I thought I would make my first contribution to the blog some thoughts about what everyone at Rutgers seems to have an opinion on: New Jersey. One of the most stigmatized states, you’ll get different responses when you ask someone what they think of the Garden State. Stereotypes abound, from MTV’s unfortunate Jersey Shore to HBO’s The Sopranos. But what is actually there in the space between New York City and Philadelphia? The truth, unsurprisingly, is significantly more subtle.
For most of my life, New Jersey was a myth. There’s nothing intrinsic about New Jersey that caused this. Its just that I grew up in California. For me, the entire eastern coast was a legendary place, populated with Yankees, Knicks, Mafiosos, skyscrapers, boroughs, and sunrises over the water. I was 25 when I made my first trip past the Mississippi to visit my girlfriend’s family up in Connecticut. The closest I got to New Jersey was a day trip down to New York City for what turned out to be a rain-soaked whirlwind tour of Manhattan. I didn’t have any plans on coming back until we were both accepted to graduate school, me to Rutgers Geography and her to the School of Social Work at Columbia. We packed up our lives in Seattle, stuffed the cats into the back seat, and drove ourselves across the country. It was only the second time I had ever been east of Colorado. I was heading back to a mythic land. This time, to stay.
I’ve been here for five years now, and it will be six years before I leave Rutgers. In that time I’ve had some thoughts about New Jersey. Most importantly, I am compelled to point out that New Jersey does not smell. Parts of New Jersey smell, just like parts of every other state smell. If you get away from the cities and the major freeways, you’ll find the New Jersey that nobody ever sees. It shouldn’t be a surprise with a name like the Garden State, but there are still beautiful agricultural pastures in New Jersey. Just take the time to get away from the sprawl and you won’t be disappointed.
To be continued…