April 2, 2008
The movie On the Waterfront was filmed in Hoboken in the 1950's -- the old Hoboken that still had a dock, longshoremen, Unions, bosses, and a visible presence of the mob. Filmed in black and white, On the Waterfront was a classic, and the locales were gritty and authentic. In the film, Marlon Brando, playing a boxer down on his luck, accuses his brother (Rod Steiger) -- who was also his manager -- of buying him "a one-way ticket to Marlon Brando, Karl Malden
Palookaville" by insisting he throw a fight when he was in his prime. Because of its location in the film, Hoboken itself has wrongly been accused of being the "Palookaville" of which the magnetic young actor spoke so disparagingly.
In those days it was very hip to add the suffix "-ville" to any word in order to create a new concept. For example, if somebody were to bring you a birthday cake with candles lighted, rather than say, "Oh, that makes me so happy!" You would just shrug and say, "Happyville, man."
Last November I bought a one-way ticket from a little town in South Alabama to the new Hoboken, a bustling little city full of high-earning young investment bankers, many artists, writers, displaced Manhattanites and a few old New Jersey diehards; and I'm here to say, if it ever was Palookaville, it isn't any more.
It never was, by the way. Palooka was the old word for run-of-the-mill prizefighters, and Terry Malloy, the Brando character, was talking about his being denied the big time because his manager made him take a dive. Palookaville was not so much as place as a state of mind.
Hoboken may be a state of mind, but it's not for losers or the world-weary. It's almost Manhattan now -- maybe not quite -- but a small, upscale town near enough for a round trip ticket to the big time. And it stands on its own with its historic old buildings, its magnificent views of Manhattan's skyline, and its lively music, restaurant and bar nightlife. It has a history and charm of its own, yet, as almost all of New Jersey, it celebrates its proximity to New York.