Asbury Park Press, 9/4/2007
An almost-perfect holiday

Asked how their weekend sized up as the cherry on an unusually cooperative summer, many beachgoers wedged in the popular section between Normandy Beach and Lavallette couldn’t give a higher rating.

No rain. Breezes to counteract the heat. Traffic that wasn’t insane.

Then comes the exception: It was perfect . . . apart from the water.

Starting late afternoon Sunday, as medical waste and raw sewage began showing up in the tide to rest near sand castles and beach chairs, hundreds of people were forced off Brick, Toms River and Lavallette beaches.

As disappointed sunbathers like Dana Cimera, 17, went home to watch TV, others spent Sunday morning getting boogie-boarders out of the water and picking up the smorgasbord of garbage, which ranged from syringes, tampons and blood kits to spongy fecal matter, whole tires and coolers.

“The water’s generally dirty and stinky today; I don’t know what’s going on,” Mantoloking lifeguard David Forsberg said late Sunday morning. Moments later his boss, senior lifeguard Bob Harris, arrived with a plastic bag containing two hypodermic needles and what looked like a urine sample.

At 7:30 a.m. Monday, the Ocean County Board of Health had four inspectors combing the shoreline from Point Pleasant Beach to Island Beach State Park while a state Department of Environmental Protection helicopter searched for off-coast garbage slicks. By noon, the board reopened all beaches.

“We walked the whole thing and the beaches were all cleaned up with no indication of trash in the water,” Robert Ingenito, the county’s environmental health coordinator, said.

It is now the DEP’s job to find out the source of the refuse, which may have come from sewage overflow out of New York and northern Jersey discharge locations. A call to the agency went unreturned.

On a brighter note

Though the garbage presence may have tainted the Labor Day experience, it by no means ruined it. A low-80s air temperature with frequent breezes and a 70-degree surf caused most of the thousands swarming the beaches to gush about what retired North Lavallette year-arounder Lewis Barna called, “California weather.” Today is supposed to be just as sunny, reaching a high of 81 degrees with possible showers in the late evening.

“It hasn’t been a damper,” Monty Harris, of Wayne, Pa., said of the shore trash that forced his two young children as well as nieces and nephews from some perfect boogie-boarding waves in Mantoloking. “We’ll only be here a short time longer, most of the kids’ friends have already left, and it’s a beautiful day.”

Except for a shooting in Brick, reports of crimes Monday were few and minor. Traffic was predictably slow heading north on the main arteries but not as snarled in some places as in the past. By 3 p.m., the Garden State Parkway was slow through Lacey. And at the Forked River service area, homebound cars competed for spots.

Sharing Roberta Kalamasz’s ride to Pittsburgh were numerous animal prizes won at the Wildwood boardwalk, now stuffed in the back of her pickup.

“It was our first time there (as a family),” she said. “I’ve been there when I was little.”

Meanwhile, in Ocean Grove, local residents and visitors were spending their last moments of the summer beach season on the sand or the boardwalk.

“Good to get out of the city for the weekend,” said Joseph Laspine, 46, of Mahwah, as he pushed a cart packed with chairs and other beach equipment.

“Sad to see summer go”

About 4:30 p.m. at the Surf City Municipal Bathing Beach on Barnegat Avenue, a group of children were in the water while a dozen adults were stretched out on lounge chairs or on the sand, enjoying the last remains of the summer despite the late afternoon hour.

Mike Van Zyl, 43, of Delanco, was battling his 3-year-old son, also named Mike, with a foam noodle.

“I’m really sad to see the summer go. It was too short,” Van Zyl said.

Those in Monmouth expressed similar nostalgia for the season’s end.

On the shores of Sandy Hook, Helmetta resident Wilma Rios and her two friends, self-described beach bunnies, were flat-out depressed. “It’s not officially over, but it’s over,” Rios said.

“I am not looking forward to going back to work,” her friend, Jean Stefani of Tinton Falls, added.

On the business side, shop owners gave mixed reviews for the summer.

Pete Cupper, owner of Charlie’s Cafe in Mantoloking, swore it was one of his busiest seasons. “We were just commenting on how much corn we’ve gone through,” he said of his produce stand.

But others like Louise Hammer, form Lavallette’s Crab’s Claw inn and restaurant, were more reserved.

“July was uneven, let’s put it that way,” Hammer said. “The weather was good, the water was beautiful, the people were here – I don’t know why it was like that.

“Now we’ll see a dramatic decline in business starting tomorrow – summer’s over,” she added.

On the Seaside Heights boardwalk, crowds dotted with every sort of character moved past vendors as others squeezed between the piers for some sand space.

Steve Whalen, who runs Lucky Leo’s arcade and game stands, agreed that July was “soft, but August bailed us out.”

Plus, it was leagues better than last Labor Day, when hurricane weather prevented him from opening on both Friday and Saturday. He did, however, have his theories for why business was sluggish: higher real estate, a tighter dollar and “people less frivolous with their cash.”

Glitzy competition

“Let’s face it, there are a lot of other places people can spend their money,” he said, referring to Atlantic City and Six Flags. Decades ago when their father, Leo, ran the attractions, those other entertainment draws didn’t exist. They were also the days when Steve and his brother Tom, as teenagers, surfed in the morning, ran the boardwalk at night and slept in the back of a vending stand.

“This is all we’ve ever known,” Steve, now 54, said. In March he plans to open a bar and bistro next door, its walls adorned with faded black-and-whites of Boardwalk greats like Stanley Tunny, Bobby Bennett and Tommy Go-Go.

As for Lucky Leo’s future, Steve’s daughter Kelly, 27, is already running the arcade while her sister, Patty, 22, operates two of the clothing stores.

“We’ve been her 54 years; we’re not going anywhere,” Steve said.

Staff writers Hartriono B. Sastrowardoyo, Sametta Thompson and Tristan J. Schweiger contributed to this story.
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