16 June 2015

New Jersey -- One Year Later

A year ago yesterday, in the wee hours of the morning, I arrived in the wilds of southern New Jersey to stay.  A year ago today all my furniture arrived (mostly intact), causing my perturbed pooch to breathe several deep sighs of relief at being surrounded once again by familiar smells.  The same day I also demonstrated my inestimable grace by promptly tearing off half of my big toenail while trying (obviously unsuccessfully) to shift a cabinet in my soon-to-be office.  Ah, the perils of wearing flip-flops. You'd think I'd have learned to wear steel-toed shoes before moving furniture by now.  Now, a year later, I finally have a normal toenail once again (sans surgery!) and am eagerly looking forward to my first real pedicure in months.  (It's important to celebrate the little things in life.)

Two months after moving I wrote a post called Happy Jerseyversary in which I covered some of my initial observations concerning life in South Jersey.  With one year past I still find the people generally to be friendly (if direct), the inability to pump my own gas a weird novelty (though I certainly appreciated it during the frigid temps this past winter), and the lack of fire ants a distinct advantage, particularly after someone helpful recently threw food in my mailbox, obliging me to retrieve my mail from amidst an undulating wave of several hundred tiny black ants.

Likewise, I still find the appeal of both Scrapple and jughandles largely incomprehensible, the general expense of living here (particularly when it comes to paying my utility bills) breathtakingly high, and the prodigiously pockmarked pavement a literal hell on (my car's) wheels.

True story

Other things I've learned since moving here:

1.  You never goes to the beach; you go "down the shore."  Beaches are for Florida. Near as I can tell, this is true regardless of the direction you are heading at the time.

2.  New Jersey drivers are assholes.  Except for you, of course.  Obviously I didn't mean you.

3.  You have to pay a toll to get out of New Jersey.  Seriously.  It's $5 bucks every time I drive over the bridge into Philly.  And yet you don't have to pay to get back in to New Jersey.  I suspect shenanigans.

4.  New Jersey is only a stone's throw (okay, two stones's throw) from Vermont, maple syrup Mecca of the United States.  And yet it's impossible to find syrup in microwavable bottles here.  I know what you're thinking: "Who the heck is weird enough to heat their syrup and WHY??"  Southerners, that's who.  My first trip south to meet in-laws involved waffles and a bottle of syrup being warmed in a pan of water on the stove.  I feared they were hosting a wildly inappropriate Aunt Jemima sacrifice.  Turns out it's a thing, like sweet tea or fried chicken and waffles.  Southerners like their syrup warm and plentiful.  That doesn't happen here.  Here restaurants give you syrup in little plastic cups holding enough liquid to cover a short stack for Tinkerbell and no more.

Southern pancakes scoff at your wussy Jersey syrup offerings.

5.  I've decided the reason my TomTom app can't deal with New Jersey is because the town names (and often the roads') change approximately every 30 feet.  I can tell SCA friends who've lived here their entire lives which town I'm in and all I'll get back are crickets until I tell them which major roads are next to me.  It can make navigating...interesting.  Especially when your town is part of a township with the same name as a county and also possibly a separate town. Because that's not confusing at all.

6.  Never go grocery shopping on a Sunday afternoon.  Seriously...don't do it.  It's akin to walking voluntarily into a piranha tank during a feeding frenzy.  JUST DON'T DO IT.

All this is not to say I haven't found many awesome things about New Jersey too. Jersey has many things to discover and I'm looking forward to exploring my new home much more thoroughly when I'm finally freed from the incarceration of paint and home repair.  For example:

1.  New Jersey is called the Garden State for good reason.  Fruit and produce stands dot the countryside; you can barely turn around without running into a  farmer's market.  I've also heard that Jersey tomatoes are famous, though I've yet to try one personally.

2.  Four separate seasons...'nuff said.  Well, not really.  No doubt it will be a while before I'm satiated enough with the local fall foliage to stop geeking out over it every year.  Can you blame me?  How often can you say that the countryside coordinates with your hair?  Plus it's wonderful to live someplace with proper snows once again...well, at least until I have to shovel the results.  During the last big snow this winter one of my neighbors came over to help me clear my drive; I rapidly discovered a passionate appreciation for the almighty snow blower.  In case a glorious fall and winter aren't enough, summer around here is a virtual Amazonian rain forest of lush greenery.  You can feel the moisture surrounding you, above and beyond mere humidity, as if the resident leaves were going to encompass you with a restorative mist at any moment.  Which they might, because it rains all the freaking time here.  My poor dehumidifier has been working overtime to keep the dampness outside. Meanwhile, my dog has become a fescue whore because the whole time the movers were hauling my possessions in the house she was outside repeatedly rolling around in the grass like it was made of cashmere.  She still does.

3.  If you love Italian food (and I do), this is the place for you.  There is a huge Italian population in Jersey and, as a result, there is an Italian restaurant on virtually every corner not unlike Memphis and BBQ joints (though I should point out that here BBQ is a verb, as in "to grill meat" whereas in the South it is a noun referring to a particular style of cooked meat).  Italy is referenced everywhere; I see little Italian flags on cars and buildings all over and the grocery stores are filled with so many different types of obscure pasta forms that they have to number the styles on the boxes. Clearly New Jersey is proud of its Italian heritage, as well they should be.  I am no longer the lone redhead surrounded by scores of Southern blondes; I am the now the ginger anomaly amongst a bevy of brunettes.  Apparently I was born to stand out either way.

4.  In case Italian food isn't your jam, you can probably find a diner on every other corner of New Jersey.  Usually open 24-hours, diners provide breakfast or dinner at any time of day for all your fried food needs.  On a side note, I have observed an inordinate number of funeral homes in the area and can't help wondering if they're related to the abundance of diners and rich Italian food, kinda like how the South has most of the best heart centers because of all their fried food.  Just sayin'...

5.  Southern New Jersey is near the Cradle of Liberty.  Twenty minutes over the river--the Delaware River that George Washington crossed in winter to surprise the Redcoats--and I can revel in all the American history a person could possibly stand.  The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Constitution Center--you name it.  It's like having the National Treasure movie come to life.  A bit farther out and I could end up in Valley Forge, ironically dominated by an enormous shopping mall.  I can't help wondering how much the nascent American army might have wished to pop over for new shoes during their bitterly cold and miserable stay in the area.  It never fails to amuse me that once I was surrounded by names and battle sites relevant to the Civil War and now I am encircled by ones related to the Revolutionary War.  You can hardly spit without hitting a sign that says "Liberty" or "Patriot" or "Minuteman."  Good thing I like history.  Even if I didn't, the area is rife with art museums, performing arts venues, theaters, and choral groups, never mind being located within 3 hours of NYC, Washington DC (yay, more history and the Smithsonian!), Baltimore, Lancaster, Hershey Park, and Boston (though that's closer to 4 hours).  What's not to love?

Independence Hall (Philadelphia, PA)

6.  New Jersey has a reputation for many things (some founded, some not), one of which is the word "youse," as in referring to multiple people much like "y'all."  In the year I've lived here, NOT ONCE have I ever heard a single person say "youse."  I have heard a few people say "ya's," as in "Do ya's have everything you need?" but never "youse."  So knock it off with the jokes, already...they annoy me and I'm not even a native.

All in all, it's been a good year.  Admittedly, I haven't yet seen as much of the state or Philadelphia as I'd like, but I'm almost done with home improvement and I know many new adventures await me.  In the meantime, I'm content to sit here in my magically shrinking office chair with the malfunctioning hydraulic lift and ponder all the infinite possibilities.

Suggestions welcome.

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