GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK....
My journey to the heart of Weird New Jersey !!!
On October 30, 2004--- Because there haven't been any local DS Halloween
parties for a couple of years (and don't seem likely to resume in the
foreseeable future), I've been on the lookout for an appropriate autumn
outing to "get away from it all." As a faithful reader of the
Weird New Jersey I learned that
they were hostng their first Halloween party in 2 years. (Last
year, around this time, they were very busy promoting their first book, Weird NJ, and one of the
creators' wives was having a baby.) The price was right--- $10 if
one ordered a ticket in advance. Fortunately, the one major hotel
in the neighborhood was charging off-season prices, though it was still
close to $100. But what the heck--- I had saved on the DS
vacation last summer since I didn't have to fly or use public
transportation, and I don't spend a lot on anything else; this wouldn't
set me back too much.
The one daunting thing was driving alone almost 200 miles to someplace
I'd never been before, on a rainy, foggy Saturday. I
thought the worst part would be shelling out for all those tolls on the
Garden State Parkway.
Hahah! I LAUGH at danger--- well, after 3 hours of getting lost at dusk
in the REAL "Weird New Jersey", I wasn't laughing at all... I was torn
between terrified and disgusted. My directions didn't mention the
mixed-up exits around the Amboys.... I got off one exit that turned out
to be a miles-long stretch into nowhere, straight out of the
magazine. Damn it, I thought, this is nowhere near the Pine
Barrens, yet where the HELL is the town? I could EASILY picture
albino Nazi midget Satan-worshipping escaped asylum serial killers
rampaging out of those desolate woodlands and out of the huge,
weekend-empty factories and warehouses I saw, to blockade my car and drag me away to a hideous fate. Well, it's clear that I survived. The most dangerous thing I did was make a U-turn to get outta there.
I traveled for miles down the wrong highway where all the stores,
restaurants, and gas stations were, tantalizingly, on the OTHER side of
an esplanade, but was not permitted to take a LEFT at ANY of the lights
to get to them.... Whilst resigning myself to navigating through THREE
rush-hour lanes of traffic to somehow take a RIGHT to get the Hell OFF
this road, and back on my way.
And the complex rotaries.... When I finally found my way back to the
left-hand exit to "Shore Points" (very important to remember next time
!!) and made it down the long causeway towards Asbury Park, I
actually had to go around a rotary three times before I figured out where
Asbury Avenue began. And of course, once one gets closer to the
ocean, it gets foggier and foggier, and it was getting darker and darker. I thought for sure I was heading straight through slums populated by eccentric desperadoes.
However, I soon safely reached the area, now so empty, where the Palace
Arcade, with its mascot mural "Tillie", and what seemed like a dozen
other buildings once stood, then was overjoyed to realize the Stone Pony Cafe (where the
party was to be) and the venerable Berkeley Carteret Hotel
was staying) were just about a half-mile apart on Ocean Avenue, right
around the next corner. I wasn't completely elated, though--- all
my wrong turns cost me over an hour extra--- it was already after 7,
and the party was to begin at 9 !!! I would have NO time to grab
a bite to eat, and I was hungry after over 4 hours of driving.
Worse, there were NO fast-food joints in the immediate
area. I hoped there would be SOMETHING worthwhile to eat at
the Stone Pony.
In the rather small lobby of the old hotel
(built in 1927), I noticed that it was largely occupied by Asians, both
the help AND the guests. The guests, judging by literature
scattered about the hotel, and my experience at work, were Koreans, and
most seemed to belong to a Christian group that, the next morning, I
discovered, held services and a Sunday school for kids right in the
hotel. The hotel was decorated with serene, shimmering Oriental
motifs. I was astonished to receive an actual KEY to my 4th-floor
room at the end of a long, dim hallway--- apparently they had
electronic key cards at one time, but had discontinued their use.
It was okay, I hadn't felt so safe in a hotel since I don't remember
when. Even the parking--- right on the foggy, empty street (all
dead parking meters-- YAY!-- and constant police patrols) ceased to bother
me. I had never been in ANY hotel with "house rules" (No partying
in rooms after 1 AM, though, being on my own and knowing nobody, unlike
the DS conventions, was not likely to host an orgy there that
night.) I had ended up with two double beds, so I had plenty of
pillows to use. The bathroom was very large--- obviously the
original generous dimensions of the 1927 facilities, with real tiles in
the floor, though newer plumbing, of course. There was an
abundance of pleasant-smelling little servings of shampoo and
soaps. But it was a bit too warm, and i couldn't manipulate the
I scrambled to get ready. I had never felt like such an ODDBALL
going back down through the small lobby/ foyer with the small number of
serious religious people milling around, though my costume was neither scary,
bizarre, or immodest. Good thing those folks didn't get to
see SOME of the costumes I saw later....
I promptly arrived at the Stone Pony
Cafe which is at one end of a long building that encompasses the
width of a block. At the other end was a bar that appeared to be
primarily patronized by younger African-Americans. Most of the
few bars scattered along Ocean Avenue were holding Halloween events.
The crowd contained a surprising amount of people in or around my peer
group, like the DS festivals, roughly mid-30s through their 40s, but
enough young ones, and mostly Caucasian. I heard later that
around 500- 700 filtered in and out that night. It was very large
inside, but I couldn't see where they could get more than a couple
hundred in at any one time. There WAS a tent and extra bar set up
in their courtyard or back parking lot, adjacent to the main hall, but
fortunately it had gotten warm enough (humid but not raining, and with
all those bodies) so that one didn't notice one was actually
Most of the folks, obviously, chose costumes inspired by articles in
WNJ magazine, including (of course !!) the intrepid
Sceurman and Mark Moran
. Mark S. could barely walk with that milk-bottle megalith on his
head and shoulders, and gave it up after about 15 minutes. He
donned the Jungle Habitat diorama at longer intervals on stage.
The MC, Glen
was done up as, well, the kitchen sink from outer space, or
something. I ran into Glen's charming lady friend, who, as it turned
out, was the only other NJ Pink Lady
at the party. We were royally entertained by The
Enigma and a young lady called "Bang-Bang" , though I could not bear to watch the
Enigma swallow a sword or bang a nail into his sinus. And I
stayed in a beeline near an exit when Bang-Bang started sharpening tools and lighting her cigarette with all those sparks. (The Enigma, BTW,
did a guest role on The
X-Files a few years back, the episode where Mulder and Scully
investigated murders in a colony of side-show performers.)
And as for the bands? Um.... LOUD. I'm a little old to get into loud anymore, though the 2nd band-- Reno's Men-- had an interesting lead singer who did some kind of monologue like a fire-and-brimstone preacher in one of their songs.
I was nominated for the costume contest, and there was plenty to choose
from. There were folks with pinatas on their heads, a Bee Girl
and one of several "Joisey" devils, and the guy who won, Jimmy
Hoffa Buried in Giants Stadium (right under the goal post.) A
laid-back pirate with a parrot pinata on HIS head, a "Newark
hooker"(who enjoyed his costume so much, I blurred his face to protect
his identity), and an upper-crust
saber victim strutted their stuff. Medusa showed up,
but didn't faze Al Capone, and Elsie the Cow distributed Borden
stickers to Marilyn Monroe and another Joisey Devil, whilst the Dutch
Boy Paint Kid kindly nominated me to the contest. When I was introduced and announced from whence I hailed, the two Marks expressed some amazement that someone had come all the way from Connecticut to a party dedicated to Weird New Jersey.
City Morgue medics sat at the patio bar and had a few stiff ones to
relax them after a long day of being around stiffs. As you will notice,
they brought some of their work with them.
I didn't get a shot of the woman dressed as the Evil Food Circus Clown,
but I DID get two
out of the THREE Tillies --- they were all women (one girl carried
a huge sign that looked exactly like the blistered, worn original
mural, now languishing in storage.) The pinata-headed Tillies,
like Afghani women in burquas, had to be led about by their menfolk.
I left after 1 AM, that's all I know. (Yes, I DID have something
to eat--- a very decent cheeseburger. And not too much to drink
either--- I bought 2 copies of the Marks' heavy new book, Weird US, hard enough to
carry without getting toddly.) The next morning, it was a
beautiful sunny, warm day, almost pure and clean at that hour, and I
decided to walk around. To my delight, though I hadn't requested
it, my room DID face the ocean.
The hotel was across from a large park
with statues. The Greek Orthodox priest's one was close to the
boardwalk. (The round, "crowned" building is a Howard
Johnson's, which is still open though I don't believe the upper floor
One of the few buildings left which is still open on the boardwalk is the
convention hall. This building is still very
ornate and huge. Like a few other buildings in the area,
efforts have been made to
preserve it. (You can make out the words "Welcome to Asbury
Park" in lights on the wall.) Souvenirs of Asbury park's grand past
as a port are memorialized in the decorations
on the vast, complex building. Because the con hall is built
right over the boardwalk, during the day, both doors to the hall are
left open so people can pass through. There are traces of fine
decorations which are being restored in the cool, dim, cavernous
passage. Outside, next door, is a long, boarded-up building that
used to house many oceanside concessions
and services. Nearby was what looked like a junkyard, but
what really seemed to be a storage area for decorations similar to
those festooning the convention hall.
Across the green, it's obvious many buildings have disappeared
throughout the years. One survivor is the Wonderbar,
which is painted aquamarine like the old Palace Amusements, and
decorated with tributes to some of its murals, including, of course,
"Tillie." Beyond that, is the metal framework of a ten-storey
building begun in the early 1990's when it seemed like there was going
to be urban renewal in Asbury Park. The project was abandoned,
and now, in a strong ocean breeze, pieces of the now-rusty and
salt-corroded beams often crumple noisily to the ground, which can be
heard across the park.
At that point, I could not go any farther, exploring the boardwalk or much else--- after the damp chill of the night before, it had gone up to over 70 degrees, and I had only brought rather warm clothes.  Plus, the sun was very strong and I had not thought of bringing any sunscreen.  (I had one skin cancer hacked off my face in the past; I didn't want to push my luck.) It was getting near noon-time, check-out time, anyway.  Before I checked out, I took a few more pictures of the hotel.
As you can see, effort were made to restore the grandeur of the place,
though the mocking skeleton of that abandoned construction project can clearly be
viewed through the window. I wouldn't mind staying there again
next year, if there's another party.
Before leaving the town of Asbury Park (now completely benign and
solidly middle-class in the daylight), I noticed a marvelously decrepit
former grand hotel once called the Metropolitan.
It looked as though it was abandoned at least 20 years ago, though it's
smack in the middle of a decent working-class area, near a nice
church. The crossed boards across the front doors really make it
look haunted. It sprawls over an entire
block; don't know when the old part was built, but the newer wing
seems to be of 1960's vintage. Since I had to drive around to
find a decent parking place, it was an excuse to go back toward the
shore and snap a few more photos of an eerie yet magnificent desolation.
A church grandly stands in the midst of boarded-up snack stands and
other derelict buildings.
And thus, I bid farewell to Asbury Park, which I hope to visit again
someday, because obviously, I haven't photographically recorded all its
interesting facets. It's sad that it's no longer a bustling
seaside resort, but on a fine Sunday morning and into the afternoon,
one can be almost glad there aren't thousands of sweating, jostling
tourists around on a seemingly-pristine beach. There IS
a huge, luxury building project going on, and while that should boost
the local economy, I hope it doesn't completely destroy the peace and
easy access of ordinary folks to a soul-enriching stroll by the eternal
Lorraine Balint, November 2004
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