Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
ASBURY PARK, N.J. — I’m riding down Kingsley, looking for a place to park. With the crowds at Convention Hall, the Stone Pony and the Wonder Bar, there are no spots left on this oceanfront stretch. I’m here to see the roller-derby championship, three weeks after Hurricane Sandy ripped through and devoured the boardwalk. It’s night, and a waxing moon barely lights the culprit — the churning Atlantic, which both gives this place its life and threatens its existence.
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Inside Convention Hall it’s almost easy to forget what’s happened. The cast of “Scrooge” is dressed in period costume, handing out fliers. The winter bazaar stalls are doing a swift business. And the cover band playing at the tree-lighting ceremony is loud enough to drown out thoughts of FEMA and insurance agents.
“Everybody’s here tonight, checking in with each other,” said Tom Gilmour, the city’s director of commerce and economic development, gesturing to his exhausted but smiling neighbors. It seems the whole city — including the mayor — is in this one enormous room. Some have even brought their dogs. “People think the whole shore is just washed away,” Mr. Gilmour said. “But we’re here.”
People who’ve spent any time at the Jersey Shore are taking a mental inventory these days of the places they’ve loved, hoping they haven’t lost them. I grew up in Jersey City, but every phase of my life has had its shore moments. And so Asbury, the first place I went with my family each summer weekend, is first on my list.
After Sandy hit, Asbury considered canceling the Jersey Shore Roller Girls Championship, which traditionally follows the tree lighting. There was a foot of sand in Convention Hall, and the track, stored in a building on the boardwalk, was covered in ocean grit.
“But a lot of the girls wanted to do it, even though they lost their homes, their jobs,” said Kim Hartman, a member of the Right Coast Rollers. “The derby, once you do it, kind of gets into your soul. We thought, we’ve lost so much, let’s not lose the derby too.” Before the championship the bruised roller girls — with nicknames like Wicked Kitty and Shermaine Tank — put on hip waders and spent 16 hours power-washing their track. “Sandy took us down,” said Ms. Hartman, a k a Bash N. Onya, “but it didn’t knock us out.”
When you first revisit the Jersey Shore, the damage is shocking. But amid the demolished boardwalks and toppled buildings, including the apocalyptic vision that is oceanfront Belmar, it’s also a shock to see how much is still standing.
Madam Marie’s, the tiny shack made famous in Bruce Springsteen’s song “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” is still here on the boardwalk. The door blew off, but other than that the psychic headquarters of Asbury is fine. The Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove — a gorgeous 118-year-old hulking wooden structure that houses the Hope Jones pipe organ, one of the 20 largest in the world — had some roof damage, but survived. Last weekend the town celebrated its Victorian Holiday weekend, which included the auditorium’s live Nativity made up of local children. The boardwalk there is now like a roller coaster, rising up and then falling gently back down.
My favorite restaurant in Bradley Beach, Vic’s, with its neon lights and snug green booths, is packed and has been since it reopened a week after the storm. The owner, Ed Dollive, whose family has run the place since 1947, has fielded hundreds of calls from concerned customers. “They’re still calling,” Mr. Dollive said.
John Amick Butler, sharing a large pie and Vic’s trademark chopped antipasto with his wife and her cousins, said he and everyone he knew had been Googling their favorite haunts. “But with one eye open,” he said. “You’re afraid of what you’re going to find.”
D’Jais, the Belmar club where I drank Jell-O shots in my early 20s, is one of the few places along that oceanfront strip upright. Though it’ll need to be gutted, the owner plans to open by May and is trying to salvage the dance floor. The Breakers on the Ocean in Spring Lake, which suffered some wind damage, is already open, as is the Porch in nearby Spring Lake Heights, which served only cold beer and deep fried food from its gas-fueled fryer while the electricity was out. In badly damaged Lake Como you can still get a drink at Bar Anticipation — Bar A to regulars — an indoor-outdoor club where in the 1990s I once waited for a rumored drop-in Springsteen performance. (He never showed.)Heading south, things get worse. Point Pleasant is a strange mix of the destroyed and the amazingly hopeful. Jersey Mike’s Subs — the national chain that got its start here — has been feeding hungry legions of distraught homeowners since the Friday after the storm, when the franchise owner, Jim Van Nostrand, ran out and bought a generator. Nothing else was open yet, so the lines snaked out the door. The corporate office in Manasquan arranged to feed thousands of displaced and ravaged residents from Keansburg to Mantoloking, all free. Though a hoagie is not going to remove the stunned look of loss in everyone’s eyes, it certainly doesn’t hurt