New Jersey is the fourth smallest state by land area in the US, but it is also the eleventh most populated and single most densely populated. It has a high level of ethnic and religious diversity, being home to Italians, Irish, Jews, Russians, Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jamaicans, Haitians, Guyanese, Trinidadians, etc. in large numbers. Its landscape is also highly diverse, especially for a state of its size, being home to forests, mountains, swamps, cliffs, white sand beaches, and miles of rolling farmland. It is the location of several military facilities, including one of the largest in the country, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. It has the highest population density in the US, and combined with its excellent system of public transit, it is easy to get anywhere. New Jersey is the second most affluent state in the US, possesses one of the most highly-regarded education systems in the country, and has the lowest poverty rate in the nation. There are affluent suburbs, bustling cities, and lush dairy farms all within a few miles of each other. In short, it's one of the most diverse states, filled to the brim with a plethora of different cultures and lifestyles.
But don't tell that to Hollywood (or New Yorkers).
"Joisey" is commonly believed to be the local pronunciation of New Jersey. In reality, this is only how it is pronounced by people who think they're being clever — saying "Joisey" to a New Jerseyan will earn you a boot up the ass. New Jerseyans, however, can use it any time they like — as evidenced by billboards for the 2010 New Jersey State Fair, which proudly proclaimed that the fair "puts the 'Joy' back in 'Joisey'". One of the easiest ways to tell if someone is from New Jersey or not: those who are (poorly) faking a New York accent say "Joisey," those from anywhere besides New Jersey (including actual New Yorkers) say "New Jersey," those from New Jersey simply say "Jersey."
Geographically, New Jersey can be divided into the following regions, only some of which are recognized by Hollywood. In general terms, New Jersey is divided into North Jersey and South Jersey, with the division following proximity to New York City or Philadelphia. This is an old situation—Benjamin Franklin himself noted that New Jersey (of which his son was the last colonial governor) was "a barrel tapped at both ends," and to this day, New Jerseyans recognize that their home is a "transit state" between the two largest cities on the East Coast (and between the nation's economic and political capitals, Philly being halfway between the two). As noted below, "Central Jersey" claims a semi-independent, neither-here-nor-there identity for itself, which is usually laughed off and ignored by the rest of the state.
Newark: The largest city in New Jersey, and its most famous ghetto. Took over New York's role as Gangsterland after New York became cleaner — something that is Truth in Television. Time magazine did a cover story on it, calling it the most dangerous city in America. Also the site of the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, the largest seaport on the East Coast (and, as recently as 1985, the largest in the world), and Newark Liberty International Airport, one of the New York area's three airports. Sometimes, Camden or Asbury Park is used in this role. Often cited as the home of Lauryn Hill, even though she is actually from middle-class South Orange. The closer you live to Newark, the more likely you are to pronounce it "Nork", not "New-werk". If you are utterly lost, you will pronounce it "New-ark", which is in Delaware, not New Jersey.
The New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway: The state's main north-south highways, both of which are toll roads. With regards to the Turnpike, this trope and stereotype refers specifically to the "Chemical Coast," the industrial areas cluttered around the northern part of the Turnpike, centered on the cities of Newark and Elizabeth. This area is highly polluted, giving the whole stretch a distinctive smell (the phrase "15 Miles of Universal Fart" has been used to describe it). Stereotypes of this region often overlap with those of Newark. The Interstate Highway System took many of its design cues from the Turnpike.
The Garden State Parkway extends much further south, serving as the main artery to the Shore extending all the way down to Cape May, as well as cutting through much of the heart of New Jersey's suburbia. In the summer, it often turns into the Garden State Parking Lot thanks to the dreaded phenomenon known as "Shore traffic".
That said, some exits are shorthand for certain locations in the state. Exit 63 on the Parkway, for instance, is synonymous with Long Beach Island, while Exit 82 means Seaside Heights. The Parkway has no official Exit 0, though that phrase is held by most to mean Cape May, at the end of the Parkway. Also, New Jerseyans are allowed to identify with their exit; the Turnpike exits are celebrated by Cherry Hill-based Flying Fish Brewing's"Exit Series" beers.
Hudson County: Located across the Hudson River from New York City and dubbed the "sixth borough", this is probably the most New York-like place in the state. Major cities include Jersey City, Hoboken, and Bayonne. The county with the highest population density in New Jersey; if combined with Essex County (which contains Newark and is the second-densest county in the state) into a single city, it would be the third-largest and third-densest on the East Coast (after New York and Philadelphia). One of the most culturally diverse counties in the USA.
Jersey City: New Jersey's second-largest city (although some estimates suggest it could possibly overtake Newark as the largest city after the results of the 2010 census are in). The city is very, veryethnically diverse, and hosts many ethnocultural parades and events. Consists largely of working-class neighborhoods, although the downtown/waterfront area has been gentrified into an affluent yuppie- and hipster-magnet in the past decade as Manhattan became too expensive (its location next to yuppie Hoboken furthers this stereotype), while the Greenville neighborhood could be best described as a chunk of Newark that broke off.
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are geographically located just off the coast of Jersey City in the Hudson River, causing many New Jerseyans to express the view that they are (or should be) property of Jersey City, and thus the State of New Jersey, not New York. However, most New Yorkers will angrily dismiss this idea if you mention it in their presence. The city government uses images of the Statue of Liberty on official documents and the "Welcome to Jersey City" signs.
Legally, the Supreme Courtheld that by the terms of the various legal instruments defining the terms of ownership of Liberty Island and Ellis Island, the original islands themselves belong to New York and are thus in New York City, but the water around them and thus any land reclaimed therefrom (which on Ellis Island is substantial; the federal government, not caring who the land belonged to, merrily expanded Ellis and built buildings that the NJ-NY border runs through several times) is New Jersey territory and thus are in Jersey City. So Jersey City surrounds the Statue of Liberty but does not contain it. Confusing. But true.
Hoboken: The yuppie and hipster capital of New Jersey. Home of Stevens Institute of Technology, otherwise known as New Jersey's MIT.
Bergen County: New Jersey's most populous county. The part that most New Yorkers see coming over the George Washington Bridge. Often stereotyped largely as a land of rich Republican suburbanites (or, as the map on the Joisey page puts it, "Christie Country"note After Republican governor Chris Christie (2010-present)), though in reality, it's only the northern and western parts that fit this stereotype — the south and east are Democratic strongholds, and on the whole, the county has voted Democratic during Presidential elections since 1996 and (narrowly) voted for Christie's rival, Jon Corzine, in the 2009 gubernatorial election. It's typically ranked in the top five counties in the nation with the highest property taxes; the fact that two other New Jersey counties are in front of it for the top spotnote Hunterdon County is at #1, while Somerset County at #4. says something about the state.
Despite being about 9% Jewish and having a sizable Muslim minority, and despite (or perhaps because) of its status as one of the New York area's premier shopping and retail centers, it is the last county in New Jersey, and one of the last counties in the nation, that still has blue laws on the books. All shops, with the exception of grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations and restaurants, are closed on Sundays. Most people have opted to keep it not due to religion, but in order to protest commercialization and in order to have one day of peace and quiet per week. This is most pronounced in the town of Paramus, one of the largest shopping meccas in the country, home to the state's largest mall and sitting at the confluence of Routes 4 and 17 just ten miles from the George Washington Bridge. It has blue laws even more restrictive than the rest of the county, closing offices in addition to shops.
Koreatown: Southern Bergen County (specifically Fort Leenote Or, as some jokers love to call it, "Fort Rhee", Leonia, and Palisades Park, just over the George Washington Bridge) is home to the largest Korean enclave in the world outside Los Angeles and Korea itself. Much of the area is thoroughly bilingual, with road signs and even ballots offered in both English and Korean.note Under New Jersey law, if enough of the population in a county has a language other than English as a first language, ballots and other government information must be provided in that language. For the most part, this means that heavily-Hispanic areas have ballots and information in Spanish. It's telling that, when Girls' Generation and other K-pop groups arrived to tour in America, their first New York area stop was in Overpeck County Park, not in New York itself. It helps that the climate of the area is similar to that of Seoul.
The Meadowlands: A swampy area in northern Hudson, southern Bergen and eastern Essex Counties, at the terminus of the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers as they enter Newark Bay. Thanks to those two rivers, both of which are polluted to an ungodly level (some areas along the lower Passaic are still closed off due to dioxin pollution), as well as having been used as a landfill in the past (including rubble from London after World War II), the swamps of the Meadowlands are one of the main areas that gives New Jersey its reputation as a literal dump. It is the site of:
Metlife Stadium (formerly New Meadowlands Stadium), home of the New York Giants and Jetsnote Even though neither team actually plays in New York. This has led to NJ's current governor pointedly and purposely referring to the Jets as the "Jersey Jets" as a bit of a Take That at the franchise owners for keeping "New York" in the name, which replaced nearby Giants Stadium in 2010. The Super Bowl was held here in 2014, the first time the event was held in cold weather (all past Bowls were held in warm-weather cities or in domed stadiums); by good fortune, it was merely chilly on Super Sunday, although a major winter storm hit more or less the day after.
The Izod Center, former home of the New Jersey Nets, who have since moved to Brooklyn, and the New Jersey Devils, who have since moved to the Prudential Center in Newark. It is also used as a major concert arena.
The under-construction American Dream Meadowlands mega-mall, which will be by far the largest mall in North America and the largest outside of Asia, with attractions including a Ferris wheel, an indoor water park and ski slope, two indoor amusement parks (one based on DreamWorks Animation films, the other being a New Jersey Legoland), a 26-screen movie theater, and a concert hall... that is, if it ever gets finished. Construction began in 2004 and has been beset by the recession, the bankruptcies of two successive developers, snow damage, and complaints from the New York Giants about the possibility of traffic jams from the mall hurting attendance on game days. The currently planned opening date is late 2016; fingers crossed.
A large number of dead Mob hits. One of the (many) locations proposed to be Jimmy Hoffa's final resting place was under the stands of the old Giants Stadium.
The Skylands: A region that consists roughly of Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren, Sussex, and Morris Counties, and the West Milford region of Passaic County. Overlaps with North and Central Jersey. Most of these areas are essentially farmland and wilderness (suburban development is limited mainly to eastern Morris and Somerset thanks to New Jersey's strong environmental lawsnote No joke. New Jersey is almost as tough as California when it comes to environmental standards and anti-pollution laws. Hey, if you lived in New Jersey and had to put up with wisecracks about smokestacks, suburbia, Superfund sites, syringe tides and "the smell", you'd also want to clean the place up.), which is why they are conspicuously absent from most media portrayals of the state. If referenced at all, it will usually be the site of Summer Campy, the Horrible Camping Trip, or a ski resort. Oh, and speaking of camp, don't work as a counselor if you value your life.
Mountain Creek: Located in Vernon Township in Sussex County, this is the closest, and one of the largest, major ski resorts to New York City, and a popular winter destination for New Yorkers and New Jerseyans alikenote Pennsylvanians typically stay on their side of their Delaware and go to the Poconos instead.. It's also a popular summer destination, due to its waterpark, its assortment of other outdoor activities, and the fact that the mountains are typically a bit cooler in the summer than the low-lying city and suburbs. In Jersey lore, the summer resort is best known for being formerly known as Action Park, a real-life Amusement Park of Doom before it closed down under a tide of lawsuits, only reopening as Mountain Creek Waterpark after heavy renovations and safety upgrades.
Hackettstown: The gateway to Warren County from Morris, and home of Centenary College. Best known to candy-loving little kids everywhere as the location of the Mars, Inc. factory that makes M&Ms, Snickers, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers, and other chocolatey snacks. Unfortunately, due to the founding family's secrecy, they don't allow tours there, making it something of a real-life version of the Willy Wonka factory (only without the Oompa Loompas, we're guessing).
Central Jersey: To hear it from someone from the area, Central Jersey is a distinct region of the state consisting of the area covered by the Raritan Valley, in Hunterdon, Mercer, Somerset, Middlesex, and Monmouth counties. To hear it from someone from North or South Jersey, Central Jersey is a nonexistent entity that is really an extension of whichever side of Jersey the speaker isn't from (e.g. North Jersey residents consider it part of South Jersey, while South Jersey residents consider it part of North Jersey and NEITHER side wants to take credit for Trenton), and its residents all have an inferiority complex. (A good rule of thumb is when someone from Jersey City tells you you're in South Jersey, and someone from Cherry Hill tells you you're in North Jersey, despite both times being in the same place, then you're in Central) The site of the state capital, Trenton, as well as suburban sprawl ballooning out from both New York and Philly. If a story requires that the characters consult a brainy professor, this scene will often either take place at Princeton, or elsewhere with a professor who teaches there. If not Princeton, then the main campus of Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, will do in a pinch. (Never Rutgers Newark,note Unless it's a law professor; then Rutgers Newark, Rutgers Camden, and Seton Hall are your only options. Princeton famously has no law school. or Montclair State University, and for good reason.)
In addition to the above counties, many people in Central Jersey count the northernmost part of Ocean County as part of Central Jersey. This is mainly because this sliver of land includes the community of Jackson Township, home of Six Flags Great Adventure, as well as the beach town of Point Pleasant. South Jerseyans, naturally, consider it to be in South Jersey. A few people split the difference and say South Central New Jersey, but in their hearts, they know that they'll have to wait for the Cubs to win the Series before most of New Jersey accepts such a thing.
Education: As noted, Central Jersey is home to New Jersey's major educational institutions, Princeton University and Rutgers University. The two are just down Route 27 from each other and are only two stops apart on New Jersey Transit (from New Brunswick, you take the train to Princeton Junction and then the Dinky to Princeton proper), and there's something of a quiet rivalry between the two (with Princeton treating Rutgers as uncouth proles not to be given the time of day, and Rutgers treating Princeton as a bunch of rich snobs); they played the first-ever game of American Football in 1869, using rules that looked more like the bastard child of soccer and rugby than the modern game. (Rutgers won, by the way.) Also present, but usually ignored, is The College of New Jersey right outside Trenton, a public university that took Princeton's old name and is mainly focused on giving New Jersey's best and brightest a top-notch education at a reasonable price.
Little India: A quick note: northeastern Middlesex County, particularly Edison and Iselin, is heavily populated by Indian-Americans and others from the Subcontinent. The community formed as a result of the research and medical industries in the area (immediately northeast of New Brunswick, with its university and pharmaceutical and chemical companies—did we mention that Johnson & Johnson is headquartered in New Brunswick?), with Indian students and immigrant researchers who came in the 1970s-90s settling down and forming a community; today, Edison in particular is nearly 30% Indian. Since Indians tend to speak English, there isn't an issue of ballots being provided in...well...there's another problem (lots of languages in India), but the main street in Iselin is noted to always smell of curry, Indian languages are commonly spoken, and the Metropark station (the New Jersey Transit rail and Amtrak station around there) will always have at least one Indian person on the platform during working hours. Always.
The Jersey Shore: New Jersey's coastline, and a major summer destination for New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, and New Jerseyans alike. It used to have a reputation for being dirty due to the infamous "syringe tide" in the late '80s, when used syringes and other medical waste started washing up on the shore from the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island (in short, it wasn't even New Jersey's fault!). Now, thanks to MTV, it's has a reputation for being covered in another kind of trash, once again imported from out of state. The Shore (outside of the Cape May peninsula, which was largely untouched) was among the hardest-hit areas on the East Coast in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, with many towns seeing homes washed away and their boardwalks destroyed in whole or in part.
Towns and destinations along the Shore, from north to south, include...
Asbury Park: A famous hub of rock music, with a long list of bands past and present having ties to the city; the New Jersey Music Hall of Fame is located here, as is the Bamboozle Music Festival. Bruce Springsteen in particular is associated with the city, with his debut album titled Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., and his music being part of a Rock & Roll/R&B fusion known as the "Jersey Shore sound". The city spent much of the mid-late 20th century on a long decline, its boardwalk facing competition from Six Flags just half an hour away and its downtown being hollowed out by suburbanization, with the kicker being a brutal race riot in 1970 whose effects can still be seen in certain areas. It's since enjoyed a boom as the Shore's gay mecca, with LGBT people priced out of gentrified New York taking advantage of the city's cheap housing, rejuvenating large parts of the city in the process. Also, from 2010 until 2012 (screw you Saint Paul) it held the Guinness world record for the largest zombie walk in the world.
Point Pleasant: Actually two towns; Point Pleasant proper (mainly an upper-class residential community) and Point Pleasant Beach, the tourist town. Boaters know it as the northern terminus of the Intracoastal Waterway. A short-lived supernatural Teen Drama called Point Pleasant took place here... allegedly; the show creators' poor research of what the town and the Shore in general were actually like made it a deep well of Snark Bait for New Jerseyans.
Brick Township: A suburban town of about 75,000 that's best known for frequently making the list of America's top five safest cities, often at or near the top spot. Definitely not to be confused with Brick City, a popular nickname for Newark, a place that is on the exact opposite list.
Toms River: Another suburban community with safe streets. Holds the world's second-largest Halloween parade. The Toms River East Little League baseball team won the Little League World Series in 1998, an accomplishment that was commemorated in the town naming its main thoroughfare the Little League World Champions Boulevard. And absolutely none of this matters to most New Jerseyans, who chiefly know the town for one thing: being the last stop between the Parkway and...
Seaside Heights: Yes, that Seaside. MTV's Jersey Shore took place here, and the town is typically regarded as one of the trashier locales on the Shore, occasionally nicknamed "Sleazeside". Not like they're complaining; they love the tourist money. Got hammered good by Sandy, which took out part of the pier and flung the rollercoaster into the ocean.
Long Beach Island: Often called "LBI", this is a land of vacation homes commonly seen as one of the more family-friendly places on the Shore. The value of beachfront property can run in the millions of dollars on the northern part of the island, though the southern part is more middle-class, commercialized, and diverse; a common saying, popularized in The Seventies, is that "the haves turn right (south) and the have mores turn left (north)". At various points, most recently 1962, severe storms have cut the island into two or more pieces, making one think that building levees and sea walls would be an idea with unanimous support; however, opposition from homeowners fearful that the sea walls would devalue their property meant that LBI had an incomplete sea wall system when Sandy hit, leaving it one of the most devastated areas on the Shore.
Atlantic City: The East Coast's Las Vegas. Atlantic City was recognized as a prime spot for a tourist town as early as the 1850s; the extension of the railroads from Philadelphia turned it into a playground for any Philadelphian who had even a little bit of disposable income. (British people: it may help to think of AC in this period as being rather like what Brighton was to London in the same period—the town by the sea easily accessible by rail from the metropolis on an estuary about 50 miles away.) By the turn of the 20th century, the rest of the East Coast had gotten in on the fun. The Miss America competition was held here from 1920 until 2005. AC was also a major hub of The Mafia during the Prohibition era, as seen in Boardwalk Empire. Like many old resort towns, it was gutted by the rise of the automobile, cheap air travel, and suburbia, a situation that came to a head in 1964 when it hosted the Democratic National Convention. While the convention was a success, the nation got to see just how rotten Atlantic City had become, with many of its once-renowned hotels being converted into cheap apartments and nursing homes in order to stay afloat. The New Jersey state government attempted to rectify this in 1976 by legalizing gambling in the city; while this has undoubtedly led to the restoration of the boardwalk and the seaside, the rest of the city continues to decay as it had before. Even then, the opening of competing casinos in Connecticut and Pennsylvania has begun to cut in on this. On a lighter note, it's the birthplace of the sweet confection known as saltwater taffy.
The Wildwoods: A collection of five towns on an island off the Cape May peninsula that are often just collectively referred to as "Wildwood". Known for their classic Googie architecture from The Fifties and The Sixties, and sometimes cited as the "birthplace" of Rock & Roll — "Rock Around the Clock" was first performed here in 1954. Typically ranked as having the best beaches on the Shore (sorry), making the long drive that much more agonizing for New Yorkers. The Wildwoods have historically been quite restrictive when it comes to alcohol, leading to a reputation for family-friendliness; it was only in 2006 when North Wildwood legalized sales of alcohol on its boardwalk, and 2010 when the main town of Wildwood followed suit.
Cape May: The southern tip of the state of New Jersey, like a giant wang peeing on Delaware. The entire peninsula is known as one of the best birdwatching sites in North America, especially during migration times. Also the site of the United States Coast Guard's basic training camp. Fun fact: Cape May, the county seat at the southern end of the peninsula, is at the same latitude as Washington, DC: the Cape May waterfront is 114 miles east of Adams-Morgan, Columbia Heights, and the U Street Metro station as the crow flies.
South Jersey: With the exception of the Shore, this area, like the Highlands, is rarely seen in the media, due to the fact that it's more closely associated with Philadelphia than New York City. Often shown as being poorer than the rest of the state, with the suburbs being more working-class. This is partially Truth in Television, but not exactly — a visit to Cherry Hill, Moorestown, or Medford would quickly discredit this assumption. Home to two towns named Haddonfieldnote Fun fact — the Haddonfield in Halloween (1978) is actually named after the one in New Jersey, which is where Debra Hill, the co-writer of the film, was born and went to high school.note Another fun fact: Hadrosaurus was discovered in and named after Haddonfield. and Voorhees, which are served (along with Gibbsboro) by the same freeway exit◊; note, however, that Haddonfield is a bit more comfortable. If producers need a Gangsterland, then Camden (in terms of crime rate, imagine a Fun Size Detroit)note Actually, that doesn't even capture it; Detroit at least has hipsters trying to make the place slightly better is often used in place of Newark.
Residents are known to react even worse to the standard New Jersey jokes. The Turnpike has very few exits to the southern half of the state (and the Parkway has none outside of the Shore), and the near-absence of chemical and industrial plants outside of the immediate vicinity of Philadelphia results in little pollution. Plus, there are still many, many thriving farms in the area (it's home to the regionally-famous Jersey tomato as well as a number of decent wineries), as it is relatively undeveloped outside of the Shore and the Delaware Valley, lending some credence to the state nickname that so many seem to think is ironic — "The Garden State."
Definitions of South Jersey will vary depending on who you ask. Some will define the region as everything south of Interstate 195. Others will draw a line starting just south of Trenton and ending just north of Atlantic City, and classify South Jersey as everything south of that line. Many in Monmouth County will make the cutoff for South Jersey anything south of Toms River in Ocean Countynote A definition that conveniently leaves out Point Pleasant and Six Flags Great Adventure, likely so that Central Jersey can count that little sliver of Ocean County as its own., while many people in South Jersey will make the cutoff at Howell Township in Monmouth County instead, a definition that follows county lines more neatly. A few people go so far as to count everything south of Newark as South Jersey, a definition that includes New Brunswick and even Elizabeth. Needless to say, the distinction causes a lot of arguments within the state.
The Pine Barrens: Firmly straddling the blurry dividing line between Central and South Jersey is a region composed of hundreds of square miles of primeval pine forest, growing from a white sandy soil. Home to ghost towns, cranberry bogs, blueberry farms, and uncounted miles of dirt roads, the Barrens are a zone of complete wilderness that is unusual in any Eastern state, let alone the most densely populated state in America. A great majority of the state's stories of ghosts and pirates are set in or have ties to the Pine Barrens, and the Jersey Devil calls them its home, making it an out-of-New England branch of Lovecraft Country. (Mysterious Real Life phenomena such the unidentified booming noises which have rattled the area on a regular basis for decades just add to the mystique.) For someone whose only exposure to New Jersey is Chemical Alley and Newark, discovering that there is a part of the state where you can drive for an hour and see virtually nothing but pine trees can be somewhat disconcerting.
New Jersey facts
Some random facts about life in New Jersey.
Jersey Girls Don't Pump Gas
New Jersey is one of only two states (the other being Oregon) where it is illegal to pump your own fuel at the gas station, having banned it in 1949 due to safety concerns and to protect jobs. While in most of the country, gas station attendants have been relegated to the realm of nostalgia, in Jersey full-service gas stations are still a fact of life. Most New Jerseyans take this as a point of pride, with bumper stickers bearing the above slogan being a common sight on women's cars. This can occasionally lead to snickers from New Jerseyans when movies and shows (such as the Friday the 13th (2009) remake) portray characters from New Jersey pumping their own gas.
Contrary to popular belief, this barely affects the price of gasoline in the state. New Jersey has some of the cheapest gas in the nation, though much of that has to do with it being home to several major oil refineries, which reduces the distance gasoline has to take to get from the boats to the pumps. (That smell is good for sumthin', huh?) People entering New York are often told to fill up at one of the many gas stations on the New Jersey side of the border before they cross. (Or the other way around if you don't have 20 minutes to wait for the one pump jockey at a 30-pump station to get to your car and start the pump).
The White Picket Fence State
Very large tracts of New Jersey consist of suburban development. For a state of nearly nine million people that stands as the most densely populated state in the nation, the fact that no one city holds more than 300,000 people, and only one city, Newark, has more than 250,000note Though Jersey City, with 247,000 people and rising, is closing in fast on becoming the second city on that list, and some estimates suggest that it already reached that threshold in 2011., is indicative of the state's patterns of development. It's not unrealistic to say that most of modern New Jersey is an entire state built out of suburbia.
On the other hand, a major reason New Jersey's "urban" population seems small is that the state has a strong tradition, enshrined in state law, of local government: your average New Jersey municipality is only a few square miles in area. For an idea, Newark itself is only about 12 square miles, compared to the dozens or hundreds of square miles typically covered by major cities (for instance, New York City is 300 square miles and Chicago is about 230 square miles; even relatively small San Francisco, Washington, DC, and Miami cover about 50 square miles of land each). If you mashed together the solid urban corridor running from Paterson in the north down through southern Bergen County and Hudson County to Newark and then Elizabeth, you would have a single municipality with a population of nearly 1.9 million and an area of about 180 square miles, or roughly equivalent to that of Queens—or more to the point, only a little bit larger than Philadelphia in both land area and population.note It is also similar to Philly in layout—a relatively narrow band west of a body of water (the Delaware for Philly, the Hudson and Newark Bay for the North Jersey Corridor) about twenty miles from tip to tip. In other words—New Jersey is home to the second-largest and third-densest city on the East Coast, it's just that it's divided into four counties and something on the order of 20 separate municipalities...because Jersey likes "towns" and "local rule."
Despite all that fancy chat, this is the stereotype that's most common among people who are actually from the state. New Jersey suburbs are often viewed as being particularly wealthy, possessing good schools (or at least, good-looking schools with impressive athletics departments), covered in shopping malls, and being inhabited by mobsters (there's a reason The Sopranos took place here). Also, there is an under-reported problem with gangs and drug dealing in schools, particularly in Bergen County. Make no mistake — no matter what Jay and Silent Bob may suggest, Gang Bangers and drug dealers are not to be scoffed at even if they're white.
This suburban trend has long colored New Jersey's politics. In The Seventies and The Eighties, New Jersey was a solidly Republican state, with the large and growing numbers of suburbanites voting against the largely Democratic cities that they had moved out of. Ronald Reagan won New Jersey by a greater margin than he had won nationally during both of his electoral landslides, taking 60% of the vote in 1984. In The Nineties, though, the state began to swing to the left, the pivotal year being 1992 when New Jersey served as a key swing state that ultimately went to the Democrats. Much of this has been attributed to the rise of the fiscally moderate, socially liberal "New Democrats" a laBill Clinton within the Democratic Party, and to the growing dominance of the Christian Right within the Republican Party; New Jersey's conservatives had long been of the more center-right, business-oriented, "Rockefeller Republican" variety rather than the "movement conservatism" of the post-Reagan Republican Party.note An early sign of this was in 1980, when independent candidate John A. Anderson, running as a moderate alternative to both the unpopular Jimmy Carter and to the arch-conservative Reagan, won more than nine percent of the vote in New Jersey, far more than the 6.6% he had won nationally. Today, this can be seen in the state's current governor, Chris Christie, a leading moderate figure within the Republican Party whose career has been defined by compromise with the state's Democratic legislature. A good analogy to British politics would be that New Jersey would probably vote for the Lib Dems or New Labour if it were British. Today, New Jersey is a Democratic stronghold, especially in Presidential elections and in the "belt" running between New York City and Philadelphia, though the northwest and the Shore (outside Atlantic City and Asbury Park) vote reliably Republican, and the state overall is willing to elect center-right moderates as their governor (two recent examples being Christine Todd Whitman and Chris Christie).
In recent decades, suburban sprawl has grown to the point where the state government considers it a threat to New Jersey's environmental integrity. Whereas the smokestacks of the Chemical Coast only stink up the Chemical Coast, out-of-control sprawl can lead to soil erosion and, with it, flooding and landslides, and is now starting to push into the state's water supply in the Skylands. Consequently, in 2004 the state passed the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act in order to contain the growth of New York's exurbs.
It Doesn't Smell Like a Garden
The (in)famous "Jersey stench" has been described by different people as smelling like burning rubber, rotten eggs, burnt coffee and "something that I don't know what it is, but it just stinks!" In reality, it isn't nearly as bad as New Yorkers like to pretend it is, especially after the Clean Air Act was passed and the capping of landfills became common practice. It's primarily found in one area of northeastern New Jersey where most of the state's industry is concentrated... which just so happens to be the part of the state that New Yorkers go through on their way in. It also doesn't help that the Supreme Courtliterally forbade New Jersey from doing anything about other states using it as a landfill.note To add insult to injury, New Jersey's most prolific Supreme Court Justice and the only New Jerseyan on the Court at the time, Newarker William Brennan, was part of the majority. Ouch. The only two justices to oppose it? Chief Justice Burger and Justice Rehnquist—both from the Upper Midwest, funnily enough. West of the Watchung Mountains or south of Elizabeth, the only nasty thing you might smell on the road is dead skunk. Still, the smell of the Turnpike is well-known enough that an insurance company has launched a "Jersey Doesn't Stink" campaign dedicated to combating negative stereotypes of the state.
At least one part of the stereotype is somewhat Truth in Television: New Jersey has the dubious distinction of being home to more Superfund sites (sites that are contaminated with radioactive or otherwise chemically toxic hazardous materials in need of cleanup) than any other state. Keep in mind that New Jersey is the fourth-smallest state by land area. The reason, basically, is that New Jersey is the state that has been heavily industrialized for the longest amount of time; being between New York and Philadelphia put it smack in the middle of a perfect corridor for rail transportation, plus there's the sea access up by Newark, and therefore factories and other industrial facilities—often very dirty ones—sprouted up in that line, and have been for nearly 200 years.
This leads to a famous joke:
Q: Why does New Jersey have the most Superfund sites and Washington, DC have the most lawyers?
As any lawyer in New Jersey can tell you though, those Superfund sites are a pile of lawsuits just waiting to happen. A good number of New Jersey law firms make good money representing clients in environmental law cases—thanks to the Superfund sites and New Jersey's own strict environmental laws, one of the few states where you can do so.
Yes, diners. The Great American Greasy Spoon is practically a religion in New Jersey. No, seriously, you go to eat at a diner "after church" on Sundays, even if you aren't religious (or even Christian) and for you "church" consists of "sleeping off a hangover." Each town—remember that business about New Jersey liking towns?—has at least one diner; in "large cities," it's every neighborhood, but that's the same idea. If you value your life (or at least your hearing or the absence of boots from your rectum) don't tell a native New Jerseyan that Denny's, IHOP, or (God forbid) Waffle House is a diner — a diner must be a small, independent business, owned and operated by an immigrant, his son, his grandson, or his great-grandson.note Presumably in a little while we'll be adding in "great-great grandson" and so on, but you get the gist. Said immigrant is preferably Greek, although a Russian or an Ashkenazi Jew will do in a pinch. If the owner is Greek, there should be some element of Greek kitsch in the decor; all-out faux-marble columns and pediments aren't necessary, but at least put a meandering border or some olive branches somewhere. The food must include classic Americana like burgers and fries (sometimes in epic proportions), breakfast dishes like pancakes, bacon, and eggs, Jersey diner food (e.g. creamed chipped beef on toast and something including pork roll), as well as some obscure ethnic food of whatever ethnicity the owner is (gyros and souvlaki are common at Greek-run diners, while matzo ball soup and bagels with cream cheese and lox are common at historically Jewish-run ones). Last but certainly not least, it must generally be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ready to serve customers whether they're heading to work or school in the morning, coming home from such in the late afternoon, or heading to and from the club late at night.note Short closing hours—closing from around midnight or 2:00 until 6AM—on weekdays are acceptable in some areas with lower population densities, like much of South Jersey.
If the diner doesn't meet these criteria... it's not a diner.
New Jersey IS a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than Mos Aisley
New Jersey has always been a major trading state - it's square in the middle of the original 13 colonies, it is wedged between Philadelphia and New York City, and even today is a prime location for several of the largest international airports in the US. Because of all that money changing hands, you can expect crime and corruption.
Because of the love of "local rule" and "towns," there are a plethora (585 municipalities in 21 counties, to be exact; and that's not counting the scads of school districts, fire districts, sewer districts, and other such institutions) of local governments across the state, each one handing out contracts. This creates a lot of opportunity for corruption, since small local governments can't afford oversight and don't have the press going after them in the same way that a big-city pol might.
The state government in Trenton. Although the central government of the State of New Jersey is actually surprisingly clean and exercises a surprising amount of oversight, it can't catch everything, and often has more important business anyway, especially given the way funding priorities work. Moreover, although graft and bribery of state officialsnote Crooked judges aside; there are fewer of these since the 80s, anyway is actually rather rare, other, more sophisticated shady dealings at the highest level of the government—often involving the governor, his staff, and the senior leadership of the Legislature—are depressingly common. This is in large part a function of the government being in Trenton: Trenton, a small city on the boundary between the New York and Philadelphia spheres of influence, is not big enough to warrant a serious media market of its own that would go after the pols, and too far away from the big cities to warrant serious coverage by their news outlets.
New Jersey is home to The Mafia. If The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire aren't enough to convince you of the state's long and rich history of mob hits and "legitimate buss-a-ness," just ask New Jersey residents themselves. It's a well-known secret that the mob exists more plentifully in New Jersey than any other state these days; it's just an accepted fact of life. They've been there since The Roaring Twenties and just never left, outlasting the mob in Chicago and New York City. Ask any New Jersey resident, and they'll tell you Jimmy Hoffa is buried in the Pine Barrens, duh.
Even before the glory days of organized crime, there was rampant corruption through the Garden State. Money has been passed around in the world of New Jersey politics more freely than a cold since the time of Lincoln. It was home to Thomas Edison, quite easily one of the most brilliant, and most shining examples of a Corrupt Corporate Executive to ever grace the US.
And yet, despite all this, corruption isn't quite as rampant as in Illinois, New York, California, or several other states. So what makes New Jersey synonymous with corruption?
Quality over quantity, my friend.
Just as Florida is famous for "news of the weird" stories, New Jersey has been host to some of the most outlandish, absurd, and downright magnificent acts of corruption and anti-corruption stings to ever grace US shores:
In 1985, David Friedland, a member of the NJ Senate, faked his own drowning by using scuba gear, a briefcase full of money buried on a beach, and a quiet escape to the Maldives in an act that can only be described as "James Bond-esque."
In 2009, the mayors of three New Jersey cities, the deputy mayor of Jersey City, two NJ state assemblymen, and five rabbis, among many others, were found guilty of running a black-market kidney trafficking ring.
Boardwalk Empire is based on the life of Nucky Johnson, who really was the Treasurer of Atlantic City and one of the more influential mobsters during Prohibition, though not nearly as overt as Al Capone. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
American Hustle is based on real-life events that transpired in New Jersey in the late '70s, and ended up with the conviction of, among others, an NJ state senator and the mayor of Camden.
In 2013, staff members of Governor Chris Christie, in conjunction with members of the NJ Port Authority, closed part of the most-heavily-traveled bridge in the US, just because the mayor of Fort Lee, the town where said bridge crosses into New Jersey, refused to endorse Christie in the 2012 gubernatorial election — an election Christie was bound to win anyway. The resultant traffic jammed up the bridge completely, and may have indirectly led to the death of a senior citizen (for lack of EMS vehicles being able to respond in time).
The funniest part of this is that Christie had made his name prosecuting high-profile corruption cases, supposedly trying to clean out NJ government. To some degree, he even succeeded. Of course, then his staff turns around and does this... which to be fair, isn't exactly the kind of "corruption" he was fighting (kickbacks and sweetheart deals) but rather simple abuse of power for purely political gain. The reason Christie wanted endorsements from Democrats was to get a massiveLandslide Election win in a solidly "blue" state in order to bolster his prospects to become the GOP nominee for President in 2016. It backfired, of course — "Bridgegate" pretty much ended Christie's hopes of running for President.
Famous New Jerseyans
For some reason, New Jersey has a very high output of famous people. All part of the plan... wait, you did not just read that, did you? Oh crap, they know! Release the Jersey Devil — they must be silenced before they tell the world!
Okay, seriously, it probably has something to do with the fact that the state sits right across the Hudson from New York City, the second-largest film production center on the continent and the capital of the American TV industry, as well as a major center of the music, fashion, art and advertising worlds. It's a very large and accessible pool of talent to draw from, not to mention that many people who work in New York have homes in the suburbs to commute from.
William J. Brennan, Jr.: Appointed by Dwight D. Eisenhower even though he was a Democrat. Retired under George H.W. Bush. Hyper-liberal Irish Catholic. Best friends with Thurgood Marshall. Bane of first-year law students across the country for his perpetual dissents on civil procedure. Newark born and bred. Still refused to back New Jersey when it tried to do something about the stench.
Antonin Scalia: Arch-conservative/"originalist" Italian Catholic from Trenton. Appointed by Ronald Reagan; still there. Got into well-publicized and snarky fights with Brennan while both were on the bench. Gave a reporter the Sicilian finger.
Samuel Alito: Also a conservative/"originalist" Italian Catholic from Trenton. He and Scalia are sometimes nicknamed "Scalito", though Alito's shown a bit more of a libertarian streak on the bench (unsurprising for those who know about his support for constitutionally-based gay rights while at Princeton). Appointed by George W. Bush.
Musicians and Bands
1910 Fruitgum Company (Linden)
Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys (born in South Orange, but raised in Manhattan)
The Ad Libs (Bayonne)
Akon (born in St. Louis, Missouri, but raised in Union City, Newark and Jersey City)
Donald Fagen of Steely Dan (Passaic, later moved to South Brunswick. Fagen went to study at Bard College in New York, where he met Walter Becker, a native of Queens, and formed Steely Dan. He later relocated there.)
Fountains of Wayne (bassist Adam Schlessinger is from Montclair; the band gets its name from a lawn ornament store in Wayne)
ChrisChristie (born in Newark, raised in Livingston. Current governor of NJ; widely speculated to be a possible choice for the GOP nomination in 2016 or maybe 2020; notable for giving a scathing speech about Barack Obama at the 2012 Republican National Convention, but dropping all partisanship after Hurricane Sandy hit—and crying in the speech thanking the Administration for its help. Which has caused many GOP commentators to turn on him; apparently they think he was supposed to screw over his own state in order to keep trashing the other party, but garnered significant support within his own state.)
Hal Turner (Jersey City, then Ridgefield Park, then North Bergen)
Also, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein both adopted New Jersey as their homes: Einstein lived in Princeton, where he taught, and as for Edison? Well, there's a reason that the town just northeast of New Brunswick is called Edison...
As you can see, We Are Everywhere.
So there you have it. The TV Tropes Wiki tour of the Garden State. Hopefully your gas tank isn't too far in the red from not trusting Jersey pump jockeys, you should be able to make it to the Sloatsburg rest stop on the New York Thruway on that... Now to send those Bennies back where they came from...