The Dividing Cliff

This town I call home is quite a place. West New York, New Jersey. Look it up on a map if you think I’m lying about the name. Essentially, it is directly West of Manhattan, sitting atop the Palisades Cliffs, overlooking the Hudson River.

This past week, it’s been raining. And I can’t sit still. So I’ve been running more than usual. Through West New York, down the cliff to Weehawken, NJ (which is directly on the Hudson River), along the water and back up a somewhat mellow but cumbersome hill into West New York once again.

It’s here that I notice the divisions in income. Weehawken is upper upper class. On the water, it’s strictly luxury condos, interrupted by serene sculptures, a P.F. Changs, wine shops, a gourmet grocery store, Starbucks Coffee, even a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream store. And oh yeah, lots of banks. Every branch you can imagine. Plus security guards every 50 to 100 feet. It’s really great for running at night.

Back up the hill, it’s not as, how you say, upper class. It’s still nice, it’s just that I wouldn’t know where in the world to get Ben and Jerry’s ice cream on a cone and a $50 bottle of wine in one trip unless I went back down the hill to Weehawken. It’s made up of taxi stands, bodegas, late night liquor stores and generation old pizza shops. Add lots of immigrants to that mixture, a combination of 3-4 different languages being spoken on any street at any given time, you get the picture. It’s a great mix of people, even if the mean income is far below that of its Weehawkian residents to the East.

The dividing line between the two, a cliff. Normally, gentrification isn’t as dramatically defined. More often, I’ve encountered gentrifying borders as streets. To one side were students, to the other was lower income families. At least that’s how it’s been defined in the myriad of places I’ve lived over the years. But never has the gentrifying line been as staunch a division as a cliff. And normally, I’d assume the positions to be in reverse. The rich go to the top of the cliff, while the poor stay at the bottom. Not so in West New York though.

We have the better view of Manhattan and an easy walk down the stairs, if needed, to spend too much money to eat at P.F. Chang’s. Getting back up the cliff isn’t as easy, but if you get what you pay for, then West New York’s general life experience is a far better investment than a picturesque but typical take on upper class society down below us and to the East…

I.E., I like it up here better.

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