Jerseyites don’t pump their own gas. It’s illegal to. You don’t know what would happen if you stepped out of your car at a gas station, and you don’t want to.
Fifteen years ago you honed your aim, proud of your ability to toss change into a toll basket while driving past it at 45 MPH on the Garden State Parkway. Now they’ve consolidated and raised the tolls. You get an EZPass so you can still outrun the thing lurking in the Cash Receipt lane.
The Parkway and the Turnpike stretch across the state like arteries. You speed down them at 80 MPH, you are a blood cell in your red car. You wonder where the heart is, but your exit comes before the beating becomes loud enough to drown out the sound of your horn as you flip off someone with a New York plate for cutting you off.
“Not New York. Not Philadelphia. Proud to be New Jersey!” your radio declares. You scoff. As if they’re the only radio station in New Jersey. You scan through the stations until you find another one from New Jersey. “Not New York. Not Philadelphia. Proud to be New Jersey!” your radio declares. You scoff. As if they’re the only radio station in New Jersey. You scan through the stations until you find another one from New Jersey. “Not New York. Not Philadelphia. Proud to be New Jersey!” your radio declares. You scoff …
You drive up Route 18 and even though it’s the middle of the night, there’s traffic because there’s construction up ahead. You sit there and inch forward. Ten years go by. The construction finally ends. You can see your exit up ahead. It’s closed due to construction.
“Why is New Jersey even called the Garden State?” they ask. “It’s just a bunch of highways, landfills, and industrial complexes.” They can’t see. They’ll never see. We won’t let them see. We won’t let them take it from us.
Your friends from North Jersey say that you’re from South Jersey. Your friends from South Jersey say that you’re from North Jersey. The truth is that you don’t even exist.
Sometimes you like to sit out on your deck at night, listen to the crickets and the late-night traffic, and look up in the sky at the stars. Tonight there’s more lights up in the sky, blinking and zooming across the constellations. You sip your tea and smile. Another exciting night for your friends in North Jersey. You wonder which ones will survive this time.
You can’t imagine living in a state so big you need to get on a plane to fly across it. New Jersey’s such a nice convenient size. You could get in your car and start driving and be at the mountains in two hours. Or New York City. Or Philadelphia. Or the beach or the woods or the mall or the amusement park. Everything in New Jersey is two hours away. Only the driving time while you’re conscious counts.
You have a love-hate relationship with New York City. It’s so close and convenient and romantic. But it also steals New Jersey’s tourists. Its sports teams. Its work force. Your friends. Your family. Your pet cat. Half of your wardrobe. Your senses of accomplishment and modesty. The memories of your childhood birthday parties. You cling to the lawn outside of your significant other’s home, begging New York City not to steal it too.
Did you know that Frank Sinatra was from New Jersey? Did you know that Meryl Streep is from New Jersey? Jon Bon Jovi? Jack Nicholson? Kevin Smith? George R.R. Martin? Bruce Springsteen? They’re heroes in New Jersey. They escaped. We know that they’ll return someday to save the rest of us from the things that live in the Cash Reciept lanes.
The Jersey Devil lives in the Pine Barrens, you tell all of your out-of-state friends. They’ve never heard of it, of course. They think that the New Jersey Devils are named after Satan (but then, they also think that the New Jersey Devils are just a hockey team). You insist that if they just spent one night in South Jersey they would understand, just one night, come on, you insist. You insist. But no, they don’t believe you, they’re leaving and you panic because they don’t understand. They don’t understand you’re just trying to save them. The Pine Barrens are the only place it cannot go.
It’s almost that time of year again, time for the New Jersey Balloon Festival. You can’t wait, all of those colorful hot air balloons, and the family-friendly activities, and the carnival food. You have so much fun every year. You can’t ever remember having actually gone, but. It was fun. Right?
New Jersey used to be one of the most popular vacation spots in the country. But not anymore. No one visits New Jersey anymore, they just drive through going somewhere else. Sometimes they get off the Turnpike, though, by accident, end up on a highway they’ve never heard of, going south when the signs tell them they’re going north. But no one ever visits New Jersey.
If it hasn't already been done (I know I haven't read them all yet) could you do 71 with matt and niel? I can't ever get enough of their friendship
71: “There’s a thunderstorm outside and you want to do what?”
The court is soup, stirring and humid, and Matt stares straight up at the ceiling, trying to catch a proper breath. He’s aware of Dan folded almost in half by the benches, holding a stitch in her side like something’s about to pop out.
Nicky’s starfished a metre away from Matt, gasping dramatically with both arms criss-cross flung over his eyes. The rest of the team is hunched or stretched like roman statues, twisted in grotesque shapes to take the pressure off of their overworked ankles and lungs.
Inevitably, Neil is utterly solid on his feet, chest still heaving with exertion but eyes focused. Andrew passes him an unscrewed water bottle and they make eye contact for five whole seconds too long. Matt snorts, rolling away onto his front and grimacing at the sweaty peeling sound his uniform makes.
“Neil,” he calls, holding his own flushed cheeks. “Any ETA on when we can scrape ourselves off the court?”
“What?” he asks sharply.
“We just want to whither and die in our own homes,” Nicky moans.
“We have a half hour left in our regular practice plus we’re a month away from semifinals,” Neil says, incredulous. “We should be working harder than ever.”
“A month,” Allison repeats. “As in one month. As in what— over forty practices to go?”
Matt sneaks a glance and Neil has his arms crossed, his mouth sour. “The ravens will be—“
“Nope,” Allison interrupts, “I’m sick of hearing about what Edgar Allan’s demonic fucking automatons would do. They don’t play by the same rules as us. That’s sort of the point.”
“We’ll be better fresh, Neil,” Dan says, still panting a little from her last lap. “You know what pushing too hard looks like.”
“And I know what not pushing hard enough looks like,” Neil snaps, harsh and echoey in their plexiglass cage. He swallows a couple of times, maybe trying to get the taste of his outburst out of his mouth, and then he looks away. “Some of you meet resistance and stop pushing.”
“I mean If I know anything about Q-tips, that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Nicky says.
“Your body resists for a reason.” Aaron grimaces, apparently upset to be agreeing with his cousin.
“Neil’s right,” Kevin says, and everyone groans. His eyes narrow, and he taps his racquet on the floor like he’s calling order to a courtroom. “We’re not improving. We’re stagnant, and we’re taking the extra bulk of the newbies for granted. More bodies doesn’t guarantee a win, we know this. We have to switch things up.”
“Switch things up,” Allison repeats, leaning back on her hands. “What would you propose, Queenie? You want us to switch jersey’s? Play on a basketball court?”
“The jersey thing sounds fun,” Matt says, sly. “Dibs on Dan’s.”
“Switch things up,” Neil echoes, and Matt watches helplessly as a bad idea dawns on him.