Aaaah, New Jersey. My only home. I love this place. All the stereotypical minutiae. I love the off-the-boat Italians in Lodi and Cliffside Park, with their homemade mozzarella and cannoli. Ah, the smell of the pizza, the aroma of a nice loaf of semolina bread, served with a dish of garlic in olive oil.
The Ethnic Diversity
I love the Korean section of Palisades Park, where there is nary a sign in English. The Japanese restaurants and groceries of Fort Lee, where the definitive sushi is served. The splendour of the homes in Alpine; lush, decadent, mansions. The never-ending selection of beach towns, along the Jersey Shore, as well as the casinos of Atlantic City. The racetrack at the Meadowlands, the rich culture and history of downtown Newark. The legacy of Paterson, whose natives included Lou Costello, William Carlos Williams, and boxer Ruben ‘Hurricaine’ Carter. If you visit Paterson, you will find a quaint statue of Lou Costello in the aptly named Costello Park. Visit the still amazing Paterson Falls, and take along a copy of William Carlos Williams’ book of prose entitled, ‘Paterson’.
Our Proud Cultural Heritage
There was the ‘Wizard of Menlo Park’; Thomas Edison, and his several Jersey Museums. Our musical history consists of Frank Sinatra, (Hoboken), Dionne Warwick (E. Orange), Bruce Springsteen (Freehold), Jon Bon Jovi (Sayreville), Sarah Vaughn (Newark), Count Basie (Red Bank), Lauryn Hill (S. Orange) and rapper Ice-T (Newark). Such renowned authors as Norman Mailer (Long Branch), Walt Whitman (Camden), Allen Ginsberg (Newark), Dorothy Parker (West Bend), Judy Blume (Elizabeth), James Fenimore Cooper (Burlington), Stephen Crane (Newark) and Alfred Joyce Kilmer (New Brunswick).
The state has nurtured many actors, such as Brooke Shields (Haworth), Kevin Spacey (S. Orange), Jack Nicholson (Neptune City), Jerry Lewis (Newark), Joe Piscopo (Passaic), and Meryl Streep (Summit). Current residents include Whitney Houston, Eddie Murphy, and Danny Aiello. Of course, another draw is the authentic filming of “The Sopranos” all around our fair state.
A little known fact is that Fort Lee was the silent movie capital of the country back in the early part of the 20th century. Movies were made in Fort Lee long before there even was a place called Hollywood. Hundreds of movies were filmed there in the Universal Studios on Main Street, from 1903 to 1917, starring Mary Pickford, the Barrymores, Billie Dove and D.W. Griffith, among many others.
A leisurely Saturday night can be enjoyed while dining at an (insert ethnicity here) restaurant, a short trip to the racetrack, (Meadowlands or Monmouth) and a moonlit drive down scenic Route 9W. With its’ proximity to New York City and upstate New York, New Jersey is the crux of the metropolitan area’s human factor. A lot of us Northern New Jerseyans commute to New York for work, and as we enjoy our sometimes suburban terrain, we fully benefit from the city’s limitless culture. The southwestern NJ area, consisting of Cherry Hill, Camden, Burlington and Trenton, are the neighbors to the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.
New Jersey is the diversity capital of the East Coast. We have it all, and most of us are lifers! There are several very highly populated counties, Bergen being one of the highest, alongside Hudson, Passaic and Essex. In these counties, we pride ourselves on diversity and our personal heritage, which we have either carried with us from our respective home lands, or inherited from our grandparents. In any spring, summer or autumn month, you will find Greek Festivals, Armenian Festivals, Korean Carnivals, Italian Feasts, Oktoberfests, Polka Fests, and more.
On the fourth of July there is no better place to be than strolling the water’s edge in towns like Jersey City or Edgewater, to view the New York City fireworks display. In the autumn months, many towns, such as Ridgewood, offer steam train rides to view the fall foliage. Of course our world famous beaches are a short drive down (or up) the scenic and peaceful Garden State Parkway. The wild and raucous Seaside Heights and Wildwood areas, the historical and elegant Cape May area, the family oriented Long Beach Island, (LBI for those of you who’ve seen the bumper sticker), the nude (yep, I said nude) beach at Sandy Hook, and the day-trip friendly Point Pleasant beach. Don’t forget to visit the lovely lighthouses of the Jersey Shore, especially Ol’ Barney at Barnegat.
New Jersey is also the home of Six Flags Great Adventure, The Wild Safari and the new water park addition. We host the Liberty Science Center, and contrary to popular belief, we claim the Statue of Liberty, on Liberty Island, in Jersey City.
Shop Til You Drop
Do you like to shop? You’ve come to the right place! It’s one thing we do very, very well. Although our Manhattan counterparts may be on the cutting edge of fashion, we, of New Jersey sensibility, rarely pay full price for our indulgences. A trip to the many outlet centers in NJ will result in a higher class of X-mas gift, a sharply dressed pre-schooler, and a set of golf clubs at 50% off retail. Our malls are legendary, with new ones springing up now and again to quell our incessant desire to shop, and to give our younger teens a place to hang out! The recent addition of the Jersey Gardens Mall in Elizabeth, will tempt you with outlet-style stores such as Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Old Navy and Guess. The renovation of The Garden State Plaza is an upscale haven filled with the likes of Neiman Marcus, Betsy Johnson, Steve Madden, Nordstrom and Abercrombie and Fitch.
As I mention money, shopping, and decadence, what better segue could I need to remind you all that the classic family game of ‘Monopoly’ bears the names of streets located in Atlantic City, NJ. The original Miss America beauty pageant was also held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1921.
Do you like auto racing? Visit Englishtown’s Raceway Park, Bridgeport Speedway, Flemington Speedway or The Island Dragway. Sports? How about a NJ Nets game? Perhaps the NJ Devils are more your speed? Maybe the NY Giants, who actually play at Giants Stadium located in East Rutherford, NJ, would keep your attention during a quiet Sunday afternoon. The Trenton Thunder, the Eastern League, Double-A Affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, play their home games on Samuel J. Plumeri Sr., Field at Mercer County Waterfront Park, located on the banks of the Delaware River in Trenton. Also, our newest independent baseball teams, including the Newark Bears, playing at River Front Stadium in Newark, the Somerset Patriots, plating at Somerset Park in Bridgewater, and the Atlantic City Surf, whose home field is the aptly named Sandcastle Stadium.
In New Jersey, we also pride ourselves on our higher education options, as we are the home of the top ranked Princeton University, as well as Rutgers University, Kean College, The College of NJ, Seton Hall University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Ramapo College, among others. Our grammar and high schools produce top rated test scores in National standardized tests.
Our state is rife with nearly 300,000 acres of state parks and nearly 4,000 lakes, ponds and streams. An early morning fishing trip, a hike through the beautiful Kittatinny Mountains, along the Delaware Water Gap, or a camping trip in Tuckerton, beneath the canopy of the Pine Barrens. Small and large conservatories and refuges can be found in nearly every county, and include a personal favorite, Flat Rock Brook Nature Center, in Englewood, NJ, and also include Bass River State Forest, Ramapo Reservation, Wharton State Forest, Ringwood State Park, as well as numerous wildlife management areas located throughout the state.
And just when you think we are all fun and games, well, maybe we are! Atlantic City hosts many glittering examples of ‘Las Vegas’ style entertainment, including comedians, revues and magic and showcases. The newly renovated John Harms Theatre in Englewood, hosts many touring Broadway productions, and solo artists as well as comedians, touring dance companies, and private productions throughout the year. The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, is home of the New Jersey State Symphony, the New Jersey State Opera, the American Repertory Ballet, and the New Jersey Chamber Music Society. The NJPAC has showcased many classic and contemporary artists, spanning many genres, and appealing to many cultures.
I Love NJ
I can’t really say enough about how much I love New Jersey, other than to testify that I will never leave my NY/NJ area, as I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else. You may think we are rude, and some of us are. You may think we are pretentious, well, some of them are. You may think we drive like lunatics, well, we’ve got our own ‘style’ of driving- just take notes. Our accent and dialect varies from Northern to Middle to Southern Jersey, but most of us talk like people in commercials and on television- namely Carmela Soprano. We say ‘cawfee’ and ‘chawclit’, and although we have been bombarded with the New Jersey jokes all of our lives, most of us never leave.
If you are visiting New Jersey, enjoy it for what it is. One of the most diverse states of the union, filled with surprises. If you have never been to NJ, I am sure you are surprised at most of what you have just learned. It’s not all ‘bada-bing’ and Parkway exit humor. We have a lot to offer, and enjoy. NJ isn’t just my home, it’s a part of me, and I am proud! Hope to see you there!