Familiar Territory: New York, New Jersey and Connecticut
Near the halfway point of I-95 we began driving into a region that was familiar and started returning to places that were regular parts of our past. Friends and family who had been asking us when we would visit were finally getting to see us and they were excited. We were also eager to visit them and curious to see how the area had changed since the events of last September.
Our first stop in New Jersey was at the southern part of the coast where Deb had spent many of her summer vacations. Deb’s aunt owned a house on the New Jersey Shore between Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights and Deb’s brothers and sister were waiting for us there and met us with hugs and kisses. We talked for hours, catching up and gossiping about changes in the neighbors who lived next door. We walked through the area over the next couple of days and Deb was pleased to see that the neighborhood was still similar to what she remembered. The beach was just as large, the donut stores were still selling pastries in the early hours of the morning and the combination five and dime/department store was still standing between blocks of other cluttered, sandy souvenir shops. Jeff was impressed with the area, particularly the beach that they visited after dark on the first night. He loved the silky feel of the sand and buried his toes as we sat on the beach and talked. Later, we stood and watched high tide as the moon lit a wide berth of smooth sand and pounding surf.
The next day we went for a walk down the boardwalk on Point Pleasant. Deb pointed out the “real Jersey” people, as only on this part of the trip did we see as many sports cars playing loud music, over tanned girls with bright makeup and couples with perfect bodies in matching bikinis and swim trunks. Deb had been looking forward to “boardwalk food” and we had our share of boardwalk pizza, sausage and peppers, whole potato french fries, orange and vanilla swirled cones and fried dough. We ate as we walked past game arcades, bottle ring tosses and souvenir shops with plastic balls, t-shirts and hermit crab cages.
We continued our tour through “real New Jersey” as we stayed with two sets of friends further up the coast. At one friend’s we went bowling, ate fresh steamed clams and tanned on the beach. We also saw Asbury Park with its legendary sites made famous by Bruce Springsteen. Despite a planned revitalization, Asbury Park is still in a state of decay and the lime green sign for the Palace Arcade and its tilt-a-whirl sit next to a run down strip club and dilapidated bar. A town over from Asbury Park we were amazed to see the upscale luxury community of Deal, with rows of ocean-front mansions and a piano-shaped house once owned by Billy Joel. We also went to the town where independent film director Kevin Smith grew up and began making movies. We stopped by his comic book store, taking pictures of movie props that were stored there.
Once we began to get further up the New Jersey coast we began to be in the area where so many families lost loved ones to the World Trade Center collapse. We saw memorials to victims that were cluttered with candles, notes and even a pair of skis. It reminded us of things we had seen at the Vietnam Memorial and was equally touching. We also went to one of the ocean-front points where a ferry regularly takes commuters into lower Manhattan. From this point New Jersey residents gathered on 9/11 to watch the activity by the towers. Understandably, the events of last September were closer to the people here than in any of the other places we visited and they were still talking about it as if it had been days, not months. Among the stories they told us, was an account of how they heard about what was happening during the first few days. They told us that even as events were taking place residents who were worried about their families were without television and local news. Their reception was located at the top of one of the towers and knocked out when the building fell.
A few days later, the events of 9/11 were heavy on our minds as we drove into New York City with other friends. We were eager to see the skyline that came into view for the first time as we drove on the NJ Turnpike to the Lincoln Tunnel. Surprisingly, we didn’t feel that something was missing. Instead, the beauty of the Empire State stood out and the structure seemed grander than ever before. Without competition from the towers it was the most distinct structure in the skyline and its art-deco glamour was fully apparent. Once we were in New York, we noticed that things seemed relatively unchanged but much busier. Despite the controls on traffic, there seemed like there were more cars than previously and it was harder than ever to navigate among the sea of people and between the canyons of buildings. We visited the museum of natural history and walked through Greenwich Village but had trouble getting around.
Our final mid-Atlantic stop was southern Connecticut where we had met. Here we also stayed with friends but spent time sightseeing as well. We drove through places we liked in Norwalk and even went back to a shopping mall we used to visit. It was refreshing to be back in places we’d first spent time in as a couple and a good way to end a section of our trip that was full of old memories. Although further up I-95 we would also be able to visit places from our past, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut were where we’d most spent time together. Our stay with old friends and sharing of memories combined to help us thoroughly enjoyed our stay there.