View on Hambug Turpike when I was drunk
When I go to Barnes and Nobles, I can spend hours in there just reading. When I was a freshman, I used to skip class all the time, and go read books in the history section of the book store (ironically, I remember more facts from doing this than going to the actual classes). So the other day, while I was in there, I managed to find the series of books that have the pictures of the old towns in New Jersey. As I began gazing through the pictures of my hometown of Wayne, I was taken by the difference between the Wayne of old and the one that exists now.
Wayne has always been overshadowed by the looming presence of Paterson just down the hill. Back in the day, my great-grandfather owned silk mills down by the river, when the whole of Paterson was all Italians coming right off the boat from the mother country, trying to find better lives in this country. The town was full of industry, of mob dealings, and of life.
Eventually, my great grandfather moved out of Paterson, and up to Wayne, which is where most of my family is now. Wayne back then, it was just farms. There were acres and acres of land, untouched since the Dutch first came into the town in the 1700s (my Jersey city born great grandmother used to call Wayne “the sticks”, and hated the town). Barns, old houses, and a few other places were around back in the 1920s- before Rte. 23 was even built.
I always knew this, of course. But it was the pictures in that skinny little book that really kept my attention. In the first section, they had some pictures of the smaller houses that had been around forever. Washington had slept at a few of them, and the colonial troops had used some of the barns as hospitals during certain actions there. Once again, the land was rolling farmland, interspersed with the kind of thick underbrush that forms the woods in the northeast. There were a few battles in this yet untamed land, and more maneuvering and troop movements than most people realize. There is a reason New Jersey is called the “Crossroads of the Revolution”, alongside the other, more inspiring nickname of the “armpit of the country”.
Either way, as I drive the streets of Wayne now, the history is gone. The last time I went down south, to Virginia or Georgia, they have a way of preserving the history. It might be because no one really cares to live there, and so they don’t need the land as badly for housing as we do up here. But there, you can still picture battles being fought in the fields- mostly because not much has changed. But in Wayne, thinking that Washington ever rode through is nearly impossible to picture. There are townhouses everywhere, and where there aren’t townhouses there are neighborhoods, and where there aren’t neighborhoods there are strip malls. Traffic lights, neon signs, Mexican restaurants, bars, banks. So much crowded into such a tight space.
In 1920, there was one bar in the Mountain View section of Wayne. This road was the one they were originally going to make the main street in Wayne, until they figured out that it floods every year, sometimes badly. But right by the border of Lincoln Park, there was one bar, and one train station, and that old book had a picture of it. The caption read that it was “where businessmen and farmers rubbed elbows”, and that it was quite a classy place. I think the building it was in is now a seafood place, still just above where the flood waters peak at after snowy winters and warm, wet springs. The area down there is the flood zone, and the folks that live there mostly working class, some very poor, some just squatting in whatever house they can find empty. When it floods, they get out the small rowboats and get to higher land, and a week after the waters go down you can see piles of garbage lining the streets as they throw out all the garbage that was ruined. There’s a lot of good people down there, even as disreputable as they may be. Washington was there once…
I always seem to carry the burden of History with me. Maybe because I’ve read so much about it, or just that my mind wanders to easily. But once in a while I wish I could the rolling hills and the thick woods, the long blue lines retreating from invading redcoats to fight another day. To see a dirt road instead of a paved one, or feel a breeze that isn’t whipping off some yuppies’ Escalade. Those days are gone though, and all that remains are the ghosts that stare out at you from those old pictures…sometimes, when I get drunk under these lights of Wayne, I stare out at the sky and wonder, if Achilles, Washington, or any other man has looked up at that moon and wondered where we're heading as people, because History is marching on regardless, dragging us down the course that we are destined to lead.