I may complain about having to endure Penn Station's grimy claustrophobia on a daily basis, but there are parts of my daily commute that I truly cherish. Apart from finally arriving home to my family, I look forward to the view I get when I look north out of the window as the train crosses the Passaic River into Newark. Now that fall is here, the sun sits lower in the sky as I arrive back home in Brick City, the sunlight bathing the downtown buildings in golden light and glittering on the river's surface.
On the left side of the mighty Passaic are the shiny downtown office buildings and civic structures like the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. On the other bank are long rows of low-slung brown brick buildings that once housed the factories that built this country, stretching as far as the eye can see. I look at this scene, which flashes by ever so briefly, and see a city that has endured worse than just about any other in this nation, but has managed to survive and hold its head up proudly. I see such beauty in a town that so many still stereotype as a hellacious example of urban squalor run amok, a place whose reputation is such that when people in these parts ask where I live and I tell them Newark their eyes widen and their mouths go silent.
I have a similar bodily reaction as I cross the bridge each day, but my wide eyes and quiet tongue are the result of awe in the face of true beauty. I see it in a city that the rest of this state and this nation had stabbed in the back, thrown in the gutter, and left for dead.* I think of my own luck as a broken-down professor defeated by his profession who was plucked off the reject pile by a wonderful high school. One man's trash is another man's treasure, I guess, and just as I am happy to have been saved from the refuse pile, I appreciate the rough splendor of a place that so many others wish to demean.
*Little known fact: a great deal of the mayhem during the events of 1967 was perpetrated by National Guard troops, not Newarkers.