Welcome to New Jersey, a magical place where you have to pay to drive on the roads, so that they may be eternally under construction. A place where the police circle mall parking lots, scanning license plates at random just to see what they can dig up. One night, you might come out to your car after work at one of those malls to a $130 ticket on your windshield because your registration was expired by three days. New Jersey is the most densely-populated state in the nation, and that mere fact makes the task of driving here one not for the faint-of-heart. Imagine, if you will, having to dodge an endless sea of potholes, caused by brutally cold temperatures in the winter, and less-than-pleasant heat and humidity throughout the summer months. These extremes cause the blacktop to expand and contract, eventually crumbling under the weight of the continuous stream of cars that pass over it each day. It seems that as each winter here gets worse, road crews cannot repair the damage fast enough, leading to more flat tires, accidents, snarled traffic, and general chaos.
Add to that the need to deal with bad decisions made by inexperienced drivers with invincibility complexes, and a daily crop of new “silver alerts”, warning that an elderly driver, who should by all means no longer have a license, has gotten lost somewhere on the roadways. There always seems to be an unfathomable number of crashes on the Garden State Parkway, which is a freeway that only requires that you drive in a straight line and not hit anyone around you. There are no traffic lights, save for a few at the extreme southern end heading into Wildwood, so the only time it is necessary to even slow down is when you’re passing through a toll booth, or approaching an exit. Such accidents are exacerbated by rubberneckers who insist on slowing down to look at the remains of the incident, often backing up traffic for miles even when the debris is not actually blocking any lanes.
There are all kinds of maniacs that you have to watch out for here in the Garden State when you’re out on the roads. There’s the guy in the “big asshole pickup truck” chasing you out of the fast lane, because it’s apparently not enough that you’re doing 75-80 in a 65. Then there’s the young guy in a Mustang or souped-up Honda Civic (which was likely bought with mommy and daddy’s money) that likes to weave in and out of lanes at reckless speeds, and usually without signaling. Of course, we can’t forget about the person that likes to give you a heart attack by pulling out of a parking lot and swerving immediately onto the shoulder, riding it until they can inch into the actual lane. This is very illegal, dangerous, and just plain inconsiderate, and yet, it happens all too often. I’ve always wished for the invention of a universal intercom system for cars, so that other drivers can actually hear me when I say aloud, “nice blinker, asshole!”, when they make a sudden turn without signaling, or “don’t do it, asshole!”, when they’re pulling off a side street and looking like they’re preparing to cut right in front of me. It is really no wonder why this state has the highest car insurance rates in the country.
As of the time of this writing, there are two road signs placed near each other on the southbound side of the Parkway approaching Exit 91 that read “DUMP BODIES DOWN BEFORE MOVING”. They seemed to appear just after Memorial Day Weekend, which made me wonder if they were placed to prey upon the murderous thoughts of locals who have to sit in bumper-to-bumper benny traffic, sometimes for hours, just to get home. Because New Jersey is so built up, and because there are so many cars on the road, traffic is an omnipresent and infuriating fact of life. There can be any number of causes for the gridlock that so often chokes the highways here, such as the aforementioned visitors from the north, accidents and rubbernecking, the eternal lane-widening, revitalization and construction projects that are paid for by your ever-increasing tolls and taxes, and the inexplicable need everyone feels to drive well under the speed limit when it’s raining. Luckily, many GPS and mapping applications for your smartphone can tell you where there are major traffic incidents so you can choose another route, but if you’re unassuming, let’s just hope you didn’t actually have to get anywhere.
If you had a bird’s eye view of the entire state, our roadways might look much like a cross-section of the circulatory system of the human body, a complex array of veins and arteries carrying blood cells and nutrients throughout the body. Imagine, at any given second, a series of blood clots suddenly clogging up those vessels, and this system having its own version of a stroke, aneurysm, or heart attack, and you’d have our state’s network of roads. New Jersey has an unbelievable amount of jughandles, u-turns, and circles, because it has apparently been deemed transportation authorities that making a left turn ANYWHERE is just too dangerous. Before long, it may very well be impossible to make a left onto any highway, into any plaza, or, well, anywhere at all.
I’ll sum this all up with a suggestion: while I’m not a man for religion, if you’re not saying a prayer before each time you shift your car into drive, you most certainly should be.
Until next time, goodnight, and good luck.