So, I live in New Jersey . The Garden State . Or rather, if you follow the line across the state from Trenton to the Amboys going diagnonally across the Brunswicks, it looks more like a concrete jungle than necessarily a typical flower bed, but you get the idea. After all, you have all heard the jokes from the comedians, so you must know about New Jersey . You can not make a left hand turn across one of our highways; you must use a jughandle. You may come into the state via a major highway for free; however, we will charge you to leave when the time comes. We believe in toll roads and not in H.O.V. lanes despite the congestion on our highways. And, of course, let us not forget the infamous smells – from the Linden Cogeneration Plant to the Shell Refinery, from the EWR tarmack to the Newark-Elizabeth Port, from the Meadlowlands Swamp to the former Secaucus-Kearny landfill. So, with seemingly so little to be overjoyed about, why would I want to live in the only state in the union that is considered by as completely urban by the handful of insurance companies that are even still here?
I will tell you why. In part it is because of suburbia. The state itself is as big as some intrastate metropolises are as they encompass their "suburbs"… the vast metropolis that engulfs New Jersey places us as citizens in the most dynamic few hundred miles in all the world. There are fewer places in the US with the diversity of New Jersey, from the ethnicities to the scenery, we have it all, and what doesn’t fall within our humbly small boarders, falls so close we can easily access it. Despite the fact we don’t have a recognizable major city because our largest metropolises are dwarfed by their neighbors (Jersey City; Newark-Elizabeth; Patterson-Passiac by the five boroughs of NYC and Camden-Trenton by Philadelphia) our cities themselves are cultural havens and meccas for some very unique and pertinant aspects themselves and the rest of the state stems from a similar attribute.
Travel is simplistic via a cross-pattern of roadways, most so heavily commuted that one toll plaza on some of our roads can collect more in a year than some entire toll systems for other states. The idea that people know where you live by your exit number is a testament to the structure of your massive highway system that includes touted roadways including the only non-congruent stretch of I95 as it makes a mysterious break off the NJTPK mid-state. You don’t even have to pump your own gas here, and, it costs nothing extra to have the luxury of sitting in your car and not sucking in the fumes or smelling up your hands, only Oregon and parks of Alaska even offer it these days. Don’t want to drive, check out NJT’s massive rail system, the largest of all statewide rail systems, or our complex system of light rails including the infamous PATH. Busses are a dime a dozen here, running nearly everywhere and anywhere, and some nowhere, so becareful what you get on. Apart from being siphoning distance from New York City and Philadelphia we are within spitting distance of the likes of Hartford, Providence and Springfield in New England and Newark-Dover to the south, as well as the Bostonian and Baltimore-Washington rivals; lest not forget the entire Long Island scene, Poughkeepsie, Binghamton, Scranton-WilkesBarre, New Haven, Scanton-WilkesBarre, Wilmington-Dover, Springfield, Syracuse, etc. all within short commutes depending on your location.
We have wonderful sports in the tri-state vicinity and great area rivalries. There is no limit to the choices at the professional, semi-pro, collegiate and HS levels including some prestegious champions. We have the Devils, Nets, Red Bulls (and their former names), Giants, Jets, Patriots, Jackals/Cardnials, Blue Claws, Skyhawks, and so many more – as well as the national Equestrian Team and several other military based teams also training here. There are plenty of sports to play as well, with some of our recreational and educational leagues being nationally recognized. Beyond team sports the state offers an array of other related activities across the state that are all top notch. The again, we still take credit for supplying huge fanbases for the Yankees, Mets, Rangers, Islanders, Flyers, Nickerbockers, 76ers, Eagles and Liberty to name but a few.
Not into sports? Maybe you prefer the arts. NJ has lots of that as well with two nationally recognized amphitheaters (Homdel and Camden), the Performing Arts Center in Newark, the War Memorial in Trenton, several famous clubs including the Stone Pony in Asbury Park and the Birch Hill in Old Bridge and enough famous musicians hailing from the State to rival our neighbors in Manhattan who have tried to steal a few away from us over the years. We birthed pop culture classics from ol’ Blue Eyes to Bruce Springsteen to Bon Jovi to the Misfits and the list goes on and on from the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank to Maxwell’s in Hoboken to the Conduit in Trenton, the songs never cease.
Beyond music and the arts, there are a plethora of amazing American and world historical events which occurred here in Jersey, of which life as we know it today would not exist. Washington holed up the troops in Jockey Hollow, crossed the Delaware River from NJ into PA to attack the British, turning point battles in the revolution occured in Princeton, Trenton, Monmouth and Springfield; and Princeton was the nation’s capital for a breif peroid. We were among the first five representatives to ratify the Declarations of Independace, the third state to sign the Constitution, but the first to ratify the Bill of Rights and the orginal Articles of the Confederation were created in NJ in 1779. We gave rise to the legend of Molly Pitcher, the Underground Railroad ran through here, William Patterson gave rise to the Great Compromise here, Thomas Edison invented here; John & Robert Stevens reinvented the railroad here, Standard Oil Company was founded here (and its existance later led to the Sherman Anti-trust Act), Singer Textiles was based here (and we remain the "embroydery" capital of the world), the Newark Brewery district was the first to (re)open after prohibition was repealed (despite NJ being the first state to ratify the sullied ammendment – and, believe it or not, Anheiser-Bush brews more beer here than anywhere else in the world), U-689 Nazi boat was sunk off the Jersey Coast in WWii (the only boat to ever make it within the existing sonar net of the US Navy), David Sarnoff built an empire here; the Hindenburn exploded over Lakehurtst, landed aliens landed in Grovers Farm, Malcom McLean invented containeralizaion for shipping here, the first Nike missle bases were located here (to protect our feble neighbors in Philly and NYC), Ellis Island was decalred part of NJ and Lady Liberty actually faces Jersey coastline, etc.
Of course, we are not called the Garden State without reason. There are all of those huge south Jersey farms which produce the likes of a those infamous Jersey tomatoes and sweet corn as well as a significant portion of the nations cranberries and turnips and my least favorite food, eggplant. We are the home of the cherry blossom (yes, we have more than Washington). We have the second most acres of protected land next to Florida’s wetlands here in NJ (and lets consider how large FL is compared to NJ) – Just wait until the assinine ‘green thing’ happens here, I’m sure people will critisize us despite the fact we’ve done more than most states ever will be able to in protecting our wildlife, including bringing back the bald eagle and the bobcat, we brought back several species, including the eastern black bear so far that they have been found in truly urban climates (the black bear wandering the Paraums area still gives me a giggle considering the number of malls there).
On that outdoors note, there are about 130 miles of shoreline, and Jersey boasts some of the most famous and beautiful beaches on the Eastern seaboard, second maybe only to Florida . Add in the infamous boardwalks, the Atlantic City casinos, the Raritan Valley region, the Intercoastal Waterway, the legendary fishing of the mudhole, the valley, the canyon, the ACR, and of course all the rest of the open ocean and the back bay water fun and you can imagine how wonderful the shore is from Cape May to Sandy Hook – the infamous Raritan River inlet to the Red Bank riverwalk, from the Long Branch to Seaside Heights boardwalks, from Island Beach State Park to Long Beach Island, from Barneget Bay to Bay Heights, from Surf City to Ocean City, from Forked River to Rivers Edge, from Woodbine to Wildwood…
If you don’t like the beach, perhaps the mountains? The Applacian Train passes through NJ through the Delaware Water Gap in NJ, along with the Kittanies Range in western NJ, the Watching Range including the Ramapo Heights and Jersey Highlands, the Pallisades Cliffs, the Coastal Heighlands and the Delware Cliffsides. Don’t like mountains, try the pine barrens region. Realize, the Pine Barrens are the second most recognizable wetlands in the US next to Florida’s Everglades.
We possess the diversity of every culture, race and creed compacted into a few hundred miles of land. Intermingled between the vast infrastructure of highways are some of the most culturally centered neighborhoods in America with some of the largest cities speckling our landscapes and the greatest space of suburbia between them to encourage the diversity in languages, foods and customs. The shops are infinite with every element of the worlds beauty, the small business paired by cooperate commerce in our numerous malls. The garage sale, the flea market, the group sponsored events at the boys and girls clubs to the religious organizations, from the ethnic groups to the VFW halls, from the town halls to the school parking lots and everywhere in-between on any day of the week in any weather, there is always something to share in the diversity of the cultural beauty. Don’t believe me? Portuguese culture revolves around Newark’s Iron Bound section and Korean culture is based in Ft. Lee; both represent some of the greatest concentrations of ethnic culture in the entire US. The state also include huge pockes of Italian immigrants (why do you think Sporanos was filmed in Kearny-West Patterson), Jewish (with an influential community in Passiac-Clifton), Russian (one of the largest in the US is in Wallington), Polish, German, West-African, Brazilian…etc.
We are the home of the diner. We are the home of baseball (according to the kind people in Hoboken). We are the home of the weird (please see weirdnj.com). “We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school.” (thanks Bruce Springsteen)
So there you have it. Where else can you experience those physical extremes and cultural diversity in such a small spance of space?