27 November 2010

The Real Jersey Shore

Today I had lunch with Mom and Dad in Jersey.  As it was cold and windy, and they're not used to this sort of weather anymore (and, shall we say, a few years older than I am!), we didn't do much else.  Normally, when they come up for a visit, we go for a walk on or by the beaches, and perhaps shopping.

They spent Thanksgiving with my brother and in-laws.  As I'm not invited there, and Dad doesn't want to drive into the city (for which I can't blame him, frankly), we usually meet as we did today.  Although our meeting wasn't very long, I didn't mind, as I was in a really good mood, as they were. Plus, I'm going to spend Christmas with them.

I've decided, though, that the next time I go out that way, I want to ride my bike.  I used to do that fairly often when Mom and Dad were still living in Jersey and my brother and I still had a relationship. It's about 40 to 45 miles one way, depending on which route I took.  So I would ride out on a Saturday (or Friday, if I had the day off) and ride back on Sunday (or Monday, if it was a holiday).  A couple of times, on summer days with long hours of daylight, I started riding at dawn or earlier and start riding home late in the afternoon.

When Mom and Dad were waiting with me for the bus I would ride home, I noticed something odd.  The place where the bus stops is Airport Plaza in Hazlet.  It was actually an airport, back in the early days of aviation.  Today it's a drab little shopping center that, as merchants come and go and the place undergoes one facelift or another, always manages to look, or at least seem, the same.  I say that from middle age, having seen the place ever since my teen years.

Actually, very little ever seems to change in that part of the Jersey Shore.  It's about ten miles from the ocean at Sandy Hook, but it's less than half a mile from Raritan Bay, which is an inlet of the ocean.  The funny thing is that if one crosses the bay, it's less than fifteen miles to New York.   But the irregularity of the coastline makes an overland journey, even on the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, three times as long.

Some condos have been built along the bay in Keansburg.  But along the side streets that lead out to Route 36, one finds the same drab-to-shabby houses inhabited by, it seems, the same families who were blue-collar when I was living there and still are if the men still have their jobs.  As often as not, their sons don't have jobs and their daughters have either gotten out of the neighborhood or have had more kids than they could afford.  And, along Route 36, building-supply and furniture stores come and go with ice cream stands that are closed now for the season; between them, scrubby trees gnarl and bend on marshland that was drained and abandoned.

I wish I could have lived my entire life as female.  But I wouldn't have wanted to live it there.  Even the town where my family and I lived during my teen years, which is on the other side of Route 36 and more working-to-middle-class (and from which most of my female classmates went to college), was oppressive enough for any female, whether or not she was living in a body congruent with her gender.  So, for that matter, was the part of Brooklyn in which we had been living before we moved to Jersey.

To indulge in a cliche, those places and people helped to make me who and what I am now.  That is the reason I can return, but only briefly.  And you can return only because you've left.