Since it's Bergen Arches week in Jersey City I thought I'd bump one of my many Bergen Arches posts to the top of the queue.
The local name for the phenomenon, the Bergen Arches, is a bit well, odd. Yes, there are arches, five of them; two are bridges and three are short tunnels. You see them when you are there, but what you really see is the Erie Cut, a trench cut through Bergen Hill, which is the southern tip of the Jersey Palisades.
The Cut is 85 feet deep and almost a mile long. It was cut into solid rock in the early 20th century to bring four railroad tracks to the port at Jersey City. Jersey City - like Hoboken to its immediate North (where “On the Waterfront” was set) - is no longer a port city; those tracks have been abandoned and only one of them remains. No one goes into the Cut except graffiti writers, historic preservationists, and other assorted miscreants and adventurers.
Once you're in the Cut you're in another world. Yes, New York City is two or three miles to the east across the Hudson and Jersey City is all over the place 85 feet up. But down in the Cut, those places aren't real. The Cut is its own world, lush vegetation, crumbling masonry, rusting rails, trash strewn about here and there, mud and muck, and mosquitoes, those damn mosquitoes! Nope, it's not Machu Pichu and it's not Victoria Falls, but it's pretty damn good for being in the middle of one of the densest urban areas in the freakin' world.
Lots of people in Jersey City have heard the name, but they’re not sure what it means or where it is. And few have been down there. Beyond the previously mentioned law-breakers (yep, it’s private property and trespassing is breaking the law), I once encountered a class from Dickinson High School in my own adventuring. And, of course, there's the construction workers who streamed though while working on a Tonnelle Ave. project. They obviously were granted the legal right to be there. Official business.
I once took a graffiti writer from Brooklyn down there, Plasma Slugs. He had one word for it: Paradise. The place makes a strong impression. By all means, indulge your Indiana Jones fantasies. Discover Lost Civilizations. Savor the Elixir of Life, jump over the Canyon of Doom, talk to the Wise Ones, flirt with the Pretty Ones.
But watch your feet. The ground is not level. Someone stuck a bunch of tires in the path, so you have to step around or through them, whatever’s your pleasure. In awhile it’s going to get swampy. Now you have to THINK about where you’re stepping. Sure, in your mind you’re rescuing the Pelucid Princess, searching for the Knitting Needles of Fate, riding the Dragons of Eden over the Mountains of Bergensfjord, but do you walk straight ahead where the water’s an inch deep over an inch and a half of mud? Or do you swerve to the left, up on the tracks, where it’s not so wet, but you have to fight thorn bushes and low-riding branches? Tough decisions for the Masked Redeemer of Chilltown2.0!
Meanwhile, you might want to think about what Jersey City should do with the Arches. Run a freeway through it? The City does need ways to route cars on the way from the suburbs to the traffic queues outside the Holland Tunnel. Perhaps run a light rail line in from Secaucus. Gotta’ pack more people into the PATH to Manhattan.
It’s a wonder. Not a natural wonder. Nor a man-made wonder. I suppose it’s a collaborative wonder. Nature did something. We did something. Nature. We. Nature. We. And then the distinction gets lost. It’s just there.
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