Sunday, March 29, 2015

The end of the world as we know it

March 29, 2015

It's not the end of the world, but there is a change in the air, and I'm not completely sure of what it means. A fire broke out in the east village yesterday, wiping out three buildings, more history vanishing before our eyes.
Certain eras breed this kind of change, where we see the face of the world we knew converted into something new, and many times, alien.
I spent well over two decades in Secaucus, first as a fotomac, and later as baker and finally as a journalist. But even prior to that, I passed through that town on my way to and from Manhattan. For the most part, the place remained unchanged except for moderate modifications. While the acme vanished from the center of town, the mark in its parking lot where the fotomat booth stood remains, as does the library building where I had to go to use the toilet when working there.
But even during that incarnation, I saw them raze the donut place and replace it will a string of stores.

The state, of course, made significant changes when they altered the path of Route 3, and so steered a course that avoided the center of town -- as was the case when I went to new york city in the late 1960s.
And the mayor at that time, bargained to rebuild this one time home of pig farms into an outlet and shopping mall mecca, but keeping these things on the perimeter of the town so that deceptively, this world never seemed to change.
Fundamentally it did. Tens of thousands of people came and went daily to and from the buildings that were not old Secaucus, while old Secaucus went on living with the illusion of sameness. They even installed a gate to block the only direct road from warehouse/outlet section to the residential section so as to maintain the fiction.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, I often drove down the western spur of the New Jersey Turnpike to see my family in Toms River, and so from a distance I saw the changes that could not be seen so easily close up, the rise of towers along the western border, the loss of icons like the drive in movie theater and the demolition of the Peter Pan Motel. I saw the last farm vanish as the city fathers grew ashamed of their past and sought to remodel their town as a bedroom community for New York – hating the distinction of two world wars when it supplied food to the troops world wide.
But eventually, the heart of the town would get affected, and for me, the loss of the Plaza Diner became symbolic of the lost heart of the Secaucus I knew. When the Acme closed, I knew Secaucus had changed so fundamentally, it wasn’t same place I had come to admire, despite all the political rhetoric about taking it back. Some things can’t be restored.
Recently I noticed that the old Ideal Bar had changed hands again – the one time last testament to the string of nightclubs and taverns that had once populated the town. The town closed down many of them over the years, but this one held on – finally, like a number of other even newer institutions, making its way into a history book of people’s memories.
I guess this is the way it is for every place.

And why people flee their homes sometimes to avoid seeing their world change.
Remarkably, little has actually changed where I grew up, although my family fled the old house fearing the worst.

A sad testament to our lives, when we do not know which is right, to stay or go, to embrace change or to resist it.

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