As if just being New Jersey wasn’t strange enough

By now, pretty much my whole world knows that I am a Jersey Girl and proud of it. If my rabid Bruce Springsteen fanaticism wasn’t clue enough, perhaps my fascination with boardwalks, the Sopranos, and all-night diners clued some of you in. Jersey is a great place to be from, if not necessarily to live in, and it provokes in those of us who hail from the great Garden State all kinds of nostalgia for our misspent youths hanging out in the parking lot in front of Wawa’s and kicking out of summer jobs early enough to spend a few hours at Great Adventure.

Jersey has always had its own culture, distinct from the metropolitan character of the City to the north, the political nature of DC to the south, or the gateway to the midwest that we viewed Pennsylvania as. Maybe it’s because we were a penninsula, so separated geographically from our nearby neighbors, and surrounded by so much water. Maybe it’s because we were so much more densely packed in than anyone else in the country. Or it might be because we are a state of people whose ancestors had fled those nearby places looking for something nearby but wholly different.

Whatever the reason, Jersey is not a state of well-known landmarks (other than the Statue of Liberty, which is technically in Jersey waters), but we love our Turnpike, our beaches, our boardwalks, our Atlantic City, our Bruce, and our Pine Barrens, all of whom have developed their own mythology over the years.

We took to the Sopranos with a zeal that Uncle Sam has never been able to drum up among the general population. It seems that everyone back home has some Sopranos-related personal encounter (“Omygod, I saw Edie Falco at Short Hills Mall the other day!” or “They filmed the scene with the dumpster behind my cousin Vince’s auto body shop!”), and the local talk radio shows devote a lot of air time to discussing the show. We knowingly wink at each other when scenes in the Badda Bing come on, because we know where it is in Lodi and that there are no topless bars in NJ. And we look at the stack of meatballs Carmela puts on the table for Sunday dinner and nod approvingly. She seems like a legitimate Italian mama.

This morning a friend, also a Garden State expat, mentioned the site Weird N.J., which highlights some of the more traditional myths and landmarks in the state, some of which were familiar, but many of which were new even to this jaded Jersey historian. So, in the spirit of David’s primer on Australia, I offer this as an excellent guide to my home state.