As the foundations beneath the home-mortgage industry were eroding last week, I watched the Atlantic engage in give and take with the Jersey shore. There wasn’t much erosion to be seen in this little beach town. In fact, the local housing stock was more solid than ever. The shingled bungalows of my childhood had long given way to sturdier “upside down” houses, so called because the common rooms were upstairs, the better to exploit the views. But those houses, too, are mostly gone now, supplanted by a brash McOpulence that seems built to last. The new castles, shoehorned onto the original bungalow lots, are not so much cheek by jowl as brawny shoulder to shoulder, like the front line of the Dallas Cowboys on a love seat. Perhaps my class radar is faulty, but I couldn’t distinguish the new McVeryRich from the old Upside Down affluence they had replaced; they looked like offspring, not usurpers. I asked an old-timer about the new homeowners. “They don’t go to the beach,” she complained. “It’s all about the houses.”
When I was young, and more foolish, I once body-surfed as the coast was evacuated and a hurricane approached. It was a beautiful sight—the waves rearing up as a noonday darkness descended. In my recklessness, I half hoped the storm would wash everything away, leaving the shore raw, untamed, deconstructed. Aside from being a tragedy for homeowners, nature’s reconquest surely would have been brief. Home building would have begun at once—on stilts if concrete foundations wouldn’t abide. Despite the risks of wind and water, people love the beach. And even people who don’t love the beach love houses there.