• Gina Matarazzo

Under the Boardwalk, Out of the Sun

In August of 1964, The Drifters had a number four hit on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart with the song “Under the Boardwalk.” If you are not familiar with the song, it has a catchy tune and goes like this: “When the sun beats down and burns the tar up on the roof and your shoes get so hot you wish your tired feet were fireproof. Under the boardwalk down by the sea on a blanket with my baby Is where I'll be. Out of the sun.” The song describes a man and woman who live in a seaside town and meet secretly under the boardwalk, out of sight from everyone else. It sounds quite romantic—being under the boardwalk on a beach blanket with the one you love. Many years ago, in the 1950s and 1960s, that was the thing young lovers did. It wasn’t exclusive to just one beach town or seaside resort; almost any beach with a boardwalk tended to attract young lovers. But in 2019, you don’t see lovers under the boardwalk. What you see is a different world—something that many don’t even know exists.

As far back as I can remember, my family has vacationed in Atlantic City. I love that place. The beach, the boardwalk, the hotels, the entertainment all make it an exciting place to be. But, like everywhere else in the world, Atlantic City has changed over the years. Hotels were demolished. Hotels were renamed. Hotels were closed and then opened again. Malls were built. Malls were turned into all-day nightclubs. Crime rate increased. Crime rate decreased. Yes, there have been a lot changes. One of the things, though, that hasn’t changed much is the prevalence of those who have nothing—the homeless. The word “homeless” leaves a negative taste in some people’s mouths. The homeless are the people who don’t have a place to call their own, who are often found sleeping on benches, who beg for money and food, and who, sometimes, rob you for what you have. In Atlantic City, it’s not uncommon to see a homeless person every couple of boardwalk blocks. Some are veterans. Some are gamblers who lost it all. Some are addicts. Some have mental conditions. Some are victims of fires or other disasters. Some will sing to you and others will tell you a joke for a quarter. For me, they are a staple in Atlantic City and I like to call them the “Boardwalk Dwellers”—it sounds better than “homeless.” The Boardwalk Dwellers are there any time of the year you go—summer, fall, winter, spring an seem to hang out in the same spot. I often wondered where they stayed at night. This week, I learned the answer.

This past week was my annual family vacation to Atlantic City. It was nice. I spent some time on the beach. Ate great food. Spent time with family. Saw cousins I only see a few times a year. Each morning, my Father and I would walk on the beach. It’s nice and peaceful on the beach in the morning. Families are getting ready for the beach day. Children are building sand castles and playing in the ocean. People are walking around the beach with their metal detectors in search of hidden treasures. Not to mention that a morning walk on the beach is a photographer’s paradise. There are amazing shots that can be captured of seagulls crushing their prey, unique seashells laying in the sand, and washed up jellies. It’s a beautiful site. But beneath the surface, or should I say, under the boardwalk there is a different site. Atlantic City has two piers that extend from the Boardwalk: The Steel Pier (which is an amusement park) and the Playground (which is a giant nightclub with some shops). On the beach, you can walk underneath these piers. What you see under the pier is truly amazing in more than one way. If you are facing the ocean, you can see the waves hit against the poles that support the pier. It is beautiful. If you turn and face the inward portion of the pier, your view changes and what you see if much less picturesque. Garbage bags filled with cans. Dirty lounge chairs. Piles of trash. Tons of graffiti. Not exactly the site that comes to mind when “Under the Boardwalk” comes on. But the garbage bags and dirty lounge chairs aren’t trash at all. They are signs of civilization—small cities, so to speak, where the Boardwalk Dwellers live. It’s sad to think that there are people who live there, who sleep under the boardwalk. Over the years, however, outreach centers and local officials have worked together to clean up the boardwalk—to help the Boardwalk Dwellers start a new life. Some Boardwalk Dwellers oblige and take the help. Others simply refuse and live their lives looking everywhere they can for food and money. Still, it is relieving to know that outreaches are there to help them.

Out of respect for the Boardwalk Dwellers, only a few pictures were taken—just enough to bring awareness to the life that exists beneath the fun of the boardwalk. I am unsure if these show a current “home site” or one that has been abandoned. Still, the evidence of life there is quite depressing. As you read this, I want you to be grateful for what you have and to remember those who are less fortunate. The story of the Boardwalk Dwellers can mimic everyday life— as people walk on the boardwalk, having fun, enjoying time, and make memories, there are people amongst them struggling. We go about doing our own thing in life, sometimes overlooking those who are going though a tough time. Don’t criticize. Don’t condescend. Be conscientious. You never know what is going on under the boardwalk, out of the sun.

Thanks for reading.

XO Gina

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