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I don’t miss New Jersey, but I wish I did

February 17, 2011


... it used to be such a fun place

I left New Jersey for good after one particularly bad snow storm. It was a famous snow storm, actually, the snow and ice storm of 1978 (inspiring one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, The Ice Storm). I dug my car out of the snow three times in one day, and my frustration was such that I literally lifted the stupid thing out of the snow by hand the third time around, wrenching my wrist and damaging a bone. It was at that point that I knew I had to leave, and so I moved back to San Francisco, where it never snows like that, ever.

New Jersey has some wonderful features, though. I just wish I missed them more, since it’s the state of my birth. It was the place where I had my chance to meet Bruce Springsteen, but turned it down since I had no interest in his music. This was 1976, and each time he performed at the Stone Pony, the venue he made famous, he displaced the group I worshipped, hard rock band Salty Dog. (If you guys are out there somewhere, I loved you.)

Max's diner, the oldest diner still standing in New Jersey, from 1927

New Jersey also has diners, lots of them. It’s the Diner Capital of the World, quite a distinction, don’t you think? But diners are wonderful in their eclectic way, veering into kitsch. Some of my best childhood ice cream memories are associated with New Jersey diners. There was one truly elegant diner my grandmother used to take me to, with high-polished chrome and shiny black leather booths, where everything in the diner was silver, black and grey. It was a holdout from the ’30s Art Deco era, but I doubt it’s there anymore. Diners are becoming an extinct species in New Jersey, which is sad. They’re a lot of fun, and deserve to be preserved.


Retro should not be allowed to die out

An abandoned diner

I think to truly appreciate the Garden State, you have to get beyond stereotypes, the ones that people from the tri-state area love to throw at those of us who hail from New Jersey, so they can rub in the fact that they’re better than we are. We’re thought of as the armpit of the nation, sadly, mostly because of the hideous industrial towns up north, but the south end of New Jersey has its charms. It’s the Garden State for a reason, dammit. The beaches are kind of nice, but what’s happened to Asbury Park, a summer boardwalk town perched right on the Atlantic ocean, is a crime.

I remember this place; it looks so run-down now


This guy is kind of creepy-looking

I associate Asbury Park with so many memories from the two different times in my life I lived there; once when I was a little kid, and later in adolescence. It’s incredibly sad to see pictures of its disintegration, because New Jersey was the place you went to have fun in the old days. The heyday of cotton candy, pulled taffy, and summer seaside towns like Atlantic City and Asbury Park was the 1920s and ’30s, probably New Jersey’s best era in some ways. In my childhood, though, everyone still went to the Shore for the weekend; long lines of cars honked and roasted in the summer sun as they crawled up the turnpike. Everyone grumbled, there was no air conditioning, but we went anyway, to sit under big candy-striped canvas sun umbrellas and burn beet red.

I left in 1978, and I have never been back; but now I almost wish I had, if only to see it one last time, before it turned into a place you know only because of The Sopranos and Bruce Springsteen. New Jersey is so much more than that.  Oh, and it’s never “Jersey” unless you’re from New Jersey, and even then, you have to say it with some affection. And, having driven it more than once, I can tell you that Highway 9 really is a deathtrap, and, as I proved to myself, you really do have to get out while you’re young.

Asbury Park, 1920s, the height of New Jersey's fame and glory

It's so sad to see this; I used to play Fascination here

Fascination is such a wonderful but strange game, mesmerizing

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2011 3:47 PM

    New Jersey – love, hate and . . . Hope (NJ) and wonderful memories of time spent there. And in Jersey City where in the liquor stores they sell loosies, lucy’s – query the spelling of this select item. Salts of the earth, they are all there in the Garden State. Is there an official Diner Preservation Society?

  2. Mary permalink
    September 15, 2016 10:37 AM

    Not sure when you’ve last checked in, but your beloved Asbury Park is on the up and up. Tilly is preserved and the Paramount is still hosting top name bands. The whole water front has been resurrected and is the “it” place to be. All you need to do to a. Google search.

    • September 15, 2016 9:06 PM

      Thank you very much for that cheerful news. 🙂 I am also glad that my place of birth, Fort Monmouth, has not yet washed out to sea.

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