Trip 23 -- Diners of New Jersey Walk
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Monday's episode of "Jeopardy!" featured the category "Their Bar or Bat Mitzvah." It was revealed that Bernie Sanders and Art Garfunkel had theirs in 1954 and that Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, had a symbolic bat mitzvah "twin" in the former Soviet Union, a young woman who wasn't able to proceed with the ritual herself because of oppression in that land.
It was one of those moments that spark an immediate and disorganized pinball game of ricocheting memories, the kind that cause me to lose track of the show and miss much of what happens next. (Up until the end. Final Jeopardy's category was "World License Plates," and that sent me back to my driver's-education class. Apart from reciting synonyms for drunkenness, watching films with such alluring titles as "Mechanized Death," and copying daily quotes that might now elicit a call from Child Protective Services -- "If you love your children, belt them" -- we learned that "license plate" is a misnomer. Cars don't have licenses; they have registrations, so it should really be "registration plate." But fewer people get that one right than properly pronounce "short-lived.")
My bar mitzvah twin was from Lithuania, where I had a memorable walk in 2002. I had to get from the Klaipeda train station to the port to catch a freight ship to Denmark. A representative in the ship's office had e-mailed me that "I think there is a possibility that you can take our ship Siauliai from Klaipeda to Copenhagen on Friday the 26" (of July). That's as close as they would get to a booking in advance.
I arrived on July 25 and headed directly to the ship's office to confirm that I still intended to travel with them. The address was Minijos gatve, number 180. Finding the street was easy, but these were Soviet-style building numbers. Number 2 was one block. Number 4 was the next. It took two hours to get anywhere close to 180; the buildings disappeared, I passed fields and a cow, and eventually I wound my way through the freight containers and found the office, only to find out that the ship was in fact leaving that day, not the next, and if I had delayed, I would have missed it. (It also wasn't going to Copenhagen but rather to Fredericia, two hours away from the capital by train, and finding no one to sell me a train ticket at the station and no machine that would accept my U.S. credit card, I did the sensible thing: I sat in the quiet car and pretended to sleep.)
One of my bar mitzvah gifts was a book called "An Incomplete Education," a fun romp across history, science, and popular culture. What interested me most was the math section. It discussed the concept of quaternion numbers, which are far more theoretical and abstract than numbers have any right to be -- think about the impossibility of the square root of negative one and then expand on that.
Quaternion numbers are so complex that, as the book says, when you start working with them, "properties you took for granted fall away....You have to give up either the role 0 plays or multiplicative commutativity (i.e., x times y no longer equals y times x). Say good night, Gracie." (That was the first time I encountered "Say good night, Gracie.")
The authors described the stretch from the simply complex numbers to the quaternions as "the feeling that, once having learned to walk, one can run. Also fly." I thought of that description recently as I decided there was time for another walk before everything gets all blustery this winter. I completed one long walk, so surely I can complete another, and all that training I did in August should have carried through till now, right?
One thing I never got around to doing on the way to Boston was eat at a diner, a concept of Americana that rings of nostalgia in my heart even though I didn't spend much time in diners growing up. The suspiciously long menus, the Art Deco style, the curious combination of patrons and servers, the limitless supply of soda -- I always enjoy a meal in a diner.
And New Jersey has more than 500 of them, a greater quantity than any other state.
I stumbled upon one author's
list of the state's 30 best. Number 30 is the Manville Diner, where I got locked in the bathroom last year and they had to break the door to get me out. Number 17 is White Mana in Jersey City, where I once wolfed down an improbably underpriced meal. Number 1 is the Summit Diner, where I've learned that they will stuff your pancakes with bacon on request.
I felt proud to have hit the top, middle, and bottom of the list, but the others looked so enticing and would still leave me about half a thousand short of experiencing them all. And so the decision became clear.
I would walk New Jersey from top to bottom, Port Jervis to Cape May, in October, sampling at least one diner each day.
My understanding of New Jersey's geography is embarrassingly off for someone who's lived in Manhattan for more than 20 years. In my head, the kidney-shaped state has a train line that runs from the Hudson River southwest to Trenton, and after that you hit Pennsylvania, and that's about it unless you veer toward the coast and want to gamble. But a look at the map revealed that New Jersey's capital is really just above the angle of the kidney; there is, in fact, more New Jersey south of Trenton than above it. And the state extends toward the equator more than I realized: A little stubble of land brings it farther south than Baltimore and almost to the same latitude as Washington, D.C.
When I plugged in Port Jervis to Cape May, Google Maps spat out a walking route that was surprisingly straight. As with my Boston route, this walk will feature rural roads, state highways, and walking trails, and I'll stay at a combination of bed-and-breakfasts, local motels, and chains.
I'm going easier on my feet this time. My walk to Boston had most days in the 23- to 25-mile range, with two around 28; this time all but three days will be under 19 miles, with the longest two around 24. This will leave more time for enjoying the diners and the fall foliage, which should be at its peak in the next couple of weeks.
The trip begins tonight, when I'll take the train to Port Jervis, New York, near the meeting point of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. After a night at an old railroad hotel, I'll start walking tomorrow.
Go on to day 1