Monday, July 17, 2006

An implosive send-off

Back in May, I started writing what has become a monthy column for the TriCity News, an alternative newspaper focusing on the arts, culture, and politics in eastern Monmouth County - where I lived before moving to London. The column, published every third Thursday of the month, examines what it's like to be an expat American living in London. It's an honor and a pleasure to write for the TriCity News, a paper that I loved reading while living in the TriCity area. My second piece, "An implosive send-off," was originally published in the June 15, 2006 edition of The TriCity News. Enjoy.

An implosive send-off
copyright Chris Osburn 2006

When last I checked in, I was contemplating the sorrows of a life without triCity cuisine but looking forward to my favorite London nosh. In this new installment, my focus is more well-rounded – I’m gonna miss my home in the Garden State!

By sheer coincidence, my last full day in New Jersey was the day of the C-8 demolition. Quite the implosion end to an already internally profound week! The missus was already across the pond in search of our new home, while I busily wrangled what seemed to be a hydra of loose ends back on the home front. Suffice to say, it was an exasperating and often lonely week.

Leaving our home, the triCity area, and our dear friends wasn’t easy. I already miss much about the area. Curiously off the top of my head, I miss the little marmot that lived in the patch of woods behind our house. He was an excellent source of free entertainment over the past few years. In fact, my last day at the house, I watched David Marmot (just one of his many nicknames) climb more than halfway up a tree!

The movers, having done a thorough job of stuffing the material elements of my life into a sealed cargo container, left the house empty – eerily empty. No longer a home, as much a mortgage payment needing to be addressed (our lovely house is on the market hint hint); I gave it the once-through (and then a once-more-through) and moved on.

Requiring a bed for the evening, and having every intention of catching the C-8 implosion the next morning, I had booked a room for the night at the Berkeley Carteret Oceanfront Hotel - just a stone's throw from the C-8. The hotel appeared fully booked with many, if not most, of its occupants there with a goal similar to mine – getting up early the next morning to watch the past crumble before our eyes.

I’m sure the toppling of the C-8 has since been written about amply and well contemplated within the pages of this fine paper and other local publications – so, I won’t go there. But, allow me to say that it was great to witness that event on so many levels … and that it left me sad to realize that I won’t be around to continue experiencing Asbury Park’s ongoing evolution firsthand. It’s been utterly fascinating watching a city transform – for better or worse - on what often seemed to be a weekly basis.

After the demolition, my friends treated me to a last breakfast at my favorite bistro-by-the-sea, Tides, which was completely packed. Utterly intrigued to find an act of destruction could bolster the income of this local business, I soaked it all in for one last, lingering time: the crowd of happy folks chewing on breakfast-y comfort, my tablemates sharing their experiences of growing up in and around Asbury Park, the sunlight streaming through the windows.

After breakfast, we said our goodbyes, and I slipped into limbo – running odd last minute errands and pondering my new episode of life that fast approached. I don’t remember much about the rest that day, other than that the weather was perfect when I left for Liberty International Airport in Newark.

Of course, it was raining when my flight touched down at London Gatwick International the following morning. But, since then, the weather’s been mostly sunny. To the best of my knowledge, nothing imploded upon my arriving in London. And to be honest, hardly a building shrugged upon my return. In fact, London is much as I remembered, quirky and resolute … and continual.

Then, two weeks into being here, my wife clued me in on an interesting piece of news: One Westminster Bridge, notorious for being listed among London’s ugliest buildings, was scheduled for demolition the morning of May 25. This hexagonal building, known as the Greater London Council Island Block (GLCIB), had originally been constructed in the early seventies for government purposes but, owing to a lengthy list of costly uh-ohs, had been empty for around twenty years. Among the well intentioned blunders was the inclusion of state-of-the-art external automatic solar blinds that would lower for forty-five minutes every time the sun came out – even for a few seconds – and eventually wore out and got stuck in the down position.

In place of the GLCIB, a fourteen-story luxury hotel with 900 suites, business lounges, executive meeting rooms, a ballroom, 2 restaurants, a brasserie, bars, health spa, gymnasium and indoor pool is to be erected and to be ready for occupancy by the 2012 Olympics.

So yes, of course, I went to the demolition, where a rather large crowd of spectators – not as big as the C-8 crowd, but still pretty big – had convened. However, unlike the C-8’s demise, the commencement of the GLCIB’s downfall was mostly ceremonial, as the complete demolition is expected to take twelve to sixteen weeks of chipping away. I suppose that, if London can handle this eyesore for thirty-plus years, several weeks more won’t be a problem.

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