I miss my city. I miss its personality. I never appreciated it enough until everything started changing. We’ve always been working class; mostly people trying to make a go of it with local shops and restaurants. Though some still remain, they’re being rubbed out by the new shape our city has taken. I remember after high school days walking 10 minutes with a friend to Service Diner for coffee. The place was in pretty bad shape; it looked like an abandoned train car had fallen to the side of the road. Half the diner had working light, something that worked in favor of the place; you didn’t want to see what was on your plate anyway, what you were about to put into your mouth. Almost every diner in the area was a replica of Service Diner; dirty, dingy, and filled to the brim with personality. The hours spent in these places make up some of the best of my life. Philosophies were crafted, worlds built, cigarettes smoked. It’s gone now, torn down; replaced by a vacant lot about 6 years ago. I guess it looks better.
To get there we’d walk down Outwater Lane, past the Dunkin’ Donuts and abandoned warehouse. An old textile mill, the building had been left broken for some time. For a brief period, it became an S&M fetishist speak-easy called Raven; once the city caught wind of the hedonistic acts going on inside they quickly raided and closed it. Now it’s gone completely. I hear they’re putting a bank and WaWa there.
On the walk home after our watery coffee, we’d pass a small convenience store where high schoolers would buy cigarettes. If they looked too young there, they’d walk 25 feet to the Chinese take-out place and buy. The small convenience store is now a 7-11, the Chinese take-out an H&R Block.
Our high school still looks like a prison. The football and baseball field are concrete walled in. An Abbott District, my city couldn’t raise enough in taxes to support student’s needs so the state came in with funds. Our schools have been shaped in New Jersey’s intended image; one elementary school has 10 foot steel rods shooting up from asphalt that curl over at the top to prevent any 4th grader from grandiose thoughts of escape.
Two blocks from the prison-esque elementary school, the long standing remnants of E.C. Electroplating still haunt my city. In the early ’80s they accidentally spilled 3,000 gallons of chromium plating solution; a chemical that seeped into our water supply and is known to leave yellow debris after flooding and causes cancer. They’ve removed roughly half of it and fenced off the area. The children in that elementary school have probably ingested contaminated water; they’re a part of the “contaminated zone”.
Down the street, a large wholesaler used to house multitudes of small-business oriented flea markets. I remember going there as a kid with my mom and buying toys. They were operated in the U.S. with workers in the Philippines. Once during a visit to New Jersey, a cousin of a friend took a picture in front of the colossal building; she worked in the Roxas City operations center. They tore that down, too. It became a Super Wal*Mart, Marshalls, GNC, McDonalds, Supercuts, Applebees, and empty space to be corporatized later. The Wal*Mart has caused congestion problems in my city, its caused violence. On Black Friday a man was maced after assaulting a police officer, something to do with the everyday low price of a TV. Small trucks with labeled sides have been replaced by 18 wheeled behemoths who drive 15 mph in a 30 mph zone. I’ve been told not to go to the McDonalds after dark,
“There are people hanging outside who look to start trouble with you.”
It’s the usual corporate story in my city; mom and pop shops are closing at rapid rates. Another 7-11 opened roughly 100 feet in front of a small convenience store. Jimmy Jim’s, a staple of my city that had been in operation since my birth has closed its doors. I remember the parking lot always being full, now weeds poke out from cracked pavement; when the corporations swept everything away, they decided to leave the foliage. I still miss those cheese steaks and gravy fries.
My city doesn’t trust its residents. It doesn’t think we have what it takes to revive the city, to bring people in with our original and independent ideas. My city instead relies on corporations to offer us a future we could not obtain ourselves; of grandiose dreams of an Arkansas based company pumping money into a small city in New Jersey instead of back into their own pockets. My city has put its faith in everyday low prices, mass produced and controversially unhealthy food, and expensive dietary pills filled with nutrients the fast food lacks. Our small businesses are drying up. My city is decaying in a cesspool of gluttony and self-interest. We have people in serious need of aid, but at least we can get 6 sticky buns for $1.50.
I miss my city. I miss the city that raised me to believe the small person could have a shot to make their dream come true. Maybe not something extraordinary, maybe not millionaire status, but a way to earn a living doing what you love by earning the trust and reputation of the people around you. It’s gone. Required mass-ufactured polo shirts have replaced individuality. Glitzy, kitsch, overpriced diners have replaced the personality of their ancestors. They’ll pave the streets with gold before giving my city a dime. They’ll tear us down completely and rebuild in cookie-cutter fashion. I miss my city. We’re doomed.