If you exit the Palisades Parkway South to cross the George Washington Bridge, immediately before merging onto the Bridge traffic, you pass beneath a pedestrian overpass from which hangs an unadorned green sign with white lettering that says Pip Helix.
I noticed this sign for the first time two Saturdays ago, after what must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of passages under it, depending on how long it’s been hanging there. I assume the strange words identify something in the immediate area, but what? The pedestrian overpass? The merge ramp? A Native American ley line?
Google yielded tantalizing leads: – A band called Pip Helix put out an album in 1996. – One or more individuals calling themselves Pip Helix are occasional posters on a couple of Websites called, respectively, USASexguide.com and Cute Overload. – Pip Helix is mentioned in Jennys Blogg, which is otherwise in Swedish. – Pip Helix (The band? The Swede? The sex guide aficionado?) is a project of Simco Engineering. Tantalizing yes, helpful, no. Pip Helix remained a puzzlement.
After a day or two of deep thought, my wife and I recalled that the ramp that goes from the toll area to the GW proper is spiral-shaped – not unlike a helix, you might say, if you’d ever heard the word helix used to describe anything other than a strand of DNA, which I certainly have not. Even though the sign is at the very end of the entrance, arguably not on the ramp at all but rather the merge lane, our best guess was that Pip Helix referred to the on-ramp because it’s the only thing around that’s, you know, helical (surprising adjectival form, no?).
Now only one question remained: Pourqui Pip?
More googling and much too much time pottering around the New Jersey Website were both to no avail. I told myself all would be revealed eventually, but first I’d have to let it go, stop thinking about, just as I did some time ago, when I couldn’t recall the name of the actor who’d played Ishmael in John Huston’s Moby Dick and less than an hour after I’d vowed to stop thinking about the damn movie, which wasn’t really that good to begin with, I suddenly realized it was Richard Basehart.
Finally I called my friend John, who has lived in New Jersey for twenty years or so and who I hoped might have some knowledge of local lore. No dice. He suggested Google, of course, and Mapquest, which I had already tried too. Something came over his intercom at that moment and he said he’d call me back. When he did he was strangely quiet.
“I know what it is but I’m reluctant to say. I think you’ll be embarrassed.” “Tell me!” I yelled. Yelling works more often then one would think. “Palisades Interstate Parkway.” “Oh.” “Yes.” “Is that what everyone calls it in New Jersey? Have you ever called the Parkway the Pip?” “Not before today.” “How did you figure it out?” “It’s an Enn-jay thing, baby.”