L. Neil Smith's
Number 323, June 12, 2005

"News From The Belly Of The Beast"

Welcome to New Jersey
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to TLE

New Jersey is a horrible place to do business. How horrible is it? So horrible that builder William Juliano has posted a billboard near the Delaware Memorial Bridge that reads: "Welcome to New Jersey. A horrible place to do business."

Mr. Juliano's anger stems from a fight with the State DEP, which has forbidden him from building a Home Depot on what it claims is a protected wetlands area. Now, ordinarily, this kind of issue would be clear cut for me. I'm the kind of guy who sides with the free market—when in doubt, I go with the businessman over the bureaucrats. So part of me wants to say they should just let Juliano build his stupid tool store. However, I'm not "in doubt" here. And I'm not going to side with the businessman over the bureaucrats, either. As somebody born and raised in New Jersey, I am 100 percent certain my home state is not a horrible place to do business. And, if anything, it may be a little too good.

In order to understand what I'm getting at, you first have to understand New Jersey. And in order to understand New Jersey, you have to understand that New Jersey doesn't really exist. Oh, maybe in the technical, geographical sense it does. Mapmakers certainly recognize it. And it certainly has its own license plates. But actual New Jerseyans know "New Jersey" is a misnomer—an oversimplification, if you will. You see, there are actually two New Jerseys—North and South. I'm from North Jersey. And, yes, there's a difference.

I was 18 before I met anyone from South Jersey. I swear it was like talking to a foreigner. Simply put, these people pronounce their words weird. Take bagels, for instance. They don't call 'em bagels in South Jersey. They call 'em "beggles." This blows my mind. What the hell is a beggle? Is that some kind of puppy? Why would I eat a puppy for breakfast? North Jerseyans know better. We call 'em "bay gulls." The word derives from Staten Island's seagulls—literally, gulls by the bay.

Then there's ice cream. North Jerseyans top their ice cream with multicolored bits of sugary goodness called sprinkles. In South Jersey, however, they have this maddening habit of calling sprinkles "jimmies." That's right. Jimmies. I can't even tell you how angry this makes me. Yes, I realize it's only an ice cream topping. But it's also a matter of principle. Sprinkles are sprinkles. There's no such thing as jimmies. How can you top your ice cream with something that doesn't exist?

(Has it come to this? Am I really defending sprinkles here?)

The point is, the two New Jerseys are noticeably different. North Jersey is the New Jersey of 7-Eleven, the Statue of Liberty, and The Sopranos; South Jersey is the New Jersey of Wawa, LBI, Tastykakes, and scrapple. And while South Jerseyans care entirely too much about football, North Jerseyans spend time actually thinking about getting good parking spots.

Of course, some New Jerseyans claim to come from "Central" Jersey. But I would contend that this very idea goes against everything New Jersey stands for. I mean, when you get right down to it, the entire state is really just a precious piece of land between two major cities—New York in the North, Philadelphia in the South. Both halves identify strongly with their corresponding cities, and to that end they are merely extensions of them. (It's not uncommon for a North Jerseyan to say he "comes from New York," or a South Jerseyan to say he "comes from Philly.") So the only way you can come from "Central" Jersey is if you happen to get both cities' TV stations—which, admittedly, some people do. But even then, Central Jersey isn't a state of being so much as it's a state of mind.

Ultimately, though, the very cities that differentiate North and South Jersey also make them exactly the same. New York and Philly are so big, you see, that the whole state is effectively one giant metropolitan area. You can't escape all the suburbs and overcrowded highways in New Jersey. The North and South may identify with different cities, but those cities, combined, make the whole state seem like a certain Hell for Claustrophobes.

That's what gets me about Mr. Juliano's stupid tool store. How can you tell me New Jersey is a horrible place to do business? Have you been to New Jersey lately? Do you know how many Home Depots (and Lowes) there are? Have you counted all the Wal-Marts and Kmarts and Targets and Sears? The McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Wendys? The Blockbusters, Hollywoods, and E-Z Videos? New Jersey is swarming with businesses. In fact, it's nothing but business. If you took pictures from space, the state would look like two giant strip malls with a single row of stop-and-go traffic in between them. That's how "horrible" it is to do business here.

New Jersey may not be a free market paradise, but it's not where capitalism goes to die, either.

Look, I realize the reason New Jersey has so many stupid tool stores is because there's a palpable need for them. I won't fault any businessman for trying to fill that need. But all the same, New Jersey is on track to be the first state to actually run out of room. That's creepy. And the same DEP that Mr. Juliano complains about today has also enabled him—amongst others—to build many other things over the years. I'm not familiar enough with this fella's work to blame him, outright, for packing the state like a can of sardines. But, dude, take a chill pill. Slow down a little. And spread out.

God forbid the most densely populated state in the country should have 1,000 Home Depots instead of 1,001. Is that really so horrible?

Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column for The Aquarian and other publications. His website is www.readjdm.com, and he can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.


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