Asbury Park Stays True to its Roots While Future Looks Bright

Beachgoers enjoying Tim McLoone's Supper Club on the AP boardwalk, Convention Hall stands proudly in background open for business.

Beachgoers enjoying Tim McLoone’s Supper Club on the AP boardwalk, Convention Hall stands proudly in background open for business.

Asbury Park Stays True to its Roots While Future Looks Bright

There are plenty of people in New Jersey that have been watching Asbury Park’s revival happening the past few years; they might not want everyone else to hear about it though. Here’s why.

1. Parking is close to the beach & attractions and reasonably priced.

Unlike many of its competitors, Asbury Park’s parking situation is a breeze; there’s always spots close to the beach and the boardwalk, and so far, the prices aren’t sky-high. I have done both meter and lot parking; this weekend, I paid $10 for the entire day on a weekend. Especially convenient for families carrying lots of items to and from the boards, this makes us all want to cry less, babies included.

2. Dining options are innovative and diverse.

While not as large as other shore town boardwalks, Asbury Park’s boards offer many options for dining that run the gamut in price, yet not in quality. There are classics available like fresh lemonade, ice cream, pizza etc. However, the diversity in some other less-traditional shore spots and quality at more upscale venues make AP a standout. Walking distance from the beach is the Cookman Ave./Bangs Ave./ Main Street downtown area, which has become a marvel in its own right with top-rated dining, shopping, and a focus on the arts. Just a few of top-rated: Boards -Tim McLoone’s, Cubacna, Stella Marina. Downtown – Old Man Raffertys, Moonstruck, Fish Urban Dining, Bistro Ole’. Many more!

3. The scene is arts & eccentricity, but all are welcome…just don’t kill the vibe please.

Despite its rougher days, Asbury Park has retained much of its beauty in its architecture, mainly the Convention Hall, but other buildings are under renovation; looks like the Carousel is beginning some work.  Art is everywhere; galleries, stores, restaurants, and in its locals by body or expression. Music is what put AP on the map in a global way, next to its Methodist-Christian notoriety. Not surprisingly, in recent history, most folks know Asbury for its musical legends and are more likely to subscribe to the “Church of Bruce” than any other religion. There’s plenty of great people watching to do; while this area seems to attract the less “ordinary” types, you’ll find plenty of regular everyday-lookers as well. Asbury Park is one of the most LGBT-friendly communities along the shore; its gay-scene is more New Hope than Provincetown though. Ethnic, political, and socioeconomic backgrounds are as vast as the sea, but it’s like everyone is set to the same thermostat temperature: comfortable, calm, and cool. There’s no yelling, obnoxious behavior, pretentiousness, lack of regard for others, tension, or attitudes you’ll find in some other beach towns (not naming any names). So if you are looking for a super-charged, drunken mess, anything-might-happen sort of day, I wouldn’t recommend AP.

4. Nightlife is simultaneously nostalgic & contemporary.

With all the great musical acts still streaming through Asbury Park via Convention Hall, Stone Pony, or Wonder Bar, to name the greats, there’s someone to entertain you all summer and mostly year-round. Summer brings the Stone Pony Summer Stage, which offers a professional concert venue outdoors with well-known acts. Ticket holders can get a great view with access inside the venue; anyone within the immediate boardwalk area will still be able to listen and enjoy from afar and even see the acts from some locations. DJs spin regularly at the boardwalk bars and even at Asbury Lanes on select nights. The 20s and 30s crowd in their pastels & summer whites mix carefree with bikers clad in black with bandanas as they take in the scene for the evening; crowds are big, but not overwhelming. Parents can still take their kids out for ice cream amidst the activity.

5. While there’s plenty of adult fun, AP offers lots of family-friendly activities.

Just to name a few: Silverball Museum is a wonder for all ages, packed full of pinball machines & arcade games from the 1960s through present-day. Admission is cheap and once you’re in, you’ll enjoy freestyle unlimited play on all machines. They even stay open late during the summer and weekends so this might be a good option for your teens. Asbury Lanes is another budget-friendly option for rain or shine fun. Though retro looking from the outside, inside, visitors will enjoy the very “Asbury” décor and entertainment; live bands, DJs, and other events are always frequent. The AP Roller Derby is still active at the Convention Hall, check online for upcoming matches. Brielle Cyclery bike shop & rentals is conveniently located right on the boards; again reasonably priced. Single, tandem, or cart bikes are available for hourly rentals. We tried the single bikes for 2 hours at our last trip; we made it all the way to Belmar via Ocean Ave., turned around and then stopped to do some slower cruising through the beautiful streets of Ocean Grove, full of grand Victorian Homes that are each wonderfully ornate & unique before returning the bikes.   Wesley Lake has reopened its swan paddle boat operation after a 50 year hiatus, a true sign of AP’s revival of its former self. Swans and dragons float playfully up and down the inlet full of families, friends, and lovers. As if this isn’t enough, the Splash Park, right in the center of the boardwalk, helps kids and parents cool down as an alternative to the beach. Just a hop, skip, and jump away is the mini golf course.

All in all, for a town that doesn’t boast amusement piers, AP packs quite a formidable punch for family fun.

6. Despite Sandy and other obstacles, signs of growth are eminent.

Asbury Park suffered little damage in comparison to most of the coastline; it’s practically forgettable that it ever happened while visiting as residual work still being performed as a result is minimal. Real estate, mostly luxury condo developments along the shore, have been popping up and more are on their way. Their price range reflects who AP aspires to be again; an average price range of $400,000+ for the one next to the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel.

Speaking of the Berkeley, which will surprise visitors with its modern décor within and amenities, hotels have not been lost on the progress in town, being sure to renovate and compete for your business.

The surrounding neighborhood isn’t the ideal backdrop for a resort town; most people in the state have been aware of its shortcomings and it still has a way to go. However, the rougher parts of town are not that large, most of the people take as much pride as they can in their homes and themselves, despite their limitations on income and support. If you’re a person who won’t visit Asbury Park strictly because you heard some bad press on the neighborhood or that it’s “not the way it used to be,” I’d advise you to stop listening to people that haven’t been there in a long time or a voice in your head implanted by rumors of the past. The bottom line is, be aware of your surroundings (pretty much the standard for anywhere in urban Jersey), but there’s no need for fear.

7. If you come and agree with anything I’m saying, you’ll know why we should tell other good people… but not everyone.

You might not understand this right now, but people that have made AP beach their shore destination or have invested in home ownership there will totally get it. We all want to see Asbury Park return to its former status of a premier resort town, but we don’t want people who don’t “get” what the town is about or its mentality coming down just to generate revenue while consequently ruining it for those who have brought it this far.

AP wants people who are free to believe in anything they choose, but don’t push it on others, or make others uncomfortable if they choose to live differently.

AP doesn’t want violence, sloppiness, drama, or the vulgarity of people on the boardwalk with the sole purpose of drinking or drugging themselves into a public nuisance. AP wants you to feel free to celebrate life without having to threaten the safety and personal space of your fellow visitors/residents.

AP wants people who will love and appreciate its history and beauty; go spit your gum out on someone else’s boardwalk.

So if you’ve been away from Asbury for a long time or never been and any of this resonates with you, you should definitely give it a shot. I apologize to other Asbury lovers who are trying to keep our secrets safe, but this is a little blog…we should be ok.

Passaic Valley’s Heroin Binge: We’re As Sick As Our Secrets

Passaic County posts over 100 alleged buyers of heroin online in May 2013 after surge of overdose deaths - AP

Passaic County posts over 100 alleged buyers of heroin online in May 2013 after surge of overdose deaths – AP

This week, Passaic County has invoked a rarely-used law, one that charges drug dealers with homicide to charge an alleged Paterson dealer for selling heroin to a West Milford man, who later overdosed and died.

Last month, Passaic County Prosecutors posted over 100 photos of alleged heroin users and dealers online in an effort to try something unorthodox to bring awareness to the most recent spike in overdoses.

Passaic County law officials report that they have not seen the trends of drug addiction like the one that has plagued the county in the past year, most specifically heroin, since the crack-cocaine era of the 1980s. Most of the coverage has focused on the dealers primarily located in Paterson, suppliers in Trenton, and buyers of surrounding Passaic County suburbs.

As a resident of one of those towns, I read the Passaic Valley Today newspaper, delivered weekly to my home. Each week, the local picture of this problem outlined in the police blotters and headliners paints a grim picture of the reality unfolding outside just a few blocks away, young people suffering with addiction, families reeling with the aftermath, communities terrorized with battles over markets, etc. This situation is nothing new to the Passaic Valley region as Paterson has been a headquarters of drug trade for decades, along with Newark, Trenton & Camden. These are not judgments, but facts of life for the people that live in those cities and their neighbors.

After reading these articles, which are almost on a daily basis online lately, you’ll see lots of commentary from Facebook and other social media outlet users that express blame and anger toward the problem. People have the right, and by all means, should be outraged at the alarming number of arrests, violence, and death. What you’ll see however, if you examine closely enough, is a microcosm of America’s attitudes & education on the drug trade, on a local, national & global level.

Most people’s thinking stops at a local level, because this is where they’re most affected by the problem. These people are reactive and immediately sum up the problem with the dealers and expect local law enforcement to actually be able to control and manage the problem. Residents of both sides of the issue: those that live in Paterson & those in its suburbs know that it’s destructive to their communities, its way of life & to its future. Having also been a resident of Paterson up until a year ago and now living right over one of its borders, I can see evidence that there are truly two realities that exist simultaneously for people affected by this problem, and sometimes it’s only a matter of a few blocks that makes the difference.

There are nuances that the local papers won’t cover that make this problem more complex. Since this is a blog, not a research thesis, I need to challenge you as readers (meaning residents in & out of Paterson) to take the following as talking points that cause either reflection or/and meaningful dialogue. In no particular order here are some thoughts that will hopefully be discussed by residents, politicians, law enforcement officials, and then state and federal administrators who are still able to make clear & non-corrupt decisions that aid in responsible solutions:

– Residents need to find alternative resources for research about the drug trade in our country so they can make informed judgments and pose educated questions to their local representatives & law enforcement.

-Paterson police have seen a decrease in the number of officers due to budget cuts; one must consider the cause & effect relationship here.

-Many residents of the neighboring communities of Paterson are former residents of the city, or are generational descendants of Paterson. Many of them hoped they would escape the problems of the city upon leaving; this makes this problem more emotional to them, causing sometimes irrational thinking in finding solutions.

-Innocent Paterson residents are often unfairly judged and persecuted by others looking in at the problem; they are inadvertent victims in a societal problem that is far beyond one city, one state, or even one country. This is a national & global problem with local symptoms.

-Prescription drugs are arguably a “trade” in their own right, with the widespread abuse of distribution & use aided by the power of legal protection of the “dealers” (doctors) and the money of the pharmaceutical markets to assure its sovereignty. A rise in heroin use has a direct correlation to the over-prescription of narcotic pain killers in our country.

-There are societal problems happening right now that are similar to other periods in American history that cause escapism behaviors in young adults, who have been the most prevalent victims of abuse. These same problems cause young people on the other side of the problem to become involved in the drug trade. They are equally vulnerable & culpable.

-Paterson Police officers (and other town/county enforcement officials involved) are regular people when the uniform comes off who want to come home to their families each night. Especially with a decreased force, these men and women accept that most calls to a drug-related or violent crime could be their last. After a while, they take a more defensive, than offensive tactical approach on response (I’ve seen this out my own windows & on the streets while living there).

-Law enforcement officials, no matter what agency or town, are more informed than ever about this issue on a state, federal, and global scale. They’re much like our soldiers fighting overseas for causes directed at them which they initially trust are genuine and justified, only to realize they’re pawns in a global plan that serves neither God or country, that neither serves the people or protects them. Would you be willing to die for that?

-Paterson is an active war zone. The war is the international drug trade, politicians, administrators, kingpin distributors & corporations are the generals, drug dealers are the soldiers; Paterson is only one of its battle grounds. Addicts, communities, children, and our way of life as we know it are all collateral damage. As long as we refuse to acknowledge the issue beyond the dealer-to-user transaction, we will never be saved.

-There’s lots of racial & class tension generated by the media’s coverage of these stories, which, if you’ll notice, tend to emphasize only the local cause & effect. Just read the Facebook comments or Craigslists feeds that expose the ugly underbelly of racism & classism alive and well right here in Passaic County and you’ll see evidence that recent history – the Newark riots, the crack epidemic of the 80s, have not taught us much about what’s really going on here. If you can’t read between those lines, this might be a little over your head and you should stick to those anonymous “Rants and Raves” posts on Craigslist. It’s time for some high-order thinking folks. People are dying out here; you don’t have the right to complain about the problem and place blame until you at least research beyond your doorstep.

The bottom line is: no one’s coming to save us from our heroin problem Passaic County. We need to educate ourselves, welcome a hard look at ourselves and the realities of how contemporary issues affects our attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs, and work together to do what’s within our power to shape a better future. I don’t have all the answers, but I am willing to be honest and name some uncomfortable truths if it means Passaic County’s future will be in a better place than today.