through the two inch-speaker
of a japanese radio stashed under the pillow
you lulled me to sleep
and babbled all night
it was always night time
on Route 22,
dark and cheap
on Route 22,
only after midnight did the commercials
WABC is omni-
If you turn on your radio
and WABC is not there
On WABC God talks about
so Route 22 is holy.
WABC is holy
50,000 watts of Cousin Brucie
(Can’t you hear that groovy beat,
50,000 watts of Bobaloo
The Big Bob Lewis Show!)
50,000 watts of Charlie Greer
(Swing! Charlie! Swing!)
and top forty early sixties rock and roll.
They hear God’s crackling voice
in Orlando, Florida!
San Juan, Puerto Rico!
On clear nights, God hits 38 states
and delivers this message to the faithful:
“Denison Clothiers, Route 22, Union, N.J.
Open 10AM ’til 5 the next morning,
one half-mile from The Flagship.”
That’s the nightly scripture reading to America.
They scratch their heads in Durham, N.C.
In the middle of the night God invites
you to come to Route 22
and buy a cheap suit.
“Money talks, Nobody walks,
It’s coffee break time at Denisen’s.”
through the bars of the brig
of The Flagship,
most curious white elephant
at permanent dry dock in the center island
of Route 22.
Once nightclub, furniture shop,
1965 teenage discotheque,
He sees too fast drivers
whizz by The Flagship
he sees benzedrine truck drivers
hauling progress and comfort east
to New York
and west to King of Prussia, Pa.
He sees all night gamblers
needing breakfast and coffee,
And grim, seedy hitchhikers
needing a lift to the next life.
He sees on Route 22 a blinking storm of neon tack,
Las Vegas without the class,
hook shop come-ons for Tech Hi-Fi, Lido Diner,
R&S Auto Parts, Channel Lumber, Denisen’s,
Ishmael watches the tote board change,
Over 25 billion served.
Denisen’s is gone and
WABC is nothing but a claque of
no-name Bible thumpers
in 4/4 time.
Charlie swings no more.
The new prophets are bored and
speak of new shrines, new Baals.
still dark and cheap on Route 22,
as cheap as poet tears and Japanese radios.
And has no one sprung Ishmael?
He rattles the bars of the brig with his tin cup
and calls for the jailer.
He lies down on his cot and puts his radio
under his pillow and
of sharkskin suits and banlon shirts
and coffee break time
(Route 22 is a poem I found in a long out of print literary anthology buried underneath a pile of moldy books in my basement. All I know about the author, Bruce George Longstreet, is that he died 6 years ago. He and I went to the same high school in Roselle, NJ. He used to be a DJ at the famous independent radio station WFMU. I would guess I’m the only person who’s read this poem in 30 years. Yet it’s as good a poem as you’ll find anywhere. Lots of places in America have a Route 22 but there’s only one Route 22 and Route 22 is really only Route 22 in Union, Springfield, and Mountainside, three dull suburbs 15 miles west of New York City. It’s a big part of my childhood, and Longstreet’s poem nails it. The only thing missing is just how dangerous it is.)
5 thoughts on “route 22 by Bruce Longstreet”
Thank you for republishing this poem. I enjoyed it this morning. Been thinking of our era when we have 50,000 + advertisements flashing at us (per day) from our own, supposedly smart, devices.
Sorry to hear of Bruce’s passing. He trained me at my first radio job in 1986: WSNO/WORK in Barre, Vermont, when I was a college student working fill-in shifts summers. He was the mid-day guy there, if I remember correctly. I learned a little later he was also moonlighting evenings under a different name at WNCS in neighboring Montpelier. I was driving through town late one night, heard his voice on WNCS and decided to stop into the station to say, “Hi.” I called his name up the long flight of stairs (back when the station was in the old train depot on Main Street) and he was clearly startled to have been found out. Always wondered where life had brought him after that summer I got to know him.
Thanks for the additional information. I barely know what Longstreet looked like. There are only one or two small photos of him on the Internet. Yet that poem has stayed with me for decades. Route 22 was a huge part of my childhood. From waiting for what seemed like forever to cross at New Providence Road in Westfield to ride my bike up to the now demolished lookout tower up in the Watchung Mountains to the drive in movie theater in Union. If Huck Finn had the Mississippi River, I had Route 22. Thankfully there was at least one Mark Twain to put it into words.