A man with silvery-white hair wore a black tee shirt with the words South Amboy printed in large orange letters. An embroidered basketball was centered just below the two words. He passed my table carrying a Starbucks beverage container.
“Hey, Jersey guy,” I said. He came to a quick stop and backed up to where Anita and I sat with our Starbucks beverage containers.
“I’m from Jersey, too,” I continued without a pause. “When I saw South Amboy, I knew. . ”
“Almost every time I wear the shirt, someone stops me. How long you’ve been in Tucson?”
“For me, too long. We came in ’86. How about you?”
“Thirty years. Where you from?”
“I’m from Newark,” I said with a jokey smile.
“Yeah, you and Whitney Houston.”
“Don’t laugh. I was on a plane once and told the woman next to me the same thing. She said, ‘You mean you’re from South Orange or West Orange.’ No, I’m from Newark. Bergen Street School. Arts High. Went to Rutgers.”
“I went to Rutgers in New Brunswick,” he said. “Did you go to New Brunswick?”
“No, I told you. I’m from Newark. I went to school in Newark.”
What don’t people understand about Newark? It was a great city. I loved the place and still do. My teachers were phenomenal. Plenty of recreation – ice skating in winter. Fishing with my uncle in Weequahic Park during the summer. Double-feature films at the Cameo Theatre on Elizabeth Avenue. A great library and fine arts museum. Saturdays in New York City. Safe streets where kids had fun.
Gradually, life changed. One by one families and my friends moved to Kenilworth, Belleville, Livingston, the Oranges, Union, and Hillside. They were the white families. We were a white family, but my father stayed on until my sister finished 8th grade. Chris was one of the last white kids to graduate from Bergen Street School. That June we took the white-flight and moved. If I had a magic wand, I’d fix Newark and the city would be great again.