Port Jersey: Arr! Shiver me Forklifts!

Bayonne Harbor

Tikaro Interactive work took me to Port Jersey yesterday. Port Jersey, where the corrugated steel containers are stacked in enormous rusty ziggurats halfway to the sky. Port Jersey, East Coast home of the beloved boxcar alligator. Port Jersey, where brand-new Mercedes cars with tinted windows and empty license-plate frames roll off the ship in an orderly line.

Bayonne Harbor
Just a lane away, separated by a ten foot wire fence, beat-up SUVs with no license plates are rolling the other direction, onto another ship. There’s nothing orderly about THAT line: Kenyan guys in knee-length T-shirts shout angrily at Eastern European guys with tracksuits and buzz cuts, both gesticulating wildly while clutching cellphones. It’s not really what you imagine when you think of a busy wharf — for one thing, it’s 99% asphalt and wire, and only 1% crumbling brick buildings (and 0% tarry barrels.) But it’s exotic in its own way, that’s for sure.

I’ll attempt to break down the reality of Port Jersey and how it differs from my boyhood expectations, based mostly on Hornblower books and pirate fiction:

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Imaginary Pirate Wharf Port Jersey
Watch caps, muscular forearms, and tattoos Knee-length T-shirts, enormous potbellies, and shaved heads
Tarry barrels, guarded by wizened men with crooked daggers Blue igloo coolers, guarded by eleven-year-old kids in folding chairs and hoodie sweatshirts
Stacks of iron chests swaddled up in tarry netting Sky-high pyramids of corrugated steel containers
Reek of salt water, mud and fish Reek of salt water, mud and diesel exhaust
Grog bars on every corner Aluminum lunch vans every 500 yards
Cobblestones and brick Asphalt and wire fence
Stern-looking English marines with truncheons Stern-looking entrance-booth guards with blue jackets, walkie-talkies, and clipboards
Dray horses Twelve-foot forklifts
Cutlasses Cellphones
Terrifying scowls Terrifying scowls

I was delighted to find, though, that a lot of the language is still the same from that day to this, and so in the course of work I’m having to look up lots of nautical terms like “drayage” and “lading”, and calculating how much pirate insurance costs. And to determine inspection percentage rates, which is the number of sacks of flour in a hundred we have to cut open with bayonets, to see if the caliph has tried to hide sand inside instead. OKAY THERE ARE NO BAYONETS, but all in all it’s a pretty fun analogue.

UPDATE: Ooh, here’s a really nice panorama taken from the spot I visited. Can you see the cruise ship in the background?

One response to “Port Jersey: Arr! Shiver me Forklifts!”

  1. You know, all this talk of hidden treasure and docks and pirates….Swank has “Yellow Beard”!
    Graham Chapman, Eric Idol and John Cleese, from Monty Python, Cheech and Chong, from well, Cheech and Chong, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman? Marty Feldman! from Young Frankenstein, Peter Cook and a brief cameo by David Bowie!
    The pirate Yellowbeard captured many other galleons, killing over five-hundred men in cold blood. He would tear the captains hearts out and swallow them whole. Often forcing his victims to eat their own lips, he was caught and imprisoned… for tax evasion.


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