By JOHN T. WARD
It’s noontime on a gorgeous, late-summer day in beautiful downtown Sea Bright, and PieHole is hungry.
What’s for Lunch? Plenty, and more to choose from every month, it seems, on this back-from-the-brink spit of sand. You’ve got pizza, seafood, Japanese and more, at places ranging from beachware casual to near elegance, all within a one-mile stretch of Ocean Avenue.
But it’s not just food we’re craving. We’re nursing a palpable, please-don’t-ever-end yearning to make this day of blue skies and soft breezes just keep going and going. Sitting down indoors just seems… criminal.
So, hello, Mrs. Rooney.
Frances Rooney has been selling boiled hot dogs from a pushcart downtown since 1977. The cart travels just a few feet from a shed to another corner of the fenced gravel lot she owns with her daughter and son-in-law at Ocean Avenue and Surf Street. She’s out there in good weather and bad. The yellow-and-blue Sabrett umbrella goes up, and the stream of regulars commences its flow.
Mrs. Rooney, now in her early 80s, wasn’t supposed to be here this summer. A year ago, she won approval to erect a four-story, mixed-used structure on the lot, and construction was supposed to have started by now. But you know how building projects go. When it’s done, she might move her business indoors. That’s TBD.
“Are you trying to break your camera?” she asks PieHole as we snap a few frames.
She’s been interviewed so many times that she doesn’t need any more attention, she says. So none of that, please. But she’s happy to chat about friends-in-common from Jersey City way back when, while daubing mustard on a couple of dogs and sliding open a door on the cart so a customer can retrieve an iced tea himself.
There’s something special about this unremarkable exchange, chatting with a lady who is known to everyone in town, and nearly all those who pass through it, who dispenses something so simple with such good cheer, not because she needs to, but because she wants to.
The dogs, at $2 apiece, taste like summer, and vanish in a flash. The moment is enduring, and quite possibly, eternal.