It’s hard to follow any highway in New Jersey. Roads just don’t seem to be very well marked. The other night we got lost in Elizabeth as we headed north along 27, and now we’re leaving our hotel in Harrison with resolve to be vigilant, to watch for turns, to follow our maps, to read Butko’s book as we go, and to see what we can see.
It takes us a while to find Highway 27 which follows the path of the original highway. We’re confused and befuddled and well south of Newark before we find ourselves on a road with an occasional NJ 27 sign.
We stop in Linden to get a shot of the boxy little White Diamond Diner. If we don’t find a New Jersey story, I say, maybe we’ll just get a montage of diner shots.
We keep heading south on 27 and I notice a bunch of bright benches and brooms and signs outside a Mexican restaurant called Beana’s in Rahway. I say let’s get a shot from across the street and I’ll go over and ask the owners if they might be interested in our invading the place.
The inside of Beana’s is a happy explosion. There are vintage toys, lots of bright pictures and banners and decorations of all sorts on the sunny yellow walls. The owner is not there, but the hostess is very friendly, and the tall slim older gentleman she’s talking to is helpful too. Then while we’re talking, the hostess says, “There’s the owner right there,” pointing to a guy walking by outside on the sidewalk. Quickly he is over with Bob and Glenn on the other side of the highway, talking to them. I walk over there too.
It turns out that Kerry O’Connor is a friendly and energetic Irishman. He and wife Gina (often called Gina Beana in her early years) have owned and run Beana’s for 15 years. And when I explain that we’re doing a documentary about this Lincoln Highway, it turns out he knows the road and has some childhood memories of signs and historic markers. He agrees to an interview and we decide to give this a shot.
We learn that Brenda Paco is the hostess/waitress/everything who takes care of all the hungry folks who stop by. Lunch is starting. She stays busy.
There’s one table of 4 young women in the corner, and they are wonderfully cooperative, letting Bob tape their ordering, their eating, their conversations. One of Kerry’s friends brings his kids. Some folks from Brooklyn who are visiting a friend in Rahway stop for lunch, their first visit to Beana’s. And two businessmen round out the lunch crowd. Everyone seems OK with our camera looking over their shoulders.
Brenda warns the guys in the kitchen that we’d like to come back there too, and they ask for a few minutes. The cook and his assistant are Mexican, and although her Spanish is not perfect (her parents are immigrants from Peru,) she says she tries her best.
We spend about 4 hours at Beana’s, capturing lunchtime customers, talking to Kerry and Brenda, eventually eating a late lunch ourselves, learning all we can about Beana’s and its relationship to the highway.
We’ve eaten so much Mexican food on our journeys that it seems appropriate that we have a Mexican restaurant in the show. One owned by an Irishman? As the sign says in the front window: God Bless America.