Jersey Journals

Since I am pulling up stakes from DC, I thought I should probably start a new category for my observations in my new home– New Jersey. I’ll call it “Jersey Journals.”
I am writing this from my new apartment. Boxes are all over the place. (Cardboard recyling isn’t until Thursday.) Black Hefty bags stuffed with paper, styrofoam, etc are blocking my way. (Garbage can be taken to the curb only after six p.m. on Mondays.) These are just two early signs that things here in Jersey are different than in any of the NINE places I have lived since 1991.
One of the most striking things about Jersey City is that it is gentrifying. I wrote a bit about Atlanta’s “urban renewal” in my second novel, The Untelling. Well, I am here to tell you. You haven’t seen urban renewal until you have seen it N.E. style! My friend, Allison, calls it “The Invisible Electric Fence.”


My block is a decent one– a lot of working class folks, mostly Black and Latino. There’s a little grocery across the street. The sign on the door says apologetically, “We Are No Longer Accepting WIC.” Almost every food item contains high fructose corn syrup. You get the idea. (If you have read Leaving Atlanta, think about the store from which Rodney steals all that candy.)
When I walk two blocks to the right– it’s a whole new world over there! Organic tea shoppe! All manner of cheeses! Gorgeous brownstones! A dog park. (And did I mention no Blacks and Latinos?)
Then, there is downtown J.C. which is about three blocks away. The main drag, Newark Avenue, is populated mostly by inexpensive retail outlets. There are two 99 cent stores. (I went in one and there was a tape playing “Why Do You Refuse The Lord’s Blessing?” over and over.) But three doors down is a terrific bar and restuarant. Everything inside is white (I mean the decor.) You can get Italian Sangria on special between 5-7 on Saturdays.
This where the Invisible Electric Fence comes in. None of the folks from my block (and blocks like it) go into the fancy places although this is thier neighborhood. They walk right past without even a curious peek in. I have never seen segregation in quite such an integrated way. The people from different walks of life live in very close quarters but do not mix.
I feel like a double agent. You all know I like myself an elaborate cocktail and I am trying to eat more fresh vegetables and I hate cheap coffee. So I go through the electric fence several times each day. The proof is in my refrigerator.
Maybe it’s too self-congratulating to say I am a “double agent.” Afterall, the word agent implies that I am doing some work when I am belly up at the bar asking to see the wine list. It’s more like I have dual citizenship. Very convenient for me, I suppose. But I don’t feel so good about it.

About TayariJones

Author of SILVER SPARROW, LEAVING ATLANTA, and THE UNTELLING.
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5 Responses to Jersey Journals

  1. kpdreams says:

    I like these Jersey Journals. Congrats on your move. I love that feeling of moving to a new place and exploring how things “work” there. How the people interact etc. Thanks for sharing.
    Kizzy~

  2. Stephanie says:

    I’ve been a “lurker” on your site for quite a while, always reading, but never commenting until today. I’m a life-long resident of NJ, and a former resident of Jersey City, with deep running family roots there. That city is such a fascinating set of contrasts. The differences in and amongst people, so glaringly evident as you take a few steps in either direction. I share your sense of “dual-citizenship”, having relatives who are hard-working homeowners in neighborhoods in near-nuclear decline, as well as those who’ve spent a good chunk of their lives in public housing. Then there are my college-educated, professional friends, priced out of the City, who call downtown Jersey City home, and never venture too far from their block or the PATH station. They’re like ghosts, who inhabit a place, but don’t really live there.
    I think being a dual-citizen allows you to shine some light in the dark places. I love NJ, warts and all, and hope you come to love it too. Now, a few places and things in JC to check out.
    The Summit House – right behind Journal Square (I believe that’s Sip Avenue) – owned by a former local basketball star turned city councilman – good food, good drinks, some people watching, and a nice downstairs lounge with beautiful paintings
    Jordan’s – not the one on Newark Avenue, but the hole-in-the-wall take-out spot on Monmouth Street – the catfish is the bomb
    There’s also a great Portuguese place on Newark Avenue whose name escapes me – it’s just past the courthouse – next to, and on the same side as the Phillipine Bread House – I recommend the paella, as well as the garlic shrimp – the portions are huge, the people friendly, and the sangria can’t be beat
    For getting around, the dollar vans are a must (even though they cost $1.25 & up depending on where you’re going)
    Also, check Monteleone’s Bakery on Newark Avenue for great cakes
    Enjoy!

  3. Ladylee says:

    Wow, you’ve already moved!? Thought you were just packing and getting ready to move! Good to know you made it up there, and I can see you are settling in!

  4. KnowInC says:

    There is a similar thing going on in my neighborhood in Birmingham. We have not had the commercial development yet though plus the biz district in my hood is not as pedestrian friendly based on your description. I too consider myself a a double agent, which I call a bridgetaka.

  5. Trenee says:

    Not to get in your business or anything (my apologies in advance), but what’s the reason for the move?