Behind the long volcanic ridge facing the Hudson lie the meadowlands, with the Hackensack its principal river. Some look at it as a wasteland, and dumping ground, for refuse once, for bodies as rumors go, but someplace to stick the highways, railroads, industry, energy, and trucking too. I see it as muscle and sinew, yet a mix of the wild and the working. Easier to pass through, and except perhaps to the populations of its perimeter, hard to find your way around. Not an easy stop and look place, nor typical for touring, but an opportunity to explore the urban anatomy. And amongst the rushes are rare gems. Like authentic diners. Not neo boxes. Jersey may be the diner capital of the world, and here is one of its richest concentrations.
Roughly, the meadows fill a low bowl from Hackensack to Jersey City. Or from the White Manna to the White Mana. Hamburgers. Everyone's having hamburgers at the manna with two n's. Cheeseburgers actually. Right on the Hackensack in Hackensack, a short ride above the meadows. A small place there's but room for a u-shaped counter, and stools spaced at a time when Americans weren't quite so wide I guess. Step in the door and the cook's grill is right there at the bottom of the u, so place your order, fresh ground beef, it's the small style burger, so have 2, 3, 4 or 6. Fries are ferried in from out back.
The name of a place makes me curious. Roads have grown bigger and changed patterns by a bridge where the river begins to enter the marshes. I look for a likely spot but local roads have become on-ramps and it's too confusing. I'm in Little Ferry. If I could find where the crossing once was I'd ask what's the big ferry. With Moonachie its neighbor, the tight community is surrounded by fens. Big box warehouses occupy a large area of probably fill on the way to the Paterson Plank Road. It's a major through route, long from the washboard of a bumpy past. Berry Creek connects Eight Day Swamp to Walden Swamp, but you can't see much it's so flat. In the distance the dome of Giants Stadium does manage to rise above all the plumes of last year's phragmites.
Enough, so climb a street up the low ridge to the west. These are old and not much changed communities, though a retired school teacher I meet on the common laments how Rutherford has become "just another city". Well kept shops and restaurants line the main street from here to the railroad station. From William Carlos Williams former home and doctor's office on the corner, fine old wooden homes march up Ridge Road. They have yards.
Skip back down the ridge a couple streets and continue south to look for a gem on the right - Colonial Diner. Breakfast. Two over light, sausage, homefries, and simply white toast. The coffee from big ol' plenty used urns beats any gormet shop to my taste, an empty cup gets hot fresh re-fill. Tom, the son, his happy smile moves the counter and grill, as a conversation catches up with the neighbor who has moved away. A bit loud's ok in here, a busy, comfortable noise bounces from the rounded corners of a pink formica and stainless ceiling.
Ready for a walk. Let's see, second left, at the light, over an old iron bridge and go to the end. Many know, maybe you don't, but you're now at one of the best bird watching sites anywhere. Coastal flyway. And a recovering landfill. DeKorte Park has fresh water impoundments and tidal flats, power lines this way, railroad tracks that, an elevated NJ Turnpike as a background, and constant jets overhead. Yet 265 bird species make the 20,000 acre Meadowlands their home. 587 acres have recently been added to a preserve that could have been the biggest mall east of the Mississippi.
Back to the traffic light, the wholesaler across the street's small retail has all kinds of ravioli in the freezer, sold to fine restaurants, or to you. Left on Orient again to the end, left then and go by the Schuyler Diner, that's the Empire State Building to its right, left again, the Hillary Diner used to be the Olympic. So you're on the Belleville Turnpike, no tolls on this one, through the marshes, under the Turnpike extension, up on a bridge over the Hack, the Pulaski Skyway's the big dark iron hulk above on your right, the view has more bridges to spot than the traffic allows. You're in Jersey City. Take the left on route 1, yes, the U.S. Route 1, the White Mana's a few blocks up on the right. The one with one n. The one that claims to be the original White Mana, moved from the 1938 World's Fair. The original modern diner. "Hamburgers" in green neon. It's round.
I've skipped some, among them the Miss America, also in Jersey City, is worth the trip if just for its neon sign. On the 1 & 9 truck route out of Jersey City behind a gas station, you might miss the Truck Stop in all the semi's around it. Rough condition but what ambiance. Up over the Pulaski in Harrison, Max's Grill is a classic round-roofed wooden dining car. You'll just have to find your way. Oh, a bit further afield, the Harris in South Orange and Eva's Bendix in Hasbrouck Heights are both just perfect. And the ultimate diner food test? BLT and a Coke.
Then, there's the Summit too.

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