I wanna say that this incident happened in 1993. Had there been a complete gig listing of Jawbreaker’s live shows online somewhere, I would know the exact date, but for all intents and purposes here, I’m gonna have to go with a guess-timate.
The one reason I’m guessing it was 1993 is due to the fact that I remember what car I was driving, as it plays an integral part to the story. It was a 1980 Datsun Sentra, a four-door beater with a tan paint job that myself and my father bought from a guy named Scamp who lived on Rt. 35 in Middletown, NJ. Why I can remember the name of the man I bought my first car from, but not the exact year this story happened is beyond me. That’s just how my brain works.
So it’s sometime in 1993. Myself, my brother Kevin, and two of our friends, Rich Cunningham and Steve Klein, decide we should go see Jawbreaker play at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ that night. At the time, we lived in Matawan, exit 120 on the NJ Parkway, about an hour and change away from Maxwell’s. Before the birth of mobile phones, Mapquest or Internet listings for live music, I had somehow found out about the show, figured out directions on a map, called my friends using a land line and made plans for the night. Not such a noble accomplishment in that day and age, but looking back now, it was a heck of a lot tougher to find out about anything, figure out where anything was or get in touch with your friends in the event that they weren’t home. (On a side note, I just thought about this: Since everyone has their own phone now, there’s never really a need to ask to speak to someone if you call them now. It used to be, you’d call someone’s house, their mom would answer, you’d say, “Is Frank home?” and then they’d go get them. So I’m thinking that that once common question in the English language is quickly dying due to the ubiquitous ownership of mobile phones. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.)
We’re in my car. It’s 1993 and we’re traveling north on the New Jersey Turnpike. I’m 19, my brother and Rich are 17, Steve is 16. We make it to the Turnpike exit for the Holland Tunnel, then begin exiting to the left so we can make our way down Washington Street in Hoboken. It’s when I’m on the exit ramp to Hoboken that my Oil light starts flashing. I pull into a municipal works parking lot on the side of the road, get out of the car, look under the engine and discover the once full engine of oil slowly emptying out all over the parking lot. It’s about 8 PM, we’re on the side of the road and my car just lost the plug to the oil pan. Luckily, I had turned off the car, so the engine didn’t seize, but the car was now un-driveable. So we make a decision. Hoboken has a train station, we can park the car here overnight, get to the train station and get home, then come back tomorrow and fix the car.
We’re about two miles away, and we start walking. None of us had ever bothered to figure out the NJ Transit train system, so we’re hoping that someone can point us to the train which travels back to Matawan once we get there. For two miles, we trudge over the then sidewalk-less shoulder lane of Observer Highway, ultimately arriving to a bustling train depot in the middle of a heavily populated commuter town. It’s just a train station, but for four kids that spent most of their time simply driving around their little corner of the world on summer nights, it was a different world. Somehow, we discover that there are no direct trains to Matawan. We would instead have to travel via Path Train to New York City, get to Penn Station and take another NJ Transit train home to Matawan.
Along the way, we met a middle-aged man that helped guide us to Penn Station. We didn’t know him one bit, but our ignorance forced us to trust his directions. He did get us to Penn Station, but not without asking for $5. We gave him what we could and made our way downstairs to the train station.
Once aboard the Jersey Coast line of NJ Transit, the four of us wasted our trip home singing the theme from ‘Growing Pains’ and other assorted TV shows from our youth. Upon reaching the Matawan train station, we said our goodbyes to Steve and Rich, and began our six-mile walk home. I don’t know what we talked about or anything. I remember thinking that the night had evolved mush differently than I had expected, but I wasn’t the least bit upset about it.
Upon passing Matawan Regional High School, we walked past a car. The window rolled down to reveal a kid named ‘Cowboy Paul.’ He was in the band and practice had run pretty late that night. (He also wore cowboy boots and a trench coat in case you were wondering about the nickname.) He only wanted to wave and say hello, but I quickly explained the story and asked for a ride home. He obliged, and in ten minutes, we were back at our house. My car didn’t make it, but we had without any help aside from Cowboy Paul’s quick ride and a nameless man with knowledge of trains from Manhattan.
The next morning, my brother and I borrowed my dad’s van. We stopped off at an auto parts store in Matawan, bought an oil plug for an ’80 Datsun, four quarts of oil and a 14mm open-faced wrench. Then again, we headed north on the New Jersey Turnpike. When we got to Hoboken, my car still sat silently in the municipal works parking lot, oblivious to the cars, trucks and other assorted vehicles that were coming in and out of the place. I got underneath the car, bolted the new plug into the oil pan, filled the car up with oil and started the car. It ran fine. In ten minutes, we were back on the Turnpike, headed south to Matawan, me in the Datsun, my brother Kevin behind me in my dad’s van.
I never really wondered if we missed out on Jawbreaker that fateful night. Instead of seeing a band we liked, we experienced a world we hadn’t come to know yet. And more importantly, we didn’t have to call our dad to come pick us up in Hoboken. He definitely would’ve come gotten us in a second had we asked him to, but there were greater forces at play here. We weren’t kids anymore. We were finally figuring out how to depend on ourselves, taking life as it comes and adapting to the circumstances. Looking back now, I can see it’s just responsibility taking a few of its first adult steps. But when you’re young and clueless to the workings of the world outside of your suburb, it’s a tiny victory in the former world of calling your parents when things go wrong. One I’m still very proud of.