Published: August 30, 2013
Reporting was contributed by Nick Corasaniti, Matt Flegenheimer, Lisa W. Foderaro, Winnie Hu, Sarah Maslin Nir, Jim Rutenberg and Michael Schwirtz.
LONG BEACH, N.Y. — There was Jonathan Goldman one perfect August afternoon, happily traipsing down the Long Beach Boardwalk, dispensing wisdom to unsuspecting strollers and leaving snippets of rimshot patter floating in the salty air.
“I start to tell Henny Youngman a joke. Me! Telling Henny Youngman a joke,” one oration began.
“So I’m minding my own business in Boca with six or eight guys who make me look young,” went another.
This was no small miracle. Not Mr. Goldman’s amiable shtick, honed over 74 years, but the fact that nine months after Hurricane Sandy tore it to driftwood, about half of Long Beach’s 2.2-mile Boardwalk reopened in July and August. The ribbon of gleaming Brazilian hardwood proclaimed decisively that summer had survived the storm.
“I was so upset when the Boardwalk wasn’t open yet,” said Mr. Goldman, who grew up in Long Beach, lives in Boca Raton, Fla., comes back every summer and made his living in the ring-binder business. “My trip would have been a disaster.”“This is my homeland,” he added, “but it’s not the place I know without this.”
Last fall, Hurricane Sandy pummeled the region’s coastline, sweeping away houses, beaches and seaside attractions. As summer approached this year, it was not clear what bathers and boaters would find when they returned. So from June through August, The New York Times documented life near the water, from Sandy Hook, N.J., to Montauk, in a series of dispatches called Summer Shorelines.
Reporters revisited the familiar rhythms of ferry rides and fishing for dinner, as well as the world upended by the storm: a New Jersey business that was swept away, and a Queens teenager who decided to learn to swim after witnessing Hurricane Sandy’s wrath. What follows is a tour through the region checking in on the places profiled to see how the season turned out. But first, a stop by the Boardwalk.
In Long Beach, where about 40 percent of the population was still not home three months after the storm, there was a rebuilt beach and Boardwalk, and the bikers, runners, walkers, strollers, schmoozers and preeners they attract. On a sunny day, the scene was Long Island meets Seurat, almost as if the storm had never happened.
But for many others, this summer barely felt like summer at all.
Officials in Long Beach say 20 percent to 30 percent of the population has not yet returned. Many others found themselves camping out in still-wrecked houses, cooking with hot plates and toaster ovens, mourning lost restaurants and the hospital that never reopened. They spent their days calling contractors, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, insurers and inspectors, making appointments and then waiting, waiting and waiting some more.
“We’re all still adjusting,” said Roberta Fiore, Long Beach’s city historian, who watched part of the old Boardwalk float by her house during the storm. “It may look the same, but it’s quasi the same.”
Other summers, Jennifer Magliano, 41, lived for her front patio barbecues, wine with neighbors and daily sunset runs on the Boardwalk. But her house, two short blocks from the beach, is still uninhabitable, in the process of being repaired and jacked up 10 feet. She and her husband, Steve, live instead in a one-room basement apartment in nearby Atlantic Beach, paying $1,000 a month on top of their mortgage, and sleeping on an air mattress next to a sump pump. She has visited the Boardwalk only twice, very briefly.
Ms. Magliano, a kindergarten teacher who has chronicled her year of living perilously in a wistful blog, “Our Old Normal,” has been house-sitting and dog-sitting to make some extra money. Her husband lost the restaurant where he was a partner in the storm and had to drop out of the physical therapy program in which he was enrolled at Hunter College because of the classes he had to miss. Now he is working full time on the house, dealing with contractors and the rest. Even Lucy, their shepherd-dachshund mix, seems traumatized by the loss of familiar places, smells and haunts.
“We’re grateful, we’re thrilled for all the progress that’s been made,” Ms. Magliano said, “but there’s still a lot of despair. You go down a lot of these streets, and they’re full of houses where no one is back home.
“For a lot of my neighbors, a square of dirt is all they have. Summer for a lot of people has been torture, a web of paperwork and applications, typically resulting in nothing. People are just trying to eke out a living.
“The beach?” she added. “That’s an afterthought.”People appreciate the progress that’s been made. The Lido Beach Towers, a local landmark in ornate pink stucco, reopened near the end of July. Residents are glad to be back, even if the first floor is still a shell, the building’s finances remain uncertain and the residents are embarking on contentious lawsuits over canceled flood insurance.
When St. Mary of the Isle Roman Catholic Church welcomed its congregation back into a gleaming, whitewashed, rebuilt sanctuary in August, grateful parishioners jammed the aisles and applauded during the homily.
“It’s great to be back,” said the Rev. Brian P. Barr, who began as pastor a week and a half before the storm. “Symbolically, spiritually and emotionally, it’s one more reminder, like the Boardwalk coming back, that you have hard times in life, we all have hard times in life, especially after the storm, but our faith says, This isn’t forever; we’re going to get past this.”
The rest of the Boardwalk is expected to be finished by November. Beach attendance approached record levels, officials said, and residents wooed visitors like never before, eager to have them spend dollars many locals no longer have to keep restaurants and businesses afloat.
But residents also want the world to know — to hear again — that they are aghast at how hard, long, slow, confused, painful and obstructed by incompetence the road back has been. Many are particularly angry at the pace of the state’s much-heralded relief efforts, where billions of federal dollars have yet to be distributed to families that need the money.
Johanna Sofield runs a small local charity, Long Beach Christmas Angel, set up to help financially struggling families in the school district. She said she had been inundated with requests to help pay for contracting, plumbing, furniture and electrical work. Money that in the past sent children to summer camp went this summer to their parents’ mortgages and carpenters.
“The number one word is stress,” she said. “Everything’s stressful. We’re trying to manage what was sort of thrust on us, and it’s not a happy experience. You would have thought the lessons learned from Katrina would be tweaked for an area like New York, but they weren’t. I’m so profoundly disappointed in the process and how long it’s taken for people to get help.”
Elsewhere in New York and New Jersey, summer was, blessedly, just summer: too steamy in July, sublime in August, as always never long enough.
On the Staten Island Ferry, a twilight ride remained the city’s cheapest date. Those so inclined could skinny dip, even in New York City, whether at the gay-friendly patch of Jacob Riis beach in the Rockaways, in Bushwick hostel hot tubs or even Midtown office building water towers. The small, obscure jewel of Grand Ferry Park in Williamsburg, where Brooklynites commune with the Manhattan skyline on warm nights, drew appreciative hipsters and Hasidim.
For Kenrick Sultan, a 15-year-old in the Rockaways in Queens, the summer after the storm provided a lesson that transformation and progress can come from disaster.
Kenrick, who was born in Antigua, the Caribbean island known for its 365 beaches, had never learned to swim despite living so close to the ocean. He decided this was going to be the year after experiencing Hurricane Sandy’s flooding, and learning about the drowning deaths that came with it.
He began to take lessons in June from the nonprofit Swim Strong Foundation, tentatively at first, as he began practicing separately the stroking, kicking and breathing with the help of his teacher, Ray Belmont. But with a dozen lessons under his belt, Kenrick is putting the pieces together and shedding his fear of the water.
“I can swim the whole pool on my own — not the long way, but the short way,” he said in late August. “It’s a good feeling.” He is now learning how to dive. “I’m not nervous anymore,” he said, sounding surprised by his own words.
Others have less to show for their efforts.
Manny Ortiz, one of the beach scavengers who scour the region’s shorelines with metal detectors, began the summer disappointed that the beaches had yielded precious little treasure after Hurricane Sandy washed away tons of sand and, along with it, seasons worth of stray quarters, lost rings and historic coins.
He ended August the same way: “It’s been really, really dead,” he said.
Still, he recently made one of his more unusual finds: a solid-gold tooth grill that he assumed got knocked from a wearer’s mouth into the waves. He said the piece, at today’s falling rates for gold, was worth perhaps $250.It was also a relatively quiet summer for Captain Jack Schachner, whose business rescuing damaged or stranded boats operates out of Gateway Marina in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. But sometimes it is people, not their boats, who get in trouble, so though the salvage business was slow, in August he helped get emergency assistance to a boater who caught his hand in a propeller.
As for the urban fishermen of the Bronx, don’t ask. Carmelo Nazario, who has been fishing the city’s often-suspect waters since the 1960s, going as many as six days a week in the summer, said he had reeled in 40 to 50 fish this season. But that was roughly half his usual take. He has been eating a lot of pork chops, rice and beans instead.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Nazario, 63, grew tired of waiting for the fish to come to him at his usual spot in Barretto Point Park in the Hunts Point neighborhood. So he grabbed his pole and headed for a beach in Long Island City, Queens, and then to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. “I keep fishing,” he said, “but I’d like to have some fun, too.”
Mr. Nazario still stops by Barretto Point Park because he misses the regulars who fished beside him for years. They still sit and talk, he said, only now he leaves his pole in the car.
The fish that got away had happier experiences. Princess, a 125-pound female mako shark, was feeding out by the Lydonia Canyon near the end of August, more than 100 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. Rizzilient, an 84-pound female mako, was at the outer edge of the shelf just off Atlantic City. And Beamer, a 200-pound blue shark, was making the rounds off the coast of Gloucester, Mass.
Each of them was snagged by a fishing boat at the end of July as part of a shark-fishing contest held at the Montauk Marine Basin and sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of Montauk and the shark-tracking nonprofit group Ocearch, among others. But instead of winding up as trophies, these sharks were named and satellite-tagged for science. It was part of an effort that organizers hope will end the practice of killing sharks for prize money, at least until their populations grow larger.
Some of the longtime shark hunters on the nearby docks groused that their fellow anglers were letting environmentalists — the “greenies” — get to them. But the contest received a lot of attention, and Carl Darenberg, the owner of the Marine Basin, said more local fishermen wanted to be involved next summer and were helping to raise money for the prize pot. (This year’s take was $10,000.)
The summer after Hurricane Sandy was also a different experience for Chris Ann Peters, who for 20 years has been the sole person in charge of making the red, orange, green and brown striped umbrellas that have dotted Jones Beach’s sandy miles since the park’s Jazz Age birth on Long Island. This summer, she repaired more than 300 of them, a task made more complicated because umbrellas laid to waste by Hurricane Sandy are still coming in nearly a year later, corroded beyond opening, she said.
Ms. Peters, 52, who for years has avoided the beach she works alongside, said she dug her toes into the sand this season, twice. She even went dancing on the Boardwalk. But for her, summer’s close just marks a new season of labor. Lifeguard flags must be mended, awnings repaired after months of summer sun, and the umbrellas get sent to her for a checkup. “Summer isn’t over, because when the summer is over, they close up and they bring it all to me all over again,” she said. “It doesn’t end.”
For many, summer does not end on Labor Day, anyway. And Anthony Stallone, a member of the Jetty Jumpers, a group of 40 Jet Ski enthusiasts prone to pushing the envelope of what the watercraft can do, has more riding ahead. Most of his trips this summer for the club’s tour business were more sedate: one-hour rides out of Venice Marina in Brooklyn hugging Coney Island and ending at the Verrazano Bridge, and three-hour expeditions all the way to the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.
He is particularly looking forward to the Run the City Run on Sept. 16, when about 60 fellow enthusiasts will make an annual ride around the entire island of Manhattan.
At 85, after a silent summer unlike any he can remember, Ed Segall is looking forward, too.
Mr. Segall has spent a half-century working concessions at Sandy Hook beach, where he ran the Sea Gulls’ Nest restaurant and became a New Jersey institution by leading customers in “God Bless America” every evening at sunset.
After the storm wrecked the concession stands and the restaurant his family supplies, he finally reached an agreement with the National Park Service in August that amicably rescinded the last year of his 10-year contract, while giving his family the chance to bid on future work. So the Segalls are hoping to return to Sandy Hook, while also scouting locations for a restaurant on the Jersey Shore, with possibilities including the Asbury Park Boardwalk and Pier Village in Long Branch.
In truth, like Ms. Magliano’s blog, what hung over this summer was the ghost of the Old Normal, the world before Hurricane Sandy. For many coastal residents, wary of climate change and worried that nature may be dealing different cards now than in the past, rebuilding seems to come with few guarantees that Hurricane Sandy was a once-in-a-century event.
But, like the Segalls, the Maglianos are looking forward to better things, figuring there’s life beyond Hurricane Sandy and this summer spent in its shadow.
Next year, Ms. Magliano is expecting an ocean view from her raised and repaired house in Long Beach; a summer where Lucy, her dog, can drape her long body across the top step of the patio; a season when the world will slow down for a few months, the way it always has in the past.
“I just want a cheeseburger on my own patio,” she said. “I can’t wait until next summer.”