The Boardwalk

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In the mornings, Burke and I ride our bikes down the boardwalk. It’s early, after she’s done teaching (online) and I decide to abandon work for the brisk salty air and the feel.

It’s going to be hot later, really hot, and so I want to enjoy the boardwalk in the cool morning. The sun will have come up an hour or two before, so the air is warming up when we hop our bikes. A lady in a hoodie and a pair of shorts is walking a grumpy dog, and we pedal up the road.

People drive slowly at the Jersey shore. This is probably because of bikes and kids and people crossing the street. It’s also due to the feel at the shore, which forces you whether you like it or not, to slow down, enjoy, and be passively nice to those around you.

When stand up to pedal our way up the ramp to the boardwalk and once that minor exertion is done, we are on the flat boards. Everything else is gravy. The bikes people rent or buy down the shore, and the bikes by far most often seen are called ‘cruisers.’ No gears, no handbrakes. Many of them have a basket. Some of them have a Ken doll attached to the back as a passenger.

There’s nothing like the Jersey boardwalk in the morning. The heat and cold are sautéing a mist off the ocean. The beach is vast and cool and quiet. The boards rock under our bikes. There are people doing the same no matter if we go at 6 or 7 or 8 am. We pass all of the places that will be packed later. Morey’s Pier, Hot Spot, Ed’s, dozens of shops, water parks, amusement parks, stands for every junk food one can imagine, Hot Spot #4 (haven’t seen 2 or 3). The only places doing business are the Dunkin’ Donuts and the diners. Otherwise, the gates are down, the places recouping and recharging.

We make it to the end of the boardwalk and our bikes hit the pavement. Grassy hills and dunes keep the ocean out of sight now. We lock the bikes up and walk up a light hill. We hit the ocean fast and the dolphins are out in droves. Some kids are torturing a dead horseshoe crab.

On the way back after our breakfast burritos, the boardwalk is a little more awake. The gates are halfway up, there are more people. Kids are pointing at the water rides, their parents are looking at the coffee shop. We enjoy the relative quiet. In the afternoon we go to the beach and drink our Orange Julius just like everyone else. In the late afternoon, we sleep.   

In the evening we head back to meet my mom, my sister, and her kids. This time we walk.

I read a haiku once that I have never been able to find again. It’s about a boardwalk at the Jersey shore (or maybe it was Coney island) in April. While I don’t remember the exact words, I do remember that the haiku perfectly conveyed the lonely, empty, beautiful feeling the boardwalk has in the office season. A place where there are no people, but where there are thousands of people on another day. Like a baseball park in It blew me away. I wish I had had it tattooed backwards on my ass, the body’s Moleskine.  

I’d like to write a haiku about the feeling on the boardwalk on an early August evening. The endless thronging sounds of arcade games, the sun sitting out over the ocean, the smells of ice cream and funnel cake and hot dogs and pizza so thick that people could gain weight from inhaling. The waves continuously crash, but we can’t hear them.

The shops on the boardwalk are a hodge podge. There’s run of the mill shore fare like novelty signs and ceramic busts of sea captains. Stores sell hoodies, long sleeved T shirts, and sweatshirts for $5. They all sell well despite the daytime heat. My theory is that people stroll the boardwalk in the cooler night and that stroll would be even more pleasant with a hoodie for $5.

One shop sells hermit crabs in terrariums. I have always found this awful in a so close, yet so far kind of captivity. I supposed they’re used to it at this point, but my instinct has always been to grab them all and free them in the sand ten feet away. They wouldn’t be able to run very far though and I’m fairly certain I’d just get in trouble. I could buy them and set them free, but it’s with that option that I understand the very shallowness of my distress.

There are a slew of clothing shops that cater to a right wing fringe. Shirts that read I support LGBT: Loyalty, Guns, Beer, and Trump. So much geared towards the overt patriot. I kneel for the anthem and the fallen. America. Don’t love it? I’ll help you pack.

I’d scoff, but judging from the shirts of many people on the boardwalk, those shops are just aiming at their target market. Charming shirts include Black Guns Matter and a whole slew of shirts proclaiming allegiance to the 2nd Amendment. No other amendment has ever been so supported by our nation’s clothing suppliers. Maybe I’ll start a line of clothing for the other amendments. The 1st or maybe the 6th for those who want a speedy trial. I could go for the underrepresented 14th amendment or maybe the seemingly more significant 25th.  

We walk down the boardwalk eating ice cream. The dinging and bonging of boardwalk games grows distant as we get home, stuffing the tip of paper from our cones into our pockets. We can’t hear it in the backroom where we sleep. I love the boardwalk, how much it changes throughout the day and year. It’s a different place in the morning, the afternoon, the evening. I’ll see it change again tomorrow. I just wish I could remember that damned haiku.

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