Thursday, July 05, 2007

Friends in New Places

July 5, 2007

I've still got one foot in Fairhope, but I've got the big toe of the other in Hoboken. I check Craigslist every day to see what's for rent there -- even though it will be months before I'll have any need to follow up; we all have our little compulsions -- and I go to the official Hoboken website and many of the blogs serving the area to get a feel for the place.

I get the distinct sense that there's a lot of testosterone in Hoboken. There is an air of conflict and aggression about the place, an atmosphere not prevalent in small cities in the South. I've visited a couple of Hoboken blogs and made comments there. I've gotten responses. One of them even posted about my plans to move and that elicited a few advice comments.

The writer of that blog, Jeff Fario, wondered if my attraction to Hoboken was a mistaken association with New Orleans. Hadn't thought of that at all -- it seemed sort of European to me, with that wide main street, and all the shops and neighborhood bakeries (and Catholic churches), which New Orleans does, but more distinctly Italian-American. It had more diversity than Fairhope, and more youth. It had a lot more bars, but my days of hanging out in bars for any period of time are pretty much behind me. (Thank God and AA I survived!)

The shop above, with Xmas tree lights and hanging pots, plus its very American sign above the door, spoke to me of Hoboken. You wouldn't see that around here in Lower Alabama. It had a blatant tackiness that was charming without trying. It didn't look like somebody's idea of Art, but it got my attention. There are lots more picturesque views of Hoboken, more elegant ones and more upscale ones. But here and there are touches of a simple bygone day, like the sign in shape of a hand pointing to "The Clam Broth House," which is no longer there. I hope they leave the sign up forever. (If I were running an Italian restaurant, what would make me think to celebrate clam broth anyway? What's so great about clam broth, in the galaxy of tasty Italian food? Maybe somebody in Hoboken will be able to tell me.)

There's a chance I won't meet any of the guys who write Hoboken blogs. Or that if we do we won't particularly hit it off. I just like knowing they're there, and I like their feisty, macho Hoboken take on things.

And the fact that they're in cyberspace lets me visit my own virtual reality of Hoboken while still living amid the spectacular sunsets and painted pelicans.


Mister Snitch! said...

My last name is Faria, BTW (no biggie). The Clam Broth House, essentially, collapsed a couple of years ago. Personally, I blame rent control (no money, no maintenance). It's being rebuilt, and the main sign, presumably, is somewhere being restored (having, like the building, also suffered years of neglect).

The big deal about Clam Broth is that it was given away, or sold cheap (it was a quarter a cup in '80 when I first got here) for many years when Hoboken was an important waystation for goods coming into the area (think 'On the Waterfront', which was shot here). Cold, hungry dock workers (and anyone else for that matter) could get something hot in them and find some shelter from the world's storms there. From a marketing point of view, it was brilliant. The broth, from steaming clams of course, was eventually thrown out. They turned it into a hot, cheap rival to coffee, and made the eatery a special place to working class families. (Which is the only kind that lived in Hoboken from the time the Stevens' family founders left, until today.)

Your hidden-storefront photo does show the charming, innocent and unaffected side of Hoboken which does persist in small pockets to this day. That shop is at the beginning of Court Street, where OTW was mostly filmed. Court Street is a time capsule of much of what Hoboken was before the Wall Streeters moved here in droves (mainly, in the years after 9/11). Court Street is composed of the original cobblestone (not to be confused with the Disney cobbestone retrofitted into parts of Washington Street) from the town's beginnings. You need to be part mountain goat to walk it, though.

The New Orleans effect I referenced is best evidenced on Garden, Bloomfield and Park streets, with their frequent examples of charming, eccentric architectural touches and some instances of extraordinary wrought iron work. There are some houses you could hold up besides their New Orleans cousins, where an observer could not differentiate them by style.

There was a fellow named Kevin McKloskey who drew Hoboken scenes from back when I first got there. He captures some of the charm of the place, some of which persists and some of which has been pushed into history's dustbin. I think a search of Mister Snitch! would bring up a few of his drawings. I'd look for them myself, but I am procrastinating from my work on a multimillion dollar suit against the city. (Something else Hoboken shares with New Orleans is world-class corruption.) There's a link on the site to that history, as well (the parking scandal, there's a banner at the left side of the front page).

Mary Lois said...

Sorry about the name slip, mr. snitch. I didn't even think I was supposed to know you had a real name.

Thanks for the local color. Clam broth sounds better to me all the time...

Hope you win your lawsuit and don't bankrupt the city in the process. I'll learn the details when you know me better.

Really, after you suggested it I could see a certain New Orleans ambiance in the big "Ho," but I know NOLA a lot better. I like the connection. I'll try to find McCloskey scenes too.