Putting aside all the sarcastic comments about our steep nature here in the Garden State, terrible roads, high property taxes, and the status of the worst place to get COVID-19 (# 1 in death population / 1 million in the world for the first 18 months of the pandemic … recently overtaken by Mississippi), New Jersey is a very interesting place to live. We wear our “Most Hated” badge with a certain sense of pride. We were the last to drop the Mask Mandate, but we make a better cheesesteak than Pennsylvania, rule the pizza world, love our Mafiosi, and gave the world Frank, Bruce, Whitney, Bon Jovi, and Sarah Vaughn.
The Atlantic Ocean is our backyard. I can’t reach out and touch it, but I’m lucky enough to run to the edge of my street and watch this every morning as I run.
I stand in its cold waters and throw myself into the sea. Not a single body from Brooklyn yet. Certainly, with all the new imports from New York over the past 18 months, anything is possible.
Life on land has not always been easy. Sandy put us out of service for months and forever changed the way houses are built. The seaside communities survive on tourist incomes and sales taxes collected from bustling restaurants and the plethora of concert halls that make every town from the Atlantic Highlands to Cape May an exciting place to live 120 days by year.
There was none of this for over 16 months. Not a note of live music. COVID took the Brighton Bar as a final finger of the honor for our neighborhood which has shown signs of life over the past few months as hundreds of new families from New York and Brooklyn moved to our little corner of the world on the Jersey Shore.
Pearl Jam, the Smashing Pumpkins, and the Avett Brothers performed here last week, so things are definitely looking up for live music.
Anyone who thinks things are really back to normal is kidding themselves. Hundreds of affluent families have sold their homes in Manhattan and Brooklyn and moved to the Long Branch – Asbury Park corridor and although traffic has deteriorated noticeably our home has doubled in value as mega mansions have taken over our neighborhood. . A ray of hope, I guess this will only make it easier for us financially to move to Israel, Georgia or Florida over the next 5 years.
It’s also the kind of place where Bruce Springsteen walks through the back door of a local bar in Asbury Park and plays a set for free because he’s a city dweller. He may reside across the street in Rumson and live the lifestyle of his Wall Street neighbors, but the boss did his best job in a tiny rental on a quiet Long Branch street.
Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ sounded a bit more catchy than the alternative.
Asbury Park, New Jersey, has been a city for almost 125 years and is at a bit of a crossroads in 2021. We may live 5 minutes from the Syrian Jewish Riviera, but AP is our home; our cultural and emotional home.
The city has a long and somewhat controversial history; Amusement parks, religious communities, high crime, race riots, gangsters, world famous concert halls and one of the most politically active LGBTQ + communities in North America.
It is also a city with a marked racial division. You see it. You know it exists.
But you just pay for your parking electronically and find a place to eat; the pandemic has caused more damage to the cultural fabric of the community than any other event over the past 3 decades.
Beach crowds returned in 2020 before the 2sd wave hit New Jersey from September (27,000+ dead), and I sat alone in the freezing cold a few mornings a week (I won’t sit in one of the ridiculous outdoor bubbles) sipping my hot coffee after a grueling 4 mile course.
Gone are the local bars, record shops and little restaurants that have made the city an integral part of my life since 2008.
With my record store gone, it’s not the same place anymore.
The Stone Pony and the Paramount Theater are no longer dark; but decidedly less busy. Primus just stepped onto the Stone Pony marquee and it’s hands down the biggest act to perform here in a while.
One food establishment that has survived the pandemic is a Korean fast food restaurant that started life many years ago as a pop-up on the promenade in Asbury Park.
MOGO is not your traditional Korean restaurant; it has nothing in common with the traditional Korean barbecue restaurants that are more popular in Fort Lee, and has built up a healthy clientele serving its Korean fusion tacos, fried chicken wings, and Boki cheesesteak sandwiches.
The Jae Yook Bokkeum (pork) and Bulgogi (beef) tacos are particularly good and can also be ordered as a burrito with kimchi fried rice. The pork doesn’t get into my body, but I’ve eaten beef more than a few times and it’s a satisfying combination with a nice crunch from the taco and a medium heat level.
If you like the traditional cheesesteak sandwich that’s popular in neighboring Philadelphia and throughout Jersey, the Boki will be a tastier touch; it includes a spicy marinated sirloin steak, sautéed peppers and onions, and cotija cheese with a potato salad.
After a day of record shopping, it really hits the mark. MOGO makes a homemade Asian pear hot sauce that goes very well with meat and is quite spicy.
Korean Fried Chicken Wings are both meaty and quite tangy if you go for the Buffalo Kimchi or the Spicy Frosting. Messy beyond that and I managed to use 10 wet naps with each serving.
It’s almost hard to believe that Parasite won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2020 and became the first foreign film to earn this honor. AMC sent me a nice note (sarcasm) thanking me for seeing over 40 movies during the pandemic on my own at our local theater in Eatontown and it’s been a year to forget in that regard.
The last shift was a surprising little movie that resonated and further proof that you don’t have to spend $ 250 million to make a decent movie.
The 4K transfer of Criterion Collection of Parasite is the version to own and while the film holds up well to repeated viewings, I still find it odd that it was the film that ultimately put Korean cinema on the map with North American audiences.
Director Bong Joon-Ho has produced some of South Korea’s best films for several years; The host and Mother well worth owning and far more interesting than anything out of Hollywood.
But my list must start with Park Chan-wook’s Old boy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance if we are to take South Korean cinema seriously.
Old boy is a very dark and stylistic film that best presents the South Korean aesthetic, and it is one of those rare films that transcends language barriers. Choi Min-sik delivers a physical performance so quirky and strong that it has become a cult film.
While not a movie to watch during COVID lockdown with the kids on a Sunday afternoon, it’s a disturbing story of psychological punishment and revenge that will leave a long lingering aftertaste – and that’s probably why i would say stick with korean chicken wings.
The Jewish holidays have finally arrived and a cold rain falls from Sandy Hook to the northern limit of Atlantic County.
The beaches weren’t full in 2021 and my local 7-Eleven opposite the Brighton Beach entrance in Long Branch had one of its slowest summers in history. Raj and I chew the fat every morning before sunrise and he can’t find anyone to work behind the cash register for $ 17 / hour.
The roads are crowded and construction is everywhere. Tesla, Chick-fil-A, Wawa, and QuickChek pop up around every corner.
A little bird told me that Netflix is reviewing nearly 300 acres in Ft. Monmouth which is vacant; rumor has it that a huge film / television production studio could be starting up in our little neighborhood.
The mask’s mandate was finally lifted after our horrific 18 months of death, isolation and discontent, but remember that there is nothing but an order of 12 Korean fried chicken wings, a bowl of kimchi fried rice and 3 creamy red birch beers from Boylan couldn’t fix. Aside from war, pandemics, cancel culture, and 54 years and counting futility for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I never said anything about miracles.