Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Day on Shank's Mare

March 25, 2008

Yesterday my calendar was clear for adventures; the weather was right for walking, so walk I did, for a reason.

Before I moved up here I was intrigued by a craigslist posting on a beautiful, big apartment for rent by owner (no fee), cheaper than most, described in charming terms of the history of the area and the convenience of the location. The same place was posted again a few weeks ago, and yesterday I set out to find it.

I called the owner who informed me he was in a meeting and had no time to chat, but since I wasn't planning to move until November anyway, he suggested I keep an eye on the listings and look at it when I was househunting if he had an apartment available. In the meantime, his lyric prose gave a description of how to find the place, so I decided to hoof it from Hoboken and get a look around. There are neighborhoods and then there are other neighborhoods, and I've vowed that I will not live in a place that's depressing in any way.

The instructions to the place were something like "just walk or drive over the 14th Street viaduct, bear left, then take a right and another right, and you're in historic West Hoboken." I knew better than to walk to the 14th St. viaduct, but I didn't know what a problem I would have walking over it. I have a little phobia about bridges but I thought I was mostly over that, besides, how long could this viaduct be? Also, that's Jersey City on the other side -- so what's this "West Hoboken" business?

I took the bus to the viaduct and then set out on what my mother used to call Shank's Mare -- a quaint way to describe going on foot. Cars whizzed by me on one side and on the other, I could look down at the warehouse district of Hoboken, and the train tracks, all of which promise to be an exciting new neighborhood when the developers jump through all the hoops of permits and variances. A cinema palace and several major luxury condos will go up there. I walked and walked, telling myself this was better exercise than any treadmill, and trying to avoid looking at either side. I would swear that viaduct is close to a mile long. I didn't have a panic attack, but I couldn't wait to get to the other side.

When I did get to the other side, it was hardly a "bear-left-bear-right" situation before I reached my goal. I had to walk down the side of the highway, Paterson Plank Road, and then there was a nice traffic cop who helped me across the street. I went a few blocks up the hill and saw where the apartment was: on the other side of a busy children's park and two blocks over. All were just the other side of the sign that signified I was in Union City.

I had heard that Union City was originally known as part of Hoboken, but at this point it's pretty ridiculous. It's a clean, working-class neighborhood, with nice kids in the playground, but lacking in charm or esthetic appeal. The actual building had been pictured in the Internet listing, so I knew what it looked like from the outside. I walked around the block looking for signs of a grocery story or restaurant or cozy vest pocket park -- some indication that this would be a neighborhood I could live in. I saw nothing. Now, if I hadn't walked too far already I might have been in the mood to search, and I'm sure I would have found a business district within walking distance, but I had seen enough.

I was not going to walk home, no way. I asked the friendly cop where the nearest transportation to Hoboken was and he didn't know. I headed toward something that looked like a station, and indeed I was right. There is an elevator to the train, and it is only two stops to the Hoboken Terminal. That was fine with me; the little Light Rail trains are very pleasant, and I would soon be in Hoboken, even though I would be about 10 blocks from home. At least I wouldn't have to face walking on the viaduct again.

Now I've eliminated one of the possibilities about where I shall move next. West Hoboken is not for me. I'm going to look at fringe neighborhoods in Jersey City and in that strange little loft in the area designated as "Almost Hoboken" which is just across the Jersey City line, down among the warehouses but very convenient to the Terminal.

Got to get to work on this. After all, I've only got six months.

1 comment:

MCA said...

A group of us in downtown Jersey City has hiked some of the neighborhoods you mentioned, including "Almost Hoboken" (see,163.0.html) and the Heights (see,587.0.html), from where you took the elevator. If you're interested in joining us for future hikes, join and stay tuned - we're planning on exploring more of the city as the weather gets nicer.