Lots of jokes are made about driving in New Jersey. The most famous is the tired, cliched "What exit?" joke that one hears when they say they are from New Jersey. And then there's the economic factor. A couple of years ago, the New Jersey state government hired a firm to come up with a new slogan for the state. I don't remember what they came up with, but it was so lame, Weird NJ magazine decided to hold their own contest for a new slogan. I don't remember the winner of that contest, either. I do remember my favorite slogan from it, though--"New Jersey : it's free to come here, but you have to pay to leave". Which is mostly true--there are no tolls to enter the state, but you usually have to pay at the New York, Pennsylvania, or Delaware borders. Unless you're me, and you know the free ways to get out. The exception, of course, is Manhattan--there is no free way into Manhattan. In fact, it's so expensive to get into New York City, I feel like I'm being robbed every time. I should just hand my wallet over to the toll taker as I drive through the Lincoln Tunnel.
But I digress. I have no classes to teach this semester, so I figured I was home free on really long commutes for the next few months. Now I have a digital project at our university's other campus that necessitates my driving to Hackensack multiple days during the week. Hackensack is 65 miles away. Sigh. So much for saving wear and tear on the car.
Months of driving all over New Jersey have prompted me to rethink the old jokes about New Jersey driving. While it is not true that New Jersey is just an endless loop of exits, I have been thinking that our highways may be a version of Hell a la Dante. Various highways represent different "circles" of Hell, using more modern categories. For example:
Ring of Hell: the Hopelessly Stupid.
Highway: Route 4
Route 4 runs through Bergen County, ending at Fort Lee. Not only was this highway designed by idiots, it attracts other idiots like a magnet. Specifically, idiots who clearly paid someone off to get their drivers' licenses. Have you ever been driving, see a car waiting to pull out, and imagine them doing something really stupid--and then think, "Nah, nobody could be THAT stupid." Well, on Route 4, they do all those things you could imagine. Large slow trucks pulling out across 3 lanes of cars doing 50 miles per hour. People weaving back and forth across lanes like drunks, because they are "confused" about where they need to be to get onto the Parkway. People stopping in the middle of interchanges because they clearly aren't sure where they want to go. It all happens on Route 4 daily.
To be fair, the Garden State Parkway/Route 17 interchange on Route 4 is a real act of stupidity, and if you don't already know where you need to be, you are bound to be confused. I think the engineers who set that up WANTED to see accidents. I can imagine a hidden camera on the interchange, and the joy in their faces when a pile-up stops traffic on 4, 17, AND the Parkway. These people should have their own circle of Hell.
Ring of Hell: the Relentlessly Selfish
Highway: The New Jersey Turnpike
Aside from the infamous stench that lingers in the Jersey City area, the New Jersey Turnpike has some kind of detrimental effect on your brain. All major highways leading into New York City eventually end up at the Turnpike, which also has an Extension, designed to trip up the brazen tourist who would dare to drive through this area, and punish them by landing them squarely in the center of Newark. (Driving tip: do not drive the Extension unless you are going to the Statue of Liberty, Bayonne, Hoboken, or Jersey City).
Why do I say the Turnpike attracts the selfish? Consider the following true story. An acquaintance of mine had been driving over one of the bridges on the Turnpike closer to the City, and ended up in a car accident. The accident was so bad, the emergency crews needed the jaws of life to get her out of her car. As she was being pulled out and put on a stretcher, passing motorists honked their horns, gave her the finger, and shouted, "Thanks a lot you f**king b*tch." To which she responded in her best Jersey accent, "I'm so sawry!" with the accompanying sarcastic look. Are New Jersey drivers the only ones this selfish? Massachusetts is probably neck in neck...
The Southern end of the Turnpike is less crowded, but the average driving speed is about 125 miles per hour. Everyone does it--I'm pretty sure I've done it, too. Something happens to your brain in South Jersey. It's like a Twilight Zone episode.
Ring of Hell: the Perpetually Lost
Highway: Route 80
Route 80 is very long--it actually runs from Bogota, New Jersey to San Francisco, California. (Bogota is where 80 turns into Interstate 95, and the good ol' Turnpike). 80 itself is straightforward enough; however, its exits lead to lots of little traps. Paterson, for instance. It is very easy to get to downtown Paterson. (Why anyone would willingly go there is another question, but let's not get off topic). I actually have had to go to Paterson, mainly for events at PCCC related to my job. While getting in is easy, getting out is not so easy. It took me about 5 minutes to get to my destination--it took over an hour to get out later. Paterson is like a huge maze, designed to trip you up. Newark is another such place off of Route 80 (and several other major highways as well). Newark is like something out of that Mark Danielewski novel, "House of Leaves". Even people who live there get so lost, as one way streets suddenly change direction, streets that used to take you places are suddenly closed, and no other road takes you back in the direction you need to go--you just drift farther and farther into the heart of Newark, or into the Newark Bay, whichever comes first.
Exits aside, people drive on Route 80 in this area like they've never seen a major highway before. You can see them huddled over the steering wheel in a pose that suggests that they either cannot see where they are going, or are frantically looking for signage. I am always, always, behind someone doing 25 miles an hour on a ramp entering the highway. Note to these drivers: they don't call them "pick up ramps" because you can meet men/women there. (You can't). You are entering a 65 mile per hour highway with big trucks and scary potholes, and had better be doing more than 25 if you value your life.
Ring of Hell: the Enraged and Impatient
Highway: Route 18
When I was an MLS student, I had a professor who described Route 18 thusly: "It's the only highway designed to make you go from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds". Couple that with the massive flooding of 18 every time it rains, the traffic circles, and the construction, and you have a recipe for an Anger Management Situation. Route 18 runs right through the heart of Rutgers University (or perhaps puts a dagger through it).
I have never seen 18 in a finished state. It is ALWAYS under construction right around the Douglass Campus area and points South. Occasionally I am forced to drive down to Commercial Ave. to visit the Rutgers transportation folks, and for every driver creeping along there are several others dodging in and out of cars, jumping over large potholes, and losing their shock absorbers to raised manholes and uneven pavement. It is certainly a frustrating ride, not the only one in the state, but people really seem to get worked up here. No matter how you drive through this area, it's wrong. You will piss off somebody.
I've only named a few of the hellish highways in the Garden State--I haven't even started on Route 78, Route 31 ("improved" to include snarling traffic merges), Route 280, Route 46 or Route 1. Or the Garden State Parkway. I'm sure if you live here or drive through here you can think of others. It would take a book to cover them all.
In the meantime--good night to all, as I need to prepare for tomorrow's sojourn into driving Hell.