One of the pleasures of my life has been spending time on the Long Beach boardwalk. It is a place where one can find community or solitude. My personal preference is before sunrise, when it is still dark, and there are few people.
After I moved to Long Beach in 1978, I ran there almost every morning and participated in holiday races that always included a stretch on the boardwalk. In fact, my only marathon ended on the boardwalk in the early 1980s.
Now I prefer walking or sitting on a bench facing the Atlantic Ocean.
In time, the boardwalk deteriorated, with loose boards, protruding nails and rotting wood. I saw people trip, and I fell a few times, but wasn’t seriously hurt. It seemed there always was a crew of workers with hammers and nails patching sections.
I held little hope that the boardwalk would ever be fully repaired or restored. But then came superstorm Sandy in 2012. The storm’s massive tidal rush viciously tore into the city’s centerpiece and brand, the iconic Long Beach boardwalk. Beyond that, the waves flooded homes and displaced families.
What was left was incomprehensible. Giant sections of boardwalk collapsed upon each other or were thrown in front or behind their supports.
The boardwalk’s more than 700 benches appeared to be lost. Each one bore a plaque, often with an emotional dedication to the memory of a loved one, including victims of 9/11. Families purchased the benches from the City of Long Beach for $2,700. It turned out that many benches held fast to the broken and battered boards and could be stored until the boardwalk was rebuilt at a cost of $44 million, incredibly only one year later. Soon after, the benches were reattached to the boardwalk.
Sadly, though, when I walked the 2.2 miles of the boardwalk on July 15, I counted 209 broken benches out of 910 — 1 in 5 visibly damaged memorials. Some pieces of the seats and backrests are missing, perhaps from wear or the weather.
At first, I thought vandals might be to blame, but City Hall said there were no such reports.
Among the plaques on the benches is one inscribed with the name of a woman — a mother or wife, sister or daughter — with these words under her name in all-capital letters:
ETERNALLY IN OUR HEARTS AND MINDS
YOUR EVER PRESENT SPIRIT
HELPS US FIND OUR WAY
WE WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU
Another plaque bears the name of a loved one followed by this poem:
Come and sit with me awhile
Let the sun play warmly on your face
Let the breeze blow gently by
I will forever be the butterfly in your soul
I still prefer walking the boardwalk before sunrise. Although I cannot see the broken memorials as well in the dark, I know they are there and I take heart in the city’s pledge to make them whole again so they can continue to offer comfort to loved ones.
Reader Andrew Malekoff lives in Long Beach.