Across the Great Divide, or, “I Cheated on New Jersey”

Driving home through the Holland Tunnel Saturday night, I felt guilty. We had had the kind of evening that you can only have in New York, and I had thoroughly enjoyed it. What hit me as we emerged from the tunnel into the glare of the gas stations on both sides of the bumpy highway, was  a feeling of disloyalty. 

Like everyone else here at NJM, I spend my days translating my love for my home state into pages of a magazine, either print or online. Our mindset is clear-eyed and professional, but aggressively pro-Jersey. It’s a little bit, “Anything you can do we can do better–or at least as well.”

We’re Jerseyans and proud of it, almost pugnacious—and, yes, underneath it all, a little defensive and conflicted. A very Jersey condition.

I started my career in New Jersey, then for almost three decades commuted every day into the city–and in North Jersey everyone knows what city that is–before arriving at NJM 14 months ago. I still love the city.

Let me tell you a little about Saturday evening.

We had dinner at a small restaurant on Eighth Avenue called Gascogne. The atmosphere and the food and wine were so authentic that it felt like visiting southwest France, except without jet leg or having to have your shoes scanned at the airport. The staff spoke French to each other and English to us. My French being limited, I said merci and tres bon at every opportunity, trying to sound like Alain Delon. I don’t think I fooled anyone, but they seemed to appreciate the effort.

Next we walked a block up the avenue to the Joyce Theater, where we were wowed by the sensuality and kinetic virtuousity of the David Parsons Dance Company. Finally, we walked across the street to a place called Pinkberry, where I had a dish of delicious green tea frozen yogurt topped with fresh fruit—raspberries, mango, kiwi, and pomegranate.

It all took place in the space of two city blocks–short north-south blocks at that. Doubtless our good mood was increased by the luck of there being, for some reason, little traffic at the tunnel and several parking spaces on Eighth Avenue. But after we parked it was just the briefest walk from one place to the next, from the world of Gascony to the world of modern dance to the world of 21st Century desserts.

Don’t get me wrong. Jerseyans don’t have to go to New York or Philly to dine extremely well or to experience the best in fine and performing art. Yet only an ostrich would insist that what lies across the Hudson River is not one of the great cities of the world. (I’m less famiiar with the city across the Delaware, though I’ve had a soft spot for it since I first visited the Franklin Institute as a boy, and later strolled in Fairmount Park and marvelled at Center City.)

Yet New York presents a special problem, at least for North Jerseyans like myself, because of its immensity and intensity. It’s easy to think of New York as a monolith, sneering down on the rest of the country through the wrong end of a telescope, as in that famous Steinberg cartoon.

But that’s false. New York’s  greatness lies in its being not a monolith but a writhing mass of innumerable subcultures, each competing for supremacy or authenticity or innovation or recognition or just survival. Worlds within worlds. Segmented yet interlocking.

Living in the Jersey suburbs, we avoid a lot of the stresses that go along with the Big Apple—the logistical challenges of grocery shopping, for example. But in our own way we’re catching up. Fifty-cent-a-mile highway tolls, anyone?

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