Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hurting Jersey's Feelings

My friend from up north thinks I’m picking on my home state. She said, “We’re not all mean, you know.” Duh. I’m from there. Well, I’ve been known to get mean when somebody eats the last of the Chunky Monkey or takes my favorite spot on the couch. She’s from there. She’s definitely not mean.

Let’s call her Jennifer. Jennifer complained that I depict New Jersey in a bad light. She’s never had a driver shake a fist at her or give her the finger. I don’t know what New Jersey she lives in. All the northerners who have read my stories about getting the finger because I was too far in the road with my horse or hesitated when it was my turn to go at a light, commiserated and shared their own stories about the same thing happening to them—many times. We shook our heads. And then we laughed.

Everyone has a story to tell about rude behavior on the road up there. There is even a term for it when it gets really bad—road rage. That’s how common it is. In fact, I just read an article in the newspaper about how Belmar, N.J. is trying to make a new law banning all obscene gestures—aka finger flipping—it’s gotten so out of hand. Sounds like a lot of it is going on if you have to make an actual law about it. Go here if you want to read the article:


I, myself, have probably been given the finger dozens of times in my forty-three years of life in Jersey and I’m a good and polite driver—I’ve never even had a traffic ticket. Down here, all I’ve gotten from other drivers is a nod or a wave. I wonder when was the last time a stranger coming from the other direction on Route 537 waved hello to Jennifer as they passed each other?

But I don’t think it’s simply a matter of a difference of opinion about the existence of mean people in the north and disappointment over my lack of loyalty to my home state. No, there is more to it than that because after Jenny insinuated that my experience with finger-flipping couldn’t have happened in the friendly state of New Jersey, she added that she often goes strawberry-picking or peach-picking and for my information, she has a porch to sit on too. With a view. Ut oh. That’s when I knew there was more going on here than me outing the mean people and possibly hurting New Jersey tourism.

This was not the first time she shot me down for bragging about my new life in the country. One time I tried to tell her about how I got peaches right from the orchard and was making homemade cobbler. This was all new to me, these country things—making cobbler, picking strawberries, growing tomatoes, buying jars of sorghum molasses at bluegrass jamborees. Simple things. But things I’ve dreamed about my whole life. And I wanted to share it all! Especially with my friend. But every time I tried to tell her, she would say something like, “We have strawberries here too.” Like I don’t know there are strawberries in New Jersey. Like my strawberries canceled her strawberries out. She stopped me in my tracks. I wasn’t allowed to gush about how I love it here without getting into a competition.

Yes, I know there are farm products in New Jersey. It’s not called the Garden State for nothing. But since she brought it up, agriculture is on its way out up there. Only twenty percent of the land in New Jersey is still farmland. Chemicals are the number one industry in Jersey. Other important manufactured items are oil refineries, pharmaceuticals, instruments, machinery and electrical goods. Agriculture is the number one industry in Virginia. It is followed by tourism. Maybe she has never been here before. Anyone who has visited both states can see with their very own eyes that Virginia is mostly farmland and New Jersey is cities and suburban sprawl with a few farms left people are selling off in bits and pieces because they can’t afford to pay the property taxes anymore. Or they’re cashing in big time, taking all the equity and…coming down here.

But I am not writing about New Jersey. Other than the occasional anecdote to illustrate a point—whether it’s the bad behavior that makes me appreciate being here, or simply to show why being here is like being on another planet, both of which give me colorful material to write about—I am writing a love letter about Virginia. I am talking and writing about strawberry-picking down here because this is what is going on right now. City girl gone country. This is what my stories are about.

And yet, I admit, Virginia is not perfect. There’s good and bad in every place and in my defense, I think I’ve written about some bad things in Virginia even though that’s not what the subject is. If anyone was eavesdropping on Kurt's and my conversation with the tack guy at the barrel race the other day, they might have thought we hate Virginia. We complained there are no good bakeries down here and I cried, “I’d kill for a real cannoli.” Then we snickered about how everything’s on a biscuit. We followed that with complaints about how they nickel-and-dime you to death down here and agreed that nothing is cheaper except for real estate and car insurance but the pay is a fraction of what you get up north, so, in reality, you are behind the game. We continued with jokes about hunting season, rants about Wal-Mart, and bewilderment about so much religion going on. Then we said how much we love it here.

I’m not sure why it bothers Jen so much that I make fun of my home state. Like she said herself, she has a porch to sit on too. Maybe she’ll feel better when she reads the story I am writing about how I think all the women down here let themselves go. (Not really all of them, lest I offend someone else, let me clarify—I am only exaggerating for effect.) Of course, since I am infatuated, in new love where the lover can do no wrong, I find that a plus—there’s freedom in not caring if one has a muffin top or make-up on.

I guess in a way I’m like Larry the Cable Guy who makes fun of himself and the south. I make fun of where I come from. Gosh, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh it? I want to tell Jenny, lighten up. Everyone else laughed or nodded knowingly. Plus, I honestly don’t think it makes a bit of difference what I say about Jersey. People are leaving in droves without my help. In fact, there’s a bumper sticker up there that says, “Will the Last One Who Leaves NJ Please Turn Out the Lights?” Ha! I guess I’m not the only one who hates the finger-flipping. And the ones who somehow have never gotten an obscene hand gesture, like Jen, or who don’t care because other good things are more important, are staying up there and enjoying all the culture, the shopping, the jobs, the open-mindedness and yes, the cannolis.

Perhaps in another post I will talk about what I learned in sociology about why people are meaner in cities so that no one thinks I believe New Jerseyans are inherently bad. And to be fair, I will also write about some wonderful things in New Jersey. Things that I miss. Like the smell of creosote on the docks and salt in the air, Bruce Springsteen, Italian people, the New York skyline. But for now, it’s time to go and get a piece of peach cobbler, still warm from the oven.


Amy Tate said...

Yum yum. You're making me hungy. You don't sound to me like you're doggin' Jersey - you just sound happy down here!

CountryDew said...

I'm really glad you like Virginia, but as a lifelong resident I can assure you the state ain't perfect. And just yesterday I was flipped off in Roanoke for tootin' my horn at a car in front of me that sat through one green left turn light and was beginning to sit through a second! In fact I was flipped off several times for that as I followed the vehicle for about a mile. And growth in Virginia has been unchecked until recently. It's left a hodgepodge of problems. But all in all it's not a bad place to be and I'm glad you like it here.

Roanoke RnR said...

Oh baby, can I ever relate! I think my New Yorkers are even more brutal when they read my posts...I get nasty "F87k the South" chain e-mails and lousy redneck jokes. As if I now walk around saying "Y'all" with a jug of moonshine tipped to my lips since I moved here.

You know when it stops...when they come down to visit. Not that we get many visitors, since Roanoke isn't the easiest place to get to, but the few that have come finally let up when they see where we are now. On the other end of the spectrum...since I've visited my relocated buddies in Florida I tear them up even more.

Jamie Ferraioli said...

Lou and I can't go more than the distance to the food store without flipping off or being flipped off by someone. The people here are angry. They scowl at you in the bank. Flip their arms up in the air and stomp their feet if you're taking too long at the post office. They cut you off without a blinker when you're driving and then have the balls to give you the finger because you beeped at them. They blare their horns at you if you ask for an extra dipping sauce in the fast food drive-thru line.
When I visited you guys in Virginia for those few days I felt like I was on another planet. People waving and knodding, driving like it was Sunday, smiling when you walked into their store and making chit-chat with you when you got to the counter. It was definately a nice change.

Amy Hanek said...

I go on and on about Florida, but still love it.

BTW: I am originally from upstate NY, not the same I know. I had a friend from the Bronx (still not the same, but closer) and she once gave me advice on how to cross the road. I used to run when the time was right (trying to not be hit).

She laughed and said, "Girl, where I come from, when you run, they TRY to hit you."

It's true, they do.

Mrs Mom said...

We loved VA when we lived there. Like Countrydew said, its not perfect (like anywhere IS?) but it sure was like Heaven!

Being originally from (UPstate) NY, I can empathize completely on the lack of canoli. And bagels. And good, true pizza. I could also make a smart remark about Ny'ers and Jersey, and a tunnel... but I wont ;)

It seems that Miz Jenny needs to relax a tad, and do the tourist thing in the south SOMEWHERE. Southern living has its own time frame, its own style, and its own pace. The manners are vastly different, and smiles more prevelant.

Thats all I'll say for now ;)

Except to invite Miz Jenny to come and sit a spell with a cold mug of sweet tea on the porch, and enjoy a sweet, crisp watermelon slice...

Sloan said...

I hope you don't mind my saying but I can't help wondering if your friend is jealous. Either that or she needs to get a sense of humor!!

Pony Girl said...

Hi there, read your comments over on my site, glad to see I'm not the only one using jars for flowers! Also, very cool that you were published in Horse Illustrated too! How long ago? I have not tried submitting anything since I was a teen. Not sure how I was considered qualified to write anything back then, when I feel even LESS qualified now, LOL!

Regarding this post, I have never been to NJ or VA....but I'd love to visit the south someday! I am glad you are enjoying your country life. Want to send some of that cobbler this way? ;)

Antoinette said...

I live there and I think your articles are right on the mark. I read them to my husband and my children come in and ask what we're laughing about. Do you know where Cream Ridge is? There is so much construction going on and people are so rushed and wound up, its a feat to get to the store without someone giving you the finger. Thats true. The minute my husband retires we are moving to the country like you. Keep writing. You make us laugh.


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to a small town in Nevada 20 years ago. I was happy to go without all the conveniences in place of space, peace, quiet, open roads, and friendly service. Best of all, I was finally able to own horses and keep them on my own property.

In recent years, our "small" town has gained an influx of Californians trying to escape the pollution, overcrowding, and crime of their state. Of course, by moving here they are bringing it with them. The middle fingers have become commonplace where everyone once knew, loved, and respected her neighbors. It upsets me, and I often talk about moving to the next small town, which is no different from what is happening here. It's an ugly cycle.

I always hope that newcomers will adapt to our way of life, but instead they bring the big city with them.

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

CountryDew, that was probably one of the northerners who moved down here! lol Seriously, like Nuzzling Muzzles said, it's an ugly cycle. The people come to the country to get away from the city and they bring it with them. That's what happened to the little town I lived in in N.J. At one time it was a quiet chicken farming town. Then all the people from the cities and suburbs in N.Y. discovered it. It now has more people in the town than I have in my whole county here and the related stress. And yes Antoinette, I know where Cream Ridge is because I'm talking about Jackson. It makes me sad. I know that eventually it will happen here too, but I hope not in my lifetime.

colleen said...

Massachusetts, where I come from has a similar reputation. I like the fact that the cops aren't out to get you and some stores here will let you sign over checks. Northerners have a reputation for being rude. I say where more blunt than most Southerners. Although on of my favorite things that I've learned living in Virginia for the past 21 years is that people are people no matter where they are.

The country pace suits me better. I get a certain amount of anxiety in big cities. And eating food from my garden is empowering!

Kristine said...

Debi, I was going to say the exact same thing to CountryDew, that it was probably someone in Roanoke from NJ that flipped her off!!!

That's so funny, too, because I have another friend here from NJ (everyone here is from NJ or Northern VA), and she specifically mentioned obscene gestures and high taxes.

And all the women down here who let themselves go--it's because they eat everything on a biscuit.

Speaking of produce, I can't wait to try a Virginia peach. (But I'll skip the biscuit, thank you!)

Monica said...

I have lived in Jersey all my life and I have spent time in the South and what I notice has nothing to do with the "state" but has do do with the "state of mind" of people. In the South I notice people are more ingrained in their Christian beliefs than in the North. In the South, families going to Church is the norm rather than the exception. They also read and practice what the bible teaches, specifically Jesus two Greatest Commandments which are " Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second being "Love your neighbor as yourself". Matthew 37-39. I have been blessed to have become a Christian while residing in the Sate of New Jersey, so there are Christians in New Jersey, but many people living here are lost and get cought up in negativity and selfishness. Many from the North are moving to the South so now is the time for Southern Christians to step up and get the word out because it's not the State, but the people who live in it.

Claudia Condiff said...

I'm from the Boston area but I prefer the country, and here in Virginia, I have my heaven on earth!We made blackberry cobbler last time, but the peaches from Becky's tree were awesome in cobbler ,or in anything for that matter!
I think Jersey has a bumper sticker that I enjoyed..'Horn broken, watch for finger.'
Life's short..eat cobbler wherever you live!
Come over sometime and 4 wheel with me!

Motley said...

I got 2 fingers for New Jersey, and they are big fat flying eagles! My arms get sore from flipping the bird so much up there. You can always tell when your geting close...HERE THEY COME! I like when two cars full of fingers are in a showdown, throwing birds back and forth, and you can read their lips with the famous F U.
Yea Jersey is great if your a middle finger! YANKEE GO HOME!!!!!!!!!!

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Oh Motley, you crack me up more than I crack myself up!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Jennifer... I noticed the beautiful artwork on all your posts, but you picked an ugly black -and white- traffic- air- polluted picture of New Jersey. Why didn't you use a pictureseque scene of the beautiful Jersey shore or a farm? Or how about the Statue of Liberty?
I think you should lighten up on Jennifer, I see her point. New Jersey isn't so bad. I live here and meet smiling friendly people everyday. I can't remember the last time I was flipped the bird. That kind of stuff goes on from sea- to- shining sea, not just in New Jersey. Virginia is a beautiful state as well as many other states in our great nation. We are blessed to live in the U.S.A. Remind yourself what those letters stand for.
You seem to exaggerate the negativity in New Jersey. Jenn seems proud of her home state and kudos to her for defending it! It seems like you are stuck in the civil war.

Anonymous said...

Hey Motley,
Is that what they call Southern Hospitality?

Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

Anonymous, I picked that picture of the New Jersey Turnpike to be funny. I was looking for the ugliest picture I could find! Com'on, you need to lighten up too. Reread my post a little more slowly--I said there are good and bad in every place and I even ended it by saying how I missed the nice places in Jersey like the beaches--creosoted docks, salt air and the New York skyline.

But sorry, you're wrong about the finger flipping. It doesn't go on here.

As for Motley, he doesn't have any southern hospitality because...he's from Jersey! Ha ha.

Okay, okay, I promised I'd write something nice about New Jersey but I got busy with all the peach cobbler down here. I promise that will be the next story I'll put up.

Anonymous said...

After I posted my last comment, I decided to pay attention to my fellow drivers while driving. To date, they are on their best behavior... no finger flippers!! I also re-read your post and laughed. The part when you compared yourself to Larry the Cable Guy was funny! Keep up the good work and I will continue to patrol the highways of New Jersey in search of those nasty finger-flippers!!!