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It's Nelly's World

Driving through New Jersey on a Bus

alec vanderboom

In New Jersey, on Route 17, a place called Romantic Depot--the most unromantic, scary place you can imagine. Like death. Also, "depot" is maybe not the right image to call up in promoting warm, loving thoughts.

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The Meadowlands: cattails, and cranes. Building cranes. Every inch of land not designated swamp is growing huge machines, poised and silent on this day, a brief pause in the rising of great stadia and electronics company headquarters.

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Gas is 3.07. Cheap enough to forget what has happened, what you must face.

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Then it comes to you: New Jersey is all about forgetting.

Who you were. Who we are.

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And finally, around a triple curve of traffic, a spiral bridge drawing us down, around, down: the majestic city, glittering on its flat pad laid on the water that is gold in the sunset. Impossible, unreal. Distant, yet where we are going. We will get there. And when we do, it will not look like anything we are seeing now.

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At the corner of Essex and Delancey, in a part of the still irrepressible city, a liquor store with Chinese characters. And then the English explanation: "As old as hills." You believe it.

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And leaving, once more, it is late at night. But New Jersey defies it, glowing under pulsing yellow-orange light. And then, the bus slows. Three lanes of double red brake lights extend all the way to the vanishing point ahead. You creep. Ambulance lights circle. Finally, suddenly, you are upon it: a window seat onto a frozen moment, breathtaking, the sight of an empty red car, flipped onto its roof, a river of lost fluids darkening the pavement. Silent and strange. Then you are past, going faster, and you think: This is what New Jersey is. Something stupid and crazy, frightening and deep, all at once.