19 June 2012

This Bridge Is Out

You don't cross it for the scenery:  There are a power plant, trailer park and a container port on one side, and petroleum refineries and a rather rundown section of a gritty city on the other side.  

I used to cross it, though, every month or so.  When my parents were still living in New Jersey, I used to ride over the bridge's pedestrian lane--a ribbon of concrete just wide enough for a bicycle with dropped handlebars, seperated by a rusting iron wall about as high as the top of the average  cyclist's pedal stroke--to an intersection of a couple of highways, where I had to dodge trucks and ten-year-old Buicks driven by people who hated their jobs and put-upon housewives.

Such was the charm of crossing the Goethals Bridge.  Even if you've never been anywhere near it, you've probably seen it:  It's the bridge in the opening credits of The Sopranos. The bridge connects the only two places in the universe where the Sopranos could have lived:  Staten Island and New Jersey.  To be precise, the hulking span--which, even on a clear day, simmers in angry haze of smoke from rusting but still-functioning factories and refineries--links the most stereotypically unappealing parts of New York City's "forgotten borough" and a city that, until recently, basked in the glow of its neighbor:  Residents, in defending their hometown, would say, "Well, at least we're not Newark!"

But the bridge--named for the engineer who supervised the construction of the Panama Canal--was a link to greener pastures, to use a cliche.  Riding south from Elizabeth on Route 27, the industrial landscape would turn into a more-or-less suburban vista that included a rather nice park along the Rahway (as in the state prison) River.

I hadn't intended to ride that far into New Jersey. But I have been contemplating a ride to some of my old stomping grounds along the shore.  So, I decided to take a ride to the bridge, and to go across it.  However, a wrench was thrown into my plans.

Or, more precisely, a fence was erected between me and them.   Behind it, you can see the entrance to the path--when it was there.  Apparently, it's been removed or blocked off.  For all I know, it may have collapsed:  The Goethals is one of those bridges that always seemed in need of repair.  I'd bet that the soot those refineries and factories belch has something to do with it.

Anyway, when I turned around, I saw a Port Authority cop making his rounds.  In response to my question, he said there's no path for pedestrians or bicycles.  "Never has been," he added.

"Really?  I used to cross over it."

"But there never has been a path."

"There used to be something, on the side. It wasn't much, but I used to cross it.  So did other people."

"Well, there never was a path," he said.

Half-joking, I said, "Oh well, I guess I broke the law twenty years ago."

"Maybe you did," he said, suppressing a grin.

He then advised me of how I could go to New Jersey:  across the Bayonne Bridge, over which I have ridden a number of times.  He even gave me directions on how to get there.  The only problem is that Bayonne, while it has its charms (It was, after all, the home of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons!) , is really in the middle of nowhere.  More precisely, it's on a peninsula, and the only way off is through the bridge and a couple of highways.  At least, those are the only ways I know to go to points south in New Jersey.

So, I followed the Port Authority cop's directions past the container port, more decaying industrial buildings and marshland (in Tony Soprano country!) to Richmond Terrace, which snakes under the Bayonne Bridge and the north shore of Staten Island to the eponymous ferry:  the only way on or off the island.

On my way back to Manhattan, I thought about the ride in, when I met and exchanged e-mail addresses with a young(er) man.  More about him, possibly, later.

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