Monday, June 21, 2010

A ROAD CHANGES DIRECTION





     WEST NYACK, N.Y. – It’s déjà vu all over again as Route 59, one of the state’s major highways, returns to two lanes after about 52 years. It’s just for a time, but for people like me, so few of us now, it’s like returning to the countrified area of lower New York where I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s.

What’s happening, or beginning to happen since the Albany budget crisis may delay work, is that New York is getting around to replacing the four bridges along Route 59 that cross the Hackensack River and the West Shore rail line. The approach is to cut off one side and take out those bridges first, then reverse the process. Ironically, after only a half century of use, the Department of Transportation has chosen to replace the newer bridges first. Those left from the 1920s will soldier on until the children get new shoes. Perhaps that says something about old-style durability.

Traffic east and west has been routed from four lanes to two, over the old crossings. I drove that route the other day, riding across the old bridges eastward for the first time since 1958. Though the vista has changed as you leap over the railroad tracks and then across the beginnings of the Hackensack River (which later gathers force as it heads for New Jersey and the Atlantic Ocean), the goose-pimply feeling was that I had returned to my teen years, sitting in the back seat of my dad’s Ford, brother Craig next to me and my mom in the front.

We would have been headed for Nyack on a Saturday, then a thriving, typical American town, pre-mall, pre-suburban shopping strip, where shoes, dresses, shirts, sporting goods and five and dime items and so much else could be bought, shoes repaired as well, clothes left at the tailor, baked goods picked up, with time left on a very ordinary but oh so wonderful family outing for a stop at the Main Street diner or soda fountain.

Nyack – all American towns – have changed now, downsized, gone out of business or morphed into trendy weekend stops for restaurant goers or antique hunters.  The four-lane highways built to them, as was the enlarging of Route 59 half a century ago, somehow caused traffic to bypass, to race instead to super malls. The mom and pop places downtown could not compete, though some precious ones still remain in Nyack and in other Americana.

There are so few like me who still recall old Nyack, and the original two-lane Route 59, too. I ride that route of the Old Nyack Turnpike in memory now, though the Albany reconstruction will, for a time, sharpen the focus as I actually get to cross the bridges in the “right” direction. Déjà vu all over again, and I smile at the picture.

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