The axel of my Jeep groans as I make a right onto Waterloo Rd. Rain thrums against the canvas roof and the wipers creak and keep metronomic time. It is an uncharacteristically warm January day in northern New Jersey, a far cry from the sub zero temperatures I had grown accustomed to. Recently returned from two years in central Mongolia, my hometown of Byram, New Jersey had taken on an exotic aura.
I took in the drippy scenery as I wound down the old county road. The dense woods of rural New Jersey closing in on both sides. Spindly branches reach out across the pavement overhead gesturing to their counterparts on the other side. Telephone wires chase the road, rising and descending beneath the overgrowth. The driveways of the houses that hug the street are capped with trash cans. A man waves in greeting as I pass, dragging his refuse to stand at attention with the rest. I cross the old stone bridge of Lubbers Run, the creek swollen and fast with the snow melt and rain. At the end of the road I’m met with an unfamiliar sight. Byram transformed.
I turn onto the main artery that traverses the small town of Byram, Route 206. Ongoing widening of the road has put Byram in a different state than I left it over two years ago. As I pass the old bike shop I see that construction has torn much of Byram asunder. Traffic cones dot the highway. An army of orange and white zig zagging this way and that. Excavators groan and snort, belching exhaust and fumes as they pile their earthen payloads alongside the road. Construction workers shout at each other over the racket and rain.
Passing Shoprite, the town supermarket I make a left pulling into Salt, the local watering hole. The quaint gastropub seems quiet and removed from the chaos of progress only miles away. I smile up at the old rusty Schwinn bicycle that hangs from the establishment’s rickety sign.
Entering the rustic bar my friend Andrew claps me on the back as I sit down on the stool next to him. “Beer and a burger?” the bartender asks, an empty pint glass already at the ready under the tap. Couples sit at tables for two forking through salads topped with goat cheese. Families delve into their burgers and fries. A waitress weaves through the crowd and tables, juggling twice as many drinks as she has hands. On the tiny raised stage folk music twangs from an acoustic guitar. The musician smiling out at the patrons as the notes fill the warm air. A cheer erupts from the bar as a touchdown is scored on the TV screen.
“Feel good to be back?” Andrew asks as he raises his glass to his lips.
I look around at the people of Byram. Eating their dinner and marching on through their lives as the town evolves and changes around them.
“Yeah.” I answer, raising my glass.
I guess I’ll march on too.