DISCLAIMER: I'm not a native born Jersey guy, and I don't live there now. I did, however, live there for a full decade. I made camp in a number of different areas of the state, ranging from Plainsfield in the North, down to Pittman, Cherry Hill, Gloucester, and all the way to Barnegat Bay. I spent plenty of time in Atlantic City, and drove around the swamps in the South and the Pine Barrens. One night, with far too much Jack Daniels in me, I swore I'd seen the Jersey Devil out in the Cranberry bogs.
To this day I still think that leaving Jersey was the best thing I ever did - not so much in the sense of "Oh my God I've got to get OUT of this hellhole!", (though at the time a fair case could be made for that motive) but more because the move brought me to a place where I finally met and married the one true love of my life.
The state surely holds some awful memories for me as well. I survived one of the more horrific motorcycle crashes you'd ever want to witness in Jersey, but I'll spare you the details. The other dark memories mostly dwell around the fact that Jersey is where where I met my ex-wife. It was one of the shorter marriages on record, I'm sure, but much like the cactus that you don't see until you're flying over the handle bars of your bike, it left some deep scar tissue. She was a beautiful young thing with the face and body of a professional model. Unfortunately, they hid the soul of a succubus and her heart was a blackened, tiny little thing which would probably taste of camphor should cannibals ever be unfortunate enough to catch and eat her.
That's not to say I don't still think about her from time to time. I mean, you can't go through that much of a major life experience and not have occasions, in years to come, where you begin asking yourself those hard "what if" questions. Generally they run along the lines of, "You know... if I'd just shot your whore ass when you got off the plane with your boyfriend that day, I'd probably be out on parole by now. Hell... with a couple of divorced guys on the jury I might have even walked."
But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes. I was going to list some of the things I love about The Garden State. (Where in the hell did they come up with that name? That's what I want to know.) So, without further ado... or much of it anyway, Jazz's list of five things to love about Joisey.
1. The Jets. Yes, they're technically a New York team in name, but they play in Jersey and North Jersey lovingly adopts this pack of perennial losers the same way that South Jersey adopts the Eagles. Broadway Joe, with his mink coats and pantyhose commercials, may have been the urban, public face of the Jets, but their heart and soul was a scarred up guy from Newark who would just as soon hit you with a tire iron as intercept the ball.
2. Jersey Girls. I really believe that only outsiders who move to Jersey can truly appreciate Jersey Girls... far more so than guys who grow up there. I was an outsider, so I never took the fierce nationalistic pride of native Jerseyites to heart. I could hear the endless litany of Jersey Girl jokes and just keep on giggling at them, while still appreciating the women themselves. ("What's the difference between a Jersey Girl and a catfish? One has whiskers and cold slimy skin. The other is a fish.") Jersey Girls tend to be true, home grown beauties, but not in that flashy, cover girl kind of way. It's more of a "I still look damn hot in jeans and a t-shirt after I just changed the oil in my own motorcycle" kind of good looks. All jokes not withstanding, Jersey Girls rock.
3. The Food. Jersey, to my knowledge, doesn't really have it's own, unique, regional food specialty like many other areas do. But what they have is - in the finest tradition of the melting pot of America - access to a bunch of other regional culinary treats which they've simply stolen - whenever the Newark guys weren't already tied up carjacking your SUV, anyway. It was the first place where I had seriously good crabs cooked in somebody's back yard. (Imported from Delaware and Maryland.) Crab cakes too. And from Philly, there were big, dripping meaty sandwiches and Philly cheesesteaks. Dining was always an adventure in Jersey, and I'll confess I miss it.
4. Frank's Chicken Ranch. For those not familiar, Frank's is (or maybe was? Is it even still there?) a stripper club. But it's not like those glitzy, expensive places you find in New York. Frank's didn't even mess around with having a liquor license. The girls danced stark naked in one of the most horrific, squalid environments I'd ever seen. Some of them showed up with fresh stitches in their heads, and this seemed, strangely, to be a selling point. They served food at Frank's, but only chicken. I never ate it. I simply didn't have the nerve. I brought my own bottle of booze (which they thoughtfully sold back to you after you turned it over to them) and I never touched the glasses without rinsing them first in raw alcohol. A trip to Frank's with my friends wasn't a treat as much as it was a dare. I only went two or three times in all those years, but it's seared into my memory like a branding iron.
5. The Boardwalk. If you're ever in Atlantic City and can tear yourself away from the slot machines for a few minutes, walk out in back of Ceaser's (or most of the main casinos) and take in the Atlantic City Boardwalk. It's everything you've heard an more. Coney Island doesn't hold a candle to it. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the rides, the attractions, the gift shops... you can spend a whole day walking around that place and still see fifty new things the next time you come back. Oh, and the collection of freaks that you'll run into nearly every time is also worth the price of admission. (Which is free.)
There you have it. Five great things about Jersey. A great place to be from and an even better place to visit.