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We finally get to the top of the hill, at the beginning of the bridge approach. There was the sidewalk, on the left side of six lanes of traffic. It may not actually be too bad, I thought – we can just go up the hill and if you feel scared, just focus on the six lanes of concrete. Rachel took the lead, and I followed along with Sharon, trying some small talk to keep her mind off the bridge.

The strategy of just focusing on the six lanes of traffic was no longer a solution, once we actually got to the arch. Here, the sidewalk swung to the outside of the steel arch, so there was a drop of about 150 feet down to water on both sides. The view was actually pretty interesting. If you looked off to the west, you could see the complex of waterways going through the New Jersey Meadowlands, with large refineries stretching along the water. There was also a very good view of a very quiet Newark Airport. On a normal day there would be planes all over the place, but of course this wasn’t a normal day. Off to the right you could see the Manhattan skyline, but it wasn’t a great view – we may have been 15 to 20 miles away, and we were downwind of the debris cloud. (In fact, every once in awhile we got a whiff of that sickening burnt chemical smell). It would have been a great day to dig out the digital camera from my briefcase and snap a few pictures, except no one wanted to stop.

(The photo on the right I found somewhere on the web. It shows the drop on both sides of the sidewalk on the arch portion of the bridge.)

Finally, we hit the peak, and started downhill. Once we passed the end of the arch on the other side, we gained the security of having only one sheer drop, instead of two. As we headed downhill, I also got a better view of Bayonne. The first good news – we would be coming down into a residential neighborhood. The second good news – I saw buses on one of the streets. The third bit of good news happened after we got all the way in, and took some steps down off the bridge sidewalk to the street below.

Welcome to Little Italy

As soon as we got to the ground and looked around, I felt a great sense of relief. One look around, and there was no doubt I was in an Italian neighborhood. Although neither of us is Italian, we had both lived in Cleveland’s Little Italy before we were married. If there was one thing we knew, it was how to get along in an area like this. There seemed to be a main road about a block east of the highway that led to the bridge, so we walked over there. That’s when I got out my camera and took this picture of the bridge conquerors.
bridge2We were on Kennedy Boulevard, which runs the length of the peninsula that holds Bayonne and Jersey City. I think the cross-street was 10th, but I’m not sure. There was a deli on the corner, and we went in to get directions and get something to drink. (By this time, we were very hot and sunburned). As we bought our beverages, we asked the counterman for directions. He gave a pretty abbreviated reply about catching a bus out front. There was a seating area in front, and a couple of older gentlemen were sitting and watching the news on TV (it was probably after 12 by this time). They heard us recount The Story, and came up and more or less said the counter guy’s directions were half-assed- that they would show us what we needed to do.

After talking over the situation, they decided the best thing to do was to get to Newark Penn Station, where we could catch Amtrak. To do that, we would need to catch a bus out front, take it up to Journal Square in Jersey City, and then take a short train ride over to Newark Penn Station. They took us out to the bus stop and waited with us. As they were asking us about what we saw yesterday, one of the guys said something to the effect of “We never should have let the situation get this far – we should have stopped them at the beginning. We need to show them who’s boss.” I almost unknowingly started channeling Godfather dialog right back to them, saying something like “This isn’t business with me – this is personal!” Finally the bus pulls up, and one of the Italian guys goes in one step and says to the driver “Hey, these people are from Cleveland – make sure you get them to Journal Square, don’t let them get lost!” The driver says “Hey, they’ll be all right, the route ends at Journal Square.” The guy says right back “I don’t care where the route ends – you make sure these people get there!”

We waved goodbye and got on the bus (another clean, air-conditioned bus) and began the rather long ride up to Jersey City. [Green line on the map.] Bayonne is actually in good shape, with the typical front yard gardens and statues. When you finally get up to Jersey City, things start to get a little rougher, but still not anywhere near what my mental image of Jersey City had been. We went through some neighborhoods that looked somewhat familiar from some “Sopranos” episodes, especially some of the flashback scenes of Tony’s childhood.

Journal Square is a rather large bus and train terminal. Once we got there, we found out that the New Jersey Transit trains were running with free fares that day. We also passed a sign for “PATH Crisis Intervention” and realized that PATH, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the landlords at the World Trade Center, must have lost a lot of employees the day before. An employee directed us to the proper platform, and told us the Newark station was just the second stop from here. Soon an almost empty, nicely air conditioned train came in, and we got on, sat back and relaxed. It seemed that the trip was going smoothly, and we were making good progress.

njHarrison, NJ

There was only one stop between Journal Square and the Newark train station, and that was Harrison. NJ. Our train pulled into the station in only about five or ten minutes, and stopped at the platform, for what I thought would be a brief stop. The stop lasted one minute, which soon stretched to over five. We were beginning to wonder what was going on when an announcement came over the train’s PA system – a bomb scare had been called in to Penn Station, and could everyone please evacuate the train.

This part of Harrison was a real “industrial wasteland.” [Point C on the map]The street made an underpass under the train tracks where the station was, and about all you could see in both directions were corrugated steel fences topped with barbed wire. You could see the buildings of downtown Newark, presumably where the train station was, not far away, but it wasn’t clear how you could get to them. There was a cab dispatch office not far away, with a line of other passengers trying to get a cab. About the only other sign of life was next door, which was a freshly painted diner. We decided to go in.

Already some of the passengers had come in to buy drinks, but then left. Since we weren’t sure where we were, or where we would be going, and since it was close to 1:00 and we hadn’t eaten, we decided to stay for lunch. We went up to the counter and ordered. The lady at the counter had a TV on, and as we ordered she asked the question just about everyone was asking “What do you think of all this?” With this, we launched into The Story, which stunned the lady. We talked even more, and found out that she was the new owner, she had just fixed up the diner, and this was her first day open. After she made the sandwiches and I asked how much they and the drinks would be, she made a startling discovery. She hadn’t determined what she was going to charge for the food!

She quickly came up with a really low price for three large subs and three large drinks, and we sat and ate and talked to her some more. The inside of the diner had also been freshly decorated, and was filled with plaques with inspirational sayings. I forgot to get the name of the place, and it would probably be hard to do a Google search for “diner next to the train station in Harrison.” I certainly hope her diner has been a success. (I did manage to find the official web site for Bayonne, and emailed the mayor to tell him how nice the men there were. He emailed back that he was glad his town was of assistance.)

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Copyright 2001-2003 Bruce Kratofil