Branch Brook Twice

I was excited on Friday when my partner got off work early due to the heat warning. This meant we could go on a walk, maybe even a date! I laid out a perfect Friday night plan. We would go over to Branch Brook Park, where there was the possibility of up to four and a half miles of walking; by this point, I hadn’t left the apartment in five days, getting less than a thousand steps a day, and it was getting bad for my mental health. Then we would figure out a dinner plan, and I had snagged us a pair of movie tickets to see Straight Outta Compton at the new popup Newark Moonlight Cinema drive-in at the old pro-baseball stadium.

Newark Moonlight Cinema added a Shop Now button to their Page.

“I saw that the thought behind the theater was to promote Black actors and Black filmmakers,” said moviegoer, Z. Medina. “That’s an extra, extra incentive to want to come support my community, especially this year, with more of our issues on the front (headlines).”

“We think that now is a time when Black business, Black entrepreneurship, Black imagery is on the forefront,” [Moonlight owner] Siree said.

“You take the moment and you seize it,” [Moonlight’s concessions caterer] Crawford says. “There are plenty of opportunities out here, especially for the Black community. We’re going to do nothing but keep going.”

Black-owned movie theaters are rare. This couple just opened one in N.J. | NJ.com

I, too, was excited about supporting a local Black-owned business that celebrated Black artists and creators. We’d been talking about this since the cinema opened a month ago, but they’d been consistently sold out on the nights we found ourselves available.

Branch Brook Park, Take 1

When I first moved to Newark, I was told not to go to Branch Brook Park on the north side of the city. It was dangerous, they said, a magnet for drug users and the homeless.

Can you imagine, that was (maybe) out-dated and (definitely) racist? At least, that’s how I feel about taking that characterization of the park at its face value.

Driving into the park, lush and green with fountains streaming, we found a winding road with a wide continuous shoulder for parking, and families scattered across the grass. But we also found big fat drops of rain beginning to strike our windshield, and a look at the radar on our weather apps showed thunderstorms raging for hours. No park for us, and no drive-in theater, either.

But we did drive the loop around the park, for an overview of the park and a survey of the impressive tree damage still lingering across the park from Tropical Storm Isaias on Tuesday.

Branch Brook, Take 2

After Friday’s wash-out, we decided to go back to Branch Brook Park on Sunday. It was hot, humid and sunny, not the best weather for a long walk, but we decided to do the full double loop of the park, somewhat over four miles, because it had been seven days since I’d gotten more than a thousand steps in, and twenty minutes a day on the Yoga Studio app simply isn’t a substitute.

We started at the south end of the park where there were flowers and fountains galore.

We even found some birds and pollinators.

The northern end of Branch Brook Park was as green, but less flowers and more ball fields and a fitness trail like we had out behind the elementary school where I grew up. It reminded me a lot of Maria Hernandez Park, one of the things I miss most about living in Bushwick, Brooklyn — that park, too, would fill up with my Latin neighbors lounging in the grass, bodybuilding on the children’s playground, playing pickup volleyball, basketball and softball games.

There’s also history in this park. Periodically as you walk around the park, there are these signs with QR codes and a number you can call from your cell phone to hear about the history and natural history of America’s first county park.

That tree, for example, a swamp oak, is one of the oldest trees…. I don’t remember what the phone call said, but I love the idea that you could walk the park and learn its history. If there’s one thing these New Jersey Isolation Adventures have shown me, and drives my partner has taken me on around the city of Newark, it’s that there’s a lot of interesting history here in New Jersey.

But my favorite thing about Branch Brook Park? It’s that we have a genuine cathedral, one of the largest in the country, the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, overlooking the park and peering over the treetops. I felt like I was right back in Europe.

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