Sunday, April 30, 2023

Jersey City

I was in Jersey City, New Jersey a few weeks ago, the city where I grew up. The GPS put me on Rt 440 near Lincoln Park, and though I know these landmarks from my youth, it was barely recognizable. I drove timidly as the GPS guided me through streets that I remembered but could no longer navigate. I eventually reached my great friend James McDermott, who took over all the driving duties for my brief stay.

He and I were going to an all-years grade school reunion at a Jersey City bar. I knew where the bar was located but this was likely my first time inside. On our way there, he drove by St Aedan's, Journal Square, and a few familiar houses of our past. We went down our long list of mutual acquaintances, taking note of who was here, and who had left.

He took me to Jersey City's downtown. It was teeming with new buildings and people eating at cafes with outdoor tables. Parking was challenging. Amidst the new I spotted the old: my old high school buildings, the office of my first job, the downtown train station entrance. We went uptown past my old dentist's office building, a rival high school, and the library.

I was struck by all the high-rises. Jersey City had been building upwards. Like New York City across the Hudson River, the skyline of Jersey City was transforming to accommodate. It made me think of the little town where I live in Massachusetts: more people coming in, construction seemingly everywhere, though perhaps not on the same scale, and not as towering.

At the bar, there wasn't anyone from our year, but we socialized as best we could. James called another grade school friend and we were able to catch up briefly. I met a few people who grew up on the street next to where I grew up. I said hello to my sixth grade teacher. We all looked appropriately old. 

In the morning, I followed James back to Rt 440. "You know how to get home from here right?" I said I did. Determined to get out of Jersey City using my wits, I followed my hazy memory towards Rt 3. When I got to Secaucus and MetLife Stadium I was at last comfortable. On the drive here I was sure that I had gone over new roads that made the trip faster, if a bit unfamiliar.

Jersey City is no longer the city of my childhood. It is still a dense and muscular city, filled with a casual roughness, but parts of it now has some of New York City's sleekness. 70s and 80s Jersey City exists only in the memories of those who experienced it. I'm always grateful for my life there, and as I barreled north to New England, I thought: perhaps I shouldn't be such a stranger!

Bergen and Highland