Across the river to the Jersey side
When we finished the business aspects of our recent trip to New York City, we headed across the Hudson to New Jersey, there to spend some time with our mother and sister. The frigid weather that had greeted us upon our arrival in the area several days before had broken, and our time in Jersey started with a mild version of winter and ended up positively spring-like and sunny.
When New York was our playground many years ago, the way we got between there and our Jersey home was usually the PATH train under the river. It runs from Penn Station and the World Trade Center in New York to Hoboken, Jersey City, and Newark on the other side. The waits and the rides could be interminable, and on weekends the trips to Jersey City and Newark always involved an unwanted stop in Hoboken, which in those days was a dump of a train station. The trip was predominantly underground -- the train didn't get out of the tunnels until it was well west of the river in Jersey City -- and it was a fairly gloomy affair. The windows of the train reflected back images of the passengers in their fluorescent subterranean pallor. But for 30 cents each way, we didn't complain much.
All that is in the past tense now, as there's a private company that runs a network of ferries between the big city and various points in Hudson County, New Jersey. Clean, fast, open, airy, and with a network of free shuttle buses to get you to and from your land destination in Manhattan. It all runs so smoothly, it must be a Mafia deal, but hey -- it's New York and New Jersey, so stop thinking about it and enjoy. It was a Saturday morning when we flagged down one of those buses a few blocks from our hotel for a short hop to the nice, sleek ferry terminal. The place was fairly deserted at that hour, but one could tell from the size of the facility that lots of commuters must use the boats during the workweek.
We paid our fare ($7.50 one way) at the window and headed outside, down by the piers to wait for the ferry. From there we got to gaze across the water to Weehawken, where we were headed. We've written about that town here before -- especially in our college days, it was a place of great romance -- and from the docks its palisades can be seen quite clearly on a sunny day.
When the ferry arrived, it was packed with Jerseyans who were on their way into New York. As it was now around noon, many of them were likely theatergoers on their way to Broadway matinees. They wasted little time piling out, and the ferry guys hustled our smaller group, heading in the other direction, on board. We wheeled our suitcase and laptop behind us onto the boat, grateful that we weren't trying to do this during rush hour. A few minutes later, still not quite believing that we had just traversed the surface of the Hudson (although we've done it at least a half dozen times over the years), there we were in Weehawken, where as always our wonderful sis was there to pick us up.
We rarely fail to have a fantastic time when we revisit the Garden State, and this round was no exception. As the years progress, family conversations contain increasingly more medical information that one might wish, but such is life. As ever, the food and company were splendid.
A couple of scenes stand out from the trip. One involved blogging. Our mom accesses the internet on her television set, via something called WebTV. It's ghastly, but it serves her purposes, and she doesn't seem the least bit interested in owning an actual computer. This meant that our time spent at her place was going to be time spent more or less away from the intertubes. One thing is for sure -- one is not going to be running Movable Type blogging software on WebTV. As the kids say, LOL! And there wasn't a wireless signal to be found at her place.
After nearly a day of this deprivation, of course, our blogging fingers were getting extremely itchy, and between that and the fact that we had consumed huge quantities of mom's cooking, we decided that it was time to take a walk. We would head out onto the streets of Lyndhurst, New Jersey, looking to find an internet hotspot.
We know what you're thinking -- no problem, Starbucks, or some other coffee shop, right? Wrong! This may come as a shock, but there is no Starbucks in Lyndhurst, New Jersey! Nor is there even anything resembling a coffee house. It's like trying to get a newsstand copy of the The New York Times there. Sometimes in Jersey, although you're 15 minutes from the center of the universe, you're in a truly remote place.
Anyway, it was a nice enough late afternoon, and on we happily trudged up the main drag of the town as the short winter day turned to evening. Once in a while there'd be a bus bench, and we'd plop down and crack open the laptop, looking for a wireless signal. Maybe we could snag a connection out of that doctor's office over there, or that realtor's office over there. Quite a few nice old residences along that road have long been converted into professional offices. But nope -- no wireless signal that you didn't need a password for.
One of the errands on our list was to pick up some sort of wire at the local Radio Shack to try to fashion into an AM antenna for mom's radio. While we were in there, we asked the young man who waited on us where we could find a wi-fi signal. He suggested the nearby Restaurant Formerly Known as Perkins Pancake House. Sounded like a plan.
We walked into Perkins (a new establishment in that particular strip mall) and asked the teenage girls at the reception booth if the place had wi-fi. "Er, um, I don't think so..." one offered hesitantly. But just then a bright-faced boy waiter stepped over and said, "No, wait, I think we do. You can come in and try, anyway." And so we did. Lo and behold, there was indeed a wireless signal in the restaurant, but it was encoded with a password. The manager, more like our age, came over and explained that the wireless was new, and it would eventually be open to customers, but the staff didn't even have the password themselves yet. Rather than send us away just then, she went into her office and called their IT guy, who didn't have the password handy. "Would you like to use the computer in the office?" she asked us sweetly. Who says people in New Jersey aren't polite and helpful? We allowed as how no, that wouldn't be necessary, and back onto the street we headed.
By now it was dark, and we were about ready to give up, but the Town Hall was just a block away, and there were a few benches out in front of it on the corner of the building. What the heck, we thought, one more try. "View Available Wireless Networks" again, for the umpteenth time, and there, ever so faint, fading in and out, so sketchy that it wouldn't stay put, was an unsecure connection that said "Lyndhurst Public Library." Jackpot! If only we could get close enough.
We hailed a passerby, who looked at us, seated on the bench under a dim streetlight, as if we were crazy. "Excuse me, sir! Where is the Public Library?" "It's right over there," he said, pointing to the building next door, "but I think it's closed now." "That's o.k.," we said gleefully, "I'm just wanting to use their internet signal." The fellow walked away briskly, doubtlessly convinced that we were about to cause him, ourselves, or both grave harm of some sort.
Anyway, we found another bench in front of the library, where the signal was indeed quite good. We left this post, scrolled through the usual ton of e-mail, and logged off. Through the wonders of cell phone technology, we alerted mom and sis that our walk had been a success, and we were heading back their way.
I'm sure that, just as it did for the gentlemen who steered us to the library, this incident confirmed for the two of them that we have completely lost our mind.
But of course, quite the opposite was true. Reuniting the blogger's life of our geezerhood with the people and places of our youth was one of the sanest things we have ever done. And on that score, the best -- by far -- was yet to come.