Since my arrival in Jersey City, I have known two absolutes.
1) Never eat anything from the chicken place on the corner of Coles and Newark, on the advice of an exterminator friend.
2) At all costs, avoid driving or riding your bike on the pothole-marked “road” that was once Christopher Columbus Drive, leading in an East-West direction from the Turnpike to the Hudson River.
The chicken place, I’ve never entered, but Christopher Columbus, I’ve been forced to cross over in both a car and on my bike from time to time. The road in question, as far back as I can remember, has always been in a terrible state. And I assumed it remained as such because fixing a road costs a lot of money. But I also thought that perhaps the local government saw an added benefit to the barely traversable road: Because Christopher Columbus is in such a dire state, it’s virtually impossible to speed on without doing serious damage to one’s car. Maybe it was too expensive to fix, but maybe by not fixing it, the road became safer for all those that attempted to use it, because cars were forced to drive slow.
Whatever the case might’ve been, something happened that would challenge my short list of absolutes in this city: road construction on Christopher Columbus in April and May. Within the span of a month, my list of Jersey City absolutes had dropped by half, and I relished in the freshly poured pavement that was free of debris and glass, able to whisk me home in just a few minutes from the train station down the block. It was smooth, it was fast, and as someone that’s ridden bikes exclusively on pavement for a long period in their lives, it was a welcome change from the bumps, potholes, loose gravel and broken glass that had formerly characterized the road.
By mid-May, the construction finished up, and people were once again free to use the road at their disposal, which happened quickly and in a literal fashion. A few weeks later, Christopher Columbus went from a pristinely paved road to a trash bin of glass and debris and speeding cars that beeped daily at my presence on the side of the road. I started getting flat tires, the cars continued to become more aggressive, and I found myself returning to my original absolute.
I even took the time to write a haiku about Christopher Columbus Drive’s trash and traffic filled return to a road I avoided. It went like this:
You became smooth road
On a Monday or Tuesday
And lasted a month
I can’t say why I chose Japanese poetry to characterize a road’s journey from aversion to usefulness and back to aversion. I just did. And it led me to wonder about the original road before construction. Christopher Columbus Drive was broken, and battered, and everything that a road in a heavily traversed downtown of a city should not be. But because I knew it was broken, I opted out of using it as much as possible, as did many other people.
And now I’m forced to think that maybe existing in a somewhat broken state isn’t all that bad to begin with, while writing bad haikus about the whole deal and trying my damnedest to avoid any use of irony that involves the name Christopher Columbus, and the invasion of new cars and a trash on a once empty road.
Newark Avenue, I have returned.