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.