The canvas on which Cara Di Falco paints her daily traffic portrait is a large green screen in the corner of the News 12 New Jersey broadcast studio in the Raritan Center business park in Edison. It is blank as she stands in front of it, pointing out the sluggish spots in the morning commute on a series of maps that TV viewers can see at home, but that she can see only on the three studio monitors.
“78 eastbound is a little bit slow on the right-hand side of your screen,” she tells viewers just past 7:30 one clear, cold October morning. “Also, making our way toward Wharton, 80 and Route 15, and again you can see 80 is slow eastbound as well.”
Di Falco, 30, spends about a minute on camera every 10 minutes from 5:02 to 9 am, cycling through maps of the counties News 12 reaches, from Sussex to Mercer to Ocean. She rattles off the route numbers like an auctioneer—31, 22, 23, 206, 18, 202, 287, 29, 130, 1-and-9—numbers that most days are not lucky ones for her viewers.
“I try to get a North, a Central and a Southern county in each hit,” she says after her last morning segment, when the high heels she wears on air are back in their shoe box. “Unless something truly dramatic or off-the-wall happens, like the Parkway’s closed and there’s a 20-mile delay, then I’ll drop that system and focus on what’s really wrong.”
Take the day in 2012 that the southbound Turnpike, closed at Exit 4, backed up all the way north to Exit 14. “It was stopped all morning,” she says, “and when that happens, the Parkway goes, then 78 and 80, and all of a sudden the maps are all glowing red, and now I’ve got to get all that information into a minute.”
Di Falco, who is married, leaves her Essex County home at about 4 each morning. At that hour, she doesn’t need a Di Falco. “I don’t generally sit in traffic,” she says. “I just talk about it.”
Hanging above the desk in her windowless office is a scarlet “52” poster, football player Eric LeGrand’s retired number, a sign of her ties to Rutgers, where she studied broadcast journalism. She grew up in Kinnelon, spent many summer days at her grandparents’ and parents’ Shore homes, and has driven all over the state visiting college friends.
“Every road is a road I can imagine,” she says, adding that she can typically associate a given road with a friend’s commute. “If I’m helping Greg or John or Tom, then I’m also helping all the other people who live near them.”
Her connection with viewers is no one-way street. “I’ve got truckers who tell me on social media, ‘Thanks for the heads-up,’” she says. More often, she hears from fans of Cara’s Cucina, the News 12 cooking segment she tapes on Wednesdays. Unlike Jersey traffic, Cara’s Cucina gives no one heartburn.
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