There’s a place on Ocean Avenue

My time at Monmouth University as an undergrad was nothing short of a blast.

I lived in rental with my pals that was so close to the ocean that we fell asleep every night to the sound of the roaring waves. At least three times a week, we went out on the town and we were rarely disappointed with the characters we would meet, the bars we would stumble upon and the shenanigans that would ensue. I attended classes taught by thoughtful professors with big personalities on a stunning campus that’s regularly named as one of the most beautiful in the world.

However, of course, it could also be stressful. I’ve always kept busy, and I certainly did so during my time at Monmouth – I was an editor at the school newspaper, the editor of our honors program newsletter, a supervisor at the honors school mentoring program, a supervisor at my job at the university calling center, a member of the honors student council, a personal assistant to a local woman and a member of several clubs, including an outdoors club and a philosophy club. And did I mention I loved to go out?

Despite how much I really did love all of my extra-curricular activities and refused to give them up, sometimes, they all got pretty overwhelming and I didn’t have much time for a break (see above). However, once a week, I did get a 20-minute respite – during my scenic Ocean Avenue drive from West Long Branch to my job as a personal assistant.

While in school, I found this great gig working for a woman who needed someone to show her computer skills, organize her home, watch her dog, pick up her kids, etc. And even though I could hop on Route 35 and get there about five minutes quicker from my apartment, I always chose to take Ocean Avenue up through Spring Lake and Atlantic Highlands.

I actually hate driving. Now that I have a five-minute commute to my job as a food and travel writer at MyCentralJersey.com I couldn’t be happier. But oddly enough, at that time, I loved this drive. And as I recently discovered, I still do.

My mother recently bought an apartment in the Highlands as a little getaway spot and I visited for the first time last weekend. Like the great daughter that I am, on Saturday night I left my mother at home reading her book to head to Asbury Park for an hour or two to celebrate a friend’s engagement. I cringed when I googled the drive length – 35 whole minutes through Ocean Ave.’s traffic and stop lights. Ugh.

However, as soon as I hopped on Ocean Ave., I was immediately thrown back to the most exciting time of my life. It was 10 years ago again, and seeing the homes and hearing the ocean was soothing, not a stressful commute. I drove past my old apartment, where I would normally arrive to a house full of friends. The college kids meandering on the street could have been my old friends, who I would wave or beep at as I drove by. Like it was yesterday, I remembered the apartment building we broke into to use their indoor pool, the people we spoke to late at night on the beach, the long, laughing walks back home.

From my time at Monmouth to Saturday night, much had changed in my old stomping grounds. Some of our favorite restaurants and bars were gone. Bigger, nicer apartment buildings had popped up. Some of the old houses that our friends had rented had been renovated, or even demolished.

Despite the unavoidable changes that I saw, felt the same. I felt like I was still a part of the town, even though I hadn’t been here in awhile and hadn’t lived here in almost 10 years. I felt like the possibilities were limitless, the night that lay in front of me was endless and the personalities I knew that had come to define those times were still around any given corner.

Of course, this wasn’t true anymore. My friends had come and gone, I would head back to the Highlands in an hour and the possibilities that had come from my four years at Monmouth had pretty much been defined. I don’t think it really matters, though. Because it happened, and not everyone can look back on those times fondly. That’s a privilege, not a right. For me – yeah, my time as an undergrad is long gone. But for someone else – the many students that still call that area home – I’m glad they are lucky enough to feel that way everyday, before they hand it off to the next generation.

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