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A Garden State of Mind The Best and Worst of Living in New Jersey

The Garden State is home to Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Frankie Valli, and a large and colorful cast of reality TV personalities. Are residents called New Jerseyites...or New Jerseyans?  Whatever you call them, residents take great pride in their state and all it has to offer, from the renowned Jersey Shore to skiing in Mountain Creek to gambling in Atlantic City. Great sports teams, culture, industry and accessibility to not only New York and Philadelphia, but to the many small towns and exciting natural beauty within the state, such as the Shore and the Pine Barrens. It also offers top-notch universities and medical facilities, and is a great place to raise a family.

From old slogans like “New Jersey and You,” to the current “New Jersey – Come See for Yourself,” New Jersey is above all a welcoming place.  Nestled between New York City at its northern edge and Philadelphia at its southwestern extreme, the Garden State derived its most long-lasting nickname from Abraham Browning of Camden, the state’s attorney general from 1845 to 1850.  He was quoted by Alfred M. Heston in his two-volume work, Jersey Wagon Jaunts, published in 1926, as saying, “New Jersey is an immense barrel filled with good things to eat and open at both ends, with Pennsylvanians grabbing from one end and New Yorkers from the other.  New Jersey is the Garden State.”  (Alternative sources date this image of a barrel tapped at both ends back to Benjamin Franklin, so clearly everyone loves those Jersey tomatoes.)

Of course, no place is without its drawbacks. As fiercely loyal as they are, Jersey residents also have a love/hate relationship with their state, decrying the traffic and congestion on their roads, as well as the evergreen abuse New Jersey takes from comics and pundits of all stripes. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  It’s expansive, but expensive.  It’s convenient but crowded, sometimes to the point of frustration.  Think of those summer weekends ‘down-the-shore’ when the locals have to compete for sand space with the ‘Bennys,’ (local parlance for people from outside of New Jersey).  The state is crisscrossed with highways, but they’re often at a standstill.  Living in New Jersey can be both enchanting and infuriating at the same time.

Access to Everything

It seems the single thing most residents of New Jersey love the most is the access the state affords them to everything.  “Having grown up in New Jersey,” says Janet Proscia, a mortgage banker with Cronheim Mortgage, located in Chatham, New Jersey, “I find that everything you could want is right here.  From the beaches to the mountains to the beautiful countryside, there is something for everyone, no matter what your interests.  Also, being so close to other major cities like New York and Philadelphia, if you have not found what you want in your own backyard, you are just a short ride away from the city where you can get access to theater, fine dining – not that New Jersey doesn’t have its own top restaurants, museums, etc.”

Judy Clickner, the community life director at Somerset Run, a large over-55 retirement community located in Somerset, concurs.  “The location between New York and Philadelphia is a big attraction,” she says. “We also have beaches and mountains nearby.  There is so much to do.  It is very diversified.”  A lifelong resident of the state, she says, “It’s a great place to raise a family.”  She also observes that for residents of the community where she works, New Jersey is appealing for different reasons to different people.  “Many of our residents come to us from private homes within an hour of the community.  They want to remain close to their families who often live in the state.  We also have people who move here from other locales, from New York and New England.  They love the proximity they get to New York and everything it has to offer while still living in a suburban environment.”

Jeff Markowitz is an author and full time resident of the state.  He sets his novels in New Jersey.  His award-winning book, Death and White Diamonds, is set in both the Pine Barrens and the southern end of the Jersey Shore.  “I love the diversity,” says Markowitz of both the physical attributes of the state’s many different regions and the people who live there.  Considering its relatively small geographic area, New Jersey offers a surprising number of physical landscapes.  “And the beach,” he adds, which seems to be at the top of everyone’s list, considering its ubiquity in both real life and on Reality TV.  Remember MTV’s ‘Jersey Shore’?

Cindy Petrenko is a property manager.  She manages several condominium buildings in central New Jersey and is, as she says, “a Jersey girl by birth.”  She loves the climate.  “I love the change of seasons and the ability to enjoy them all.  I also love all the wonderful people here.  They’re kind and thankful.”

The Flip Side

The key negative to living in New Jersey seems to be the taxes.  “As for the downside of living in New Jersey, you have taxes and traffic, with an emphasis on taxes,” says Proscia.  “Unfortunately, real estate taxes in almost every part of the state are out of control.  The State of New Jersey has seniors leaving in droves because so many people cannot afford to stay here after retirement.  I hope I will not be one of those when my time comes.”

Clickner has a similar response.  “I hate the taxes; they’re a killer,” she says.  “Traffic has gotten very bad as well.  I stay off the highways to get to work because of the traffic.  Even on the back roads it’s become very congested.”  She also admits that the weather is not the best, “cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  It’s also getting to be very expensive.  Some of the long-time residents at Somerset Run have left for the Carolinas, Florida and Arizona permanently, both because of the severe winters and the expense of staying in the Garden State.  They can longer afford to operate two houses.”

Markowitz cites the cost of living as well.  “It’s too high.  And I also don’t like the dirty politics,” he says, citing a long-standing blemish on New Jersey’s reputation, regardless of whether the state government has been in Democratic or Republican hands.

Petrenko cites the weather as one of the downsides of life in New Jersey, though as mentioned above she loves the change of seasons.  The snow creates problems for her both personally and professionally.  “When there is a snowstorm there is not enough space to pile up the snow,” she says, in a reference common enough from Jersey dwellers.  The state has become just too crowded.  She adds, “The traffic is a growing problem as well.”

Overall however, residents of New Jersey – both those who were born here and those who have moved here from other places – seem enchanted by the place in which they live.  To them, the many pluses of the romance of New Jersey far outweigh the negative punchlines of the jokes comics and comedians make about the state they call home.       

A.J. Sidransky is a novelist and staff writer with The New Jersey Cooperator. 

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