The beach in winter

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_D5C5045brianby Brian Clarey

It’s the day after Christmas in Asbury Park, NJ, and I’m knocking out a little typing before getting back on the road. We’ve been in Queens, where I paid $12 for four AA batteries, and the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, with a loop around the Rockefeller Center area to Times Square and back before heading down here to the Jersey Shore for the big day. We’ll be stopping in Baltimore, as is our usual custom, before heading back into town.

But today I’m downtown, albeit in a different city. The coffee here at America’s Cup is excellent, by the way, though the proprietor this morning has been giving me a little bit of the stinkeye since my last refill.

On this refurbished strip, once thought to be derelict and forlorn, a store called Fetish sells rock-star clothing: crushed-velvet package pants and platform sneakers. There’s an art gallery, a Korean taco joint, a wine shop called “Lush,” a paranormal bookstore and an antique mall, and that’s just what I can see from where I’m sitting. There’s a psychic’s storefront, too, closed for the season, reminding me that one key difference between this place and the city in which I live is that people actually come here for reasons other than family and work obligations. It’s a beach town, jumping with sunburned tourists and rental-unit barflies eight months a year.

But not today.

We took a run on the Asbury Park Boardwalk this morning, my wife and I, another Christmas tradition. We passed ice-cream shops and T-shirt shacks made from shipping containers, murals painted on 100-year-old-buildings, off-season construction sites with late-March deadlines. On the back end of the loop we veered off the boards and made for the hard-packed sand of the shoreline, drawn by the soft roar.

Even without the tourists, the beach goes about its usual business all winter long, the tides pulling against the sand and the big rocks of the jetties settling in. The sea was calm this morning, flat as a bay, nothing breaking the horizon save for a big cargo ship to the north.

We took it all in there on the shoreline, until a rogue wave, maybe a foot, broke in the intertidal zone and rushed up the sand towards our feet. Then we knew it was time to move on.

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