All workouts and no soda make Sara a cranky (but skinny!) girl…

It’s official. I’ve become one of THOSE people.

You know the people I mean. The ones who exercise with freakishly religious zeal. The ones who ONLY fill their shopping carts at the grocery store with organic fruits and veggies. The people who can, without needing to do any quick math, tell you IMMEDIATELY how many calories they’ve consumed so far today, as well as what their total daily caloric intake will be.

Yes.  I have become a skinny health nut.

I didn’t become one of THOSE people because I wanted to feel morally superior to the people who don’t work out, buy processed foods, and don’t know their daily calorie intake at this exact second—although don’t get me wrong, I DO feel superior to all of you who aren’t like that.  Massively so.  All of THOSE people do.  You were right about that.  We judge you. 

No, I made this lifestyle change because I promised myself that I would be a size 4 by summer. And I’m actually almost there. I’ve got probably another 5-7 pounds left to go, with another two months of school left and a month-and-a-half until the pool opens.

3 days before I got on the exercise/healthy eating wagon
Me last week… see the difference???

Yay me!

But I’m also finding myself at that dreaded plateau, where those last 5-7 pounds don’t seem to want to budge.  I’ve tried reasoning with them, I’ve tried yelling at them, I’ve even tried offering them a trip to Disney World (hey, it would work if someone wanted to get rid of ME!).  But to no avail.  Clearly, drastic measures are necessary, so it was time to give up my last remaining dietary vice.

Yes, boys and girls, I’m talking about my diet soda addiction.

For years, I ignored all of the articles/tv shows/doctors/health experts/random busybodies (cough Angela cough) who said that any soda, even diet, is bad for you. Because I love me some Diet Coke. And it has zero calories! Nothing with zero calories can be bad for you! (And no, no one who speaks German could be evil either.)

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that CALORIES are the enemy, not the artificial sweeteners and other delicious, cancer-causing ingredients.

Right?  I mean, why would they put the word “diet” in the NAME of the product if it wasn’t going to help you lose weight?  Who would do something like that?

And I NEEDED my soda.

Because if you know me at all, you know that I don’t drink coffee. (And if you don’t know me, but still know that I don’t drink coffee, that’s really creepy and please stop stalking me!) But I’m an inveterate insomniac and have a day job that starts at what I believe should technically still be termed “The Middle of the Freaking Night for God’s Sake.” Literally. When I rule the world, that’s what 7:25am will be called.

So for years now (never mind how many!), I’ve relied on two (okay, three or four) cans of Coke Zero to get me through until the time when normal people start their days. You know. Noon.

For me, that was the perfect amount of caffeine to keep me functional, but NOT enough to cause further sleep problems.

But coffee drinkers don’t understand that, as I learned when I went to the Meadowlands to see Bruce Springsteen with my dad last week. I drove both ways, as it was my spring break and my dad had to work the next day, but after hitting a mysterious traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike that Google Maps claimed didn’t exist but that lasted for an hour, and with three hours left to drive at 1am, I realized I was going to need some kind of a stimulant to help keep me awake on the road.

So we stopped at the Walt Whitman rest stop to get me a Diet Coke.

Perfectly confident in my abilities to make it safely home with that 32oz soda next to me, I got back in the car. My dad called my mom to give her an estimate on when he would be home, and I spoke to her for a couple of minutes as well (a little bit about the concert, but mostly bragging about how healthily I had eaten that day.  My mom is the skinniest person on the planet, so she was proud). And when I went to take a sip of my delicious, life-prolonging, energy-giving Diet Coke, I got only ice.  And that horrible watered-down soda remnant crap that you get when your soda is gone but you try to drink it anyway.

While I had been on the phone, my dad drank the whole soda. And because he single-handedly keeps Starbucks in business and literally has pure coffee running through his veins instead of blood, the caffeine in my soda did nothing for him.  Thirty seconds later, he was asleep.

At which point, I decided to kill him and leave his body in the swamps of Jersey.

Because if I learned anything from The Sopranos, it’s that that’s a pretty common occurrence in New Jersey and shouldn’t really raise any eyebrows.

But I love my dad. So even though I spent the next hour of the drive plotting his demise in gory detail, I didn’t act on it. Instead, I drank half of my emergency 5 Hour Energy that I keep in the car for just such situations.

And I haven’t slept since.

So, because I’m pretty sure I’m still hopped up on the caffeine from a week and a half ago, I realized that the time had come to lay off of the soda entirely to help reach my weight loss goals.

(Plus, the soda habit was getting expensive. I need to save my money for the really important things, like clothes that actually fit now that I’ve lost weight and tickets for when Bruce comes back around in the fall!)

And I have to admit that in addition to cutting out all of the additives that were going to kill me, cutting caffeine out as well has left me feeling…

AWFUL! All of those experts who said I’d feel so much better, what the hell are they smoking? I mean, yes, I get to feel that sense of superiority over all of those coffee and soda addicts out there, but…

Actually…hmm….

Never mind. I feel great.

You just might want to stay out of my way if you happen to see me before noon for the next couple of weeks. I’m still a little grumpy in the mornings.

But bikini season, here I come!

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Springsteen tickets go on sale today: Game on.

I’m not exactly an athlete, but today is opening day of the one sport that I’m a pro at.

Yes.

Springsteen tickets go on sale today.

Game on.

To the non-competitive fans out there, I know it doesn’t sound like much of an athletic activity, but trust me, it requires months of preparation, mental agility, cat-like reflexes, and the patience of a Buddhist monk.

If you’re smart like I am, you’re in constant training. There’s no off-season when you’re serious about getting Bruce tickets.

The preparation starts with location and a credit card. For any given tour, there are certain cities that are likely to get concerts. It’s important to anticipate which of these are within a reasonable driving distance (a twelve-hour radius is acceptable on your own, more if you have a second driver going with you), and to make sure that you’ve bought enough stuff with your credit card to rack up the mileage points to enable you to travel to the shows outside of that reasonable radius. I recommend charging all concert tickets on mileage credit cards, because then your tickets work toward your travel goals as well. This stage of the training process can take years, but if you’re an chronic shopper like I am, you can make training fun.

Next, you need to take up yoga. This is the part that’s hard for me. I’m not a patient person. If I’m going to work out, I want to run and lift heavy things. (Yes, like running toward sales and carrying shopping bags loaded with shoes. Shut up. I work out for real. Jerks.)

You see, to deal with Ticketmaster, you need yoga. Because Ticketmaster is the single most evil corporation in the history of the world. It’s a little-known fact that it has been around for hundreds of years, since LONG before you were able to buy tickets online, or by phone, or even in a kiosk (which was before my ticket-buying time). I actually have a theory that Ticketmaster was single-handedly responsible for the Kennedy assassination, the Holocaust, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand (which started World War I), the Indonesian tsunami, George W. Bush, and the Microsoft corporation.

Seriously. The root of all modern evil.

And it’s apparently an unbreakable monopoly since the Live Nation merger, so there’s no way around dealing with them.

But you need yoga because it’s imperative that you are able to keep calm when dealing with Ticketmaster, even when you get the dreaded error message that tells you that there’s a problem processing your order when you pulled the exact seats that you wanted (GA, in my case—if it’s not the pit, it’s not perfect!), and you get thrown back into the queue, then told there are no tickets available.

Normally, when this happens, I turn into the Incredible Hulk. Literally. I turn green, sprout massive muscles, and run around smashing everything in my path yelling, “SARA MAD!” But with yoga’s meditation techniques, I’ve been able to control my anger to the point where I only turn slightly green, grow muscles that don’t destroy my clothes, and am able to grit my teeth, tell Ticketmaster to go do something that isn’t anatomically possible for it to do to itself, and keep hitting refresh, hoping that that tickets that an error message screwed someone else out of will pop back up for me to buy.

Trust me, without yoga, the cost of repairing the swath of destruction wreaked by Ticketmaster rage far exceeded the exorbitant Ticketmaster fees. And that’s saying something.

You also need to be prepared to type in the randomly generated “codes” that Ticketmaster provides to ensure that you’re human. And which are also the primary source of amusement for Ticketmaster employees other than causing system errors after giving you great tickets. One time the randomly-generated code said, “Nice try, loser,” right before saying there were no tickets available. Another time it said “No Bruce for you.” And another one said “ham sandwich.” (Okay, that one MIGHT have been random. Or it could have been a subtle jab at me because I’m Jewish and onto Ticketmaster about orchestrating the Holocaust.) But the more practice you have at reading and rapidly typing in those infuriating codes, the better your ticket chances are.

In order to get tickets to multiple shows (and let’s face it, I’m going to be at multiple shows on this tour), you sometimes need to perfect the art of being in multiple places at once. Tickets for both Philadelphia shows go on sale at the same time tomorrow (from ComcastTix, which is like Ticketmaster but with a less reliable website. Fail.). If you buy for one show, the second one will be sold out by the time you finish your purchase. I recommend cloning yourself and training your clone to buy tickets. However, I’m on a teacher’s salary and since it apparently costs $50,000 to clone a dog (and since cloning people isn’t legal… yet… muahahaha), that option is out for me. So if you can’t afford a clone, or have issues with playing God, you need a partner. I, for example, will be forced to rely on a less trained helper (my dad) to get tickets for the other Philly night. Pray for me. (Just kidding, daddy! I have faith in your abilities! But please try hard!)

And it’s wise to remember that buying tickets is a marathon, not a sprint. Because I’m not JUST planning to go to shows in New Jersey, which go on sale today. Oh no. I’m getting up early on a Saturday to buy my tickets for the DC and Philly shows tomorrow.

But even once I get my tickets, it’s not time to rest yet. It’s just time to start training to buy my tickets for the second US leg of the tour, which hasn’t even been announced yet.

And time to start training for pit survival–If you don’t condition your legs and bladder, that’s an uncomfortable experience. Worth every second of it, but uncomfortable all the same.

Good luck fellow tramps!

Let the ticket-buying begin!

It’s only rock and roll… but I love everything about it!

You know how the mystical entity known as they “they” always say that as soon as you stop looking for something, you find it?

Well, it finally happened for me.

Yes, boys and girls, that most amazing, magical thing that could possibly happen to a person happened to me on Friday night.

No, I’m not talking about love. I’m single and probably will be for life unless they eventually make it legal for a crazy cat lady to marry her seventeen cats. Which in some states, might actually happen before gay marriage, but that’s a topic for another blog and another day. (For the record I have no cats. I hate cats. Which is why it’s truly horrible that my destiny is to become a crazy cat lady. Pray for me.)

So what happened to me on Friday?

Only the best and most wonderful thing that can happen in my world!

I went to New Jersey to see the Gaslight Anthem. And I wasn’t looking for it, I wasn’t expecting it, hell, I wasn’t even THINKING about it. But it happened.

Bruce Springsteen popped up on stage at a show that I was at in Asbury Park.

And I was front and center.

Okay, slightly off to the right of center. But close enough.

Several very reliably sources told me that he was there that night before he came out on stage.  But I was relying on Bruce’s own dictum to “Trust none of what you hear, and less of what you see,” because I had been burned by rumors before.

Of course, I probably should have been able to guess that Bruce would be there, because Friday was just one of those incredible, too-good-to-be-true, perfect days when the stars all align and everything works out exactly as it should.

There were no hiccups on the way to Asbury Park at all. The ICC is finally open in Maryland, shaving half an hour off the time it takes to get there. And even Delaware cooperated! Worst-state-in-the-union Delaware got its act together in time for my trip to Asbury Park. Somehow, in what can only be described as a Festivus miracle, the road work that has been going on since the dawn of time in Delaware seems to be FINISHED.

And even more miraculous, the toll plaza of doom that always caused traffic to slow to the point where you actually start moving backwards has been replaced with a high-speed EZ Pass. Granted, I’m sure when I eventually get to hell (and trust me, that’s where I’m going when I die), the gates of hell will look nothing like Rodin imagined and will instead be the exact toll plaza that used to ruin all road trips through Delaware, but I’ll worry about that when I get there.

Seriously, after Friday, I’m thinking about letting Delaware remain a state when I take over the world. The state clearly read my earlier blog about my plan to revoke its statehood and is making the changes necessary to ensure its survival. And I respect that effort.

And thanks to those changes in Delaware, we made it to Asbury Park in record time, even with a Superman-style stop along the way for Lynnlee and me to change out of our road-trip yoga pants and t-shirts into the glamorous rock and roll goddesses you see at a show. Seriously, we walk into the rest stop as Clark Kent and we emerge as Megan Fox. It’s amazing what a little glitter eyeliner, mascara, and cleavage can do.

Which is also probably how we managed to make it to the very front of the pit, despite not being the first people in line, but I don’t question these things. When the stars align, you let it happen. (Ana, that was for you!)

Of course, even in my rock goddess mode, I feel a little out of place at a Gaslight Anthem show. Mostly because I’m neither fifteen years old, nor do I have approximately 863 tattoos. Seriously. The band might sing about “your hightop sneakers and your sailor tattoos,” in “Old White Lincoln,” but they seem to have left out any mention of the skulls, mermaids, song lyrics, and the one really freaky tattoo that I saw on some girl’s chest that looked EXACTLY like my dead grandma.  Seriously.  It scared me.

And with how tightly packed that pit was, I’m really glad tattoos aren’t contagious because I’m pretty sure I would have caught a whole lot of them from the people around me. Piercings too. Like I didn’t know you COULD pierce your eyelid or chin dimple or pinky finger. But I learned Friday night that apparently there is nothing attached to your body that can’t be tattooed and/or pierced.

I’m also pretty sure that I now have internal bleeding from the moshers. I’ve never understood the appeal of moshing. Like I’m happy to dance at a show. And I understand the appeal of wanting to be as close to the action on stage as possible. But I’ve never felt the need to hurl my entire body at the people around me as hard as is humanly possible for the sake of showing my enjoyment at a concert.

I guess I’m just weird.

Especially considering that the old Asian couple behind us were seriously getting into it. They were there with their teenage daughter, and I felt sorry for her because I was positive that when the moshing started, they were going to yank that girl out of there faster than you could pierce an eyelid. But Asian dad was moshing like a pro. Like he actually was. And I think I even saw Asian mom crowd surfing at one point.

But I forgot all about the moshers and crowd surfers and the chick who was busy trying to tattoo the Gaslight Anthem logo onto the back of my shoulder when Brian Fallon told us that he had a Christmas gift for us. And somehow, collectively, the entire audience’s Bruce-dar went off.

I think Lynnlee still has nail marks in her arm from how hard I grabbed her.

It was only one song. And it honestly had nothing to do with why I was there that night, because the Gaslight Anthem is unequivocally my favorite band in the world after Bruce. But it was one of those moments that absolutely shifted my outlook on everything.

Clarence is still gone and none of us mere fans have any real idea of how Bruce is going to handle that for this next tour. Hell, we don’t even have a hint of what the next album is going to be called or any confirmed US tour dates. Just a promise that they’re coming.

But whatever happens, I’m ready.

Because when Bruce shows up to play in Asbury, all is right in my world.

And so, with a hoarse voice, massive internal moshing injuries, and a half-finished tattoo that looks like the one Steve-O got while off-roading, I return to my normal, non-rock goddess life, to await the new year of albums and concerts and touring, oh my!

But after Friday night, I can’t wait to see what 2012 will bring.

In the words of the Gaslight Anthem, “Bring it On”…

When the universe is against you, only New Jersey can fix the situation

Every once in awhile, I have a day when I realize that the universe just hates me.

Like it’s not even one thing that goes wrong. It’s everything. And in some cosmic alignment that baffles me every time even though I now expect it, the universe always launches the epic life-ruining attacks on me in the week between Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day.

I suggested yesterday that next year, I should spend this week in Disney World, because nothing could go wrong in Disney World. But that plan was met with pleas for me to stay home because apparently my friends don’t want Disney World to burn down.

Love you guys too.

But this year, I have a secret weapon. The one and only thing that can thwart the evil plans that the universe concocts to remind me that my life sucks.

No, not Bruce Springsteen. He’s not touring this year. Because the universe hates me.

I’m talking about my second favorite thing to come out of the Garden State.

Yes. Once again, last night was T-shirt time.

And no one, not the universe, not Angelina, not Sammi, and not a grenade can ruin T-shirt time.

Because if nothing else, Jersey Shore reminds me that even though the universe hates me and my life sucks, it could ALWAYS be worse.

Actually though, I saw on Twitter that Angelina got engaged the other day.

I mean, honestly, I can’t imagine a worse excuse for a human being out there. And someone wants to marry HER? Oh God, it’s official. My life IS worse than Jersey Shore.

FML.

But it still makes me feel better for an hour a week no matter what else is going on.

Of course, last night’s episode made me want to tear someone’s extensions out when the previews for next week show Sammi back on the scene, because I was so happy when she left the show last week that I threw myself a one-person dance party and went to bed with a satisfied smile on my face, which doesn’t happen to this insomniac all that often.

But (cue ominous music) she’s baaaaaack. I’m starting to think that the only way to separate her and Ronnie is going to involve surgery and/or a chainsaw wielding axe-murderer. (Yes, I know that sounds odd. But honestly, I don’t think a regular axe murderer or chainsaw murderer would be enough to keep them apart. They’re like the world’s worst magnets.) 

The universe noticed how happy I was at Sammi leaving and retaliated by making it super obvious on Twitter that Sammi and Ronnie are still together now. Which put a damper on my dance party buzz the next morning when I realized that this separation was going to last less time than it took Deena to get naked in front of Mike. Which was approximately 0.6 nanoseconds. But I mean, crying in the bathroom at work Ronnie?  REALLY?  Come on man.  You’re killing me here!

But then Jersey Shore won won out in the end with the prank war.  Vinny talking about how smart he is, then failing with a water balloon absolutely made me feel better about life.  Thanks Vinny.  I needed that laugh last night!

However, the universe is trying to destroy my one weapon against it. There are horrible, horrible, ungodly, and emotionally shattering rumors flying around the internet that the Situation is going to LEAVE JERSEY SHORE after the fourth season to pursue a career as a film actor.

I know. I laughed too.

And I assumed it was an early April Fools joke. I mean, the freaky DC area weather DOES feel like spring right now. Maybe it actually IS April.

But no. He’s serious.

God help us all.

Mike, I love you. I do. Not as much as I love Pauly D (who I now have a talking bobblehead doll of—thank you Ary, I love it!!!!), but love is love. And honey, stick to what you’re good at: being an Ed Hardy-wearing, Sunday dinner-making, grenade-fighting, trouble-stirring-up, GTLing, prank war-spoiling jerk. It made you famous. You’re a household name. And the quickest way for a reality star to go from Pauly D to Flava Flav or (shudder) Jon Gosselin is by taking himself and his—um—talent—too seriously. (No, I couldn’t even type the word talent in the same sentence as those names with a straight face. Sorry Mike.)

But with that said, the folks at MTV pulled out a good plan to keep season four from covering the same ground as the first three seasons. No, they didn’t take my advice to crash their plane in the Andes or add Samuel L. Jackson as a cast member (it’s not too late, MTV! I’m telling you, he’d be ratings gold!), but this plan to shoot season four in Italy has potential.

Of course, in ancient times, the Romans would never have tolerated the Jersey Shore-style shenanigans. If you were causing a disturbance back then, the Seaside Heights police didn’t arrest you and send you home a few hours later. Oh no. If you caused trouble in ancient Rome, if they didn’t like you, they either nailed you to a cross (no, contrary to popular belief and Mel Gibson, the Jews didn’t do that) or feed you to the lions and tigers in the Colosseum.

Not that that plan would have worked. I’m pretty sure silicone and excessive amounts of hair gel are toxic to lions. And tigers would assume that, based on her healthy orange glow, Snooki was one of them. They’d totally adopt her and raise her as one of their own cubs.

Then again, she does wear a lot of leopard-print. Her oompa-loompa-eque skin color might not be enough to save her after all.

Yet even without the lions and tigers (and bears, oh my!), Italy is going to be an interesting change of pace for my favorite guidos and guidettes. Even if it IS the last season before everyone leaves to fail at acting careers.

But if the show DOES fall apart before next February, Bruce, I’m going to need you to tour. Otherwise the universe wins. And it doesn’t fight fair (just like a roid-rage filled Ronnie). One way or another, I’m counting on you New Jersey to fight the February curse. Because without you, all I can do is sound my grenade whistle and hide in bed with my Pauly D bobblehead, hoping that everything will be okay and that someday, somehow, it’ll be T-shirt time again.

"If God is a DJ, life is a dance floor, love is the rhythm, you are the music"

Saturday night was about as perfect as they come.

Why?

Because for only the third time in my concert-going life, I got to see Bruce play in Asbury Park. And in my world, that is truly as good as it gets.

If you’re not one of my fellow Bruce fanatics, I know that you don’t understand the significance of this. And you’re probably rolling your eyes and saying, “Here she goes, talking about Bruce again.” But hear me out, I’m going to try and explain it.

Wikipedia defines religion as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of life and the universe, especially…human beings’ relation to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine.”

Keeping in mind the one infallible tenet of the universe that Wikipedia is NEVER wrong, I think that music can fall into the category of a religion.

Go with me on this. Picture music as a religion. I mean one of the big religions, not some little weirdo one like that church of body modification (it’s real… bizarre, but real) or a cult like Scientology or Jews for Jesus, but as a real, legitimate religion.

(Note: if you’re easily offended by people mocking religion, you probably don’t want to read the rest of this post… And if you ARE easily offended and DO read the rest of this post despite my warning, please don’t post your comments about how I’m a heathen because I’m just going to delete them. Yes, I have that power. Which I suppose makes me the god of this blog. Insert evil laughter here.)

Obviously Bruce is at the center of the particular denomination of musical religion that I practice, but just as Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet, I can see the inherent value of other musical messiahs.

So okay, if Bruce is the deity-figure (I’m going to refrain from calling him Jesus—partially because I think that’s going to offend everyone but the Jews (I’m not as worried about offending Muslims because I’m an American Jewish chick… they’re not reading this anyway and if they are, my very existence is already insanely offensive to them) and partially because I’m Jewish and calling him Jesus just gets too confusing), that would make the members of the E Street Band his disciples. If I had better Photoshop skills, I’d do a version of the Last Supper to illustrate this. But my Photoshop skills are, unfortunately, somewhat limited and I don’t feel like wasting that much time. You get the idea.

Then there are the prophets. These are the other musicians who are heavily influenced by Bruce. (And you could probably make an argument that since Bruce was heavily influenced by Elvis, Bob Dylan, and Chuck Berry, among others, they could figure into some Father/Holy Ghost type analogy, but I don’t know enough about Christian theology to really flesh that out.) So in that group would be the Gaslight Anthem, Jesse Malin, Tom Morello, Eddie Vedder, Social Distortion etc. All of them are ABSOLUTELY worth going to see in their own right, but their music/styles contain some elements of the Bruce gospel.

We also have the scholars, who, like biblical scholars, interpret the word of our deity and pass these interpretations on to the masses. Some, like Chris Phillips and Dave Marsh, are established as being the authorities (love them or hate them, the Bruce camp has cemented their position by giving them super exclusive interviews), whereas others learn from these teachings and put their own spin on what they’ve taken from Bruce. You can find these scholars in many places, from BTX to Greasy Lake and everywhere in between. Some are strict and believe that only their interpretation is legitimate, whereas others are more welcoming of new points of view. (Think of the difference between ultra-orthodox Jews and reform Jews—you find the same kind of argument about what makes someone a “real” fan on BTX pretty often.)

I, as someone who has written a book in which the characters meet following Bruce and as someone who blogs about his importance in my life fairly often, fit into the scholar group, although I’m still a novice by most standards. My father was the one who introduced me to Bruce and he was the one who started taking me to shows, and it is a pretty male-dominated scene among the heavy-duty Bruce fans. And in my debut work, Beyond the Palace, I told the story from the point of view of a guy.

Which, of course, makes me Yentl.

(No one but my mother laughed at that, but it amused me. Papa, can you hear me?)

But the best part about travelling to our Jerusalem (Asbury Park) to worship at the holiest of holy sites, isn’t even that Bruce showed up. (Don’t get me wrong, that was absolutely unreal.) No, the best part is the feeling of community among the true Bruce fans at a show. Because I don’t care what people on BTX say makes you a real fan versus a fair-weather fan; when you’re at a show in Asbury Park and the lights have dimmed and there’s even the slightest whisper in the air that Bruce could be there that night, you’re with your family.

That feeling struck me several times Saturday night, well before Bruce took the stage. I had conversations with a whole bunch of different people who had been at the same shows I’d been at, who had the same bootlegs, who loved the same other musicians, and who felt the same things that I felt being there that night. And that sense of community and belonging is the reason so many people go to synagogue or church week after week. It’s to feel a part of something bigger and to be with people who believe in the same things you believe in and have faith in the same things you put your faith in.

No, I don’t literally worship Bruce. I’m actually a fairly observant Jew, and I understand that comparing music to religion is a stretch for those who don’t feel the way that I do. But the reason that I think it’s an apt comparison is that it has given so much to my life and to who I am as a person. And Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre was where I truly felt that I was home. And I can only hope that all of you who read this have a place where you can feel that same sense of acceptance and belonging.

And I REALLY hope that 2011 brings a new tour. Because I’m already eagerly anticipating my next religious experience.

Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey–the REAL Jersey Shore

A couple of times a year, I hop in the car and take the three-and-a-half hour drive to my own personal Mecca.

No, I don’t mean the DSW headquarters or the Stila cosmetics factory (both of which I would LOVE to go to though… road trip anyone?). I mean Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Now I know that when I say any destination on the Jersey Shore is my version of Mecca, you’re immediately picturing steroid-filled, spiky-haired, Ed Hardy-wearing, drunken guidos and their silicone-filled, hair extentioned, whore-y female counterparts. But none of those stereotypes are actually FROM the Jersey Shore. They just migrate there in the summer like really obnoxious birds that you can’t dislodge from your trees no matter how hard you try.

So Saturday night, I took “that drive, cross the river to the Jersey side” to see Jesse Malin perform at the Stone Pony. I’d seen him Wednesday night in the DC area and when I talked to him after, he told me that I should try to make it to the Asbury show. He did tell me that Bruce wasn’t a definite, but that didn’t matter, nor did it matter that in the end, Bruce didn’t show up. Because that’s not why I wanted to go. The truth is that you don’t have to work very hard to convince me to go to a concert (especially when it’s Bruce, the Gaslight Anthem, or Jesse Malin, who are my three favorite live performers), and it takes even less convincing to get me to Asbury Park.

Before you misunderstand me, I feel the need to point out that Asbury Park is still pretty shady. It’s kind of the polar opposite of my other Jersey Shore destination (my uncle’s shore house in Avalon), which is like the Disney version of the Jersey Shore (very clean, very safe, a pain in the ass to get to, and WAY overpriced in every possible way). In fact, if Avalon is Disney World, Asbury Park is Chuck E. Cheese. (Which would make Seaside Heights, where Jersey Shore is filmed the equivalent of the old Wild World Water Park in Prince Georges County, before it became the Six Flags, when it was dirty and disgusting and always had an alarming vomit-to-water ratio in all of the water rides.) It’s gritty, and you’re far more likely to encounter a giant rat than Mickey Mouse (because I don’t care what anyone says, Chuck E. Cheese is a rat).

But to a diehard Springsteen fan, it’s home.

Asbury Park, in fact, despite being a little scary at night (and sometimes during the day), is the ONLY place (other than my uncle’s house), where I can feel like I’m NOT a freak for how much I love Bruce. In Asbury, even on a non-concert day, I’m a lightweight. So part of why I love it is probably because it makes me feel more normal than any place in the DC area ever could.

But that’s not why I go there so often.

And no, it’s not because there’s always the off-chance that Bruce could pop up wherever you are there (which has only happened to me once in the six years that I’ve been going there. I have terrible Bruce-spotting luck. Although he DID stop his car and say hi to me the one time he WAS there at the same time as me—because he CLEARLY loves me too). It’s because everywhere you look, everything you see is straight out of one of his songs.

Granted, it was a little more fun from that perspective back before they started revitalizing the town, but even with many of the major landmarks gone, Asbury Park still holds a special place in the heart of all of the “tramps like us” who were “born to run.”

The funny thing for me is that Asbury Park’s “Glory Days” were long over by the time I was born (nevermind when that was. It was decades after Asbury Park’s heyday, let’s leave it at that). I never got to see the Palace when it was open (although I was there the week before they tore it down, which is when I got the photos that would later become the front and back covers of my first novel, Beyond the Palace).

The Palace, after the back was already demolished, May 2004

By the time I got to the Circuit, the northern end of it had already been closed off by the water plant. Madam Marie was no longer telling fortunes in her shack on the boardwalk (although a year ago, her granddaughter DID do a tarot card reading for me there, which was ridiculously cool, even though I don’t believe in that stuff).

Kids busking outside Madam Marie’s, May 2004

There was no joint underneath the boardwalk where girls could promise to unsnap their jeans (although before the town turned around in the last couple of years, there WAS an abundance of prostitutes who would probably have been willing to act out any Bruce-related fantasy for the right price). And that “giant Exxon sign that brings this fair city light” was a poorly paved asphalt lot by the time I got there.

The Casino, May 2004

I described the scene that first greeted me in Asbury Park in a chapter of Beyond the Palace, through the eyes of my two main characters:

Asbury Avenue brought us into the city itself. I had taken over driving after we stopped at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, but Laura told me to pull over as soon as we saw the Palace Amusement complex looming on the horizon, its cracked and peeling green façade rising abruptly out of the flat seaside landscape. Commanded is a little closer to what she actually did. I thought she wanted to get out and walk around, so I looked for a parking lot, but she told me that the side of the road was fine. We had only seen a couple of cars on the road since coming into town, so I obliged. Laura hopped out of the car practically before I brought it to a complete stop. She ran around to the driver’s side and opened my door before I could open it. “I want to drive the circuit,” she said, excitement showing in every curve of her body. The circuit was no longer really a circuit by the time we got there in 2003, as the water purification plant at 8th Avenue effectively closed that end of it, but we had heard Bruce’s stories from concert bootlegs. In the 1970s, four one-way streets formed a sort of hangout/racetrack through town, where girls would “comb their hair in rearview mirrors” and the boys tried “to look so hard.” The Palace was a crumbling landmark from Bruce’s songs, a testament to his city of ruins. But the circuit was where you could still find the Bruce from Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Driving it was something that we knew he had done. And I knew that Laura would want to give me a chance to drive it too, so I had no problem letting her take her turn first.

She pulled the car into drive and took us slowly down Asbury to Ocean Avenue, where we passed the Casino. She had timed her mix almost perfectly. The next song was “Sandy,” which was about the attractions on the circuit and the beach. We made our way past the rotting hulk of the Casino, which had been an arcade with an arm that jutted out onto a pier in better days, but that part had long since washed away. We could see the boardwalk to our right, and the legendary Stone Pony to our left. Past a bizarre, rusted, half-finished high-rise, past Lance and Debbie’s Wonder Bar, which Clarence once owned, past the Howard Johnson’s, orange and space-age looking in its un-maintained 1960s splendor. Convention Hall rose up on our right, by far the nicest building in town, which wasn’t saying much. Facing the end of the circuit, we turned down 7th Avenue to Kingsley Avenue, and again Laura’s mix proved perfect, as the opening line of the next song was about driving down Kingsley and deciding to stop for a drink. Laura looked around in wide-eyed wonder. She drove us down to where we had started and then we switched seats and went back around the same course, this time with me driving. After a full lap, I looped back to park near the Stone Pony so that we could walk around and explore the town.

Laura usually left the top of her car down with the windows up on nice days, and this certainly qualified. Her car had a strong alarm system, and no one could really reach anything with the windows up. But Laura started putting the top up before I could even suggest it. This didn’t look like the kind of town where it was smart to leave anything remotely accessible if you ever wanted to see it again. Not that there was anyone around to steal anything. We got out of the car and I walked immediately around to Laura’s side. It was creepy. We hadn’t seen a living soul yet. It looked like no one had lived there for about twenty years. The only signs of life were a few old, dilapidated cars parked near the Pony.

Laura dug into her purse for quarters to feed the meter and I fished two out of my pockets. Laura inserted one with a dull clink, then peered at it.

“Shit,” she said idly. “Broken.” She looked at me and shrugged. “I’ll move the car.” I looked around. There was a sea of empty spaces and the meters looked older than us. No flashing red lights to show which had expired here. Laura started to climb back into the car, but I stopped her.

“Let’s find a working meter first,” I said. I went to the one next to the one Laura had tried. It was expired. I put a quarter in, but nothing happened. I tried the one next to that, and again, nothing. Laura started to look amused. She tried the one on the other side of the car. Looked at it curiously. Then tried one more.

“They’re all broken!” she exclaimed. “Does that mean we can just park here?” I looked around. Even the asphalt of the parking lot looked older than dirt. Stringy grass sprouted up in large clumps all around and a rainbow of brown and green broken bottles glittered in the sunlight.

“Yeah,” I said finally. “If we get a ticket, I feel like this place needs the money more than we do.” Laura smiled weakly and nodded. I don’t think she had expected it to be quite this bad. We knew it would be fairly rundown, or else Bruce couldn’t have written a song about it that would later be used to describe New York after September 11. But we hadn’t imagined the level of devastation that we actually found there. We didn’t know how dead a place could feel.

I felt disappointed too, but I wanted Laura happy again. “Let’s go exploring.” She nodded again and hooked her camera strap across her body as we set off toward the Palace of “Born to Run” fame. An exceptionally seedy-looking motel stood on the corner of Kingsley and 2nd Avenue. Laura stopped and stared at it. I turned and looked at her while she worked out whatever she was thinking. Finally, a huge smile spread across her face. I turned and looked where she was looking. A battered sign read “The Flamingo Motel.”

“Do you see it?” Laura asked. I looked more carefully. It looked like the sign had fluorescent lights along the looping words once, but if they had been there, they were long gone now. Pink, fluorescent lights, I would assume, to go with the Flamingo part. She watched me expectantly, but I shrugged. I didn’t know what she wanted me to see.

“What if I said ‘Flamingo Lane’?” she asked, hinting. Flamingo Lane? A line from “Jungleland.” Off Born to Run. The two lovers “take a stab at romance” and vanish “down Flamingo Lane.”

“Oh!” I said as I realized what she was getting at. Flamingo Lane wasn’t a street. Disappearing there meant getting a room at this motel. It was one of the many things that both of us loved about Bruce. His songs were poetry. If you didn’t look deeper, Flamingo Lane could be a street somewhere. If you did, the story became a love affair, with the sax solo acting as the un-vocalized verse that represents the culmination of that passion in this little dive motel. But it doesn’t matter that it’s a dump, because to them, it’s beautiful; it’s not a motel anymore, it’s a whole world that they can disappear into.

Laura beamed at me. “That is just the coolest thing ever.” She took my hand and pulled me across the street. “We have to check this out!” But the Flamingo, like just about everything else in town, was closed. Laura’s smile faded quickly.

I did have an ace up my sleeve, even though I hadn’t expected to have to play it that soon. I leaned down to whisper into her ear. “We’re less than a couple hundred feet from where Bruce will probably be tonight.” She smiled again and turned back to face me. She looked at me for just a second too long, her face a little too close to mine. I hesitated. She pulled back, kissed me noisily on the cheek, then turned away to walk down Kingsley toward the Palace. If she had stayed a second longer, would I have had the nerve to kiss her? Would she have let me? Doubtful, but I couldn’t help but wonder. She was halfway down the block before I realized I had better catch up. Maybe she would have let me kiss her. But there were still no guarantees that she would wait for me when anything involving Bruce was at stake.

The Palace, once one of the largest arcades in the country, was hardly more inviting than the Flamingo had been, as it was closed down in 1988. It was hard to believe, but it had gone way downhill since Bruce shot his video for “Tunnel of Love” there. A chain link fence surrounded the building, keeping vandals and teenagers out. There was barely even any graffiti on the peeling, faded paint; almost as if Asbury Park was so deserted that there weren’t even enough people there to vandalize an abandoned building. Instead, only the weather desecrated this once unmistakable landmark of the Jersey shore. Even the words on the street sign at the corner were faded and missing a letter. We walked around the side of the long-since empty building, reading the attractions advertised on the side in reverent silence. Laura stood in the middle of the road to take pictures without even needing to worry about traffic. The only moving car that we saw since arriving in town passed us as we walked down Kingsley toward the lake that separated Asbury Park from Ocean Grove, which was an entirely different universe. Ocean Grove was populated. Booming. Rich. Alive. Yet one block away, Asbury Park was as decimated as if a bomb had been dropped on it. We both turned to look at the car as it passed. It was the first sign of life that we had seen.

I personally thought that would have to be the worst of it. But the Casino had trees growing inside of it. Literally. Trees. The roof was torn off in some storm in the 1980s and never replaced. The carousel, which had once been world-famous, was sold off piece by piece and the space around it turned into a skate park before the entire building was shut down. By the time we got there, it was completely boarded up, and the only windows that weren’t broken were too high to reach with rocks or even BB guns. The remains of the pier hung perilously over the edge of the beach, guarded by a lone “No Trespassing” sign, which I doubted would have been enforced if people who wanted to trespass ever showed up. Nearer to the edge of the pier, only the frame of the roof remained, with big patches of blue sky visible through the broken windows. Plant life was clearly thriving in that end of the building, but the windows were higher there and there wasn’t a chance of getting a peek inside without a tall ladder.

An empty paint bucket stood near some of the lower windows and I turned it over. “What are you doing?” Laura asked. I climbed onto the bucket.

“Seeing if there’s anything inside.” I grabbed the ledge and pulled myself up enough to see inside. She watched me expectantly as I looked in. But there wasn’t anything exciting to report back. I climbed down and shrugged at her. “Do you want to see?”

She nodded and climbed up onto the bucket, but wasn’t quite tall enough to see, so I picked her up. I held her while she snapped a few shots of the inside through the broken window, and when I put her down, we wandered around to the boardwalk side, where an entire panel of windows was missing and the foliage inside was clearly visible.

Turning away from the Casino on the boardwalk, a ramp to our left led up to nowhere. It just ended about ten feet off the ground. I looked from there to the beach and touched Laura’s arm to get her attention. “There are some people, at least,” I said, pointing toward the beach. Laura looked relieved. The beach was pretty deserted, but a handful of people had also played hooky from work (or maybe in a town like this, they didn’t have jobs to skip out of) and were scattered along the shore, enjoying the beautiful day.

Laura had started down the boardwalk and when I looked at her, her jaw dropped open. “Look! It’s really there!” she almost shouted, pointing toward the Convention Center. She was pointing at a tiny white shack, which was barely noticeable, but a serious attraction for a Bruce fan. It was Madame Marie’s Temple of Knowledge. Madame Marie was a fortune teller who supposedly told Bruce that he was going to become famous. Although, according to Bruce, all musicians in Asbury Park received the same fortune, just not always with the same level of accuracy. She was mentioned in “Sandy” as being arrested for telling fortunes better than the police. Her shack, of course, was not open, nor was there any trace of Madame Marie herself, other than the faded lettering on the white walls of the building, which couldn’t have been more than about eight feet by eight feet. But we had once seen a picture of Bruce standing right in front of that spot. Laura traced a finger over the lettering on the side. She looked disappointed. I think she had expected Madame Marie to be sitting inside, waiting to tell our fortunes.

Today, it’s infinitely better. For starters, there’s a working parking system (wait, that’s not actually a better thing for me on a teacher’s salary!). It’s safer, it’s cleaner, there are cute little stores, and it no longer looks like a third-world country by the sea.

And even though the Palace and most of the Casino are now long gone, and Madam Marie has finally gone to a better place, where the cops can’t bust her for telling fortunes better than they do, Asbury Park remains one of the few places that I’ve ever been to where there still IS “magic in the night.” Whether it’s catching a show at the legendary Stone Pony (which I’ve done often enough at this point that some of the bouncers know me—I feel like that’s NOT a good thing when I live three-and-a-half hours away!), spending a summer day down the shore, or even just “driving down Kingsley, figuring [you’ll] get a drink,” it’s a special town. And even if Bruce never DOES show up while you’re there, he doesn’t need to. Because to anyone who’s ever felt a strong connection to his lyrics, just being there provides you with that “moment when the world seems right.”

Which is why I’m going back in a month for the annual Light of Day show. If I find a ticket. (Hint hint, if you’ve got extras!)

Me after Madam Marie’s granddaughter Sabrina read my tarot carts, just before the 2010 Light of Day show.

A band I listen to MORE than Springsteen on a daily basis: The Gaslight Anthem

Every time a new Springsteen album comes out (or an old one is re-issued, as was the case this week), I get asked the same question over and over again by everyone I know: Do you listen to anything OTHER than Bruce?

No. My music library, which is 22.2 DAYS long, is comprised entirely of Bruce Springsteen music and songs that Bruce guested on. That’s all I listen to. Ever.

Come on.  Bruce may be my all-time favorite, but I have almost 300 artists in my iTunes library. And when there isn’t a new album monopolizing my stereo, an average day usually sees me listening to other artists far more than Bruce.

Sacrilege, I know.

But even the best classic rock albums start to feel stale if you don’t give them a break and mix it up with something new. Which is where one of my relatively new favorite bands, The Gaslight Anthem, comes in handy.

Bruce fans were introduced to the Gaslight Anthem after he played with them on one of their songs in London in 2009. I had heard of them from that, but despite Bruce’s endorsement, I didn’t download any of their songs until I caught “Old White Lincoln” on XM radio and LOVED it. And unlike Bruce’s music, which I didn’t really get into until college even though it had been in the background of my life since I was in utero, it was love at first listen.

So if you’re not already listening to my second favorite New Jersey group, here’s where to start and why you should:

Album to start with: The ‘59 Sound.
The '59 Sound

While I think there are arguments for all three (and a half) of their albums, I think their second full-length album is their most accessible for someone who isn’t familiar with their music yet. The others are equally awesome in different ways, and my vote ALMOST went to their first album, Sink or Swim, because of the song “Wooderson,” which has a Matthew McConaughey-style “alright alright” in the chorus and therefore cracks me up.

But I still think that The ‘59 Sound is the best place to start.

The tracks to start listening to:

“Great Expectations”—I’m not a big Charles Dickens fan (as I explained last week), so I was a little skeptical when I saw the name of the album’s first track, but I was impressed by what Gaslight did with it. Because the song only touches on the novel as a symbol for a failed relationship and the inability to trust after a lover leaves. The narrator, like Great Expectations’ Pip, is writing poetry about Estella, but he also poses the question that I think all people have asked themselves at some point, “Everybody leaves, so why wouldn’t you?”

“The ’59 Sound”—It’s hard to have an upbeat song about a friend dying in a car crash, but in this case, it works. We get another Dickens reference in this one, as the narrator hopes he doesn’t “hear Marley’s chains we forged in life” when death comes, and instead is hoping that his lost friend heard his favorite song at the end. This is the one that Bruce played with the band in 2009, and, despite the serious subject of the lyrics, I can’t watch this video without smiling at how happy the whole band looks to have him out there with them.

“Old White Lincoln”—This was the first song of theirs that I heard. It’s not as deep as the rest of the songs on the album, but it’s a fun, upbeat rocker. And when I’m listening to an album, that’s the first thing that usually gets me listening to it long enough to appreciate the full value of the album. It’s a great song to blast on a nice day with the windows open in your car.

“High Lonesome” and “Meet Me by the River’s Edge”—Because I’m a music nerd, I got all excited the first time I listened to these songs. Why? Because they reference two of my other favorite musicians, Springsteen and the Counting Crows.  Listening to these songs made it click why I felt such a strong connection to the Gaslight Anthem’s music. Yeah, the band members are covered in tattoos and don’t seem like they would have much in common with an English teacher from Maryland, but these guys grew up loving the same music that I love. And they accomplish the same thing with their songs that makes me love Bruce Springsteen’s music: their songs feel like they could be about my life, which forges a sense of connection and shows me that I’m not alone in what I think and feel.

“Cassanova, Baby!”—I’m warning you now, this WILL get stuck in your head. But unlike the Cee-Lo song that Gwenyth Paltrow covered on Glee this week, you won’t WANT to get this song out of your head. (Seriously.  I NEED to get that song out of my head.  I’m going nuts here.  Stupid Glee, I wish I didn’t love you so much!)  It’s got a slight “Born to Run” vibe, with the idea of running all night and dancing on the architecture, but it’s more about having fun than needing to escape. And it’s a great workout song when you need to get motivated.

“Here’s Looking At You, Kid”—This song is absolutely gorgeous. It’s another one about lost loves, and really drives home the point that some of those relationships never really leave you even after you leave them. All I can say is that if any of the girls in this song are based on real people, they were idiots to leave anyone who could write a song like this about them.

“The Backseat”—this is their concert closer every night, and with good reason. This song is a tough act to follow. Live, it’s epic in a way I can’t really explain unless you’ve experienced it. Like a lot of the other songs on this album, there are references to Springsteen songs, which, growing up as musicians in Jersey, I think are hard to avoid. But the references in this song are thematic more than lyrical. It’s a summer song, reminiscent of the feel of Born to Run (the album, not the song), with a hint of “Sandy” in the line “if you never let me go, I will never let you down.” In concert, I think it’s a really good thing that these guys are now headlining shows, because I would hate to be the band that came on following this song. It’d be like sending another band out after “Born to Run” (the song).

Listen to this album. And when you love it, which you will, check out their other albums as well. Everyone I know who has listened to the Gaslight Anthem, from my students (whose tastes tend to be limited to Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift) to my parents, has wound up loving them. And if you start listening to them now, you’ll be able to say you were listening to them BEFORE they were huge. Which they will be. Because they’re THAT good.

And they have more songs on my current iTunes playlist than Bruce does right now—even WITH the new Darkness release. And in my world, that’s the highest praise there is.

My “little sister” Lynnlee, Gaslight Anthem lead singer Brian Fallon, and me in Baltimore, September 2010