Secrets of the Shore- New Jersey Beaches Part 5: Where the Wave Breaks

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As the winds change and the seasons turn, it’s becoming glaringly obvious that summer’s reared its sometimes ugly head and is winding down to a lull. One last trip to the Jersey Shore to send it off, I thought.

Part V: Stone Harbor, New Jersey
It wasn’t until the other day when scouring through my wallet for a few crumbled bills for my morning coffee that I even THOUGHT about spending one more day “Down the Shore.” An old scrap piece of paper tucked in the depths of my wallet revealed a long-ago suggestion made by two mysteriously handsome and generous latte drinkers from my last gig as a barista. The paper simple read: “Places to visit: Stone Harbor (summertime).” I recovered this scrap and was determined to make good of the suggestion. Sometimes life’s greatest goals and adventures aren’t grandiose showcases, billboards or flashing lights. Sometimes you just need to follow the lead of a quickly jotted note. 
In any case, I started a new job, and one of our regulars, Harry Last-Name-Unknown, made a point to recommend visiting Stone Harbor. “It’s the best beach on the shore. Go there and you won’t be sorry!” How could I have ignored the prompts to visit Stone Harbor twice? Harry, who only exists as I know him, a single, middle-aged bar-hopper, was the reason for my trip. Though he may never know this, it seems he and I have more in common than I would have thought possible. 

Where the Wave Breaks: An Open Letter to Harry 
Dear Harry,
I have followed your suggestion of visiting Stone Harbor I’m delighted to report that this indeed the last trip to the Jersey Shoreline I’ll be taking this summer. I must say that this place really is somewhat of a wonder.
I was angry with you at first, truth be told. I nearly got lost following Route 9 south on the Parkway to get here. You didn’t warn me about the construction, but then again, how could you have known? I turned down Stone Harbor Boulevard and before me unwound a scene from my fantasies: beach homes, roaring boats, surf shops and the smell of sea air. I almost hate you for being right, Harry. The clientele at work is usually not my favorite, but you’ve given new meaning to “The customer’s always right.”
Thunderbird 50th Anniversary. No biggie
I curse when I turn down 96th Avenue and pull into a small beach access enclave. The first sign of trouble: all the parking spaces are occupied with  fancy cars. I can hardly believe my eyes at the procession: Audi, BMW, Benz, Audi, Lexus, Saab, Benz…They abound and make my VW Beetle look and feel like a beater. Damn you, Harry! Am I going to spend the rest of my afternoon ashamed because you’ve recommended me to spend my day off in some rich kid wonderland?
The scene only gets grimmer. Screaming kids. Families. Ugh. I would almost rather spend the day getting a root canal than playing eavesdropper to a bunch of house moms reading their copies of “How to be Good,” lamenting about their problems over every turn of the page. These bitches have rock hard bodies and hard rocks on their ring fingers. Their kids are tan and glisten under the sun’s rays, their blond hair absorbing so much UV that it’s almost white. Dads hide under umbrellas to text their mistresses on their Blackberries. Grandmothers guzzle bottled Dasani, refusing to get their poodle perm wet.
I’m sickened. I’ve walked into the play place of my workplace’s uppity clientele. It’s my day off. How is this fair?
I spend a few moments damning you Harry, but then decide its no use and take to the water.
The water is the warmest I’ve felt the Northern Atlantic ever. Time to catch some waves.
I swim out amongst the families and I’m alarmingly and obviously different. What sets me apart is that I am alone. No husband to click photos of, no children to chase about, no nieces to make nice with, no parents to tell to get off my case. It’s clear that I’m the outsider, Harry, just as you are when you come in for your evening drink, alone. Some people feel bad for you, chalk you up to being sad and lonely. I think you’re just a nice guy looking to relax at the end of a long day. Tomato, tomahto. 
I swim out and I’m immediately scooped up by the four foot waves. My lips are tightly pursed so as not to let in the salt water. As I float around on my back for a bit, I instantly reminisce about growing up. Lake Michigan is my home body of water and it’s fresh, not salty. These waves! If Lake Michigan saw waves like this, someone would issue an amber alert warning people to run on water and seek safety. Here? People dive right in. And that’s what I do. I let the waves take me at first, only once, but then again and again, and they carried me, and as I rode them into the shore, I was left topless and sometimes almost nude, scrambling to pull my suit up from my ankles, desperate to be swallowed up once more.
Stone Harbor, New Jersey
I emerged from the ocean shortly after sharing a special moment with some nearby families. We spotted a pod of dolphins just a stone’s throw away. It was like magic for a girl whose greatest summer water conquests include finding seaweed and stepping on the occasional bass. Spotting and swimming with dolphins was like winning some sort of jackpot.
I took a walk down the beach as the “lonely” outsider, but I had adjusted my vision. Where I once saw snaky women with yoga instructor physiques, I now saw those mothers playing paddle ball with their sons. Bratty kids transformed into expert kite fliers. Persnickety grandmothers sat seaside eating Jersey peaches, talking of the old days. Dads posed with their children for photos in hopes of remembering this last week of freedom before real life threatened to swallow them up again. 
Maybe you thought I wouldn’t be going alone, Harry, but I did you see. And although my life differs radically from these people, I recognize all at once that this is a way to live. I’m too young to be married and have children, but maybe it’s down the road somewhere. And if it is, I’m glad my eyes are open to the fact that this is life to these people, and that this is life to me right now.
I do enjoy being the spectator, the note-taker on this occasion. But at the same time, I’m filled with wonderment that I’m also as much of a participant in this experience as these families are. Where I look at them and contemplate a future, parents and grandparents look back at me and relive their glory days: days of freedom, excitement, adventure.
As my life has changed over the past year, one thing has remained certain, a fixture: I am the only one who can write the pages of my future.
As summer winds to a close and fall creeps in, I must thank you Harry for suggesting to me not only my favorite Jersey Shore beach, but for planting the seed that made grow the most reflective and eye-opening close to the summer I’ve ever had.
My pen is clotting with sand and my sunburn screams for remedy. I’m saying farewell to my first and possible last east coast summer. Though there may or may not be more summers in store for me here, rest assured that this one was everything I sought to experience and so much more.
Keep on keeping on, my friend,
August 2011

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