Sunday, September 21, 2008

An Excellent New Jersey Adventure

September 21, 2008

I had been invited to be on a panel at the reunion of the anarchists' school. The reunion was in New Brunswick, on the campus of Rutgers, and I had to figure out how to get there by 11 A.M. yesterday, emerging from the chaos of a newly-moved-into apartment, at an address not quite as accessible to the PATH station and Hoboken Terminal.

First of all, I am not an anarchist, although having met them I somehow wish I were. The anarchist's school has been defunct for many years, located in a community that is almost nonexistent now. I was on the panel because of my involvement with my own school, a radical progressive institution from the utopian community of Fairhope, Alabama. The Modern School, whose reunion I attended, was a similar institution, and I had a lot to say to them. But I had to get there first.

This meant a dry run to the Terminal for information a couple of days in advance. I love the Hoboken train terminal--it's like a vacation in Europe, except that I have a better grasp of the language. The big trains stand like circus elephants awaiting their entrance to the big top, huffing and wheezing and making train sounds before they speed down the tracks to all parts of the state. There is an information office where you can be assured you'll have to wait your turn, but you get to hear a lot of talk in that distinct regional accent that inevitably brings a smile. Then you ask your question, get detailed but not 100 per cent clear answers and a train schedule you hope will make more sense when you have time to study it.

Okay, I got my info and was ready to ramble yesterday. I had no idea, even with the complex explanations and printed logs, how long the trip would take. I decided to leave the apartment at 7:30 A.M. to get the shuttle to the station and hop on the first train to Secaucus. I was correct to leave that early, since apparently the shuttle doesn't run on Saturday, or at least it didn't during the 40 minutes I waited. Thinking I could also get the #126 bus that comes down Willow, I hung in there until I realized to keep to my schedule I was going to have to take that taxi that had just let someone off a block away.

I got to the Terminal--back in Paris or Florence again--and bought a ticket. The ticket agent told me the train I wanted would leave from Track 4, but I did ask as I boarded, "Does this train go to Secaucus?" It left right on schedule, and I decided I was in Switzerland again. The terminal in Secaucus is large, beautiful, and empty, at least at 8:15 on a Saturday. I had a 35-minute wait for the train to New Brunswick, but I was still feeling pretty good about having navigated so well so far. The rest of the trip was easy but a bit long, and I was beginning to wish I had brought a book with me. It was a tedious ride with many stops, and from Secaucus I was on a double-decker train that was totally full.

When I got to New Brunswick I had the challenge of finding the campus. From the train I could see buildings that looked for all the world like a major university, and across from the station was a shop with the sign "Rutgers Bookstore." I figured if that was the bookstore, the college must be walking distance. I went in and got directions from the man behind the counter.

"Go under that bridge to Somerset, take a right to College Avenue and a left on College Avenue." Sounds easy, but of course when you're on College Avenue there's a lot of college on your right and I had no idea where to find the building. It was already ten o'clock and I wanted to check in soon so the anarchists would know I was there. I asked a student and she pointed as if that would lead to the right building. I followed the way she pointed and discovered I was wrong, so I went back out to College Avenue.

I could give you more details, but let us just say I did find the building, had a cup of coffee and a bran muffin before the meeting, met with the anarchists, and even met Perdita Buchan, author of Utopia, New Jersey, a book that inspired my second book about Fairhope, the soon-to-be-published The Fair Hope of Heaven/A Hundred Years after Utopia.

Perdita drove me to the station, and after a 45-minute wait I got on the crowded train to Secaucus. Luckily the next train to Hoboken was 25 minutes late so I made the connection. When I got home I took the bus to Ninth Street and made it in time for the block party where I found some new friends and had a glass of wine and some excellent nibbles of food.

It was a day full of adventures, small and large, and I learned a lot about The Modern School, the citizens of Stelton, New Jersey, and the democratic school movement. More about all that another day. Let us just say for now that there is more to New Jersey than meets the eye, or than can be seen from a passing train.


Steve said...

And you weren't afraid of any bombs the anarchists may have left lying around?

Mary Lois said...

Not a bit...they're not that sort. They were the Libertarians of the day, not inclined to violence, but basically committed to less government. The Modern School let children follow their own path, as far as it would take them. And the old-timers who went there are very bright and sweet.

Anonymous said...

> When I finished reading this, I sat back and said to myself about
> it,"I wonder why ML did not MapQuest the trip first?" And then I
> realized that the adventure is the most important thing along with
> the thrill 'just being there.'