Carmen Petaccio knows Seaside Heights, New Jersey. His grandfather was the long-time owner of one of my favorite Seaside boardwalk arcades--Sonny & Rickey's. I played a lot of skee ball in that arcade in the 1970s and 1980s and took home a lot of spider rings.
We try to visit Sonny and Rickey's every Fall. The old school skee-ball lanes are gone. Today my kids drop dollar bills into crane-type machines in the hopes of lifting out a stuffed animal.
I am assuming that the Petaccio family is part of the large Italian-American population that live on the south end of the Barnegat Peninsula. Even as Carmen pursues a M.A. in fine arts at Columbia University, he still spends summers working the redemption counter at Sonny & Rickey's. Now, as the boardwalk reopens in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, he wonders if the Seaside of his childhood (and my childhood) will ever be the same.
Here is a taste of his piece. Anyone who loves Seaside or the Jersey shore should read it.
Seven months later, my town is still standing. The businesses have reopened. The White Oak Market is selling its beach chairs and deli meat. Riggers, the local diver bar, serves its first customers at 7 a.m. The lifeguard stands have been re-propped. The rebuilding of the boardwalk is essentially complete, just in time for Memorial Day, the start of beach season. This year, Seaside is celebrating its centennial, 100 years of forgotten worries, breezes slipping through the heat like a friend through a crowd.
As for Sonny’s & Rickey’s, mold still scales the outside walls, street to roof, and its steel door continues to dangle, forebodingly, three feet clear from where it once met the building, like a dislocated shoulder. To this day, despite decades of payments to our insurance provider, we have yet to receive a dollar in compensation.
And yet, we’re up and running. This summer, like each of my past 25, I’ll spend my mornings on the beach at Brighton Avenue, and nights behind the arcade’s redemption counter. Whenever I’m not there, my family will be.
What’s less clear is if our customers will show up too, if the beach houses will be rented, if the vacationing families will descend on schedule.
We can’t help but wonder if the summer of 2012 was the last summer to resemble those we’ve known and loved. Who’s to say there isn’t yet another hurricane brewing?