Views on ‘In Hoboken’, a Novel by Christian Bauman

It’s only fitting that, in a year when I started to become so nostalgic about the 1990’s New Jersey and New York City music scenes, two books would come out in a short span of time, both focusing on the two towns where I’ve spent most of my life.

Loyal followers (and others) may remember my entry Evolution of a Town. Evolution of its Music. My Non-Role in the mid-90’s New Brunswick, NJ Music Scene, where I wrote about Ronen Kauffman’s fantastic memoir, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye: Bands, Dirty Basements and the Search For Self.  (That was also followed by posts about various things like, New York City Area Concert Venues in the 90s, how the New York Times wrote about why bands are staying out of the City, as well as a few other music-themed ramblings).

Well was I sure surprised when I read about Christian Bauman’s third novel, simply titled, In Hoboken.  It piqued my interest not just because the town I live in happens to be its title location, but because it, too, centers around the New Jersey and New York music scene in the 1990s.

Two books on such a topic in a year?  Both that I can relate to?  Very strange…and very enjoyable!

Let me make a few distinctions here, however:

First, In Hoboken is a piece of fiction, while New Brunswick, New Jersey, Goodbye… is a first-person memoir, and somewhat of an encyclopedia, capturing the true personality of the 90s New Brunswick music scene.

Second, my own experience with each location during that period varies greatly.    As I have previously written, I was immersed in the New Brunswick scene in the mid-90s – basically, it was my life.  Hoboken, however, is a different story.  In the mid-90s, I was a Hoboken tourist.  I knew the city well, not because I lived there or because I was a follower of its music scene but, quite simply, it was a place to go drinking and to catch a band at Maxwells when we couldn’t see them across the river in the big City.  While Hoboken is, indeed, in New Jersey, it was simply easier and more exciting for us to venture onto the big island of Manhattan to see a show.  I did see many shows in Hoboken, however, and it was probably the first place where I was able to get into a bar before I reached the legal drinking age of 21 (a practice that Hoboken bars have since disallowed, en masse).

Third, I should mention that my musical focus those days centered around ska, punk and hardcore, where Bauman’s book chronicles the tribulations of a young folk singer and his friends.  The only thing I knew about folk at that point in time was how to spell it.  Was there actually folk in Hoboken in the 90s?  I’m not sure, but Bauman makes it seem like it’s something I would have wanted to listen to.

Fast-forward thirteen years:  I live in Hoboken now.  Which, to me at the age of 20, would have been quite perplexing.   I often wondered why anyone would want to move here, when the big city was so close.  To use Bauman’s own term, why would anyone want to live in the “foyer” when you could have the whole house? Later, I understood that Hoboken had its own charm and provides many luxuries that you can’t get across the river in Manhattan, all while being a five minute subway (OK, PATH) ride away (the ability to have a car, nice apartments/condos, everything within the small mile-square walk, real “neighborhoods” throughout, etc.).  And of course, thousand-dollar per square foot apartments in Manhattan make Hoboken seem even more attractive (although, it’s not exactly cheap over here these days). This is the city that sets the backdrop to Bauman’s story, with the bigger one on the other side of the Hudson, only playing second fiddle.

The cast of characters that Bauman presents is a conglomerate of individuals who we’ve all known at some points in our lives.   My intention is not to turn this into a traditional book review, but it is worth noting that he does a superb job at bringing each of them to life – particularly with the novel’s lead, Thatcher, whose only passion in life is his guitar and whose only goal is to get some place bigger and better than were he is now.  Bauman would probably kill me for calling this novel a “coming of age story” (how cliché!), but in a way it is.  I’m not sure if there is any true resolution come the end of the book, but in the year or so that the story takes place, the characters certainly do realize that life is something very different from when the tale first started.

Hoboken, during the period when this story takes place, is an excellent metaphor for its characters and their endeavors:  A historical working class city slowly struggling with its transition into something more gentrified, all of which is on the doorstep of someplace much bigger – a bigger place where many of its residents strive to migrate to at some point of their lives, whether it be to live, or to get the big job, or to just be able to say that they spent some part of their life in New York City.  In the 90s, people who moved to Hoboken didn’t ever think they would stay, and many of them didn’t’ – it was simply the waiting room to something more grand.  To the characters in this story, the city plays the “waiting room” role quite well.

One of the reasons why I really can’t do a traditional review of this book is because my view is clearly skewed here.   I’m simply too close to it all.  As a local who has experiences with the Hoboken inside the pages of Bauman’s novel, as well as the Hoboken of 2008, it is particularly interesting to see the contrast of a city which has changed so much in such a short period of time.  For example, the working-class men, who he so vividly describes as they wait for their coffee early in the morning, are no longer residents of this town – they’re now only visitors who make their stay for eight hours as they build million-dollar condos.  A reader who is familiar with the setting clearly will have a different take on the story from someone who is not (I’m curious to see the take of this novel from non-Hobokenites).   But the characters are interesting, the dialogue is witty and it’s 250 pages are a quick, enjoyable read. The group of friends who make up the story’s core have a shared sense of humor which I relate to (Bauman’s true sense of humor, I can only presume) and there are many amusing descriptions of places which still hold very true today.

As a side note, I found Bauman’s description of legendary Maxwell’s similar, in spirit, at least, to my 2007 Yelp! review of the very same place. I wrote:

Sitting on the corner between 10th and 11th at the site of the first baseball game ever played, it’s far enough from the guido bars and the college kids and the local watering holes to assure you one thing:  those who are there *want* to be there.  And, in Hoboken, that may be excuse enough to make a visit on a Friday night…

Mr. Bauman, thanks. You’ve done Hoboken well.

(I don’t suppose anyone will soon be publishing a novel about Oakland, New Jersey, the town where I went to high school?  Didn’t think so…)

The 2008 BMW X5 3.0si – The First 3 Months and 3000 Miles

(Edit:  I notice there are a lot of Google search hits to this page for people just looking for personal pics of the X5.  Therefore, for those of you not reading this whole review, I should note that there is a full photo set of my X5 on my Flickr account.)

So, as I wrote in my post in December, I placed an order for a 2008 BMW X5 3.0si to replace my 2005 BMW X3 3.0i when it came off of lease (See post: BMW Ultimate Service, Confirmed + My new (and upcoming!) BMW X5). As a quick recap, I had to place the order before January 2, 2008, because BMW had a current owner loyalty program on the X5, which allowed me to save substantial money on my monthly payments. The program rules said that, while the credit application had to be submitted prior to January 2nd, I did not have to take delivery of the car until the end of March in order to qualify for the special rate. The X3 that I was driving did not come off of lease until March 30th and the last payment was made on February 17 (the misalignment between lease-end date and payment date is because I moved my payment due date to the middle of the month a few months after the initial lease inception). My dealer, Open Road BMW in Edison, NJ, said they would hold the order on the car until early February in order to assure the car was delivered sometime in mid-March. Well, boy was I surprised when I received a call from the dealer in late February, notifying me that the car had been delivered – a full 17 days after the order had been placed. This means that it went from order placement to factory assembly to shipment to delivery in less than 3 weeks. Talk about efficiency!

Releasing my old X3

First, let me say that the X3 was handed back with 42,157 miles on it, with a total lease allowance of 45,000 miles. It’s surprising that I drove this much, considering that I travel so much, but I made a significant amount of trips back and forth between NJ and Killington, VT from 2005-2007, which adds up to about 500 miles round trip. Nonetheless, I was still about 3000 miles under the lease total (keep this in mind – it’s important later). I can also now, officially confirm that the total maintenance and out of pocket expenses for this car was $0 – ZERO DOLLARS. BMW’s Ultimate Service proves that it does, indeed, pay off. (See my post on this topic titled “BMW Ultimate Service, Confirmed“)

Unfortunately, I had an unwelcome run-in with a shopping carriage about 18 months ago, which left a good-sized dent in the rear lift gate. When my dealer called, I explained that I had already received a quote of $676 to repair this and the repair was already scheduled at the body shop. The dealer suggested that I bring the car in and he would work out a deal for me to so that I wouldn’t have to pay as much and I wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of losing the car for a week when it went into the shop. This was a win-win situation for everyone if they could do it: I save money; It saves me the trouble of going to the body shop; I get my car faster; and the dealer gets to book my delivery by the close of this month. Taking them up on their offer, I arrived at Open Road BMW and started with the lease deposition process.

The inspection and paperwork took all of 20 minutes and the dealer decided to charge me $400 for the dent, which is the maximum “large dent” fee for returned vehicles, per the BMW Lease-end Inspection Form that I was sent a few months back. This was great, as it immediately saved me almost $300 compared to the body shop, but there was more savings to come. BMW generously rebates unused mile credits to returning leasees in order to defray the cost of lease-end repair costs. BMW Financial Services confirmed that my credit would be $150 for my unused miles so, at the end of it all, the total cost for that dent was $250. No arguments there!

Delivering the X5

I then moved on to the delivery area and signed my final paperwork. It took exactly one hour to go through the X3’s lease-end inspection, sign the lease-end paperwork, complete the paperwork for the new X5, go through my iDrive training and take possession of the new X5.  This is my second car purchased with Open Road and both have been pleasant buying experiences. The sales guys are not “slimy” and they don’t try to insult my intelligence. Of course they wanted me to pay another $1300 total for the extended damage coverage and wheel and tire hazard insurance, but when I declined, I didn’t get the usual “boy, you’re really stupid for not buying this” lecture that you hear from many dealers.

Overall, though, their service department is probably what keeps me there – you only buy the car once, but you have to live with the service department for the lifetime of the car. Their service department is friendly, efficient, thorough and doesn’t try to nickel-and-dime you (obviously – I spent $0 there in the last three years).

An hour later, I was driving the new X5 Home.

First Impressions: Initial Delivery

Just to recap, here are the specs of what I ordered:

2008 X5 3.0i Sports Activity Vehicle

Running Boards

iPod and USB adapter

Black Sapphire Metallic, Black Nevada Leather, Dark Burl Walnut Trim

All Standard Options, Plus the following:

Technology Package: Navigation System, Voice Activation System, Real-time Traffic Alerting System, Parking Distance Control, Rear-View Camera with virtual track and docking lines

Sports Package: Electronic Damping Control, Anthracite headliner, 19″ Light-allow wheels Star Spoke with run-flat all-season tires, 20 Way Multi-Contour Comfort Seats, Shadowline Trim, Sports leather steering wheel

Premium Package: Universal Garage Door Opener, Digital Compass Mirror. Storage Package, Auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, BMW Assist + Bluetooth (BMW’s version of OnStar)

Cold Weather Package: Heated front seats, Ski bag, Heated Steering Wheel, Retractable headlight washers

Other Accessories: Satellite Radio

The car was delivered, per spec and there were really no surprises. I was already very familiar with BMW’s options and had tested most of them out either on the X5 or on other models of their cars. The dealer spent some time with me going through the features of the car, particularly the multitude of configurable features available through the iDrive system (more on this later).

This is a good opportunity to setup your peripherals before stepping off the lot. Bluetooth paring with my iPhone took about a minute and my entire phone book was transferred into the car’s memory within a few minutes (a lot faster than it used to take on my 2005 X3).

BMW supplies a special cable with the iPod and USB Adapter, which connects to the standard Apple proprietary port on your iPod, and the USB and AUX-IN ports in your center console. The iPod was up and playing music in about 30 seconds.

If you’ve ordered Satellite Radio, it will require activation with Sirius. My dealer had the forethought to do this for me ahead of time on my behalf and provided me with a printout of my account information on the Sirius website, in addition to my personal password. I should note that all new BMWs come with one year of pre-paid Sirius service.

BMW’s Assist emergency assistance program needs to be setup for the car, even if you have an Assist profile on another BMW. You can do this by hitting the “SOS” button in the car and providing the friendly operator with your contact and emergency contact details. This takes less than five minutes.

Like all BMWs, driver preferences are stored in the car, associated with the key fob, and activated once the unlock key is pressed on the fob. It’s a good idea to lock your seating and searing wheel preferences into the seat memory at this time, otherwise it will revert back to the factory default the next time you open the car (which is not good for someone like me, who stand 6’3″). There are also some other preferences you may wish to set through the “i” menu, which your dealer can walk you through. If you’re coming from an older BMW, some of the defaults that you may be used to may need to be manually set, such as automatic door locking once you begin to drive.

First Impressions: Exterior

The exterior of the 2008 X5 is sharp. There are a lot of ways to describe it: handsome, powerful and sporty are three words that I’d use. The truck’s stance, particularly when viewed from the front, keeps consistent with BMW’s sportier image. This is definitely no mini-van.

I prefer the look of the X5 with the running boards, although, as many debates have proven, this is complete personal preference. I tend to think it rounds out the overall look of the vehicle and adds a bit of sportiness to it. In the sapphire black metallic version of the car, the polished steel running boards with the black studs compliment the car nicely. The silver running boards are the only part of the car, save the wheels, which are not black.

The wheels on my model are the 19-inchers with the 212-type rims. These give the truck a more aggressive look when compared to the standard 18-inch wheels. The 19 inch-wheels are included as part of the sports package. Note that these are run-flat tires, which do help give you piece of mind in the case where you run over a nail and need to get to a service station. However, BMW really screwed up here with the spares. If you have selected the third row seating option, you DO NOT get a spare at all. (Note to BMW: Run-flat tires don’t help you if you are a hundred miles from the middle of nowhere or are traveling late at night and can’t find a replacement immediately!). If you do not choose the third row seat, you are left with a smaller, donut-style tire. So the the engineers at BMW couldn’t figure out a way to fit a full size spare in either scenario? Simply amazing!

The front wire-mesh grill work is sharp (I’m not completely sure, but I think some of this grill-work only comes with the sports package). The circular parking distance control sensors blend well with the car and are fairly discreet – this is a BIG pet peeve of mine on most cars! (Why can’t manufacturers find a better way to conceal these????).

When unlocked in the dark, the car is undeniably an X5, even at night. The lighting package includes small downward-shining “spotlights” that shoot down from under each door handle. This is very cool.

The brake lights are extremely bright and are the newer “fan style” design that started to appear on many of the BMWs last year. The headlights are classic BMW, but the standard Adaptive Headlights come alive when you turn the steering wheel. You can demonstrate these by simply moving the steering wheel with the headlights shining against the wall, such as in your garage. When you turn the wheel to the left, you’ll see the headlights move along with it.

First Impressions: Interior

The interior is luxurious and a bit minimalist, true to the classic BMW design. While one auto manufacturer now has 47 buttons on the center of their dashboard, BMWs approach has been to slim down the amount of buttons, even as various new technologies continue to creep their ways into cars every year (Of course, the iDrive help with this – more on that later). The cockpit is sleek, well laid-out and spacious – it feels immense compared to the X3’s interior. All the critical controls are easily in reach and you can see every corner of the vehicle comfortably, particularly with the over-sized mirrors, which fold in at the touch of a button.

There are three seat options on the X5: the standard seats, sport seats or 20-way multi-contour comfort seats. My X3 had the sports seat and I must admit that they are rough on the body, especially on long trips. Although the sport seats are, obviously, standard with the sports package, the multi-contour comfort seats are an available option, which I chose. These seats are tremendously comfortable and the level of adjustability is excellent. If you can’t find a comfortable position with these, you should just replace them with a Lay-Z-Boy.

The huge panoramic moonroof is similar to the moonroof in the X3 and is great on a sunny day. Even with my X3, people always tended to be fascinated by the size of this moonroof. The anthracite headline include as part of the sport package is similar to that included on the sports package of most other BMWs.

The electronic gearshift is a bit bizarre. On a standard automatic transmission gearshift, most people are used to shifting “down” one or two clicks to put the car in reverse. This shifter, however, is bidirectional: Shifting up puts you in reverse, where shifting down puts you in drive. Thus, you have to be careful: if your brain is trained to quickly turn the car on and downshift into reverse, you could be driving the X5 directly into the car parked in front of you.

The interior has plenty of storage in the door and the center armrest, including two good sized cup holders, which the owners of the older X5s will be happy about. The rear storage area has a lot of space and is cavernous compared to the X3 when the seats are folded down. The hatch has generous side pockets with cargo netting and you can easily store a first aid kit (or similar) in the easy-to-access spare tire compartment. The hatch can be opened via the remote control or via a release button in the center console.

Now, on to the most often debated features of the X5, as well as many other BMWs: the electronics packages and controls. At the center of it all is the iDrive mouse-like controller, which sits neatly and conveniently in the center console. It provides you easy access to five key areas: Climate control, Navigation, Communication (phone controls, BMW Assist, etc.), Entertainment and the “i” menu, which allows you do control various settings throughout the vehicle (the way lighting behaves, doors unlock, seat memory retention, etc.).  As this has been the most controversial feature in recent years for some BMW owners, I was a bit intimidated by it, even though I’m highly technical myself. After using the iDrive for a few mere hours, however, I’m not quite sure what the fuss is all about. It is easy to learn, easy to use when you are driving and provides you with access to all the key features required. I’m not quite sure what the big fuss is all about. Even my regular passengers picked up on using it rather quickly, even though they are not regularly in the car. I will come short from saying that it is perfect – because it is not, but it gets the job done. The biggest criticism I have is in regards to the several of the menu layouts, which, I feel, often require too many iDrive actions in order for you to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to do (for example, if you have selected a satellite radio channel from a genre category and you want to switch to your satellite radio pre-sets, there are about 10 clicks and turns required of the iDrive “mouse”).

The entertainment electronics are well integrated and I regularly flip between Satellite radio, my iPod, CDs, FM radio and my iPhone (via bluetooth). The iPod integration is excellent and gives you full access to your iPod music a standard “iPod-like” menu hierarchy (much better than BMW’s first implementation of the iPod interface). If you have an iPhone, you can use it for, both, music and phone uses, but it must be connected via the BMW-provided dock connector cable to play music, which connects nicely within the center armrest.

The dual-zone climate control system can be controlled precisely via your iDrive, but I almost never find myself using this menu sub-system. Most of the key function (temperature, air flow, fan speed, heated seats, etc.) can be controlled via the dedicated buttons in the center of the dash. Using the iDrive is a bit overkill for this, although, I must say that the “movable” focus of the seat heating elements is very nice in the winter (e.g. if you just want the heat on your upper back, you can tell it focus there).

A lot of my driving is done in my hometown of Hoboken, NJ (the second most densely populated city in America) or next door in Manhattan, so I am forced to be a professional parallel parker. This is where the rear-view camera, parking guidance and parking distance control (PDC) systems come in to play and are truly one of the features I can’t live without. The PDC provides you with visible and audible singles to alert you when you are inching close to an object and the rear-view camera gives a nice, wide view of the road behind you. The parking guidance system overlays indicators and guide lines over the camera image to “guide” you into a parking space – I am always amazed at its accuracy. Owners of the 2007 X5 consistently complained about the visibility of the camera in low-light conditions, but I don’t seem to have an issue (was it fixed or am I not that picky?).  The system is activated automatically when the X5 is put into reverse, or you can manually activate it or turn it off via a button in the center dash.  My only criticism of the system is the fact that you are promoted with a warning screen that tells you not to use your iDrive/navigation system/etc. while the vehicle is in motion and you must manually push the iDrive controller to “Accept” these terms.   This is presented to you when you turn on the vehicle which, unfortunately, also happens to be when you need the rear view camera the most.  My research tells me this is only the case on the US models.

A last notable feature are six programmable memory keys on the dash which allow you to, pretty much, keep any setting in the car at the touch of a single button. Simply holding one of the keys for an extended period of time assigns your current iDrive action to that key. For example, the programs I use change the source to my iPod, changes to my favorite Sirius satellite station, sets the navigate system for my office, sets the navigation system for my home and dials my office’s main number. Programming these buttons helps to significantly reduce the number of iDrive actions down to a simple push of a button for your most commonly-used functions. My one criticism of these buttons is that they can often be a bit sensitive – if you hold one down for too long, it will re-assign the function of the button, even though you may not want to.  There are also two additional programmable keys on the steering wheel, which can be set via the iDrive’s “i” menu.

I won’t go into much detail on the other features, as they are pretty “standard” BMW features available on most models – voice-activated control, steering wheel controls, rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights, tire pressure monitors, etc.

The Drive

The X5, of course, is a truck. Albeit smaller than many of the behemoths on the road today, it is certainly a full size SUV. The drive, however, is better than most of the other SUVs I have test-driven in this range, save the Porsche Cayenne. When put into Sports mode, you can still have a lot of fun with the X5 on a curvy road. The drive is solid and sticks to the road at high speeds and in all sorts of weather conditions. We had a light winter this year and my snow driving was limited, but it didn’t have any issues with the ground I had to cover.

That being said, drivers who want more will probably be disappointed with the power and agility. That statement, however, may not make sense, as serious, performance-focused drivers probably shouldn’t be buying a full-size SUV, anyway.   But these days everyone seems to “need” an SUV in their driveway.  I think the power, performance and handling of the X5 3.0si will suit 98% of drivers, however, some might consider it to be underpowered, particularly compared to its 4.8i big brother. Its size also restricts it from being as nimble as its little cousin, the X3. I must admit that, even three years into the lease, I still found the X3 to be exhilarating to drive, particularly when taking turns on the highway 25 miles faster than I should have been going. I don’t get that same feeling when driving the X5, but my driving, these days, is usually limited to my 20-mile, straight highway trip to my office 6 or 7 times a month. That being said, I will gladly trade the 85-MPH curves on the highway for the room, comfort and luxury of the X5.


Overall, the X5 if a great SUV. Nearly four months later, I am still in love with it. I have also never owned a car where nearly every passenger makes multiple comments about how beautiful and luxurious it is (and I tend to cart around a number of folks who own luxury cars). I look forward to taking my first road trip in it sometime this summer.

I should note that there is a full photo set of my X5 on my Flickr account.

Online Podcast Interview with Business Intelligence Network

Just a quick note about a podcast interview I did with the Business Intelligence Network earlier this week at the Real Time 2008 conference in San Francisco. It’s not very flashy, but in my own words, I talk a bit about the type of stuff that my company does and the challenges faced with real-time systems and data replication.

You can access the streaming podcast here.