Ten reasons to sing high-harmony praises of New Jersey

by Bruce Dancis

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

12 September 2007


Benjamin Franklin referred to New Jersey as “a barrel tapped at both ends,” a not-particularly-valuable expanse between the Middle Atlantic behemoths of Pennsylvania and New York.

Still, that’s a lot better than being called “the armpit of New York” or, as one wag suggested, the state whose slogan should be “New Jersey: It Always Smells Like This.”

Such are but a few of the indignities inflicted on this good but small (the fourth-tiniest) state, one whose largest television stations are in New York City and Philadelphia, whose governor doesn’t wear a seat belt and whose toxic waste dumps are the stuff of legend.

Well, that’s all about to change. With “Jersey Boys”—the Tony-winning musical—just about the hottest ticket in American theater, it’s about time that New Jersey started receiving the respect it deserves.

So consider this list of 10 Things We Love About New Jersey a first salvo in the fight to reclaim a state’s reputation.

(Disclaimer: I am not now nor have I ever been a resident of the state of New Jersey. But two of my favorite cousins, Kit Schackner and Kelly Conklin, are Jersey lifers—born, bred and still living there—and I have consulted with them on some of the items on this list.)

1. Bruce Springsteen: Unlike Frank Sinatra, who skedaddled across the Hudson River from Hoboken to New York the first chance he got, The Boss has always worn his Jersey heart on his sleeve. Springsteen, born in Freehold, and his band made their mark in the clubs of Asbury Park on the Jersey shore. Those roads Springsteen was born to run on were New Jersey roads, and he even wrote a song, “New Jersey Is My Home” ... wait, that’s a parody.

Anyway, not only is Springsteen still one of America’s greatest rock `n’ rollers, but many of his band members—including Clarence Clemons, Patti Scialfa, Nils Lofgren, Max Weinberg and Steve Van Zandt—have made fine music in their own right.

Speaking of Steve Van Zandt ...

2. “The Sopranos”: ... his Silvio Dante was just one of the memorable characters David Chase created for his brilliant HBO series about New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano (portrayed by James Gandolfini, born in Westwood). Chase may have been born in New York, but he was raised in New Jersey, and his recently concluded series is inseparable from its place on the map. From the Bada Bing in Lodi to Satriale’s Pork Store in North Arlington to Tony and Carmella’s humble abode in West Caldwell, “The Sopranos” provides a guided tour of New Jersey as well as one of the all-time great television dramas. Tony’s attempts to consolidate his power and outmaneuver his rivals remind us of ...

3. Monopoly: The world’s most popular board game, which debuted at the height of the Great Depression in 1933, stars the streets and avenues of Atlantic City, even though its designer, Charles B. Darrow, was from Germantown, Pa., and the game he based it on, The Landlord’s Game, was the inspiration of Elizabeth Magie of Canton, Ill. It was Darrow who placed the game in Atlantic City and on such unforgettable streets, neighborhoods and properties as Boardwalk, Marvin Gardens (actually a misspelling of Marven Gardens) and Baltic Avenue. While we’re on the Jersey Shore, let’s go ...

4. Surfing: It might not be the north coast of Oahu or the west coast of Costa Rica, or even Steamer’s Lane in Santa Cruz, but the 127 miles of New Jersey beaches and shoreline include such prime surfing locales as Loch Arbor and Normandy Beach on the northern shore and Long Beach Island, Surf City and Holgate to the south. There used to be a surfing spot in Atlantic City known as “The Gas Chamber,” named for its proximity to an open sewer line, but that’s another story. Surfing isn’t for everyone, and one famous New Jersey writer who, as far as we know, has had little desire to hang 10 is ...

5. Philip Roth: Perhaps America’s greatest living novelist, the Newark-born Roth has set many of his works in New Jersey—from the 1959 novella “Goodbye, Columbus” to the ribald “Portnoy’s Complaint” (1969) to the Pulitzer Prize-winning “American Pastoral” (1997) to the recent best-seller, 2004’s “The Plot Against America.” Although he was never a student there, Roth once taught creative writing at ...

6. Princeton University: Props are due for the university that provided a longtime home for Albert Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Studies and gave us such personal faves as Kings GM Geoff Petrie and former coach Pete Carril, movie men Ethan Coen and Jimmy Stewart, athletes Moe Berg and Bill Bradley, pols James Madison and Adlai Stevenson, dissenters Ralph Nader and Norman Thomas (conservatives might prefer Donald Rumsfeld and Samuel Alito), scientist Richard Feynman, writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and Eugene O’Neill (even though neither graduated), and that’s just getting started. Princeton may be New Jersey’s most famous private university, but Rutgers, the public state university, has received considerable attention in recent months for ...

7. The Rutgers University women’s basketball team: The team that won the 2007 Big East championship and was an NCAA Tournament finalist earlier this year may be best known for something besides its ability on the court. The players and their coach, C. Vivian Stringer, carried themselves with grace, intelligence and pride in the face of Don Imus’ ignorant and insulting comment. They also showed Imus forgiveness, eschewing the natural tendency to want to throw him off ...

8. The Palisades: These sandstone bluffs stand majestically along the west bank of the Hudson River, beginning in New York state but extending south to around Jersey City. Reaching 200 to 500 feet high, they are a bit older than New Jersey itself, having been formed toward the end of the Triassic Period (about 200 million years ago). Near the southern end of the Palisades, one will find the township of Weehawken, the site where Aaron Burr gunned down Alexander Hamilton in the most infamous duel in American history, but also a reminder that New Jersey has some amazing ...

9. Town, township and borough names: Thank you, modern New Jersey’s ancestors among the Dutch and English settlers and the Lenni Lanape Indian tribes, for giving us such wonderful place names as Nutley, Watchung, Netcong, Ho-Ho-Kus, Cinnaminson, Eveshaw, Little Egg, Parsippany, Piscataway, Peapack, Bacon’s Neck, Wayne, Elmer, Leonardo, Vernon, Shirley, Norma, Elizabeth and, of course, Buttzville. And nearby the metropolis of Communipaw, one will also find ...

10. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island: Please take a look at any map and decide for yourself whether the world-renowned beacon of freedom and the immigration museum/point of arrival for many immigrants are closer to New Jersey or New York.

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