In a matter of 10 minutes or so, Prince Harry managed to restore something that Superstorm Sandy nearly drowned among people in Seaside Heights, bigger than all the new lumber on the boardwalk – their optimism.
Oh, sure, there’s the bombast and bluster of “The Shore Is Open.” And all the attention lavished by Governor Christie and a cadre of celebrities has surely captivated people who have lived in anonymity while visitors trooped in and out through the years.
But British royalty added a completely different, global dimension. The hum of busy construction died away, replaced by the growing drone of Sikorsky choppers overhead and the rumble of V-8s inside SUVs, and the yips and growls of K-9 sentries.
People replacing windows and wood, clearing mold, and pulling the forlorn Jet Star coaster from the surf saw that their will to overcome adversity had reverberated across the Atlantic and beyond. After the humiliation of seeing their ruins splashed across the planet, the Prince’s brief visit was validation.
Small business insiders in Seaside know that summer will be different than in years past. “Local people would normally just stay away while tourists fill up the boardwalk,” one told me. “Those are exactly the people we hope to attract this year. Folks who don’t see the progress don’t know how much has been done. They’re looking elsewhere. It’s the ones who usually stay away who stand to get the most out of it.”
Huddled groups standing beside barricades a block away from the boardwalk erupted in cheer after cheer with every glimpse of the Prince in the distance. He didn’t hurry through his handshakes.
He seemed intent on reading each face he encountered, filing each greeting in some mental database. He left the impression that his visit, there and in Mantoloking, was no simple photo opportunity. It seemed to be as pivotal an experience for him as it was for those he met. Today, for many, was finally the end of a long, nightmarish winter.
In the aftermath, treading the boardwalk, taking in the aroma of fresh wood and French fries, listening to the din of buzzsaws and hammers, it was hard to find someone who wasn’t beaming. Prince Harry moves on to the next chapter of his life, but this one is just between him and the Jersey Shore.