The Night The Lights Went Out On My Youth - By Darren Pecoraro

On Monday October 29th 2012, Hurricane Sandy, or super-storm Sandy - whatever they want to call her, slowly moved up the Atlantic, made a sharp left turn and roared ashore in New Jersey, swallowing up the entire northeastern coastline. Call her what you will, one thing I am sure of is that she was a bitch. The lights flickered on and off for a little while and finally going out for good around 5 pm that afternoon. Little did I know how fortunate I was to be still standing, only without power for six days amidst all the devastation.
              Through intermittent radio reports and news via smart-phone, the magnitude of the devastation slowly began to creep in, report-by-report, picture by heart-wrenching picture. Neighborhood after neighborhood, town after town, up and down the Jersey shoreline were leveled or rendered unrecognizable in a wave of non-stop surrealism. Many places thought immune or safe from the deadly storm surge found themselves inundated by the angry Atlantic Ocean. For us, this storm will not be measured in monetary loss or property damage, but in heartache.
         Some of the most heartbreaking images came from a place that will always be special to me: Seaside Heights, New Jersey. When I was a child, I fondly remember our parents taking us there every summer from our home in Staten Island. My brother, sister, and I would count the seconds after school was out. Starting as a young boy, I was jealous of those brave enough to go one some of the bigger rides. I was terrified of heights and wouldn’t ride anything more than ten feet off the ground. Year after year I told myself one day I would ride that tall, fast, frightening rollercoaster on the end of the pier. I think I was 13 years old when I finally got up the nerve to ride (to say I was terrified would be a big understatement). I took my seat, got strapped in, and the rest is history. I enjoyed the ride, and was able to subsequently ride even taller, faster roller coasters for the remainder of my younger years. That roller coaster was called the “Jet Star”, and it now sits in the Atlantic Ocean. The pilings supporting the pier underneath it were swept away and the roller coaster fell, almost intact, into the sea, like the rug was pulled out from under it.
      Throughout my high school, and college years, everyone on the south shore of Staten Island knew what the “point” and “the beach” were- The Point, referring to Gateway Park in Great Kills, and The Beach, being the parking lot by the boardwalk in Midland Beach. I spent, (some would say wasted) much of my young life there with some of the best friends I have ever had, some even friends to this day. We would drink beer, listen to the radio, and even fall in love once in awhile. Whatever the reason, whatever the time, it was a large portion of my formative years; a place forever etched in who I am. The beach and boardwalk along the eastern side of Staten Island are no longer there. The parking lot I spent so much time in is now a dumping area for the biggest pile of rubble I have seen since 9/11.
           Naturally, it isn’t easy to see some of the icons of your youth cease to exist. And it isn’t easy to be without power for an hour, never mind six days. One thing I will remember for certain about this tragedy is that there were several times when I found myself sitting in the dark or in the cold, or both, and felt the beginnings of what I could only classify as self-pity. I also noticed that on each and every one of those occasions, I almost immediately remembered how fortunate I was. I looked around and found all my family members alive and well. I looked at my four walls, which creaked quite a bit, but held strong. Some families suffered the ultimate loss, but I was merely inconvenienced. How dare I feel sorry for myself for even a second? Never in my life have I been so close by when so many lost so much.
          In the aftermath, I am aware that this storm is not a once in a lifetime event, but quite possibly a pre-cursor of things to come. Climate change is real, what further proof do you need after two hurricanes hit a hurricane free area in the span of just over a year? We obviously need to rebuild, but we need to rebuild smartly. Honestly, I’m not even sure what that means, but I know there are people much smarter than I tackling this very problem as I write this. If we do this correctly, the next time God is asleep at the wheel, and one of Sandy’s siblings roar up the coast, we will be better prepared and hopefully avoid another calamity.
          This storm has affected everyone in one-way or another. I doubt there is anyone in this area that doesn’t know someone profoundly impacted by the events of October 29th. I was lucky and most of the people I know were lucky, but there are so many who were not. I have a big mouth, I can be bombastic, and I can be brash - I am in the talk the talk hall of fame. Now I feel its time to walk the walk as well. I am going to help in whatever way I can, whether it’s some food or water, or socks, a few dollars here and there, or lending a hand to a friend in need. It’s time everyone did a little something to help those who lost so much. I’m sure most, if not all of you have done something already. If you have not, it’s not too late, and I suspect it may never be. Whatever you can do, no matter how insignificant you think it may be, will help. I am ready to play a small part in something very big. Won’t you join me?

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Darren Pecoraro is a 46 year old retired stay-at-home dad from Englishtown NJ. He enjoys all sports, especially golf, music, and writing. His greatest love is his wife, Adele, and their two boys, Christian, and Andrew.