The vans of Newark

I worked in Newark, NJ full time from 1997ish through 2000. I took the train from Dover–the NJ Transit line that started in Netcong and ran through Morris and Essex Counties to the Newark Broad Street Station and then beyond to Penn Station in NYC (though now I’m sure it stops in Secaucus).

People always looked at me funny when I rose from my seat at Broad Street to get off the train. “Who works in Newark?” was the general vibe, especially when the train was late and I had to fight people standing in the aisle to leave. I learned to get up early so I wouldn’t miss the stop.

You know who works in Newark? Prudential Financial employees. And we’re legion in Brick City, probably to the annoyance of everyone else working there. But the Prudential presence is undeniable, including in the many vans that poke around the city’s streets with the company’s brand prominently displayed on them. They’re generally necessary, too – the Prudential buildings aren’t a short walk from the Broad Street station and the distance between each building make the vans a decent option for Prudential employees who are not feeling up for a walk or are running late for a meeting.

View of the long-gone Lincoln Motel from the Broad Street train station in Newark, NJ. Photo by me.

I’d get off the train, head down the steps to street level, wait to see one of those vans pull up, and then hop on. They were always reliable and got you to whatever building you needed to be at — in my case the Washington Street building, then what I called the mini-Plaza building, and finally, one of the buildings in the Gateway Complex — as fast as traffic would allow.

I’d get to know my fellow Pru commuters, too–at least the ones who got to and left work around the same time as me. In fact, I’m still friends with one of them. But we’d also get to talking with the drivers. It’s been so long that they’ve all melded into one in my memory, except for “Ted.”

Ted talked to his passengers about crazy Newark traffic, but he also liked to listen to books on tape, which he’d play on a tape deck so that we could hear them, too. One afternoon, I heard Dustin Hoffman reading in a high-pitched voice.

“Are you listening to ‘Tootsie’?” I asked him.

He laughed. No, he said. It was Hoffman reading from “Little Big Man.”

But Ted and I witnessed something pretty spectacular one afternoon rush hour. I was up in the front right passenger seat, and we were stopped at the light on whatever road was intersecting with Broad Street. A man was crossing the street and decided that THAT moment was a great opportunity to pull his sweatpants down to his knees. And his junk was hanging out there for all to see.

Including me. And Ted. I said nothing, horrified yet fascinated. Ted just laughed and shook his head. We didn’t acknowledge what was going on with each other.

The man finished crossing the street, pulled his sweats back up, and then jumped into a trash can. As one does.

The light changed, and we moved on.

I wonder if Ted just chalked that up to “Oh, that’s Broad Street for you.” I don’t know. I never asked him about it after that fateful afternoon.

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