Back in mid September of this past year, Jolie and I decided to spend the day in our old stomping ground, Jersey City, I was born and raised there and after living in a few different places, was back there again at the beginning of the new millennium when Jolie came into my life. We got married and for a few years lived in a second story apartment, near Journal Square. Here’s a photo of the main room.

Oakland Avenue apartment

Not much to look at, but the rent was very cheap and the location was near public transit and the Path train into Manhattan.

Well, after a few years together as renters, we finally bit the bullet and relocated to Beacon. And while we both do love it here, we also both periodically think about the places where we grew up, that is, the places that shaped us in fundamental ways. Since we’ve moved here, I’ve only had a handful of occasions to return to Jersey City. And, truth be told, I had, for a time, been feeling a tad ambivalent about Jersey City, and about the blue collar world that I grew up with there. I had been feeling that I had moved on from that world and that there was likely no returning to it. To quote the band R.E.M., I had in a sense “lost my religion,” that is, no longer seeing the world as I once had. I had been also thinking that New Jersey was, in certain ways, no longer the same – that it had grown, perhaps, more crass, more commercialized, as well as more built up than it needed to be, and that, in essence, it had lost quite a bit of its character. And, all of these impressions made me feel a bit sad or at least wistful. And yet, there was something in me that yearned to reconnect with this place, to reclaim it and to make it my own, and compatible with the life I now live. So, my goal for this Saturday afternoon was to go back and to reconnect.

Incidentally, I’ve been listening a lot, lately, to the Kinks’ masterpiece LP from 1968, The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, and it is very much an object of reflection on the passing of time and on how we remember the past. Suffice it to say, the not entirely nostalgic, but still somewhat obsessive thinking of Ray Davies about his home of England is something I can easily relate to, in terms of my own reflections on the place where I grew up.

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Driving down via Tonnelle Avenue and then Kennedy Blvd on very familiar turf, we made our way toward the parking garage at Journal Square. We figured that we would park there for the day and then make our way around the city. What we were not counting on was that the garage would be nearly full because of the Jehovah Witness ceremony taking place across the street.

Because one of our initial plans was to grab some dosas at one of our favorite hole in the wall restaurants, but it being still morning, we decided simply to walk around, past some old landmarks and reference points from when we had lived in JC. For example, the old C-Town, where we used to occasionally buy our groceries; you could always get a good deal there on Middle Eastern ingredients, such as dates and other dried fruit, pistachios, ground lamb, or large cheap jars of tahini.

C-Town

Ahh, memories! Also, we walked past the landmark Lowes’ Theater, which was saved from the wrecking ball, thankfully, by a dedicated group of community volunteers and now hosts a variety of programs. Not much seemed to be happening at that moment.

Lowes theater

Also, various reminders of Jersey City’s multiethnic richness

Phone cards

Here we are in another favorite place – Neida’s Bakery, where we grabbed some nice Cuban/Puertorican pastries

Neida's Bakery

We made our way down Bergen Avenue, past various historical sites (i.e., a neighborhood that once upon a time was a Dutch colonial village) and made our way toward my college Alma Mater – Saint Peter’s College (now known as Saint Peter’s University). I’m a proud member of the Class of 1985. In the time since I have graduated, I have been back there on various occasions, and for a while taught there. The college – like Jersey City as a whole – has been through a variety of transformations during this time.

at Pope Hall - SPU

SPU - Quadrangle

I must admit that the hallways and cafeteria of the one building looked very much the same.

spu caf

SPU hallway

After walking around the SPU campus for a bit, we made our way back toward Journal Square; along the way, we passed another old haunt, the VIP Diner, which is a neighborhood institution. We’d used it for bragging rights when we used to take visitors to eat there, as it was a filming site for the Sopranos TV  show, back when that show was filming all around northern New Jersey.

VIP diner

Moving on, we then figured that we were ready for our yummy dosa lunch; if you’ve not ever experienced a dosa, it is essentially an Indian cuisine crepe and is used to wrap around a variety of fillings. When well prepared, they are incredibly delicious. And at Dosa Hut, they are prepared extremely well. So, off we went.

Dosa Hut

Jolie with dosas

Tom's dosa

inside the dosa

I am getting hungry just looking at these photos again. Anyway, afterward, we just kind of walked around near where Dosa Hut is and took things in. The neighborhood there has experienced a large influx of South Asians, and it now very much reflects this, and has made Jersey City even more multicultural; I celebrate this fact!

Govinda

Newark Ave

Rasoi

From there, we made our way down Newark Avenue and in the direction of our old address. And on the way, we spotted some pretty well done street art, on part of a long wall along the state highway.

Courthouse location

the place

Lizard head

octopus

star wall

teeth

zeba dean

Sufficiently impressed with the fact that some talented local street artists were around and demonstrating their creativity, we made our way back to Oakland Avenue, the location of tour old apartment (the 1st photo here). Now, in addition to having been where Jolie and I once lived, it was also the same street where my dad once had a business, an auto parts store called H&W. Imagine our great surprise when we discovered that the old store was now a local Democratic Party headquarters and thus part of the Obama campaign! As an Obama supporter, I was happy about that. I was also happy because while my Dad may have been more conservative than me, he was a Democrat all his life; somehow, then, his old shop being now used for this purpose seemed appropriate.

H&W building

What was also nice is that the campaign workers who were inside were really nice about letting us in and seemed a bit intrigued to be meeting someone with a bit of knowledge about this location and its history. It was an amazing feeling to be back inside this place, after many years.

inside Dem HQ

Oh, incidentally, here I am from when I was around eighteen or nineteen, working part-time for my dad at the auto parts store. I’m with my dad’s two friends – Sal (who had a business next door) and Louie (who was a firefighter and also worked in my dad’s store, as a deliveryman); they were awfully nice guys, and real characters. They seemed to be on a first name basis with just about every bartender within a three mile radius of the shop.

Sal Louie and me

Moving on, we were impressed at what seemed to be some new, modern looking buildings going up around our old street.

We then made our way up toward the Jersey City Heights, the neighborhood in which I grew up.

Heights sign

As we walked along Central Avenue, a main commercial street for this neighborhood, a lot of memories came back to me.

Rizzos

Ah, Rizzos. What a great little Italian deli/bakery, one of a number in JC

Another old neighborhood standby – Pizza Master’s. As we walked past, we saw my old friend Richie sitting inside eating with his daughter. It was nice running into him there.

Pizza Masters

A bit further up, we treated ourselves to one of my favorite city refreshments – a flavored shaved ice.

shaved ice stand

Jersey City shares this, and perhaps other features, in common with Panama City, and likely other major cities throughout Latin America.

When we were kids, we used to get our snowcones down at Anne’s Candy Store; but the street vendors actually shave the ice by hand and then give you your choice of flavor; I opted for mango this time around.

mango ice

Moving along

Garden State News

Blimpie

Silon and Podowitz

This next shot – the corner of Central and Congress and location of two longstanding Heights businesses, Goehrigs Bakery and Kay’s Spring Garden – also shows another one time Sopranos shooting location.

Goehrigs

Ralphs

Every city needs a few dive bars, and Ralph’s Tavern is about as divey as they come; but, God bless it!

As an aside – and on the topic of Jersey City dive bars – the old Tube Bar at Journal Square, which disappeared some time ago, is the stuff of legend and is the location for a cult recording of prank calls (which inspired the writers of the show, The Simpsons) and became the basis for this indie film.

I mentioned Anne’s Candy Store (aka Congress Sweet Shop) earlier; here it is – it’s now a daycare center. But again, I have a ton of memories, of being in the store and buying a pretzel or a snow cone or soda and of dealing with Anne and Joe the proprietors, or with Anne’s relatives who periodically worked there. Anne and Joe were characters, particularly Anne, who could be very temperamental, particularly with kids. But they were fundamentally very decent, hard-working people and I have nothing but fond memories of them now.

Anne's Candy

This of course meant that we were now at Sherman Avenue, which is the street where I had grown up.

Sherman Avenue

Again, seeing houses where my friends had lived brought back a flood of memories.

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Finally, the old Conroy family house (the one on the right)

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The memories of this street – of the people and events that were here, of the fun and games that happened here on a regular basis, of the sights and sounds and even smells  – will be with me forever.  For example, this driveway

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at the end of the street was at the O’Grady family’s house. And this driveway was the world to us, particularly in winter time when we’d ice it down and go sliding on it. If you didn’t have a plastic sled, a piece of linoleum would do. And the thought, now, that a bunch of kids in a neighborhood could spend hours entertaining themselves in such a makeshift way is one that is also accompanied by a sense that kids no longer really do such things. The world has changed; parenting methods have changed with generational shifts. Kids today are much more tech savvy and perhaps more formally trained toward achievement skills than we were back then, but kids are also a bit more coddled and more filled with anxiety about things like grades and college applications (not to mention, paying for college, perhaps for their entire working lives). The generations that rebelled were later perhaps less naive when having kids of their own, but many became helicopter parents. I’m not judging, merely observing it. But these are the sorts of thoughts and reflections that come to mind when I see this driveway and reflect on the passing of time and on the realization that none of my old friends and neighbors, as far as I can tell, still live here; neither do I, of course.

By the way, the painted bases for stickball are no longer there, even though the sewer plates  (i.e., home plate and second base) are still there. Here is the view looking down the street toward home plate.

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Sadly, it seems that kids have forgotten stickball, and it is now mainly played by middle age guys in semi-formal leagues in places like Brooklyn and the Bronx. I hope it comes back one day, as it is such a great and evocative game.

Moving on, we made our way up to the top of the street, where we crossed North Street and made our way into another playground, Washington Park, which straddles both Jersey City and Union City and has a section that overlooks Hoboken and the Manhattan skyline.

entering Washington Park

second park

Nice to see that the section of the second park that we used to call the “swing park” was still there, and that the swings and other equipment had been refurbished.

swing park

By the time we got to the third section of the park, there was some sort of carnival like event taking place. We just passed through and didn’t really partake in carnival activities.

park carnival

Actually, I found myself much more interested in watching the skillful play of a group of Latino guys playing football (i.e. soccer). It had been a while since I played in a soccer game, but there was a part of me that would have liked trying to play with these guys. Of course, though since they appeared to be younger than me and much more skilled with a soccer ball, I probably would have suffered some humiliation.

futball players

Moving on, we crossed the street and into the part of the park that overlooks Hoboken and NYC. There is also a walkway bridge to the highrise building, called the Doric, which is right across the park. As kids, we used to hop over the wall and play on what we called “Hoboken Hill” and underneath the Doric. There were all kinds of litter strewn trails and even a few makeshift forts on that hill and some of these eventually became a sort of campsite for the local homeless population.

Doric buliding and NYC skyline

nyc skyline view

The Hill

Incidentally, the Doric was well-known locally as being the place where the NY Knicks’ Phil Jackson,  who would later become a legendary coach for the LA Lakers, lived; it made perfect sense, given how close the Doric actually was to the Lincoln Tunnel and thus to Madison Square Garden. Since the Knicks were our local team, we liked knowing this.

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Phil Jackson really had the 70s superstar jock look going on.

From this point, our plan was to take the light rail to Downtown Jersey City, check out the views from the waterfront, go see my old high school, and then basically call it a day. I was excited about taking the light rail, as I had never done that before.

light rail

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train

When we arrived, quickly, at the Exchange Place area of Jersey City, near the waterfront, here was the picturesque view of lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center area.

view of lower Manhattan from Exchange Place

And here was the view of the landmark Colgate clock. An entire factory complex, including a Colgate factory, was once here on what is now prime real estate. You can see Ellis Island and even the Statue of Liberty in the background of this photo.

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Anyway, here is another view, a bit more close up, of the lower Manhattan skyline, showing the Freedom Tower, which replaces the old World Trade Center’s “Twin Towers” which were lost on 9/11 back in 2001.

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After stopping along one of the entrances to Liberty State Park,

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we made our way in the direction of Downtown, toward Grove Street, and more specifically toward my high school Alma Mater – Saint Peter’s Prep school. Here are a few images of downtown Jersey City; much of the neighborhood – just like nearby Hoboken, with with it shares an architectural style – is now very much gentrified.

downtown street

ivy covered brownstones

downtown JC architecture

downtown JC street crossing

Stellas

This next shot is of Ibby’s Falafel, which had recently been awarded by the publication New Jersey Monthly, the honor of serving the best falafel in New Jersey. Having eaten there in the past, and enjoyed the food there a lot, I couldn’t disagree.

Ibby's

Downtown Jersey City is also where the City Hall building is located; for a long time, Jersey City had something of an infamous political history, featuring a series of local, sometimes heavily corrupt, Democratic machines running the show. I think now that there may be only traces of this one time rather colorful history. It is said that kids in Jersey City grew up knowing how to talk about politicians the way kids in most places grow up talking about well-known athletes, and that is certainly true in my recollections (though we also knew how to talk about sports stars).

City Hall

Finally, over to the Prep. It being a Saturday, I knew that the school would be closed and that we would thus only see it from the outside.

Prep

Prep Gym

It actually felt really good to be back on this campus. I’m quite proud of this school and proud that I got to go and study there. In fact, it’s an excellent school and it did help prepare me for later academic life and for life in general.

sitting at the Prep

While we were walking around the campus, some of the runners from the Cross Country team were milling around and we got to chat with them for a moment.

After caffinating at Starbucks

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we realized that our feet were pretty tired from all the walking. We decided, then, to take the Path train up to Journal Square. As we got off the train, we were reminded of another nice bit of Jersey City history, namely, the fact that the legendary Jackie Robinson began to break the color barrier in sports, and in Jersey City before he got up to play in Brooklyn. Hence this tribute statue.

Jackie Robinson statue

It had been, overall, a very satisfying day in Jersey City. I did, indeed, feel at home, and connected, and even happy, while visiting there. You can go home again, even if the memories that you have of what home might be may never quite be able to completely match what was once there or what is there now. As Ray Davies sings, in the Village Green album, “yes people often change, but memories of people can remain.” Anyway, I left feeling very good about this visit.

By the way, the title to this entry, for those who might be wondering comes from the Hoboken based band Yo La Tengo, one of my all time favorite groups, and from this truly gorgeous composition.

The song included these lines

Sometimes late at night
While runnin’ from the rain
Running from the voices
Filling up my brain
Now I wish they’d leave me alone
And let me be
To go off on my own
Let me be to go home
I feel like going home

I have a feeling that everyone sometimes feels the need to go home, wherever that may be.
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