There are few things as quintessentially New Jersey as the Garden State Parkway. It starts and ends at no major destinations, yet it goes everywhere that’s important in the state, and connects everything in the state to everything else. It’s the fastest way to get down the Shore from North Jersey, except when it’s snarled up in traffic, which is 98 percent of the time, except in mid-July, when it’s 100 percent of the time. But let there be no doubt, in Jersey, it’s our Main Drag, even though there aren’t any businesses to mention on it and there aren’t any parades on it, or at least, none that I’ve heard of.
So, my fellow New Jerseyans, here is my Talking Points Memo on the Parkway. If you ever find yourself at a bar, or a job interview, with nothing to talk about, and you’re stunted by the silence, you can bring up these novel thoughts about the Parkway and its central role in the life of the state, and our lives in particular.
1. It’s New Jersey’s Own Version of a High Interest Loan – Hey, didn’t we finish paying for the Parkway back in ’73? Or was it ’86? Why are we still paying for tolls for a route that was completed when David Lee Roth still led Van Halen? And why have tolls increased at such an astronomical rate? When I was a kid, back in the 80’s, the tolls were 10¢. Then in the 90’s they went up to a Quarter, then a few years passed by and now they’re $1.50 and up. What happened? Who is getting rich here? Besides, the tollbooths look as crummy as ever.
I figure that if you’re going to keep the tolls this high, we need more services on the Parkway. First, they should offer free neck messages at the rest stops. And the food should be complementary. And taste good. And there shouldn’t be weird people at the rest stops…you know, the kind that sing in front of the bathrooms…how did they get there anyway? Are they licensed drivers?
And then there’s the $1 Billion question: when will the tolls stop? When will we be done with paying for the Parkway and not have to sweat about having change or getting caught up in that ridiculous Toll booth traffic?
2. There are No Alternates or Real U-Turns – Okay, this really gets on my nerves. Driving down the Parkway is a real commitment, because if you need to turn around, it’s going to be a logistical nightmare, if not an impossibility. There are very few if any genuine U-Turns. Each exit is a one-way portal to its own Jerseyesque Dimension. And if you get caught up in a bottleneck, there are no parallel roads. Route 9 does go along the Parkway in some areas, but its path weaves along far too erratically to be counted on.
3. Old People Rule It – The Garden State Parkway is New Jersey’s equivalent to a moving rest home. I cannot think of any other highway in the nation that is so proportionally used by such a high percentage of the geriatrically-challenged. Don’t take my word for it. Next time you’re slowly cruising south of the Driscoll Bridge, take a look at the cars around you. In the busses? Old people heading to Atlantic City. In the cars? You guessed it. Old people heading to Atlantic City.
4. Man Eating Sharks Swim Next to and Under It – This is an historical fact. The Parkway, when it gets south of the Heaven-scaping Driscoll Bridge, has long portions which are built directly atop of some of the state’s richest salt water wetlands. And in these dark, murky waters are maneating bullsharks. Don’t believe me? You don’t have to. Just go and see “Jaws.” The inspiration for that movie came from a series of inland shark attacks in the early 1900’s along the present-day path of the Parkway. So if you break down in Monmouth County, don’t go in the water. Really. I’m not kidding. Don’t even play around it.
5. Zombies are Sure to Destroy it On Judgment Day – Okay, this may seem like a strange point, but bear with me here. The Parkway was constructed through and aside some of the state’s largest and oldest cemeteries, particularly in Essex county. In fact, there is a mile-long portion near Newark that cuts directly through a cemetery that has to be a square mile in size. Well, if you believe in the Zombie apocalypse – and most New Jerseyans do – you know that when the dead rise they’re going to be pissed and hungry, and they’re going to start their feeding at the most logical of places: The Garden State Parkway. So if you don’t want to get caught up in World War Z as it breaks out in Essex County, be sure to have your EZ-Pass so you can speed right through.
6. It Goes Down the Shore, and Through Our Hearts – If you live in New Jersey, and you do not love and cherish one or more of the Shore towns during the summertime, then you have no right to live here. In fact, it’s in the State Constitution. You have to love the Shore. You have to be willing to schlep down there a few times each summer, in the broiling heat, along the Parkway, to enjoy yourself and while you get into a huge argument with your kids in the back seat. And you have to pay for the tolls, and gas, and the parking. But you have to love it too. Believe me, I’ve never felt more blessed then when, over the past few years, I’ve finally sat down in the sand after a long journey on the Parkway with my wife and kid at, say, Wildwood, on an August day. The sound of the sea, the alternating pretzel and pizza scents in the air, the cackling of laughter from the rides…the hint of “Born to Run” in the background…it makes life worth living.
So that’s my Ode to the Parkway. I can’t think of any other major points concerning it – either positive or negative. If you can, be sure to add your comment. I’d love to hear from you. But until I do, I’ll keep a Cash Lane open for you at the Raritan Tolls…