Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hoboken Journal: Day Three, Over and Out

October 25, 2007

Having completed my business in Hoboken in just a matter of hours -- if you don't count the commute back and forth to the Motel Essex Regency -- I found myself with two days to kill just exploring the place. I'll sum those two days up in one post and prepare to retire the Finding Fair Hope blog once and for all as I wind up my time in the little town I came from.

I had signed the lease on the third floor walk-up and was waiting only to receive my copy signed by the landlord, and the key. But the plane I had booked was for noon Monday and it was Saturday morning. The realty agent had told me that the nearest shopping center was at the Pavonia Newport stop, so I decided to explore that, not expecting much. At least, I thought, I'll find a decent coffee shop and have breakfast. When I came out of the subway I wondered what planet I was on, or at least what country I was in. I was surrounded by glassy towers, wide streets, clean, classy architecture. I could hardly believe the shabby Motel Essex Regency which looks pretty much like we unenlightened think everything in New Jersey looks was just a subway stop and a $7 cab ride away. This could have been some modern corner of Europe; or, more accurately, it could have been Chicago. But it was Jersey City. What a delightful find. I snapped the photo you see and an attractive woman in a police uniform came up to me and said, "I don't know if you took a picture or were just looking at your pictures -- but you aren't allowed to take pictures in here." I must have given her a blank look because she repeated the sentence word for word, with a sweet smile, and I said to her, "All right. I won't take pictures in here," and put the camera away.

I browsed through a very upscale branch of Macy's and walked through the glittering mall, not jostled by crowds of overweight teenagers (or anybody else). I was fairly floating on air, hoping that when I move to New Jersey I can afford to shop in that mall from time to time.

Then I decided to go back to Hoboken and explore the neighborhood where I would be living. I took the "Light Rail" train, which is different from the subway, and takes you to a different part of the station. The trains are clean and travel mostly above ground. When I detrained I was in a real train station, just like in Europe, or like Grand Central.What do you know -- the Hoboken station is celebrating its Centennial, just like the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education! Beautiful mahoganny benches and old chandeliers in a truly awesome timewarp-station.

I walked up Washington Street, which I've decided is one of the major thoroughfares of the world, and I'l tell you why I think that. It's a huge, wide street, well-lit at night, and the sidewalks are as wide as a normal street. This makes it a natural for the sidewalk caf├ęs and the constant buzz of city life they inspire. It was a perfect October day, a little breezy and the sky a bright blue, as I walked up Washington Street (it seems to be just about impossible to take a photo of that street without half of the street being in shadow, by the way) and saw the people chatting on the sidewalks, pushing baby strollers, and drinking coffee in the many sidewalk venues. There was a happy, outgoing American attitude in what was essentially a Old Town atmosphere -- a very appealing combination.

I had a salad at a restaurant with tile floors and again the dark wood walls, and walked up to the new building where I found a tenant going inside who let me in to look at my new apartment and investigate where the electrical outlets are and walk the room for rough measurements so I could decide what furniture to bring. I stopped in the office of one of the realtors I had spoken with on the phone to tell her I had found a place and wouldn't be needing her services. She had found a place she wanted to show me in Guttenberg, but I was sure I could never love Guttenberg. She gave me a map of Hoboken and when I told her the buildings I loved she recommended I look for the library. When I heard her say, "We have a beautiful library!" I thought of how many times I'd heard that exclaimed about the unappealing structure that is the new library in Fairhope, and my heart sank.

I needn't have worried. Historic preservation has a place in Hoboken. The library there was probably built in the 1880's; it is small, Victorian and cozy. It smells of books and only has two computers. I hope it has friends, friends that don't think the best thing you can do for a library is make it five times the size you need "to allow for growth."

Hoboken, known as the Mile Square City, is actually two miles square, but it cannot grow because it is enclosed by neighboring cities. It has a historical museum which is ironically in a new building, and the display there now is of Hoboken's musical heritage. There is a corner devoted to favorite son Frank Sinatra, of course, and displays of the poster from Hair (authors Gerome Ragney and James Rado, who were hippie actors in the 1960's, lived in a warehouse loft in Hoboken when they wrote the show.) Stephen Foster apparently lived in Hoboken for a time. It was an interesting show, and I had a good time browsing through it.

On my travels through town I actually did meet a bona fide curmudgeon, a man with shoulder-length hair who had set up a table with old books and records for sale on the sidewalk in front of his apartment. We talked about the books and records, and he told me "Hoboken isn't what it used to be," and he gave me an inside track about the corruption in politics and the snobs who have moved into town. I know where he lives and plan to stop by again when I'm in the neighborhood.

Since I've started posting about Hoboken here, I've gotten lots of traffic and lots of email from Hobokenians too. It's as if my new life is calling to me. Now for the next three weeks I've got a lot of packing to do.


birdwatcher said...

Will your new blog be Finding Fair Hoboken? Hope so!

Finding Fair Hope said...

Good suggestion, bird...but I don't think I'll blog in Hoboken, at least for some time. Too much else to do!

Coach said...

If you're really in search of an old town that has stayed old you ought to visit Madison, VA.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Thanks, anyway, Coach. I'd love to see Madison -- all of Virginia is lovely, as far as I know -- but I wasn't searching for anything but a less nouveau riche locale than Fairhope has become when I found Hoboken. I would never say that Hoboken has stayed old, either, with its population of young urban professionals who work in NYC.

Part of Hoboken's charm is its respect for its history and architecture but it also has a vibrant youthful energy and a connection to one of the major cities of the world.

I don't expect too much of the city, but am ready to change my own life once more. Although the leaving is bittersweet, while I still have fair hope for myself, the Fairhope that once meant something too me is long gone.

Craig said...

Just an FYI: The Hoboken Public Library does have friends.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Oh, good Friends of the Library! I'll become one as soon as I can get a library card.