The Pride of New Jersey

I grew up in the wonderful state of New Jersey.  It is a source of great pride for me, but  for reasons I’ll never truly understand, my source of pride seems to be an international embarrassment for most people.

Mocked as the “Armpit of America” by many Americans, the views of foreigners about the State of New Jersey aren’t too much more flattering.  An Argentine colleague-friend thought New Jersey was a dump that smells, having only been to Newark Liberty International Airport, which is actually in Elizabeth.  For a Japanese friend, the image of New Jersey is encapsulated by Hoboken because he rode a train to there once.  The suggestion that Newark, Elizabeth and Hoboken epitomize New Jersey is borderline offensive.  The state’s nickname is “The Garden State,” which people will realize is not a misnomer if they bothered to drive south down the New Jersey Turnpike beyond exit 8A.

People have a nasty impression not just of the place but the people, particularly women.  Upon learning that I was moving to New Jersey, my uncle shared the following joke:

“What’s the difference between garbage and girls from Jersey?”

“Garbage gets picked up.”

I thought moving to Tokyo would spare me from the mockery I get from my New Jersey heritage, but I’ve simply learned that the rap on New Jersey knows no borders.
I think this just comes from ignorance since New Jersey has a lot going for it.

New Jersey is, for example, the most density populated state in the United States, which is conclusive evidence that people love living there.  As one of the 13 original states, it has also made significant contributions to U.S. history: the current make-up of the United States Congress owes much to the “New Jersey Plan” of William Paterson, who proposed equal representation by each state in Congress at the Constitutional Convention.  Even in law, it has an elite stature as one of only four states in the nation (Delaware, Tennessee and Mississippi being the others) that has a Court of Chancery.

I’m sick of people who think that New Jersey is just a place where New Yorkers retreat to to live in their white suburban homes with walk-in closets, two garages and a backyard. Quite frankly, it’s the citizens of New Jersey who are fed up with New Yorkers jamming our traffic as they shop in our state-of-the-art malls, lured by our no sales tax on shoes and clothes.

It’s because of New Yorkers that we in New Jersey have an unfortunate reputation of aggressive driving, and the resulting nation’s highest car insurance premiums.  You’d grow impatient, too, if you had to drive with (a) people from New York City whose only driving experience is on rental cars for their weekend shopping sprees and (b) people from upstate New York who’s never driven with more than three cars in sight.  Keeping the damn New Yorkers out on Sundays is the reason why Bergen County, which faces New York City across the Hudson River, keeps its malls closed on Sundays by retaining the old “blue laws” long after it’s been repealed elsewhere in the country.

In ranting about damn New Yorkers, I don’t want to sound like a guy who is perpetuating the brash New Jerseyan stereotype evidenced by our tough-talking governor, Chris Christie, and the cultural phenomenon “The Sopranos,” although perhaps the stereotype is somewhat deserved. In the initial weeks at Boston College, I thought the people I met were the nicest people I’d ever met.  Then a friend from the South thought that the same people were the rudest people she’d ever met, at which point it dawned on me that the standard of “nice people” was significantly lower for New Jerseyans.

I don’t think the brashness of Jerseyans is necessary a fault, although I concede the state has its share of faults.  It’s home to two of the more dangerous cities in America: when I was applying to law schools in New Jersey, my choice was either being mugged (Rutgers of Newark) on the way to class or being killed (Rutgers of Camden) on the way to class.  New Jerseyas also can’t pump their own gas because it is one of only two states (Oregon being the other) to prohibit self-service gas stations.  And I certainly can’t defend the corruption in our politics, with a history of incumbent mayors getting arrested on bribery charges and a governor who appointed his gay boyfriend, who couldn’t get national security clearance, as chief of state security.

But these faults only add to the charm of the state of New Jersey.  Its charm is quite subtle, so subtle in fact that it can only be appreciated by people who have lived and grown up there.


2 Responses to “The Pride of New Jersey”

  1. 1 jon February 25, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Well, New Jersey surely is a great state. It has all the diversity of pretty much every state rolled into one (beaches, big city, entertainment, skiing, hiking, history, sports). Its also the wealthiest state per capita (possibly second to Connecticut, but they are always the clear #1/#2), but that includes some horrible places like Paterson, Newark, Camden, so there’s an incredible wealth and up-scale places all over NJ. I’ll also say that Hoboken is a great little city now. No need to lump it in with the dumps that the state does have in the old cities. Anyway, I don’t really feel a need to brag about it: I’d prefer most people continue to think of NJ as sucky so it doens’t get more crowded. I’m happy if they all stay away, back in their own shitty states.

  2. 2 joesas March 3, 2014 at 9:37 am

    I agree! Keep those damn people out of our state!

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