THE LAST FIVE ...

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- Wednesday, Aug. 02, 2006

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- Wednesday, May 17, 2006

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- Friday, April 21, 2006

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- Thursday, April 20, 2006

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- Wednesday, March 1, 2006

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101 in 1001
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2000-11-28 - 12:19:27

City by the sea

Ahh ... another lovely day off.

We're having some crazy weather here in New Jersey this late November. Last week, we were treated to frigid winter temperatures and biting wind that we normally see around here during Thanksgiving. But it gradually warmed up, and the November rain over the weekend was far from cold. Fog rolled in last night as Sunday grew warmer as the day wore on.

Today, I wake up and walk to the post office to mail off the application for tickets to Notre Dame's bowl game, and I wear nothing but a sweatshirt and pullover. No gloves or hat needed. As I walk beneath only partly cloudy skies, the sun warms me to the point I'm sweating a little. This is not right. This is not the weather we're supposed to have at this time. It actually made me miss South Bend.

So with everyone back at work and school, it was up to me to keep Jeff, my mother's older cousin from California, company. We decided to drive along the coast down to Asbury Park and Ocean Grove, to look at some of the historical haunts of the Jersey Shore. I was happy to find that the bridge on Ocean Avenue in Long Branch, over Lake Takanassee, was finally reopened, after more than a year of refurbishment that forced motorists into a long and winding detour away from the ocean. Jeff remarked about all the large, old, colonial, Victorian and elaborate houses in Elberon and Deal and Allenhurst, and then we crossed into Asbury Park.

The city by the sea is nothing like it once was. The entire amusement section -- the part with the clubs like the Stone Pony, Convention Hall, the casino and Palace Amusements -- is run down and decrepit. The only glimmer of hope is the sparkling Berkley Carteret Hotel set in the middle of all the decay, with a broad but unkept lawn to the south, just west of Convention Hall, which sits on the boardwalk and extends over the beach near the ocean.

As we neared the Berkley Carteret, I could see the presence of film and equipment trucks. The Asbury Park Press had reported a month ago that Robert DeNiro would be filming a new movie -- "City By The Sea" is the working title, at least -- in Asbury Park this month and the cast and crew would be staying at the hotel. As we passed the hotel, a small crowd had gathered to watch some production happening along the boardwalk.

I parked the car and Jeff -- who has much more access to such things, living in Southern California as he does -- said it'd be neat to see what was happening on the set today. An old building on the boardwalk, across from the hotel and next to Convention Hall -- had been spruced up ... with a sign identifying it as a police station. A dozen or so people stood on the sidewalk next to the hotel, amid carts and trays and boxes of equipment, with a production van behind us and the action, as it was, in front of us.

"This is one thing that's different from California," Jeff said. "Out there they keep everyone at least a block away from the filming."

Just then a cell phone rang.

"That's one of the reasons," he said. "And you get a few hecklers out there, people there who yell out while filming is going on."

No cameras were rolling while we stood there, but a scene was being staged, walked out, or something, because two men repeatedly walked from the door of the "police station" to an unmarked police car. One of the men looked like Danny Aiello, who lives or is from another nearby Jersey town, but as he crossed the street and came closer, I could see that it was actually DeNiro with longer hair.

He got into the back seat a Lexus SUV and was driven north along the beach for lunch or some other work on the film. A group of extras emerged from the hotel, escorted by a production assistant. Jeff and I looked at them, and determined that they were to play the various "ruffians" or criminals in the police station. One girl wore a short skirt, dark stockings and lots of makeup; another was dressed in an army surplus jacket and baggy pants; one guy had on a hooded sweatshirt and loose jeans. Two men dressed as cops had blue bars on their sleeves and a blue sheild signifying the fictional town in the movie, so they were easily distinguishable from the Asbury Park cops working security on the set and the streets, wearing similar jackets, but with their patches the color of goldenrod.

As the crew worked with standins for DeNiro and another actor, the lights and boom camera were put into place and a few of the police cars parked in front of the station were repositisioned, no doubt in preparation for a take or two.

Hungry, Jeff and I walked back to the car and continued south to Ocean Grove, a former Methodist camp meeting association in the late 1800s. While Long Branch and Asbury Park were the fasionable resorts of the day, Ocean Grove was the strict, gated community with all the rules. We drove down the tree-lined Main St., passed all the shops and cafes and reached the ocean again. I turned north, and we drove by the elaborate houses, hotels and inns, then got a glimpse of the Great Auditorium across the open promenade. I turned up one street to show Jeff the tiny cottages set only a couple of feet apart, clustered into a few blocks near the auditorium. One block over, even smaller shacks, minus the canvas additions of tents they would have in the summer, gave us an idea of what this town might have looked like more than a hundred years ago.

In front of the auditorium, Jeff finished the film in his camera -- actually his sister's camera, which he'd brought along partly on instructions from her, who remained in California for the holiday. From there we went to lunch at a riverside diner a little further south, then headed north again and made a stop in Barnes and Noble to browse before heading home so he could finish packing for his flight tonight. We'd meant to stop back at the film set again, but it slipped our mind as we drove north. But he'll have plenty of opportunities to visit film sets in Orange County, and I have another week or so to check out the city by the sea.

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