Friday, September 13, 2013

A N.J. Boardwalk Fire After Labor Day? Stop the Presses!

Crappy steel roller coaster falls into ocean, sleeps with the fishes, after Hurricane Sandy in Seaside Heights, NJ
The media do love a narrative, and once one is established lock onto it with the tenacity of a Gila monster.

Hence we see today worldwide coverage of a fire yesterday on the Seaside Park Boardwalk, near the site in adjacent Seaside Heights of the world-famous Hurricane Sandy devastation photo from last year. That photo ("iconic," to evoke that silly word the media just love), hyped storm damage but actually just depicted the not-really-unfortunate collapse into the ocean of a crappy, steel roller coaster (maximum height 44 feet!) In fact, the hurricane probably saved its owners the expense of having the thing demolished to make way for something more with more appeal. But pointing that out would have disturbed the narrative for the media.

Now lookit the Daily Mail newspaper hyperventilating on the new Boardwalk tragedy. All the way from England! And Jesus, lookit all those photos of that crappy roller coaster that are appearing again.

Then witness the New Jersey governor, Chris ("Thar She Blows") Christie once again with the TV cameras, wailing like Margaret Hamilton during her final meltdown in the Wizard of Oz.  OK, actually, Christie said he was so traumatized by yesterday's Boardwalk fire that he "wanted to throw up." Not an image I think we want in our heads, incidentally.

[From last year, here's Christie in standard form on the Seaside Heights boardwalk early last summer before the hurricane, surrounded by bodyguards, seeming to go after a protester.] And to the right there, that's Christie with a supersized ice cream cone last year, before the lap band surgery he thinks will help him become president some day.

The new Boardwalk fire narrative is: Valiant seashore town, just recovering from monster hurricane, devastated, utterly destroyed again by cruel, cruel fate. Stricken town will "once again need to rebuild, vowing to do so." Fatuous tearjerkers on this theme abound, while media coverage of the very real flood disaster affecting people and actual operating businesses in Colorado are played inside.

The reality is:

--OK, this was a large fire on big wooden walkway -- but one of the sort that usually gets some routine regional media coverage.  20 bars and pizza joints and an arcade, maybe 30 marginal businesses in all, in a mostly unoccupied ramshackle wood structures, were burned down on a wooden boardwalk section of Seaside Park, a neighbor of the far-more-popular Seaside Heights. Many of those buildings had been damaged in Hurricane Sandy and many had failed to reopen afterward and were essentially out of business. Repeat: These were shuttered joints. The admittedly engaging if invincibly tacky Seaside Heights Boardwalk was not "destroyed" this week, and had suffered only minimal damage during last summer's hurricane. By the way, two of the world's most prominent antique carousels, one of which thumps along with a fully restored calliope-like mechanical band, operate on the Seaside Heights Boardwalk, and are a sight to see. (Unaffected by either the hurricane or the fire).

--This fire occurred after Labor Day, following a summer season in which business was down sharply in Seaside Heights and Seaside Park. Except for day-trippers and kids on a summertime binge (and politicians with expensive summer houses in far, far tonier Jersey Shore towns prancing around for the TV cameras), these are not popular spots for vacationers.

--Business has steadily been declining for decades at New Jersey boardwalk towns like Seaside and Wildwood, partly because many hotels and rooming houses are extortionately priced, high-handed toward customers and very poor in quality (these are quick-buck businesses that have to make their dough in a very short summer season, subject to iffy weather).  During the first 17 years of my life, I spent summers in Wildwood. But that was a very long time ago, in a place literally and figuratively far away.

--Boardwalk arson fires have been not-uncommon in Jersey Shore towns after Labor Day, following disastrously bad seasons. Police are looking into things, with an eye toward past experience. Not the media, though, because a phony narrative still gets attention, along with photos of fire, which always get attention. Just like that crappy steel roller coaster sinking morosely into the surf.

UPDATE Sept. 15 -- The flooding in and around Boulder, Colorado, and not some burnt unoccupied Boardwalk shacks in "iconic" (ugh) Seasiode Park, NJ, is the real story for current news of a disaster.



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