"Sandy, the fireworks are hailin' over Little Eden tonight/ Forcin' a light into all those stony faces left stranded on this warm July."
With those words Bruce Springsteen begins to paint a picture of one aspect of life as he knew it on the Jersey Shore. For better or worse we've also been subjected to MTV's version of life on the "Jersey Shore." Let me give you a better picture of life on the Jersey Shore as I have experienced it.
This is a more realistic story of life at the Jersey Shore and how an unwelcome visitor changed that life for years to come.
The "Jersey Shore" consists of approximately 120 miles of some of the nicest beaches on the East Coast. From the Gateway National Park at Sandy Hook in the north, to the Victorian charm of Cape May at the southern tip of New Jersey, the New Jersey beaches offer a place to unwind and escape from the hectic pace of life in the metropolitan area. I'm a life-long resident of New Jersey. I have cherished memories of spending a week each year on the wide expanse of beach at Wildwood Crest, with its powdery white sand, vacationing with my parents and sister. Walking the five miles of amusement filled boardwalk, being overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of all the rides, the games of chance and the concession stands.
When I grew up, got married and had a daughter of my own, we, too, looked forward to renting a place "down the shore" only a little closer to home, on the barrier island called Island Beach. There are two barrier islands that protect the mainland of central New Jersey; Island Beach and Long Beach Island. Originally they were one island, but a hurricane in the Forties breached the island forming an inlet into the Barnegat Bay. My tale will focus on the island to the north, Island Beach, and to one community in particular: Ocean Beach Unit Three.
Life on Island Beach, from Point Pleasant Beach in the north to Island Beach State Park in the south, varies from small motels, family friendly boardwalks, and day beaches, to the more, young adult life style as portrayed at Seaside on MTV, to the thousands of small summer cottages in between, there's something for everyone. Starting when my daughter was about five, we would rent one of those summer cottages for a week in Ocean Beach Unit One.
The developers of the Ocean Beach communities had bought tracts of vacant land in the late forties between the incorporated towns of Lavallette (1887) and Bay Head (1886). The houses in these well-established communities were larger, many were year round residences, and were considered beyond the means of the average worker. The developers chose a different marketing plan for their community. They would build smaller cottages, designed to be summer residences that the masses could afford. The first development, Ocean Beach Unit One, began in the early fifties. The cottages consisted of two small bedrooms, a kitchen and living room separated by a counter on which meals were served, and a small bathroom with a shower, toilet and sink. The house sat on a small lot, the back yards were approximately three feet deep and there was room on one side of the lot to park one car. The setback on the road side of the house was one foot and the front door faced the parking spot. There was also a covered patio which was situated in the back corner of the footprint of the house. All the houses sat on the left side of the lot. The street was paved with black top, which made footwear necessary during the summer. The bedrooms and the bathroom were enclosed with quarter inch plywood for privacy. The rest of the house was open to the studs and outside sheathing. They were put up for sale for the price of $2,895 and hundreds were sold. Some for vacation homes, some for rentals, and some, with a little work as year round residences.
When those sold out, the developers began Unit Two. The lots were a little bigger and so were the houses. But basically they offered the same no-frills, family-friendly beach experience as Unit One. Hundreds more were sold; and then came Unit Three.
By the time they got to Unit Three, the developers, after hearing feedback from the owners of the first two units, increased the size of the house and the lot; making room for cars to be parked two abreast and if pulled up to the back of the driveway a third car could be parked sideways in the driveway. The house layout was basically the same. If you picture a detached oversized two car garage with the back right hand corner built as a covered porch, you pretty much have a good idea of the house. Once again each house sat on the left side of the lot and you had an eight-foot deep backyard. They built over a thousand of these summer cottages in Unit Three. They also built a three bedroom version of the house on the beach front where, because of land restrictions, they could not fit an extra street so the lots were deeper. Almost all the streets in the Ocean Beach community ran perpendicular to the ocean and ran from the ocean front houses to the bay. In Unit Three all the roads were unpaved, consisting of hard compacted dirt and sand. The beachfront was completely lined with houses, with a road running parallel to the ocean connecting all the streets. On the bayside of the island several streets ran into the bay like fingers, providing the owners of those houses with bulkheads for docking their boat.
The main thorough fare on the island is State Route 35, which runs North and South for the entire length of the residential portion of the island. It is a concrete road, one lane in each direction on the northern third of the island. When a railroad right of way became available, the State shifted the south-bound lane to the right of way and made it two lanes south-bound and converted the original road to two lanes north-bound. Thousands of cars travel these routes every day during the summer.
It was in Unit Three, during the summer of 1984, that we signed a contract to purchase our beach house. It was the first time that we rented a house for two weeks. My daughter was ten years old. We had such a great vacation that we decided that we really wanted to buy a house at the beach someday. We stopped at the Ocean Beach Realty Office to drop off our rental house key, with the intent that I would drop off my business card informing them that I was looking for a "handy man special" to buy.
"Here are the keys to a house that might just be what you're looking for, the broker said. I don't have permission to sell it yet, but take a look; it's only a few blocks from here. See what you think."
The three of us piled into my car and drove to the house. We pulled into the vacant driveway and stood in front of one of a thousand similar houses, assessing its worthiness. It looked OK on the outside; needed some paint and some caulking, but not too bad. We opened the door and stepped inside what once was a covered porch. At some point in the past the owner had enclosed the porch and, from the looks of it, had made it a third bedroom. OK, you enter the house through a bedroom; that can be fixed. We opened the door to the rest of the house and entered the living area. The rest of the house was exactly as they must have bought it, a shell. We were shocked to see the studding and sheathing on the outside walls; the plywood around the bedrooms, the concrete floors with small area rugs; the back door, with its single round port hole; in the bathroom, to the right, the toilet and sink, to left a small shower with a shower curtain. It was dark and dingy, over cluttered with furniture that was old and too big for the space. It was just perfect. After a little discussion of all its potential; we headed back to the realtors office.
"Well, what do you think of it?"
"It's just what we are looking for."
Now we asked the 64 dollar question. "How much do they want?"
"They are thinking about listing it for $65,000, but if you offer $62,000 I'm sure they will take it. Now I just have to get their OK to sell it."
He got on the phone, and after a few minutes he called us back into his office and informed us that they had agreed to our offer. He explained that if we put a binder of $500 as a deposit; he would have the paperwork drawn up. We had to get a lawyer and he would forward the paper work to him. We all shook hands and my wife and daughter got into her car and I got into mine and we headed for home. All the way home the thought kept going through my head, 'Can I really afford this? What the hell have I done?'
Being a CPA, as soon as I got home, I went to my office and cranked out the numbers. We'd have to clean out our savings and eat at our folks a lot, but it was doable. What troubled me worst of all was that the current mortgage interest rate on a twenty-five year mortgage was 14 7/8ths percent. Ouch, it was like purchasing a house with a credit card. 'Well, ' I thought, 'I'll have to combine this mortgage with my primary residential mortgage as soon as the rates drop.' We didn't close on the house until late November due to some legal issues. We also had to be approved by the home-owners association. During our meeting with president of the association he told us something that I never thought of, or experienced.
"You know, in the early sixties you would never have been allowed into the association. This was a very WASP-orientated area; no Italians allowed. Times have changed of course; now several of the board members are Italian."
In December, we began the renovation of our summer cottage. The first thing we did was throw out most of the furniture. We wanted to make it as airy as possible, so first we tore down the door and low ceiling that covered the porch, opening it up to the roofline above. We wanted to be able to use it most of the year, to make it a three season house, so we insulated the outer walls, during which time I discovered that the house was studded with 2X3's, none of which were sixteen on center. I had to rerun some of the electrical wires because we found that most of the house's outlets were on one 15 amp circuit. The electrical service in the house was the original 60 amp service, with screw-in fuses, which looked to be in good working order so I left it because I was running out of money and had to cut corners where I could. I installed an air conditioner through the wall that faced the street about eight feet off the ground. This unit would have to cool the entire house. Because I had never done a lot of sheet-rocking and spackling, we decided to panel the entire house in a light color wood, which my wife said would give the illusion of more space. We had a commercial grade carpet installed in the living room and bedrooms, tiled the kitchen and bathroom with vinyl tile and sealed the slate floor in the porch area where we put a convertible couch for overnight guests. I put a pocket door on the bathroom and moved the bedroom entrances so they were two feet apart. I installed bi-fold doors in the entrances and put two four-foot wide closets between them, one in each room, with bi-fold doors on each. I replaced the back door with a modern aluminum screen door with a jalousie window to allow for air flow and privacy. It also matched the existing jalousie windows that were original to the house and which were still in good shape.
We completed our renovations just before the June 15th deadline imposed by the Home Owners Association Bylaws. We soon found out there were a lot of restrictions imposed by the bylaws. In Unit Three all the houses had to be one story, storage boxes had to be placed in one location only, clothes lines were limited to a certain area as well. Most of the rules dated back to a time before most of the houses were air conditioned and the free flow of cool night air was essential for sleeping. All outside improvements had to be approved by the building committee and the representative of the developers. Outside shower enclosures were prohibited.
Outside showers? Yes, each house had an outside shower. The plumbing ran up the outside of the house, exposed to the winter weather. We found this out the hard way. During the renovations we were so preoccupied with getting the work done that we never gave the outside shower a thought. Or, for that matter, any of the plumbing inside the house. So, on the first warm sunny day, after a long cold winter, I suddenly heard water running. After searching around the inside of the house, I realized that the water was running outside. I opened up the back door and, much to my dismay, found a stream of water shooting out of the shower pipes. 'Crap, we burst a pipe.' No sooner did I get back into the house than I heard more water flowing. This time it was inside; water was cascading down the inside of the bathroom wall from somewhere above in the area of the small 30-gallon hot water heater located above the shower. I ran to the shut-off valve under the sink and was able to shut the supply of water before any real damage could be done.
I looked up the number of a plumber who happened to live in the area. Within a half an hour he arrived and was able to easily replace the burst sections of pipe.
"It's a good thing you were here when it happened. You wouldn't believe how much damage a leak like that can cause to the inside of the house. Didn't anyone tell you that these houses have to be winterized? You have to shut off the water, preferably at the street or at least at the main shut off under the sink and you have to drain all the pipes each year before the first freeze. It's a good idea to pour alcohol into the toilet bowl and all the drains to prevent them from freezing."
The sellers forgot to mention that. Oh well, live and learn.
So there you have it, a pretty good idea of the house and the living conditions of the average home owner in our area of the Jersey Shore.
Life at the Jersey Shore
If you don't actually live at the shore and you either are renting for a week or the season-- or, like me, had to commute to the shore every weekend-- life is not only a beach, it can be a bitch. Every Friday after work, I would drive home, change clothes, cut the grass -- which I would normally do on weekends -- and then get in the car and join the thousands of other cars, all heading south on the Garden State Parkway, which is the only major highway that runs north and south the entire length of New Jersey. It's a toll road and every twenty miles or so you had to stop and pay a toll. When I was growing up the toll was 25 cents; today its 75 cents; which can really add up if you're heading into Southern Jersey. But the most frustrating part of the toll was that in several of the areas you paid the toll, and then crawled in bumper to bumper stop and go traffic to the next toll. The seventy-five mile drive to our little slice of heaven at the shore could take an hour and a half or it could take three hours or more depending on the traffic. It forced you to find more imaginative ways to circumvent the traffic. On holiday weekends, the best alternative was to leave very late at night or very early the following morning. The return trip could be just as bad. I found what worked best for me was to set my alarm at five to five Monday morning, throw on a tee shirt and shorts, get in the car and get on the road by five AM. I still ended up driving in bumper to bumper traffic, but at least we were traveling at 65 MPH. I'd get home by 6:20 and jump in the shower to start my day like any other workday.
My wife and daughter almost never had to worry about the traffic. In the beginning, they spent the entire summer at the beach. As she grew up, my daughter wanted to spend more time at home and finally, when she was a junior in high school, she announced that the upcoming summer would be her last at the beach. Which worked out great for us, because my wife went back to work full time, with all the benefits that a major corporation could offer. They even had half day Fridays during the summer. So she could work four nine-hour days during the week and leave work by 12:30, driving directly to the beach, ahead of the work traffic. I would find her sitting in the back yard reading a book, or napping on the sofa when I finally made it on Friday night.
Our weekends were what weekends were for; unwinding after a rough week at work. We would go to the beach when the weather was nice, put up a couple of umbrellas, read or walk along the beach, jump in the surf to cool off, or ride the waves with my daughter. Some mornings we would take a leisurely bike ride, most of the time down to the bay coast road and out onto West Point Island, a small chunk of land just off the main island connected by a short bridge. Here, there was little traffic, there were many large expensive mini mansions located around the perimeter of the island and it was fun to day dream about winning the lottery and buying one. A pretty famous Jersey Boy actor had bought his mother a place on the island. They even had a sign on the privacy fence in front asking people not to bother him or his family.
At night we would either go out to dinner, usually off the island to avoid all the tourists (the local places on the island can get very crowded during the summer) or we would just eat in and spend a relaxing night at home. When it got dark we would walk up and down the streets, glancing into open windows to get ideas for additional improvements or just to see how others lived.
We also had plenty of company. You get used to that when you owned a place "down the shore." It was mostly my sister-in-law and her husband and son, who are our closest friends as well, or my wife's parents. There were a few times when they both came down on the same weekend, which would have been a problem if we weren't such a close family. Six adults and two kids were just about the limit that the house could hold. The biggest problem was always the bathroom and the shower. Coming off the beach in the afternoon, trying to get ready, all at the same time, with only one bathroom and two showers, can be challenging. Most of us showered outside; it was quicker, with less clean up, the breeze and sunshine would help you dry off. Getting dressed in such a small house can also be a problem. With only two bedrooms, everyone dressed in shifts, especially as the kids got older. Somehow we always made it; we would pile into my wife's minivan and head either out to dinner or to the boardwalk in either Point Pleasant or, as the kids got older, to Seaside. There were a lot more rides, bigger and better rides, in Seaside. The people watching was a lot better too.
Speaking of people watching, there's nothing better than going into the bathroom, standing there answering nature's call and glancing out the window at the house behind you and seeing a well-endowed teenager -- or woman for that matter -- wearing what appears to be two eye patches and a sling-shot, standing under the shower, washing the shampoo out of her hair. Oh, to be young again. I'll bet many an adolescent boy had his first sexual experience staring out at such a sight. Remember that in the other communities the houses were even closer together. At the shore, privacy is hard to come by and comes at a premium.
That's how life was at the Jersey Shore.
Sandy changes everything.
As I have previously stated, the Jersey Shore is no stranger to hurricanes and Nor'easters, as we refer to them. Those are storms that head north along the eastern seaboard, usually coming with strong winds, and heavy rains, and tend to be slow-moving forcing massive amounts of water as a tidal surge into the bays and rivers along the coast causing flooding along the low lying areas. Most hurricanes along the east coast move up the coast then hook out to sea. Picture a left hander's bowling ball, skimming along the edge of the ally, then at the last minute gripping the lane and hooking into the pocket. This has spared the Jersey Shore from major damage in the past. Sandy was an exception to the rule; this bowler was right handed and the ball hooked directly into South Jersey.
It was late in the hurricane season on the east coast; the waters were already beginning to cool off from their summer high temperatures. Normally storms that occur at this time of year dissipate before they ever reach New Jersey. I wasn't very worried and didn't pay much attention to the long-range forecast. On the Friday before the storm hit, I was at work talking with one of my coworkers.
I asked, "You have any plans for the weekend?"
"You've got to be kidding right; don't you know we're going to get hit with a hurricane by Monday?"
That got my attention. When I got home that night I turned on the Weather Channel and discovered, much to my dismay, that they were indeed predicting New Jersey was going to be getting a direct hit from the Hurricane named Sandy. We spent much of the day on Saturday, bringing in the Halloween decorations and clearing off the furniture from the front porch and the back patio.
"I've got to get down to the beach and storm proof the back yard as best I can."
"OK," she said, "but you are planning on coming home again, aren't you?"
Here's where the macho side of my brain took over. "No, I think I'll ride this one out down there.
"Hon, you can't, it won't be safe."
"It won't be a problem. We've never had any wind damage before because of the way all the houses line up and we've never had any flood damage before. I just want to be there in case something happens. Besides, Sandy will most likely go out to sea like all the others. I want you to stay with your parents; they may need you. I'll have my cell and will call you to let you know what's happening."
With a hug and a kiss goodbye, I headed out the door. The sky was already full of clouds and the wind was noticeably stronger than normal as I got in my SUV and began my drive down to the shore. The traffic was light and I made good time. I pulled into the driveway about 7 PM. As I walked across the driveway and approached the door I noted two things, one, the wind was a lot stronger here, and two, it was really quiet, no one appeared to be around.
Going into the house, I went through my normal quick inspection of all the rooms. Nothing appeared to be out of order. I grabbed the remote and turned on the TV. I switched to the Weather Channel, walked to the refrigerator, grabbed a beer, took a couple of slices of pizza out of the freezer, and settled in for the night. The news report was not good. Although the storm was still well to the east and south of us, all the computer models were still predicting that Sandy was still going to hook back to the west and make landfall somewhere between Cape May and Long Island. Worst of all, because of the size of the storm and the time it was expected to hit us, the storm surge was expected to be ten to fifteen feet. I sat at the kitchen counter doing the math in my head. If most of the island is between six and ten feet above sea level, and the sand dunes that protected the beach front homes were only three or four feet, then most likely the ocean and the bay were going to meet in some places, if not on the entire island.
I remembered that during the last major nor'easter back in the eighties, the bay came up to within three houses from us. It was scary, standing there in the street watching the edge of the water slowly make its way up the street. We were lucky; our house was almost dead center on the island; between the 35's as they say. That storm was not as strong as this storm, but it had stalled just off the coast and, for three days had pushed more and more water into the bay, with its steady winds not letting the water recede.
All the houses in our area were built directly onto a concrete slab; therefore the floor of the house was no higher than eight inches above the road. If the water level rose above that, there was no way for me to keep it out of the house. I shut the TV and the lights, grabbed a pillow and slept on the couch.
Tomorrow was going to be a very busy day.
I woke up early Sunday morning. It was still dark outside. I started walking from room to room, taking anything that was sitting on the floor and moving it to higher ground. Out in the porch, I placed the floor lamp and the small wicker table on the couch. In the living room, I moved another lamp and the end table it sat on to the couch in that room. The TV and the low stand that it sat on I left for now, they would be the last items to be moved. In the bedrooms, I removed the lower two drawers of each of the dressers and stacked them on top of the dressers. In my daughter's room I pulled out the rollaway bed that fit under her twin bed that sat against the wall, removed the mattress and stacked it on top of her bed, then placed the frame on top of that. I removed anything that was on the floors in the closets and stacked it as best I could anywhere I could. In the kitchen, from under the sink, I took all the cleaning products and the pots and pans, placing them on the stove and in the sink. The bathroom was the easiest room to do; only a waste basket sat on the floor and that was moved to the top of the toilet. I made one more inspection of the house. In our bedroom, I had to fold up the bedspread onto the mattress and move the storage bin from under the bed to the top of the bed. After one final look around, I was satisfied that I had done everything I could inside to protect what I could, I went out to the car and headed to the Bay Side Café for breakfast.
When I got there, several employees were outside tying down the patio furniture that was normally used during the summer.
"I'm sorry, we're closed. Didn't you hear about the mandatory evacuation warning by the Governor?"
I got back into my vehicle and headed back to the house. As I was driving back, I saw that the lights were still on at the Dunkin Donuts, so I stopped and got myself a breakfast sandwich and a container of coffee. I was getting ready to drive off when I saw one of the employees locking the doors. It seemed everyone was abandoning the ship. Everyone, that is, except me.
As I passed Ocean Beach Shores, I noticed a guy climbing out of his car in the club's parking lot. I watched in my rear view mirror as he crossed the street and headed down the block towards the bay.
'That's a good idea, ' I thought to myself, 'he probably lives close to the bay and is putting his car in what he feels is the safest place he can.'
I drove home, sat at the counter and watched as they replayed the Governor's press conference, urging people to get off the island, while I ate my breakfast. Just then my phone rang. It was my wife.
"Hello, babe. Yes, I heard about the evacuation. No I'm going to stay here. I still have more work to do outside. Everything OK at your end? Are you at your parents' house? Good, stay there, I'll call you there tonight. Love you."
I hung up the phone before she could try to talk me out of staying.
After finishing my coffee I went out to the back yard and determined the best way to protect our stuff and the houses around us was to tie everything to our wooden storage box. I removed the umbrella from its stand and placed it in the box and lifted the table off the umbrella base and rolled the table over to the box. I retrieved a rope from the back of the car and tied the table sideways to the front of the box. The gas grill was next; that went next to the table and was secured to the box with two more loops of rope. The four chairs were stacked and carried into house. They joined the two old PeeWee Herman bikes that we used for our rides around the island.
That was it. There was nothing left outside that wasn't already secured to our fence, including our deck.
It was an eerie walk up to the beach. By this time late Sunday afternoon, the wind was coming in gusts of about 40 MPH and there was an occasional light rain beginning to fall. I saw no one until I got to the top of the beach. A couple was doing the same thing I was doing about one hundred yards north of me. The ocean looked angry. Waves were breaking continuously, at different angles, not the usual one long line of a breaker then a short period of calm. 'Was the water already higher than normal?' I wasn't sure, maybe. I turned back to the north again, but the couple was already gone. I retreated from the beach and headed back towards the house. As I crossed 35 North, only a couple of cars were in sight in either direction. I decided I'd better check out the bay so I continued past the house, crossed 35 South, and walked down to the end of the block that juts out into the bay.
The water was almost to the top of the bulkhead. Not good. It was still about 24 to 30 hours from the predicted landfall, and if the water continued to rise, these houses for sure would be flooded. By the time I returned to the house it was already getting dark. As I passed my SUV I remembered about the parking lot on 35 North in Ocean Beach Shores.
'Am I staying or leaving?' That was the question. After several minutes of contemplation, I got in, started the engine and headed south to the parking lot. When I got to the parking lot there were 2 other cars in the lot. I parked, locked it, and began my half mile walk back to the house. 'I'm staying.'
When I got back to the house it was dark. I turned on the kitchen light and the TV and got a quick update on the weather; no changes. The late afternoon game was still on. I grabbed a beer and sat at the counter. Realizing that I was really hungry, I checked out the freezer. This being the end of the season, there wasn't much left. I took out the last two slices of leftover pizza and put them in the microwave. I checked out the cabinet above the refrigerator; there was a half empty box of cereal, a couple of cans of soup, and a can of pork and beans.
After eating and after the end of the game I called my wife. I told her everything that I had done inside and out.
"Do you really think we're going to get water?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Shouldn't you get out of there?"
"No, if I'm here I might be able to do something to prevent any real damage. If I'm home, I won't be able to do anything. Besides, hopefully, this is a once in a lifetime chance to experience a storm like this. I don't want to miss it."
"I think you're being foolish, but I can see that your mind is made up. Please be safe, no heroics. I love you."
"I love you, too. I'll call you tomorrow, if I can. Don't worry, it may get uncomfortable here, but I'll be safe."
'Now, I thought looking around at all furniture, where am I going to sleep?'
I removed the table and lamp from the couch in the living room, changed the channel to the last game of the evening, shut the kitchen light, set the timer, and laid down to watch the game.
Before I knew it, it was Monday morning. Outside the wind was rising and the rain was becoming steadier. I made myself a cup of instant coffee and poured myself a bowl of cereal. I'd have to eat it dry because there was no milk in the fridge, and I was certain that none of the stores in the area were going to open. I thought back on the times that we had summer thunderstorms while we were here. They can be pretty unnerving, particularly at night. The flashes of lightning and the crack of thunder seem amplified in the smallness of the house, especially when you know that all you have between you and the sky above are the shingles of the roof, one-by-six planking, and about an inch of material similar to office ceiling tiles wedged between the rafters. 'What would a hurricane sound like?'
I turned on the New Jersey Channel just in time to hear our Governor call me stupid. He also informed me that no first responders would be sent out on the island to rescue me. I was on my own until at least Tuesday night when the worst of Sandy was predicted to be out of the area. There was more bad news. Sandy, as expected, had made its sharp left turn and was now on a path northwest directly towards the coast of New Jersey. The storm was about 300 miles to the southeast and would, with the help of the high tide and the full moon, push ahead of it a storm surge expected to be eleven to twelve feet above normal. Worst still, because the storm was over one thousand miles wide, there would be two periods of high tide before it passed.
At about 2:00 in the afternoon the cable TV went out. Outside we were now experiencing steady gale force winds and a heavy rain. Gusts of wind were blowing the rain sideways against the windows. Occasionally, I would walk to the side window that gave me the best view down the street; so far there was no sign of the bay advancing up the street. It was still five hours before the first high tide. Since the TV was of no use to me now, I disconnected it from the cable, unplugged the power and placed it and its stand on our bed. Without the TV, time seemed to drag. That's when I remembered my daughter's beach radio. It was still where she stored it, on the shelf in her closet. I turned it on; nothing. I checked for batteries, the compartment was empty. I checked the freezer, good girl; there on the door in a plastic bag were six 'C' batteries. I used to tell her to always take out the batteries after the season to prevent damage to the radio from corroded batteries. I installed the batteries and holding my breath turned it on. It worked. Great, now I had a link to the outside world. But for how long? How old were these batteries? The radio also had a power cord with could be stored away when not in use. Quickly I turned it off, hooked up the power cord and plugged it in and switched to A/C. I turned on an all talk station out of New York City. It provided some comfort.
Around 4:00 in the afternoon, the kitchen light flickered on and off a few times. I was afraid of that. I ran to the refrigerator, pulled out the big candle that we keep in there in case the power goes out. On the door, there was also a glass jar filled with matchbooks. When you have a house at the beach, you tend to use the refrigerator for storing things that don't do well in excessive heat or high humidity. I put the candle on the kitchen counter and lit it. After I was sure that it was burning steadily, I went back to the window and checked for flooding. It was already getting dark, and with all the rain the visibility was poor, but I was sure I could see the edge of the water about six houses down. I began to panic; maybe I should put towels down by the doors.
'Don't be silly, all that would accomplish is getting a couple of towels all wet and dirty.' I was sure that even if I had put sand bags in front of the door, the water would just seep in under the outside sheathing and into the house. These houses were far from water tight. I took one last look around, put the furniture I took off the couch last night back onto the couch and returned to my seat at the kitchen counter.
As I sat there, listening to the weather forecast and the rest of the news, I began to have second thoughts about my decision to stay. 'I hope it doesn't get much worse.' That's when the light went out. The radio was also quiet. I switched over to battery just to assure myself that someone was still out there. In order to conserve the batteries for as long as I possible I planned to only listen to the news for a couple of minutes at the top of each hour.
At 6:00 I turned on the radio for an update. The forecasters were predicting that the eye of the storm would make landfall in about 2 hours somewhere around Atlantic City. That was the worst news I could hope for, that meant that the worst of the storm surge and the strongest winds would be to the north of the eye, from Long Beach Island to the New York City and southern Long Island.
I grabbed the flashlight that had been under the sink and walked to the front window. I could see that the street had a couple of inches of water. I still had a safety zone of about seven inches before the water reached the front door, but that was wishful thinking.
I went into our bedroom, grabbed my yellow vinyl rain jacket out of the closet. We had bought these about five years ago, just in case we wanted to take a walk in the rain. Now I was glad we did. I threw it over the stuff by the sink and sat at the counter listening to the rain pound away on the roof, and the howling wind cause the house to creak and the windows to rattle.
Around eight o'clock that evening, I heard a noise behind me in the bathroom. I shined my flashlight at the back door; there at the base, water began bubbling up from under the screen door. I checked the front door. Because it was a solid core, aluminum covered door it had a better seal. But soon, the water began to seep in from the corners. Slowly, but surely, the water filled the floor of the porch which was about an inch and a half lower than the rest of the house. I could see wet spots in the carpet along the perimeter of the living room and the bedrooms. The flooding had begun.
I took off my boots, putting them in the sink and sat back down at the counter. Looking around, I planned my escape if necessary. I could sit on the counter, then stand, step over to the stove, open the doors to the storage area over the bathroom and climb in there if the water level continued to rise. I'd at least be dry until the level reached seven and a half feet. That is, as long as the house stayed in one piece.
For now, I sat helplessly watching the water slowly soak through the carpet. I turned on the radio. Sandy had made landfall with winds about eighty-five MPH, they were predicting an even higher surge than they had first thought, maybe 14 feet or more. They said the next eight to nine hours would be the worst. I shut the radio and watched the water rise. I couldn't be sure, but it looked to me that it was rising at about two inches per hour. For the next four hours I watched as the water continued to rise. At about one o'clock in the morning it seemed to stop rising. I looked over at the sofa. The water line had reached about half way up the front or about eight to ten inches. Satisfied that I was safe for the moment, I moved the candle closer to the sink and crawled up onto the counter, with my head near the cabinets and my feet dangling off the end. I fell into a fitful sleep.
At about 2:30 I woke up, turned on the flashlight and checked the water level. The water level was about the same but had wicked up through the fabric. I sat up; I had to answer a nature call. Figuring everything was already ruined, I took a piss right there. How much dirtier could the water get anyway?
Relieved, I lay back down and waited for the 3 AM news. What I heard shocked me. The subway and tunnels in lower Manhattan were flooded. Ground Zero had an estimated three hundred thousand gallons of water in it. Yet they were fearful that the New Jersey Shore and Staten Island may have been hit the hardest. I shut off the radio and lay there listening to wind. It sounded like it was slowing down a bit, or was I just getting used to the constant roar.