Saturday, March 29, 2008

Where is South Jersey?

The unanswerable question that means less & less with every passing year.

It was a no-brainer when I was a kid. South Jersey began on the south side of Driscoll Bridge over the Raritan where the shoulders of the Garden State Parkway became a yellow sand quarried right there in Sayreville. Then you drove across some tidal marsh, but after that you didn't see anything scenic until Forked River. That stretch was always a disappointing ride. Then you popped out on an expanse of the Mullica's Great Bay, where the car felt like a boat. For kids, South Jersey was the beach & an area maybe 10 miles into the mainland, not Trenton or Camden or any flat, steamy, landlocked interior location. To a year-round shore resident, a benny is a benny, from Cherry Hill or Teaneck.

The Mets dropped off the radar completely, replaced by the Phillies, but there were Yankees fans everywhere. Philly / Atlantic City rock radio was 100% superior to New York. A lot of great songs there never made it into the New York market, which was very selective about picking up only the biggest regional market hits no matter how lame.

The ice cream & potato chip brands changed. Hersey sold ice cream in South Jersey, only candy up north.

In my family, we knew most of the alternate food terminology, it was a point of discussion on vacations, sprinkles versus jimmies, subs or hoagies. Our family dialect had no New York City or Bayonne in it anyway. Those were small enclaves. The most annoying was & still is pure, inbred Staten Island. My family's mix of Philly & "heartland' inflections was common for suburban Jerseyans with no roots in urban New York working class neighborhoods. It's an adaptable dialect, good for public speaking, although there's a tendency to drop (just barely) hard consonants at the end of words, with no change in the preceding vowel. So "consonants" becomes "consonance, & no "ga" at the end of "ing." It's probably tough for an elocution teacher to fix.

North & South Jersey are political distinctions - which bottomless pits of urban desperation get the public money. Pretty much everyplace else is suburbia, & insanely long commutes via car or train or bus override mere geography.

Beginning when I lived in Linden, & especially after I moved to Rahway, I began viewing Jersey in terms of tidal & non-tidal areas; whether or not one resided in "oceanic" Jersey. The tidal estuary that reaches into downtown Rahway gave me a connection to areas extending from the Hackensack Meadowlands all the way down the coast & northward up the Delaware River. Up until a small, disused swing bridge over the Rahway River was replaced, it was easy to recall that Rahway was a port town in to the 1950s. The creatures in that part of the river also swim in the Navesink & Manasquan & Little Egg Harbor Rivers.

My question: How, in only 30 or so years, did we transform so many of the few remaining areas of Jersey with any charm or magic into crap?


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