Free At Last, Free At Last

Rex Saffer the AstroDoc
7 min readJun 11, 2022


Greetings, denizens of the blogosphere. It’s been a LONG time since I posted anything here, for which I am sure some of you are grateful. Or at least you were until now.

I posted my last ever set of final grades on Thursday, May 12, four weeks ago, and retired immediately and permanently. I am still processing this monumental life milestone, but I’m very pleased and having a lot of fun. I’ve been traveling to bridge tournaments since the beginning of the year, made possible because the two courses I was teaching were 100% online. I was able to pre–record and post lecture videos for the weeks I was out of town, and it all worked out well.

For the record, since the week of New Year’s Day I have traveled to six Regional Tournaments, including this week’s tourney in Fairfield, NJ, as well as four Sectional Tournaments. I will have attended two more Regionals and the Summer Nationals in Providence, RI by the end of August. After that I will pause to take stock and decide whether to keep up this madcap pace, or to take a break and work on some other activities, including some long overdue writing projects I have in mind.

But as for this week, I drove up to Fairfield on Monday, June 6 — an easy two hours from my apartment in Broomall — and I’ve been playing in this tourney for three days since Tuesday. After the evening session yesterday, I found I was really tired, so I decided to take today off and play tourist. Although Fairfield is not far from home as these things go, (I drove almost 12 hours straight to get to the April tourney in Gatlinburg, TN), I am not familiar with this area at all and had no idea what, if anything, might be of interest around here. Thank DOG for Google.

It happens that the Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park is just 15 minutes away from my hotel in Fairfield. I knew that the town was nearby but… Anyway, I had a leisurely morning and set out for Paterson about 10:30 AM. Paterson, NJ actually has a fascinating history, some of which I will provide as I narrate my experience in the Park. But first, a few initial impressions.

While Fairfield and the dozens and dozens of little towns surrounding it are in upstate New Jersey, the whole region can be thought of as belonging to the Greater New York City suburban area. Central Park is just 21 miles away, although as I virtually pen these words (5:30 PM), Google Maps informs me that it would take me 1 hour 20 minutes to get there, and that is by the fastest route. One of my worst phobias is being dragged kicking and screaming from any departure point whatsoever to Manhattan. I hate cities. Can’t stand ’em. I can barely tolerate Philadelphia, and that only in small doses.

Let me relate an interesting little factoid. The locust is a grasshopper species that, when it exists in a state of low population density, looks much like any other ordinary grasshopper, if modestly larger. Suppose that the low density population is X. When vegetation becomes abundant after monsoon rains, these arthropods feed and breed like crazy, and when the population density reaches 2X, the insects begin to undergo a striking morphological change. They grow bigger and heavier, their wing muscles strengthen appreciably, and their mandibles also grow quite a bit larger, all the better to chew you, my dear. When the density reaches 3X, they take off in unimaginably dense swarms, eating everything in their path until they have stripped the countryside bare. Eventually they die off for lack of food, but never soon enough for the humans upon which they inflict misery, disease, and starvation.

This is how I picture the residents of Manhattan or any other megacity. In a low density rural setting they would for the most part be bucolic good citizens. Transported to a mid–size city, they would adapt and become urbanites, consuming resources indiscriminately and collectively laying waste to their environment. In Manhattan they would morph into ravenous locusts. If only they would strip the environment there bare! Then starvation would work its magic, and a small dent would be made in the global overpopulation crisis. You know, think globally but act locally. Solve the problem one swarm at a time. Planet Gaia will be eternally grateful. OK, OK I’m not serious! Well, not completely not, but a man can dream, can’t he? And I’m not sorry.

As advertised, the drive to Paterson, the county seat of Passaic County, took just 15 minutes in moderate traffic. The Park is smack in the middle of West Paterson, the whole city having a 2020 population of some 160,000 souls. I was mildly surprised to find that this makes it the third most populous city in New Jersey, behind only Newark and Jersey City, and about twice as large as the state capital, Trenton. No judgment.

The city spans about 4 miles from West to East. The Passaic River runs northeast through the Park, then it loops around and flows almost due south, defining the eastern boundary of the city.

As I arrived in the vicinity of the Park, how to describe the surrounding neighborhood? Perhaps as struggling to claw its way back from squalid to gritty. The main body of the Park is roughly a diamond shape about 1200 feet across from apex to opposing apex, see the next image. This gives it an area of about 16 acres. I’ve seen bigger front yards in upper Bryn Mawr along the Schuykill River. It’s a little oasis in an urban desert. Two fingers about 1200 feet long extend north and south. My visit was confined mostly to the central area.

Before I narrate my tour, a little history of Paterson proper and its Great Falls. Paterson was founded in 1791 by Alexander Hamilton and his Society for Establishing Usefull (sic) Manufactures (S.U.M.), an effort to become independent from British manufacturing. Hamilton engaged Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the very same planner/architect for the city of Washington D.C., to lay out the town of Paterson and harness the potential of the Passaic River’s Great Falls by building raceways to supply water to the planned manufacturing mills. You can find much more detail at, from which I have cribbed this and much of the next paragraph.

With some fits and starts, S.U.M. managed and expanded the raceway system as industry flourished in Paterson. However, by about 1900, it was apparent that the individual water wheels were less efficient than a central station generating hydro-electricity. In 1910, the S.U.M. built the hydroelectric plant that had a maximum capacity of 6500 horsepower, with its four huge turbines generating 21 million kilowatts per year. The plant still is in operation today, with its one remaining turbine generating enough power to supply about 2/3 of the annual demand in Paterson. Now that is impressive!

So, the Park tour was interesting but not compellingly so. I shot several images and a couple of videos, but I won’t inflict the bulk of them on you here. If interested, click here to view a panoramic video taken from below the Falls just across from the hydroelectric plant, see the image below. I arrived there just after parking in the lot at lower right (1).

There is a pedestrian bridge (2) to cross the Falls to Mary Ellen Kramer Park at top center, but it is closed indefinitely for repairs. I had to cross the river on Wayne Ave. and go around the River’s cul–de–sac at upper left (3, 4, 5). At the observation deck directly across and above the Falls (6), I made a second video, click here to view.

As I began to make my way back around to the parking lot (5, 4, 3, 1), I encountered a Latino family at a picnic table at the top of Mary Ellen Kramer Park (7, above). Click here for a legible version of the plaque text.

Truth be told, I was wheezing from overexertion of an underexercised and overweight 70 year old body, and I had to sit down to catch my breath. I happen to speak Spanish as a second language and was able to converse with the family in their native tongue. They had a toddler in tow, must have been no more than two years old, and he fearlessly approached me waving a lollipop, literally dripping with toddler saliva, and offered it to me. Thank DOG I had eaten lunch and was able to politely refuse it. “Gracias muchachito, pero guárdalo para ti, por favor.” Or some such. The mother laughed and came over to rescue him. It is always rewarding to make conversational contact with others, wherever you are.

On the way back to Fairfield, I decided I had had enough of suburban New Jersey for the moment, and on impulse I turned north on State Highway 23. I figured if I just drove for a while, I would run into hills, maybe even mountains. My instincts were good, but that is a story for another time. I just wish I had trailered my motorcycle up here with me; today would have been the perfect day to experience on two wheels, powered by fossil fuel. I wouldn’t have been sorry about that last bit, either.

All the best,
From Fairfield, NJ on Friday, 06/10 at 8:30 PM,



Rex Saffer the AstroDoc

Retired Physics Professor, Motorcyclist, Bridge Player, Voracious Reader, Philosopher, Essayist, Science/Culture Utility Infielder