On a weekend jaunt to New Jersey I discovered that the town of New Brunswick throws open its garage doors to the public on Saturday afternoons. That’s right, parking is free. The arms of the toll gates are permanently in the raised position. Of course, that leaves aside the fact that there’s not a lot to do in New Brunswick on a Saturday afternoon. New Brunswick is the site of Douglass College, my alma mater (some people, when the time comes to make their big break, go to Boston, New York, or Paris; I went to New Brunswick). There was hardly anyone on the street or on the campus. They were either all inside studying or had driven to the mall. Gas was incredibly cheap—$1.47 a gallon!—so they could afford to drive to the mall. I got a little misty on finding that the only two places in New Brunswick that I had frequented with any regularity were gone—the head shop and the pizzeria.
Picking the car up at the garage on Saturday morning was a delicious sensation. I had three dollars in my pocket, in case I decided I had to tip, but Julian, after pulling my car up, skipped back to his booth so fast that I don’t believe he was expecting anything. It feels less as if I’m paying rent for the car than as if I’m paying to keep my horse in a stable. The car had been warmed up: the ventilation was perfectly adjusted—air intake, fan, temperature. Having this garage is like living in a fairy tale.
Sunday I went to the boat show, not because I am interested in buying a new yacht but because I like all the gadgets peripheral to boating that people hawk at the boat show: newfangled screw-on bottle tops for flip-top cans (to save bubbles), clip-on lights for the bill of your baseball cap, key chains with inflatable orange streamers that bob to the surface if you drop your keys in the drink. When people at the various booths asked me what kind of boat I had, and I said a rowboat, most of them continued to talk to me anyway. I stopped at the display for Mercury motors and spoke with a man who tried to explain the difference between two-stroke and four-stroke engines (something about a pool of oil). He said that Buster, my marine supplier, was at the show, but I never found his booth. I learned that I can take a course to become a captain in ten days (plus 360 days on the water—at the rate I'm going, it would take thirty-six years). And I donated to a program that teaches kids about boats (they build a flat-bottomed wooden vessel that looks like a sleigh, and can be paddled, sailed, or fitted with a motor) and to a project to reconstruct the Onrust (Dutch for Restless), the first ship built in New York, in 1614, by Adriaan Block, a Dutch captain and the namesake of Block Island.
I talked for a long time to some people about the Hackensack River, and got a lot of literature about lightning and life jackets, and a refrigerator magnet encouraging me to use pumpout stations, and a chart for tracing hurricane paths, and some foam coolers for my non-alcoholic beverages, and a map of the Bahamas. I bought a chart of how to read charts from a guy who suggested that someday, when the weather is good, I might want to venture beyond Jamaica Bay. On the chart of New York Harbor, he traced the route for me, the same one the Rockaway Ferry takes: along Coney Island, under the Verrazano Bridge, through Buttermilk Channel to the East River. I reminded him that I had only a six-horsepower motor. He thought about it and finally said, “That’d be about a thirty-hour day—going and coming.” I think I’ll stick to the ferry.