Monday, August 07, 2006

S'up... from Asbury Park.

"Greetings from Asbury Park" just seems so damn cliche. I got into town yesterday and made a beeline for the boardwalk. It's active section is a mere few blocks long, and is bordered at one end by the crumbling and inoperative casino, and at the other by the still barely usable Paramount Theater and Convention hall.

The promenade through the casino houses large picture-postcard and photo reproductions of an Asbury Park now long gone. It's kind of amazing to stand and stare at these photos with the evidence of the current state of the boardwalk area only a hundred feet away. That's not to say that there is no activity... but there is a complete absence of any congestion, and that makes it almost surreal. There was a production of Shakespeare's "Tempest" being presented at the Paramount, and a wine-tasting on the second floor. I paid my $5, and got the equivalent of a small plastic cup of wine. Like everywhere else along the boardwalk, there were not many patrons. I took the opportunity to exit onto the walk that extends itself around the building providing a grand view of the Berkeley Carteret Oceanfront hotel. It was nice to take a loook at it from afar, as I certainly wasn't planning to stay there or at the Empress Hotel (the other prominent accomodation along Ocean Avenue- it seems to be quite a gay paradise). For the current state of Asbury, I think asking for $240 a night is a bit unreasonable. I ended up at the Day's Inn in nearby Neptune.

What I found particularly refreshing about the boardwalk is the complete lack of tourist trap t-shirt shops, and almost complete lack of greasy-food grab joints. The once famous Howard Johnson's has been re-opened this year, but their hours are rather hard to predict. A sign on the door does say (almost pleadingly) that they are "Open Late". I stopped for breakfast this morning, and it was closed. The lack of consumer options hasn't totally stopped the flow of visitors. There were a fair amount of sunbathers and people swimming. It is a strange sight seeing swimsuit-clad beach-goers lounging on their towels in front of deteriorating hulks of former Asbury glory. I was too busy taking photos to go into the water, but it looked plenty clean to me.

As I walked along Ocean Avenue, it became evident that Asbury Park is going to be completely different within a few years. Everywhere you look there is construction happening. There are great mounds of excavated dirt, heavy machinery, and tons of building materials. Plans have been made to built huge resort hotels (one is to be called "The Esperanza") to attract the money that has steadfastly eluded Asbury over the last few decades. Two legendary rock venues are open along this street- The Stone Pony (stomping grounds of "The Bruce") and the Wonder Bar (keeping the iconic "Tillie" alive past her extended life on the outside wall of the now demolished Palace Amusements building).

Off the southern end of the boardwalk there is a burgeoning business district emerging on Cookman Avenue. There are trendy restaurants, boutiques, antique stores, art galleries, and (2) coffee shops. I hadn't come across mention of any of this during extensive internet research. It turns out that it is all brand new. I talked to one gallery owner who could honestly call his business middle-aged after having been open for just two years. This stretch of commercialism can stand up to any I've seen on the northeastern shores. And it's obviously just starting.

No doubt Asbury Park has a long road to becoming a popular shore destination once again. There are still large swaths of urban blight and buildings that need to be razed. Income disparity is glaring on the back streets of Asbury. How will those who call this place home react to the inevitable flood of investment pouring into town? Some shadows of Asbury continue to resist the changes. I've noticed a fair amount of anti-development graffitti. But there is nothing that can stop the cold hand of "progress". And really... outside of the stalwarts that stuck to Asbury during its long decline... who is going to miss its current state? People in Pittsburgh couldn't fathom why I'd want to spend a night here... and I would assume that feeling extends eastward almost to the Monmouth County limits. Personally I enjoy this transitory state, and I'm glad I had a chance to experience it before it's gone.


Blogger John Morris said...

Is there a lot of Bruce Springsteen stuff/ hype. In NY the identity of that place is so much about that.

Also David, if you go to Coney- You must go to the connected-- beach neighborhoods--- Brighton Beach is awsome and gives one some idea of NY's diversity. It's known as Little Odessa after the ukrainian/ Black Sea port. It's all Russian/ and Ukrainian.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Surprisingly, there was very little reference to "the Bruce". His appropriation of the postcard he bought on the boardwalk, and used for his album cover, is mentioned...

I did hear him on the radio in one restaurant, and felt that it was a bit cheesey somehow... I don't know if it was simply random. I mean... I could easily hear that on some "modern rock" station in the 'burgh.

12:50 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

While you are in this area always act exited to here Bruce. your life may depend on that.

4:23 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

As long as I wear my union membership card pinned to my John Deere cap, I should be safe... right??

3:54 PM  

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