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Trip 23 -- Diners of New Jersey Walk

Day 6: Bridgewater to Princeton (Manville Diner)
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Today: 56945 steps/43.55 km/27.06 mi/9h 6m
Total: 229666 steps/181.52 km/112.79 mi/37h 29m

I never figure out the lights at the Hyatt House Bridgewater. Most of the wall switches don't work, but most of the lamps' switches do. There's a light on above the stove as I go to bed, however. I have no idea whether I've turned it on, but it doesn't seem to have a switch, so I leave it illuminated and close the bedroom door.

This morning it comes close to drizzling but never does. I escape through the side again, then walk down Country Club Road and its extension as First Avenue to the 1886-built Nevius Street pedestrian bridge, "a 300-foot-long, two-span, double-intersection Pratt through-truss bridge," according to the marker. It leads to a bike path that takes me to the north entrance of Duke Farms, but the gate is closed. I ring the bell.

"I was wondering if it's possible to come in through the Arboretum Gate," I say.

"Yeah, sure," he responds. I expect him to unlock the gate remotely, but I hear nothing. I press on the door.

It turns out that a closed gate isn't necessarily a locked gate.

I've been near Duke Farms many times, playing music workshops in a nearby studio in Somerville (which involved that singer who found me yesterday), but I've never gotten around to walking the compound. James Buchanan Duke (a son of Washington Duke of the tobacco legacy) purchased these 2,000-plus acres, including a mansion, and created the complex of gardens, forest, and landscaped wetlands. His daughter, Doris Duke, maintained the property and developed it for flora, fauna, and research, and after her death in 1993 it was opened to the public in 2012.

There are zillions of paved roads and walking trails, and I have time to sample just a few of them. The original house is gone, and of J.B.'s plans for a replacement only the foundations exist; it was never realized. The stone Hay Barn, once the central point of farming, was destroyed by a fire in 1915; only the facades remain, and Doris turned the area into a sculpture garden. The grassy paths are wet from morning dew or overnight rain, and my shoes and socks become sogged. I enjoy the little bridges, though, as well as the clock tower (which startles me when the bell announces 10:00) and the magnolias, oaks, and countless other trees.

The road just outside the grounds is busy with trucks, but I'm soon on Brooks Boulevard, which has a good sidewalk. The modern gold onion domes of the the St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church (bingo Wednesday and Saturday afternoons) loom up out of nowhere. Next door is the equally surprising St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church, with its silver onion domes, and next to that is the Manville-Hillsborough Elks lodge (bingo Thursday evenings). Near the east end of Brooks is the Christ the Redeemer Roman Catholic Parish. They don't advertise bingo, but their annual raffle paid a first-place prize of $3,850 and 24 lesser cash prizes this month.

I turn onto Main Street and arrive at the Manville Diner. This is the place where I got stuck in the restroom last year. I use it, but I keep the door unlocked.

It's a 1-6-0 menu (just a tiny list of desserts on the last page, and there's a separate breakfast menu) and I see they also have a section of "Fat-wiches," much as yesterday's diner had "Fat Cats." An artcle on the Best of NJ Web site tells me that the Fat Cat or fat sandwich originated at Rutgers, or possibly a nearby restaurant, in the 1970s. It's essentially all the stuff you want on a sandwich, plus all the appetizers and sides you would have had on separate plates, crammed together on a hoagie roll.

This is my chance. I order a cheesesteak fatwich and it comes with three toppings of my choice; I choose mozzarella sticks, bacon, and mushrooms (the other options are French fries, lettuce and tomato, and egg). I also add fried onions. I still can't believe I'm putting mozzarella sticks on a sandwich, but New Jersey seems to be the place to do it.

My server wears a "Trump 2020" mask that spends a good bit of time dangling from her ear. She brings me Coke in a glass that has remnants of lipstick on it; I don't notice the pink until the first refill. At least I have a straw. She watches my sandwich being made and is mildly excited about it. It comes with soup and I go for chicken-noodle.

While I work my way through the meal, I have time to listen to the customer behind me say that "This will not be the United States anymore" and "We're screwed in every which way" if Biden wins the election. About his plan to repeal Trump's tax cuts, "They say it won't affect anybody but it will....I'm holding my breath." My server goes over for support.

The sandwich has wonderful textures but is a little dry; maybe I should have added a side of gravy for $2. The cheese slices are American (I expected Cheez Whiz or something similar with cheesesteak) and the onions perhaps could have been cooked longer, but the sandwich is well-balanced and somehow I taste everything.

I remember the way you'd get a sandwich:
Just a one-hand-wich,
Ten lousy bites.
Barely tickled your salivary gland, which
Would leave you hungry
For several nights.

Add some cole slaw, a sliver of a pickle;
A bit more filling, a smidge less dire.
Then some genius said, "I know what my shtick'll
Be: I shall pile the sandwich higher,

Cheesy meat,
Cheesy meat.
Stack the slices tall, yeah, yeah, yeah.
I repeat:
Cheesy meat.
Like you build a wall."

Cheesy meat,
Cheesy meat.
East, west, north, and south, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Can't compete
With cheesy meat.
Won't fit in your mouth.

Then the fad spread from modest spots to plush rooms.
Triple the toppings, double the size.
Not just onions, tomatoes, and grilled mushrooms;
They added cheese sticks and loaded fries.

And this grand culmination was the fatwich,
Which weighed a kilo and spanned a foot.
Maybe Churchill said, "This is nonsense that which,
And up with at which I shall not put."

Cheesy meat,
Cheesy meat.
Bigger than a trough,
Don'tcha scoff, don'tcha scoff, don'tcha scoff. Ha!
Cheesy meat,
Cheesy meat.
I'd better walk it off!

"That's a nice-looking card," my server remarks when I present my Citi Prestige card, which is black with a white, circular lacy pattern. She brings me the receipt along with a pen attached to a plastic skeleton.

"No one's going to walk off with that," I say.

"Not with it bobbing around!"

I continue down Main and head over to one of the access points of the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park. The inland canal between New York and Philadelphia, built in the 1830s largely by Irish-born workers who had finished the Erie Canal, served its original purpose for 98 years until 1932, although it hadn't turned a profit for 40 years. It then became a water supply (it still is), and the towpath, once used by mules to pull the boats along, has been converted into a pedestrian way. It's also part of the East Coast Greenway, a project that will eventually connect Maine and Florida.

I follow the canal for 16 miles, more than a third of its 44-mile main section. There are no hills, but occasionally there's a spillway, a slight lowering of the path to allow excess water to run off. There are also locks, no longer in use, and the remains of the old Griggstown grist mill and associated lodging.

Apart from that, features are few and access points seldom; it's simply a lovely place to walk, especially with the leaves changing colors. The clouds are melancholy, and the canal water is stagnant. Some people kayak. Others bike or bring their dogs. A great blue heron has walked onto the path, and another walker and I admire it from opposite sides. Toward Princeton the path is a narrow strip between the canal and the Millstone River, and many people are enjoying the late-afternoon flicker of light between the trees.

Just before I exit the trail I pass under a railway bridge, and the two-car Dinky crosses. It's the shortest commuter line in the country, less than three miles, connecting Princeton with Princeton Junction on the main Northeast Corridor Line from Trenton to New York.

I approach the Hyatt Place in Princeton from a back road; those 25 minutes feel like some of the longest I've ever walked. I've been going for six hours without stopping for more than a couple of minutes at a time; only once did I sit down briefly on one of the benches overlooking a spillway. My assigned room, of course, is as far from the elevators as one can get.

Dinner is in the MarketFair mall, at Seasons 52. It's a chain I hadn't heard of, but it's a good one: a wine bar in comfortable surroundings so dark I'm skeptical they're open until I try the door. After my health-defying lunch, I can't wait for the salad of warm yellow beets with goat cheese, pistachios, and arugula, and then being around water has inspired me to have the grilled rainbow trout. The dill-mustard sauce is a little too creamy; it goes best with the marble potatoes, and the fish stands up on its own.

I wend my way back through the mall and into the side entrance of the Hyatt, where I realize it's shorter to walk up three flights than go all the way to the elevator and back down the corridor. With the dinner excursion, it's been a 58,333-step day, and I'm excited to walk just over half that tomorrow.

Go on to day 7