The fall colors in a hardwood forest take me back decades. While we were primarily in New Jersey to enjoy being with family I took some time to explore places of memory.
We started our drive on Paramus Road going to the cemetery where my parents, grandparents and Aunt Janice, who died with COVID in 2020 are buried. She passed without a proper wake. We did what we could online but I needed closure visiting Aunt Janice’s grave. I’ve visited this cemetery since my grandmother passed when I was 10. I normally don’t like visiting cemeteries because I would prefer to remember vital, living people. However, I always get a chuckle when I visit my parents because pop said he wanted to be in a mausoleum is so that, in the end, I would have to look up at him and not down on him through eternity. (I stood a full foot taller than pop.)
This time of year, there is the bonus of hardwoods turning yellow, red, and most satisfyingly, orange, both in the cemetery and along the road to it.
Next, we went to Crest Road in Ridgewood, the town where I grew up. The road is also called “New York Lookout” because it has a stunning view of the skyline. This time of year, it’s enhanced by the hardwoods turning their warm shades. It’s where every teen took his date to “park” as soon as he got a license. It is where teens explored their emotions and each other, a rite of passage. In other places kids went “submarine race watching” here we looked at the skyline. When Suzi and I got there we found “no parking” signs along some of the road and, in a fit of pure meanness, I think, “No Parking from 8 PM to 6 AM” with the icon of a tow truck pulling away a car. Killjoys! Imagine being locked in an embrace and feeling the front end of your car starting to rise. “No Parking!” What’s the point? I suppose now the kids do it online.
We visited Crest Road twice this trip. The first time the skyline loomed through a slight mist, but the color was not at peak. A few days later the color was at peak, but the skyline was almost completely obscured. Suzi pointed out that Ridgewood. Nestled below the hill, looked like a New England village plunked down among colored gumdrops.
The New York Skyline is not the one I remember. When I was a teenager, when the World Trade Center twin towers were just some sketches on Minoru Yamasaki’s drafting table, before the “no parking” signs, the skyline had the three art deco triumphs, the Empire State Building, The RCA Building (now 30 Rock) and the glory of New York, the Chrysler building (now not visible from the Jersey side, obscured by the taller 1 Vanderbilt). We could also see Cass Gilbert’s earlier classic skyscraper, the Woolworth building downtown, and two new and controversial buildings, Mies Van der Rohe’s Seagram building, which gave us a taste of the Chicago waterfront on Park Avenue and Eero Saarinen’s “Black Rock” finished in 1964, often called the “simplest skyscraper in New York” for its clean design. It was Sarrinen’s only skyscraper. Rounding out the buildings was the PanAm Building, (Now MetLife) built in the New International Style with Walter Gropius on the design team. If you looked carefully, you could see my girlfriend’s favorite building standing near Black Rock, the Tishman Building at 666 5th Avenue. It had a giant lit sign on the top reading “666” and a restaurant called “The Top of the Sixes.” I took Wendy there once, it was surprisingly affordable, a good view alternative to 30 Rock’s Rainbow Room. The building was aluminum clad and shone in the sunset, nicknamed “the tower of light” when it wasn’t called “The Devil Building.” The Kushner organization (Yes, those Kushner’s) bought it with the idea of tearing it down and putting up an even bigger, taller building. They had financing difficulties so settled for rebranding it, changing the address to 660 Fifth avenue.
While the Kushners failed in building their new tower (the “devil building” prevailed), the skyline now has 6 buildings taller than the Empire State Building, which was the tallest building in New York when I was parking on Crest Drive. There are 17 buildings taller than 1,000 feet in New York and many more on the boards.
After Crest Road I wanted to get a little higher up into the Ramapo Mountains and a little further from the coast where I thought leaves would be at their peak. I explored this country when I first got my license, route 208 to Oakland NJ, then Slyline Drive to Ringwood, the arsenal of the Am erican Revolution, with its iron foundries. Skyline Drive roughly follows part of the Cannonball Trail that led from the industrial center of Paterson, through Ringwood to West Point. My scout camp was on Cannonball Lake along the trail. From Ringwood we drove to Greenwood Lake, 8 miles long, straddling the New York, New Jersey line.
Greenwood lake is part of my story. Mom’s first car was a black 1938 Chevy with running boards, chrome searchlight, white side walled tires and a radio antenna (no radio), with a fox tail. When mom got her 1952 Dodge convertible muscle car with white side walls, (Mom liked hot cars and was given the nickname “Hot Rod Margie” by one of the DMV car inspectors) she sold the Chevy to our teenaged neighbor Larry, who lived across the street, he took it to Greenwood Lake for some ice sliding and the car broke through the ice. Larry was ok but mom’s beloved car was at the bottom. As I looked out at the lake I wondered if it was still there, and, if so, what was left of it.
When I became a teenager New York had an 18 year old drinking age. It also had an 18 year old driving age. Seventeen year olds could not drive in NY on a Jersey license but we could drive a boat on Greenwood Lake. Zip’s Village Inn was at the north end of the lake and didn’t much check IDs of teens who arrived in motorboats or canoes. Jersey cops set up road blocks at the state border and tested drivers but on this interstate water way there were no checks (until one day there was and our keg rolled off the back of our boat like a depth charge joining mom’s late Chevy at the bottom of the lake.
Suzi and I looked for Zip’s but it wasn’t there. What we did see were lots of trees in full fall glory.