and I stopped at an eatery called "The Circus Drive-In." From the street it looks like a round circus tent with clowns dancing on top. The sign outside consisted of a neon clown face. To Heir this was heaven. Okay, already, to each his own! The food was good, and cheap. Then we drove straight home -- I mean, straight home -- to Snobville.
Asbury Park proved to be the perfect place for Heir and me to sit and stare at the surf and talk about matters both large and small. Thanks to the unstable air mass, the day was breezy, cloudy and cool. Couldn't have asked for better beach weather or a more pleasant seaside beach, if you happen to be Anne Johnson.
When my life gets rough and I need to recall pleasant days and the glory of my daughter and her infamous, ongoing immersion in the weird, I will return to this post and think of the sea monsters carved on the ancient pier at Asbury Park. I'll think of the squat little bar that launched Bruce Springsteen into a deserved career. I'll think of a tattoo convention and of teenagers practicing their skateboard moves. I'll think of the lights and bells in the old pinball machines and the glowing neon clown sign. I'll show a little faith, there's magic in the night.