Wednesday, July 12, 2017

9734. RUDIMENTS, pt. 11

Making Cars
It was always important to remain calm, 
I had to steady myself. Sometimes it was 
as if I was under assault : As difficult as
any of this was, visualize this  - The few
times I'd be back to visit Avenel, I'd usually
take some Carteret bus but stay on it until
it made a stop at what was called the 'White
Church' in Woodbridge, on Rahway Avenue.
This was 1967, Winter '68. The world was
not yet quite up to the sleek evenness of
today. The 'White' church didn't mean
racial segregation, that was just what it
was called. It had once been white, a 
clapboard, white church, and had gained
a sort-of landmark status by that. No longer
'white' it was covered over and modernized
and enlarged  -  some white bricks, crummy
siding, and a larger design look that had
ruined everything abut it  - Woodbridge
aesthetics at its finest, even then. By only 
a small stretch of the imagination this all
could have still been deep south stuff, but
it wasn't. Anyway, this must have been a
heavily patrolled street, because more than
once the second I'd step off that bus (I had
like a 2 mile walk yet ahead of me), the same
creepy cop would unfailingly come driving
over and stop. I knew the cop, I knew the
family. He was a clunkhead Marine guy who
was still mentally in that mode : he'd see me,
apparently, as a hippie apparition of unkempt
filth and long hair getting off the outsider
bus in his little fiefdom. Invariably it went:
'What are you doing here? How long are you
staying? Do your parents know where you are?
What are you carrying? (bag, book , whatever).'
It resembled any crazy southern-town jerk
movie you ever seen  - this was two years or
so before Easy Rider, the movie. It never got
that bad, thankfully, but I always stayed wary
while walking; never sure where this law-unto-
himself would maybe be lurking to pick me off.
It was just a thought, and I'd once been a 'Be
Prepared' Boy Scout, so I tried to think a
jump or two ahead. The guy was out of line,
but no where in Woodbridge would I have any
recourse, and the rest of the snotty force was
no different. All hail Avenel.
The Port Authority Bus Terminal, in NYC, from 
where I'd leave, on the bus (sometimes I took the 
train back, just to mix it up), was a cool place. The
dregs, but perfect for its day and for the level of
life I was leading. I forget, but the fare was like
eighty-five cents, and the buses, each at its own
boarding gate, were lined up at an angle. Doors 
open, so that whenever you arrived and got
ticket-ready and all that, you would just board
the bus and sit there. Until it was leaving. This 
afforded me, usually, a passing view of the others
boarding the bus, for any of the maybe 5 or 6
stops along the way. Once the bus left the NJ
Turnpike at the Carteret exit, it wove its way
through Carteret, with a few stops, and a few 
more along the way in Woodbridge to, as I 
said, my selected White Church stop. It was 
fare-beating on my part, because I only paid 
for a Carteret fare, but no one cared and these 
few extra stops were probably only worth 
10 cents more anyway. But, I used to think 
if that cop guy ever  knew I was fare-beating, 
he'd have had a good reason to lock me up, 
beat me in turn, or swat me good with his 
brave-boy nightstick and probably set bail 
at ten thousand Woodbridge-jail dollars for 
resisting arrest. So I'd sit there, watching the 
others as they boarded; the stained and 
snot-driven older men, the coy women, the 
young girl or two, always lascivious-looking 
and tender, it seemed. Or maybe I was just 
crazed myself. These were unique days, 
things were just starting to change, two 
cultures were at war for sure. Women and 
men on one side and kids of either sex 
on the other  -  making their point. Mostly 
by look, clothing, sex appeal and attitude. 
Some of these girls just dripped a hippie 
lust they only later would advertisers 
learn to sell cigarettes and perfume with, 
in ads and commercials. Funny stuff. 
Someone like me, a male, in perfect 
working order, basically appeared as 
nothing more to anyone than Vietnam 
War fodder, so no second looks from the 
eldsters (my word) except maybe the 
quizzical 'why are you here and not 'over 
there?' look. Today it's called patriotic 
gore  and all those cranks at the VFW's 
and Legions and Elks and Moose halls 
are still slopping over all that.
The thing about the bus ride (I always felt 
the train was much more invigorating, a 
much more exciting ride, with a slightly 
different class of people. But that was then; 
not now), was that it was a holding pen, a 
steel tube on rubber wheels, of, mostly, 
losers. People with John's Bargain Store 
packages, filled with the usual .29 cent 
NYCity trash (yes, yes, there was a time, 
1967, for sure, when .29 was the going 
price for lots of things. it was a very 
normal sum, probably the equivalent today 
of $5.99). These were people of the precipice, 
always close to the crumpled edge of something. 
The best of them would maybe be reading 
their copy of the Reader's Digest. Maybe. 
That was deep into the season of intellectual 
entertainment, like the All Star game is at 
mid-season, for baseball. Take no chances; 
ride the bus. Others would continue their 
imaginary conversation with their personal 
Savior or their own version of Sam Twiddle 
 -  debates and arguments, while the cookies 
or the baloney sandwich was brought out 
to be voice-splattered then all over the back 
of the seat before them. Sleepers and moaners. 
The greatest thing about it all, in Summer 
months, was that there would invariably, 
somewhere, be some sort of traffic slowdown 
or tie-up, whether on the turnpike itself or 
along an exiting or a small-town street. Back 
then much of the landscape was still wild  - 
the Jersey meadows, the wide-open fields  - 
and there were acres, always, of beautiful 
black-eyed Susan flowers spreading out 
alongside the waiting bus. I loved it, and 
often it was the greatest sight in the world.

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