The drive to Weehawken turned out to be less harrowing than I had imagined. Google mapped the route; I chose the time of departure. As it turned out, a mid-morning drive to Manhattan is not necessarily unpleasant.
My heart rate accelerated as I maintained my speed through the Lincoln Tunnel, then slowed as I surfaced into the late morning light. Soon I pulled up to the curb outside the Sheraton Lincoln Harbor hotel. They gave me a room on the 7th floor that overlooked the Hudson. Like a string of multi-sized cardboard cutouts, the Manhattan skyline rose up on the far side, the Empire State Building immediately opposite.
I stashed my bag and left on foot to explore the area.
It was a short walk across the bridge to Hoboken, that old industrial city famous for the production of ships during WWI and WW2. Quickly I combed the narrow streets, hemmed in by brick row homes and shops. I made my way to the waterfront and watched as the New York Waterway ferry—the Governor Thomas H. Kean—approached the dock. A lone seagull soared above the water, while several others perched on decayed pilings that marked where piers from a bygone era once stood.
Out in the middle of the broad river a small tugboat nudged a bloated barge along. Several sloops, their sails reefed, motored down the expanse. Overhead a Coast Guard helicopter whirred by on its way down to the harbor.
That evening, after dinner, I stood on the second level of the Chart House restaurant and looked out at the city. To the north the George Washington Bridge spanned the blackness; to the south lay the Verrazano Narrows, while directly across the water the city sat, sketched out in a thousand points of light: clusters and strings of precious stones, like rich jewels in an Ethiop’s ear—brilliant diamonds, amber topazes, blue sapphires, red garnets.
Back at the hotel I crawled into bed, letting the curtains open. When I woke several times during the night, the city was still there, wide awake, beckoning.
Because of the time change I arose an hour earlier Sunday morning and departed the hotel in the darkness, driving west, leaving the smokestacks, bridges and concrete highways behind. I turned north and headed toward the upper Delaware, logging miles through low-lying farmland which eventually gave way to stone-capped mountains still draped in rustic orange-brown shades of autumnal garb.
I paid my three quarters to the attendant at the far side of the steel bridge that spanned the river and slipped into the town.
I checked my watch: I had two hours to kill before my friend would arrive. I grabbed a coffee and walked to a small park overlooking the river. You could see the water shimmering through the trees, sparkling in the sun as it meandered along. I noticed the remnants of a trail along the bank and struck out to find it.
Soon I was sitting on a tree stump at the edge of a grassy knoll, watching the last of the autumn leaves drift down from the ancient towering maples into swirling eddies. Off in the distance my eye caught sight of a large hawk circling above a stand of tall hemlocks on the far bank. I estimated the wingspan at six feet and glimpsed the white tail when the bird circled in the sun.
As I retraced my steps back up the hill, I met a man coming down. We paused in greeting, and I inquired about the trail that ran along the river. He told me where it led and asked where I was from. I learned that he made his home in Manhattan. Years ago he had purchased a small house by this river, which he frequented on weekends and holidays. I mentioned the eagle I had seen circling in the sky.
“I know where they perch along a tributary that runs into the river,” he winked, indicating with his head. We shook hands, and I walked back to my car to wait the arrival of my friend.
We had a good long walkabout filled with talk about things that matter to us most, followed by dinner in the old inn that sits on the square at the center of town.
Two rivers, two towns. Both rivers flow to the sea. One town never sleeps, the other is perfectly content to stretch and yawn as the spirit moves it.