For the ones who had a notion A notion deep inside That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive I wanna find one face that ain’t looking through me I wanna find one place I wanna spit in the face of these badlands
One constant throughout all my trips to Jersey has been frequent visits to that great American institution, the humble diner. To most Americans, diners are ubiquitous. They are little regarded everyday elements in a complex landscape. To us foreigners, however, Hollywood and TV have afforded the diner a certain exotic mystique and even a window into the American psyche.
Upon screens, both large and small, countless dramas have played out in the booths and at the counters of a bewildering variety of diners. From the New Mexico Badlands to the mean streets of Chicago, New York or LA, the diner has been the backdrop for murders, break ups, and deals gone wrong on shows as varied as Twin Peaks, the Sopranos, Fargo, and House of cards.
For this – perhaps dubious – reason, a visit to an authentic American diner was high on my list of things to experience in New Jersey right from day one. I think Jersey girl was a little perplexed by my enthusiasm, but since she had a favourite place in Clinton Township, the Station diner, where she often took the kids for a treat, there was no problem working out where to take me first.
And so, just a few days after my arrival in New Jersey, I had my first authentic American diner experience. This is one of those larger restaurants with several sections (one being a repurposed train car from which the diner presumably takes its name). It is also the home of the “Mt. Olympus”, a 50 LB Burger worth $178 that, if you and 4 friends can finish entirely in 3 hours or less, will net you $1000 courtesy of the owners.
For that first visit it was just Jersey girl and I and we had a fine lunch of impressive (though not Olympian) proportions. The food was wonderful, I had a (regular) burger and she her favourite wrap, however, the coffee was really, really awful. In fact, it was this coffee experience that launched my quest to find a decent cup of Joe in New Jersey. Ironically, after hunting high and low, I eventually found it in the very town where my quest began (at the Riverside café in Clinton).
In the years since, I have discovered several other places which also do good coffee (none of them diners unfortunately*) and my caffeine anxiety has been mostly assuaged.
Clinton has three fine diners which I have now made the acquaintance of. The Station remains the favourite with the kids, but my tastes lean towards the Towne Restaurant situated on Main Street; more of a classic diner vibe.
Where ever we go, I’m always on the lookout for the perfect diner experience. I’m not convinced I’ve found it yet. I’m actually in no hurry to either; I’m very much enjoying the hunt.
*It seems to be an inviolable rule that all diner coffee must be truck stop quality or less.
I do not know who the image used in this post belongs to. If you have any information regarding ownership, please let me know so that I can credit appropriately.
For me, life has always been a quest. I’ve been a seeker for the entire of my existence. And the thing I’ve been searching for is not hard to divine given the nature of this blog.
As a teen, while my friends talked endlessly about “getting laid”, I fantasized about finding that one soul, that woman who would look at me and truly see.
See what, you ask?
See me, the raw and naked I; flawed, damaged perhaps, but vital and willing to pour all of myself into the vessel of the heart. At that time, and for many, many years after, it was a vain hope. I was not yet enough myself to be properly perceived by another; still caught as I was in the trap of seeking validation from others.
I did not love myself or like anything about who I was. How then could I ever have expected another to find in me a worthy object of their devotion?
We don’t recognize how incomplete we are until our souls begin to ‘fill out’. As life lends us experience and challenges to overcome, we begin to appreciate our own qualities and inner resources. Only at that point do we begin to become who we truly are.
That is when love; true, real, burning love finds us. At least, that is when love found me.
After decades of uncertainty and self-doubt, I had finally reached an acceptance of myself and who I had become. I had acknowledged that after the second long-term relationship of my life had ended (rightly), I might just spend the rest of my life alone.
This prospect no longer frightened me. I was comfortable in my skin and happy in my own company. If that was to be it for me, if all the romantic relationships of my life were now behind me, then I was willing and able to live with that.
In truth, none of the relationships I had experienced had ever lived up to my internal expectations anyway. Perhaps it was better to live in solitude than in a state of constant disappointment.
Of course, that’s when she came.
She was a laser, blasting into my eyes all the way through to the back of my skull. She invaded my core and laid waste to all considerations of solitude or a quiet life. She found the kindling I had tucked away in my heart and set blaze to it.
In that instant, my quest, long delayed, found its goal. I had reached my golden El Dorado.
And I discovered that the quest itself is not purpose, but it can lead you to your life’s purpose. It can lead you home.
His words of truthful vengeance They could pin us to the floor Brought a few more people on And put the fear in a whole lot more
David Bowie, Song for Dylan
Still not convinced about the similarities (sonic and thematic) between Bowie and Springsteen? Take a little journey with me through the songs below and see if I can change your perspective a little.
Then I got Mary pregnant And man that was all she wrote And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat We went down to the courthouse And the judge put it all to rest No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle No flowers no wedding dress
That night we went down to the river
They pulled in just behind the bridge He lays her down, he frowns “Gee my life’s a funny thing, am I still too young?” He kissed her then and there She took his ring, took his babies It took him minutes, took her nowhere Heaven knows, she’d have taken anything, but All night She wants the young American
With my blackjack and jacket and hair slicked sweet
Silver star studs on my duds like a Harley in heat
When I strut down the street I could hear its heartbeat
The sisters fell back and said “Don’t that man look pretty”
The cripple on the corner cried out “Nickels for your pity”
Them gasoline boys downtown sure talk gritty
It’s so hard to be a saint in the city
So I lay down a while
And I gaze at my hotel wall
Oh the cot is so cold
It don’t feel like no bed at all
Yeah I lay down a while
And I look at my hotel wall
But he’s down on the street
So I throw both his bags down the hall
And I’m phoning a cab
‘Cause my stomach feels small
There’s a taste in my mouth
And it’s no taste at all
OK, I think I’ve provided enough for you to chew on. To me it seems pretty clear that despite the obvious cosmetic differences, these two were brothers from different mothers. They should probably have ended up much better friends than they did.
Now pray for yourself that you may not fall When the hour of deliverance comes on us all When our hope and faith and courage and trust Can rise or vanish like dust into dust There’s a kingdom of love waiting to be reclaimed I am the hunter of invisible game
If you have already read part one, you will not be surprised to read here it was with considerable relief that I put my back to the WTC. My encounter with the 9/11 monument had been strange and disquieting. Fear porn was the phrase that kept coming into my head the whole time I was there.
Reading back over it, I realise that I didn’t even mention the ‘Freedom’ tower at all in the first part. I’m not sure why I omitted it, except that I really dislike the design and the way it imposes itself upon the skyline. It’s what I like to call totalitarian architecture, maybe you’ll get what I mean by that; maybe you won’t.
I did photograph it (actually it was while I was doing so that my camera died on me for the second time), but it’s a strange building to capture from up close. It reflects the sky in such a way as to lose definition and when you are shooting up from ground level, it looks more like a pyramid than a tower. Generally speaking, I found it pretty ugly and mast-like. To each his own I guess.
Hitting Broadway as predicted, I headed uptown. Due to the still oppressive heat, I was intending to stick to that Avenue all the way, but I spotted what appeared to be a stylistically unusual public building a block over and detoured to check it out.
The building, I later learned, was the Manhattan Municipal Building, a truly unique, almost quirky piece of neoclassic indulgence. Sadly I only had my phone by this point, but I took what pictures I could and tried not to dwell on the poor resolution.
Rather than backtrack, I kept walking up Lafayette for a block or so past the Supreme and District Court buildings. I don’t know what was going down in Manhattan that day (apart from a sudden plunge in the markets that had the money monkeys on Wall Street pissing in their pants), but there were at least thirty armoured Homeland Security SUVs lined up across the street from the court buildings. I would have taken a picture but didn’t fancy getting my phone confiscated.
I turned back towards Broadway at the next convenient intersection. I’d have stayed on Lafayette if I’d known at the time that Bowie lived on there. I would have loved to check out the building where he lived, but I wasn’t privy to that fact at the time. And yes, I am indeed a big enough Bowie fan to want to walk by his building, as I believe I covered here.
Back again on my chosen route, the heat was now seriously messing with me. I should have stopped walking and taken the subway, but I can be a stubborn SOB sometimes and I wanted to stay above ground. You don’t come to New York to look at tunnels.
At some point, I realised that I was moving into the realms of heat exhaustion. It was at that point I came upon a group of black youths handing out free Coke Zero cans to passers-by. Normally I would never touch soda, especially of the diet variety, but I gratefully accepted a proffered can and downed it immediately. OK, I told myself. You need to get re-hydrated – now.
At that moment, a man on a bicycle rolled up and the youths tossed an entire carton of sodas into the basket on the front of his bike. In the broadest Aussie accent imaginable he exclaimed “jeez thanks, guys! This city is just awesome!” I kept walking choosing not to identify myself to my overly enthusiastic fellow countryman.
He was actually the second Australian I’d knowingly encountered that day. Earlier I’d been walking past some swanky-ish hotel when a fairly beautiful woman in her twenties had come barreling out the doors and bumped right into me.
“Oh, sorry darl’” was all she said, but the accent was pure Melbourne. Actually, I didn’t need the accent to tell me she wasn’t a native New Yorker, the fact that she acknowledged my presence at all, told me that.
From then on, at any street vendor I came upon, I bought bottled water and just kept drinking. And though it never got comfortable – my face was nearly purple from overheating – I started to feel a little steadier on my feet.
Recounting all this, I realise what an idiot I sound like. I literally hadn’t prepped for the heat at all and when it dawned on me how affected I was, did virtually nothing to safeguard myself. At the time, I just figured typical male pigheadedness would carry me through and, ultimately it did, but I’d taken a dumb risk. There’s a reason the phrase stupid tourists is a well-worn one in almost every tongue. I’d like to say I’ve learned a valuable lesson, but…
Union Square seemed like a good place to grab a little shade and reflect. I found an empty bench and sat down to watch the passers-by for a bit. There was a generally relaxed mood in the park – that is until a very odd little group came stalking in. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like them.
They were two men, a woman, and a large dog. All were wearing heavy combat jackets, pants, and boots; completely incongruous in the intense heat. All had hairstyles of the shaved and dreadlocked variety. And all were carrying big backpacks from which protruded coils of twine, crumpled newspapers, and other street jetsam. Even the dog, an intimidating beast, was wearing a vest festooned with stuffed pouches.
They were obviously street people, but they had taken urban homelessness to a new level. They looked like post-apocalyptic warriors and it occurred to me that, for them and millions of others, the apocalypse has already arrived. They’re living ahead of the curve in the world we all secretly fear is coming. Their collapse is simple history for them and now they survive, living off the bones and detritus of that collapse.
They could probably teach you & I some invaluable survival skills, but it might cost us our wallets.
The mood in the park chilled considerably upon their arrival, and people began to get up and leave. Reading the wind, I decided to do the same. New York is an expensive place to get yourself stabbed. It’s possible I may have misjudged those grim looking folk, but when you’re on unfamiliar turf it’s usually a good idea to err on the side of caution.
We all come up a little short and we go down hard These days I spend my time skipping through the dark Through the empires of dust, I chant your name I am the hunter of invisible game
I felt much better for my short rest and was pretty certain I hadn’t actually developed sunstroke. I did, however, realise that I had neglected to eat anything all day and so, once I was back on 7th, I searched out a pizza joint and had a tasty NY slice. I’m a man of simple tastes in many ways.
Soon I was back at Penn Station, boarding my return train to Jersey and my girl.
The trip home was uneventful enough except that, apparently, the further you travel from the city, the shorter the station platforms get. After a certain point, the conductor starts making announcements that people who need to alight have to move to a car that actually has doors on the platform. I ended up traversing half the train to get to my door. That may be common in Jersey, but I’ve never encountered it in Australia.
Well I awoke last night to the heavy clickin’ and clack And a scarecrow on fire ‘long the railroad tracks There were empty cities and burnin’ plains I am the hunter of invisible game
All in all, it was quite a day. I was wrung out emotionally and exhausted by the twelve kilometers (roughly seven and a half miles) I’d walked in crazy heat. I’d been, by turns, thrilled, amazed, and horrified; not bad for one day.