Amboy…what a unique and yet undefined word.
Everyone has heard it in one context or another. Those of us from the East Coast, and the New York Metropolitan Area especially, will likely think of The Amboys exit off of the New Jersey Turnpike. West Coasters or Route 66 fans will undoubtedly recall the home of Roy’s Motel and Cafe, a favorite (apparently) of Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins, and the set of various ‘middle-of-nowhere’ scenes in Hollywood films.
There are Amboys in several states (Washington, where it’s adjacent to Mt. Tum Tum; Illinois, where it’s a historical spot for Mormons and railroads) so it must be a catchy name.
Those of us with a background in rock music may call up the sound of Ted Nugent’s first band, The Amboy Dukes, itself a reference to a book (a gritty, possibly exploitative coming-of-age tale about Jewish youth gangs in 1945 Brooklyn). The Amboy was also a Great Lakes ship that went down one blustery November at the beginning of the last century.
You’ll occasionally hear the term come up in conversations between Asians, as sort of a derogatory blend of “American” and “boy”, used to describe someone who is perhaps a little too willing to adopt Western style or mannerisms.
And then I have a friend whose parents named him Amboy. Fortunately his parents didn’t name him Perth Amboy. I recently heard from Amboy via most unexpected text message. He had moved to West Saugerties in the Hudson Valley and wanted to get together now that we were “neighbors”. I was surprised he knew I lived in Woodstock, but perhaps with Facebook and Linkin it’s probably pretty easy to find former classmates. I invited him over one summer weekend thinking that we could spend the afternoon on my back deck relaxing. I told him to bring a swim suit. I must admit he was impressed with the deck and pool area I had build a year ago. “Wow!” was his comment. “Where did you buy your pool? And who built your deck? Wow!” I felt a bit embarrassed. The deck is nice, the pool is terrific…but. But I was cool. I gave him the name of the hudson valley pools company I used: Royal Pools & Spas. Their Newburgh, NY showroom was probably the closest of their four stores, I said. They can also recommend a couple of companies to build your deck or perhaps you can find someone nearer to your place. We spent a pleasant afternoon reminiscing about our child hood adventures, high school friends etc. He then told me he and his partner are expecting their first child. I asked if they had any names. They planned to name their kid Perth Amboy whether it was a girl or a boy! His wife is from the New Jersey town of Perth Amboy. OK, so there will be at least another person with the name Amboy, even if it’s a middle name.
Amboy. What is it about this timeless, almost vaguely iconic name that means nothing, comes from nowhere, and yet has spread to such far corners?
Historically, we’re told by the Perth Amboy folks that the word comes from a Native American source meaning ‘point’ (as in a piece of land on or mostly surrounded by water, a fair description of the area around Perth Amboy). It’s a decent explanation, backed up by a number of historical records, but I don’t quite buy it. There must be something more to “Amboy” for the name to be so familiar…
Perth Amboy and South Amboy together make up The Amboys, which most people think of as just another exit from the New Jersey Turnpike. How wrong they are!
Perth Amboy is maybe the nicest decaying ex-factory town in New Jersey, and reminds me very much of several other nice little economically distressed communities in Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Upstate New York. The people who possess (or force) some community spirit are desperately enthusiastic about things like ‘waterfront revitalization’ and ‘urban enterprise zones’, while most of the residents secretly hope for an early death, and pass the time drinking beer and watching TV.
We shall continue this conversation on another page of this site very soon.