I kid New Jersey. We all kid New Jersey. After all, it’s hard not to kid New Jersey when they present you with things like this:
(Those of you not from New Jersey, this is the Cannonball Loop from Action Park, a ride so unsafe they shut it down after a month. Reportedly they sent dummies down it to test it, and after one came down with all its limbs intact, it was declared safe.)
But say what you will about New Jersey, they do pull a Springsteen out of their hat every once in a while.
Laura’s sister Hannah contacted us a few weeks ago from Japan. She read up somewhere about a Japanese market called Mitsuwa which had all the comforts of home, provided your home is in Japan. There were several in California, one in Hawaii, one in Texas, and one—you guessed right—in Edgewater, New Jersey, directly across the Hudson from Manhattan. She asked if we were willing to check it out and we said Oh, gee, if we have to.
Since our Tokyo trip, there were many delicacies we were craving. We made a list. I made another list, or at least, I already had a list. This part of New Jersey was uncharted waters for me, and there were many, many signs I wished to capture.
I talked Laura in to going to Clam Broth House in Hoboken before we went to Mitsuwa, owing to the fact that a) it was technically on the way, and b) this is one sign I have been after for years. Clam Broth House closed a while back, but they kept their wonderful hand-pointing sign on top of a neighboring building.
This was what I was after. Everything else was gravy under the bridge. Or whatever.
(Again, non-New Jersey-type folk, you may have a predisposed notion of what a place named Hoboken may be like. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Hoboken is one of the nicest places to go in New Jersey: historic and well-worth a visit.)
On to Mitsuwa, which didn’t disappoint, either. They have everything you’d see in Japan, from ingredients to onigiri (rice balls) to rice crackers to sake to…well, my favorite…
All this, and a food court complete with a ramen shop, a sushi shop and a bakery. We could have stayed all day, but there were things to see, places to go.
I wanted to get a few authentic Jersey diners under my belt, because honestly, other than Olga’s in Marlton, which was closed, and the Tick Tock in Clifton, I had missed out on some of these beauties. First stop was the Arlington Diner, in the shadow of a drawbridge on the Passaic River. Their sign had some work done to it lately, but it was still majestic with its twin signs, one parallel with the road and one along the front.
The plan was to go along River Road to the Lyndhurst Diner, but I wasn’t expecting a stop in between. Along the way, there was this old Auto Parts store, long abandoned, with gorgeous old neon along the top.
I’m guessing the word “Auto” was in the space between “Riverside” and “Supply”.
As I got out and started snapping away like mad, a guy in a pickup truck stopped at a stop light called out to me. “Hey, you gonna buy this place?”
I don’t know what makes people assume that. I’ve been asked this several, several times in at least four states. “No, sir,” I said, “but I’d buy the sign.”
He laughed. “I can’t help you there,” he said, and drove off.
Once I had my fill, it was off to the Lyndhurst. I had forgotten that this is one of the few signs I’ve seen that has neon on the side of the sign, as well as on each face. The sun had gone away, but that was still cool, because the black-and-white sign looked like it was in a black-and-white picture, despite the fact that it was in color.
“So how far away is IKEA?” Laura asked me when I got back in the car. There was one in Paramus we had been to before.
I checked my phone. “Only eight miles.”
Off we went to Sweden-by-the-Passaic. We took NJ 21 up through Clifton, when a thought occurred.
(Those of you who are from New Jersey know what’s in Clifton, but for the benefit of you poor, Jersey-starved individuals, it is the home of Rutt’s Hut, commonly referred to in my house as The Happy World of Hot Dogs. Those of you familiar with the comedy of the late John Pinette know that I must have heard the voice of the angels singing…ah-ah-AHHHHHH)
So after lunch, we got back on the road to IKEA. Honestly, I thought I was done for the day, but as we passed by a 70s plastic sign for Parkway Lanes, I suddenly had a spark of memory: back in behind that thicket of trees by the overpass was a neon bowling beauty, an animation of three pins being hit with a bowling ball. Broad daylight, I thought, but who cares? It may not even be there.
We soldiered on to IKEA and picked up a few things. Eating there was not in our future, seeing as we had eaten enough for three lifetimes already, although Swedish meatballs, onigiri and deep-fried hot dogs are a trifecta like no other.
On our way out, we retraced our steps to Parkway Lanes. Easier said than done, because the exit only went west on US 46 and we needed to go east, but we managed to find a place to turn around and head in the right direction prior to reaching the Pennsylvania border, so that was a positive. In the rush to find this sign, I had forgotten to tell Laura what the main sign looked like, so the whole time she thought I was after the yellowing old plastic monster we had seen from the highway.
OH, she said, once we pulled in to the parking lot.
As I looked closer, I noticed there was some broken neon in some of the pins, so the animation looks like it’s a thing of the past.
I admired the bowling pin out front. It looked to me like some large bird might hatch out of it!
We headed back on US 46, because, as I’ve learned from experience, the best old signs are on the old U.S. highways. Sure enough, a few miles down the road, we spot a motel:
Normally with motels, I will ask first before shooting, but there was nobody parked out front, and I made the assumption that this place was no longer in operation. It wasn’t until I took this shot of breezeway bricks that I suddenly noticed something:
Um…those bushes didn’t grow that way naturally. As I hopped in the car and started off, we passed the office, and sure enough, there was somebody in there. So, please forgive me, good folks at the Pine Brook Motor Lodge. Next time I’ll check in at the desk.
And then, one last one for the road, the Parsippany Shopping Plaza. Laura saw this one in person and thought it was interesting, but later she commented that the pictures came out better than most of the others. It has two major things in its favor: a) it’s higher up, and b) it’s in a relatively quiet area. What this means is, it’s very easy to isolate the sign against the sky, like so:
A perfect end to a perfect day. Thanks again, New Jersey. You don’t disappoint.