“Is it a sub or a hoagie?”
“Jimmies or sprinkles on ice cream?”
Filmmaker Steve Chernoski stands on the Mercer County campus of the College of New Jersey calling out these and other hot-button questions to passing students.
“Hoagie,” responds one. “Sub,” says another. “Sprinkles!” shriek a pair of women. “Jimmies,” sounds a far-off voice.
For ten months, Chernoski has been making a documentary that aims to settle that long-standing debate: Just where is the dividing line between North and South Jersey, and what’s the difference between the two, anyway? To find out, he’s traveled to all 21 counties and asked hundreds of residents where and how they draw the line.
There’s the Driscoll Bridge theory, according to which everything south of that long arching Garden State Parkway span across the Raritan River is South Jersey. (That theory is particularly popular among northerners, Chernoski says, “because when they cross it they feel like they can smell the ocean and that they’re down the Shore.”)
Southerners offer more varied answers. Some draw the line at Trenton, while others say everything north of Cherry Hill is north. In general, the farther south you live, the farther south you place the line. An extreme case: “I had eight people in Cape May County circle the Cape and say everywhere else is North Jersey,” Chernoski says.
Chernoski enlisted middle-school math students to calculate an average of all the lines drawn by interviewees and plans to unveil this “people’s line” in New Jersey: The Movie, which he hopes to begin showing on college campuses this summer. He also developed his own line, based on criteria including whether locals root for New York or Philly teams; whether they shop at Wawa or 7-Eleven; and, of course, whether they go to a deli for a sub or a hoagie.
Much of the difference can be chalked up to which media market exerts a stronger influence: New York or Philadelphia. This leads to such anomalies as Warren County in the far north of the state, where Eagles fans are abundant and the word hoagie has currency. One explanation: TV reception from Philadelphia was better than from New York when people relied on antennas. With cable, Giants fans have proliferated.
Isn’t there a Central Jersey? Chernoski, 30, wants to solve the mystery. He grew up in Mercer County, lived in the Ocean City area, and now lives in Hoboken. An Eagles, Phillies, and Devils fan, he admits to being a “very confused person.” When an interviewee from Hightstown claimed that the town is “as central as Central Jersey can be,” Chernoski pelted him with questions and, upon hearing the answers—sub, sprinkles, 7-Eleven—confidently concluded, “You’re North Jersey, my friend.” A couple in Allentown claimed to be Central Jerseyans, but Chernoski put their feet to the fire: If the state were split by a civil war, what side would Allentown fall on? South, they had to admit. He reflects, “I believe in Allentown the younger generation would disagree with what the older people said on camera.”
But Jerseyans are increasingly finding common ground. Icons such as Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Rutgers football garner statewide pride. As a man Chernoski interviewed put it: “Ever since Greg [Schiano, Rutgers football coach,] came along, there is no more North Jersey, South Jersey. It’s the state of Rutgers and we’re all part of it.”