June 27, 2008
You move to Hoboken and get to know your way around. Streets are laid out conveniently, in a grid, and those in the south part of town are numbered First, Second, Third and Fourth Street. Running east to west, the streets have names like River, Hudson, Washington and Bloomfield. Clearly the main drag is wide Washington Street, lined with businesses and restaurants with sidewalk seating.
Easy as pie. You try to learn the sequence of those named streets and discover that the farther west you go in town all the names correspond with U.S. Presidents – Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson.
Standing at the foot of Washington Street and looking north, you feel that you are at the “downtown” section, looking “uptown.”
My correspondents, emissaries from Old Hoboken, began enlightening me in terse comments.
From Dennis (“The Rabbi”) Maloney:
“A note to new Hobokenites. Uptown was and is Washington St. to Clinton St. 1st. to 14th.
“Downtown is Grand to Harrison 1st. to 14th. For some reason, newbies have changed uptown to 7th to 14th and downtown from the Path to 6th.”
“He is right on the money. UP TOWN, AND THERE WAS DOWN TOWN, it has nothing to do with numbers...from Clinton Street to Washington Street was uptown. We called it the upper crust.
"HUDSON STREET and Castle Point Terrace was the Beverly Hills of Hoboken. Feel honored that you live there. It meant you had money...and lions on your stoop to protect you."
Later a reader in Jersey City calling himself Primitive Sound System added: “Downtown Hoboken has always been toward the Palisades. The current crop of Newbies really seem clueless to what Hoboken was like nor do they seem to care. Unfortunately they need to research a little more because the ones that are horrified that their condos are flooding along the Palisades should have known that that used to be swamps. Goats roamed free back there – not suits running to catch the Light Rail.
“The Newbies also seem to complain about the Light Rail. I won't call them Yuppies. That generation has moved on. Also, the original Yuppies seemed to actually enjoy and take part in the culture of Hoboken regardless of the fact that we all laughed at the ridiculous rents they were paying.”
I'm beginning to get it. "Up" and "Down" were really east and west. And the rich people lived on Hudson. Now the newbies, all richer than I, live all over town, and I live in a walkup on Hudson. I’m paying an astronomical rent for a 800-sq. foot third floor – not counting the stoop, and Neil Simon says in Barefoot in the Park – walkup, in a building without a washer or dryer, and I’m planning to upgrade to an even more expensive place as soon as possible.
Add to this that I grew up, and just spent 18 more years in a town on the eastern shore of a bay which made me accustomed to watching the sun set into the water. Now the sun sets into Jersey City, and the water is on the east – and the city on the other side is New York itself, with its magnificent skyline looking so close I think I could toss a softball right into it.
It’s hard enough for my frozen old brain to accept that west is west (and it's Jersey City) and east is on the other side of the water, to say nothing of that 14th Street is not uptown, but River Street is. Therefore the sun sets on Jersey City.
But give me time. I’ll get it.