where the crowds aren’t

Today I got into the car, expecting to head up the Turnpike about 14 miles to the Jersey City Promenade and the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Boat Tour. Then, at the last minute, I reconsidered, got Camilla out of the car, put her in the stroller and instead took a walk across the Raritan River to New Brunswick. Instead of being out amongst the cars, distracted, glancing at billboards, and ending up in yet another crowded tourist setting, I walked around an old American city with lots of streets, sidewalks, trees and storefronts, and few parking lots.

New Brunswick is a town of 25,000, which boasts the old Rutgers Campus, Johnson and Johnson headquarters, a train station with trains to NYC, a downtown restaurant/shopping district, theatres, and lots of neat old dilapidated and unremodeled houses. The population doubles during the week, with students and JJ workers. On weekend days when the workers are away, New Brunswick is only the train station on the way to New York. There are no views of the Manhattan skyline and the museums aren’t very big. On weekends you see the locals – many of which are Oaxacan Mexicans.

But today I ended up in there. I noticed a particularly dark old brick house with a high pitched roof and white trim. I also noticed that the Moscow Symphony Orchestra will soon be playing at the NJ State Theatre, and I found a Oaxacan Taqueria that I mean to try some time. Other times I have visited the Mason-Gross Art Center (Rutgers art department) for exhibitions. In New Brunswick one can only wander, think one’s thoughts, and look for interesting buildings and side streets, but there are plenty of those.

There are other forgotten cities around here. Last week my husband’s green card interview brought us to Newark. There, parking the car in some back all-day lot, I was struck by very beautiful view of the backs of the buildings, complete with old fire escapes and vines growing up between the windows. It was breathtaking. Broad St. in Newark has some really glorious architecture, many turn of the century stone buildings, currently covered and obscured by cheap awnings and signs. They also have a new light rail, which is a nice way to see the architecture. The Philadelphia central train station is beautiful too, and feels just like one is in Copenhagen. Another abandoned New Brunswick site I love is Jersey Avenue, with its warehouses. I dream of starting an art exhibition space there someday.

Old train stations, student art shows, high-rises, hidden courtyards, warehouses and fire escapes. There is a completely seperate, and much more interesting world that exists away from the world of commodities. It’s the world one see while walking, from the window of the train, or in the older cities where there isn’t enough parking for Target or Wal-Mart to move in, and is therefore only home to small cafes and little odd shops where nothing you need can be found. I want to see more of this world, but for that I have to discipline myself, be patient and remember to visit these places and not just get sucked up in the New Jersey whirlwind of easy strip-mall shopping and weekend trips to Manhattan.