On The Old River Road

By Bob Batch

A couple of weeks ago I was in the car with my daughter Aly and her cousin Connor driving up from Moe’s Southwest Grill to the Outback to pick up my wife Bronagh and her sister after dinner.  The kids prefer that Americanized Tex-Mex food sometimes and I like the background music which is old classic rock and blues.

When you go out to eat today you can be swayed not by the food, which is all assembled more so than prepared, but by the type of music blasting in the background.  This has become the norm now because chain restaurants, especially, have taken a lesson from department stores which have long used background music to influence your mood while you shop.

I think these food outlets have taken this whole experiment a step further by finding ways to engage a larger percentage of your brain with outside stimuli as a way to distract you from thinking about what you are actually eating.

Being a relic from the last century I can remember when you could go into eateries and not have to scream over the noise to have a conversation.  Of course, people born after a certain date don’t even have conversations anymore; they only stare at their phone and text.  They are just vaguely aware of the music playing around them in all of these shops.

While on my journey with the kids, who are not actually kids any more, but young adults, the subject came up of what it was like when I was a lad in Edgewater. This is a great fascination to my daughter; what life was like back in what seems to her to be a prehistoric time, without electronic games and Netflix.

The only thing left really, of those times before Edgewater’s new “Golden Age” is what they have labeled “Old River Road”.  It’s still Shady Side to me.  Or perhaps the “Shady Side District”.

When I was younger I used to talk to Marie Von Dohln, of Von Dohln Marina fame, about the way Edgewater was when she was a child.  She had lots of grainy black and white pictures of the big houses on North River Road, the area she called the Silk Stocking District.  So even in Edgewater there were certain classy areas as well as not so desirable ones.

I originally came from the Edgewater Colony which was not so much a district but more like a Forbidden Zone.  Still, it was in the North End, not near the Ferry which was mid town in those days.

Later in life I lived in Shady Side, during a good part of the 1980’s.  By then of course, most of the things that had given it the shady connotation were long gone.  It was, however, part of the factory district and possibly part of the toxic chemical zone.

A few years earlier I had worked for a short time on a project building the cement slabs used to construct the sewage treatment plant across the river in New York City.  (The one disguised as a park) That job was located down where the old Sea Train pier had been, now transformed into a Target store.  (Sea Train was one of the early container shippers)

Bob Batch

All that area south of Sea Train that ran all along Old River Road was where the Ford plant had once been and was still laced with train tracks left over from the days when the factories like Hills Brothers, Lever Brothers and Alcoa, were operating full tilt.

Down the road a little farther past the factory fences was North Bergen.  During my childhood there were barges out past the tall grasses along the shore next to River Road for a long stretch before you came to the Thomas Henry Cement Supply on the other side of the railroad bridge, before River Road swerved up to Sixtieth Street in Weehawken.  It was so desolate back then that parts of the road was still cobble stone.  You’d feel the rumble of the tires as you rode along in one of those old 1950 cars which were built like big steel monsters.

It is hard to imagine that old River road, a two lane winding thoroughfare handled all the traffic it did even back when there were fewer cars.  There was a lot of truck traffic and that route was a quick run from Fort Lee to sixtieth street or vice versa, because there were only two traffic lights back then, at the Ferry and the Alcoa Plant.

Today you can’t really drive the Old River Road section that was by- passed for the new highway, the way you could at one time, because they cut it in half where Gorge road hooks up near what is the new center of town, even though it is not in the center.

When our kids get older and reminisce about the place they grew up they will look back fondly remembering the places around town that are no more.  They’ll think of Starbucks, Target, T J Maxx, The Outback and all the rest, and their friends from any other town in the country now, will remember the very same thing.

There won’t be any ‘Mike’s Candy Store’ or Rock’s Grocery Store’ or anything with a unique character to remember.

Still, there are some little shops and eateries along the Old River road, and there is parking so you don’t have to park half up on the side walk like we did back in the days when I lived there.

That little town that once was an adjunct to the factories that dominated the water front has come a long way after the road changed course and opened up the flow of commerce.  The road can be a metaphor for change and achievement, and in a practical way roads are the key element in the transformation of the world around us. But it’s just a slight detour from the highway of dreams to the road to ruin; you’ve got to check the signs to tell the difference.

Related posts:

  1. SPECIAL JULY 4th ADVISORY: River Road closed after 3pm
  2. Public Service Crew ties up River Road and Rt. 5
  3. New mixed use buildings on Old River Road progresses
  4. One Driver Dead, the Other injured in River Road Crash

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