Garden State Driving Tips

By now everyone knows to avoid driving through New Jersey after a gubernatorial election. In particular you want to avoid cities with a Democratic mayor that did not endorse the Republican winner. But that’s all water under the George Washington Bridge, so to speak. If you are going to visit the land where I was born, there’s a lot more you need to learn.

I recently had the pleasure of renting a Chrysler from the Alamo affiliate at JFK (nice folks BTW) to drive down to my folks in Barnegat, NJ. Although I grew up in this much maligned state, I moved away before I ever did much motoring there. Still, like most middle-aged males, I fancy myself as Steve McQueen with a little less hair, ready and willing to take on all challenges of the interstate highway system while flouting any rules of the road that cramp my style. Normally I eat up pavement like nacho flavored ice cream, yielding to no man, merging with mania and passing with care and panache. However, my first few forays into this bastion of Liberty and Prosperity caused me to question my car qualifications to the point where I would’ve hesitated to even drive Ms. Daisy. If you find yourself heading to the Jersey shore or are just making a Philly cheese steak run from the Big Apple, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) In general people drive more slowly in New Jersey. This is probably due to the ubiquitous-ness of the New Jersey State Trooper. Finely attired in Aryan blue uniforms, these robolike cops are everywhere and anywhere and happy to pull you over for five miles over the limit. My nonscientific study estimates that speeders in NJ average about 69 so be prepared to be popped if you plan on doing the usual California 85.

2) They don’t like left turns. Strictly prohibited on many thoroughfares, they prefer you drive straight through the intersection, then loop around to the right to go left. Sounds crazy, but it works. After a few days of looping through jug handles, you’ll wonder why every state doesn’t ban left turns. Have to make a U-Turn? Well, you might need to make two, three or four jug handles. Just keep hitting them until you’re going in the right (I mean, left) direction.

3) I could spend days on the Garden State Parkway (and, if you’re commuting into the city, you probably will!) It’s a toll road, except for the section between exits 127 and 141. You can pay electronically (with an EZ-Pass token) or by throwing coins in a basket. If you’ve got no coins and no EZ-Pass, you are screwed! There are entrance tolls, exit tolls, one-way tolls, and two way tolls. Some toll lanes are strictly EZ-Pass, some are strictly exact change, some are both and some are neither. Make sure you get in the right one cause you can’t back up if you chose poorly. GSP has express lanes and local lanes in some sections and not nearly enough lanes in other sections. It has little U Turn thingies every few miles. U-Turns, however are strictly prohibited. The U-Turn lanes are really just places for State Troopers to wait for their next victims. There are always enough State Troopers.

4) Exits on the Garden State Parkway are numbered to match the mile markers (exit 127 is at or near mile 127.) Exits on the New Jersey Turnpike are numbered sequentially with no regard for the mile marker. It should be noted that both roads are administered by the same Turnpike Authority. Tolls on the Turnpike are paid only upon exiting – you get a ticket when you enter, and then you pay when you get off. (Coincidentally, the Vince Lombardi Rest Area ‘lot lizards’ employ much the same system.) Some Turnpike exits are given an extra “directional” designation, such as 6N or 6S, presumably to indicate the direction you’ll be headed after you exit. Still others are given an extra letter “A” or “B” or even “C”. This is to indicate that the Turnpike Authority did not consider the possibility that additional exits might be built, so they had to squeeze them into the existing useless numbering system. Exit 15, in addition to an “E” and “W” option, also has an “X” exit. Drivers opting for this designation vanish immediately after exiting.

5) If you are traveling southbound on the Garden State Parkway and exit the Parkway, perhaps to find gas, food or lodging, you may be surprised to find you cannot re-enter the Parkway. Sorry! You may have to drive overland for five or ten miles and re-join the party down the road. If you’ve exited, at say exit 88 southbound, to reach your hotel, you may find that there is no corresponding exit 88 when heading northbound. You may have to drive many miles past where you are staying and then work your way back through the countryside to where you would have preferred to get off. Too bad you can’t use those U-Turn thingies!

6) There are at least two bridges and two tunnels that connect New Jersey to New York City. No matter which one you pick on any given day, it will always be the worst choice, everyone but you will know this, and you will be ridiculed for your poor decision making for the remainder of that day. Few of these people, however, will point out the insanity of making this choice every morning instead of, say, just moving to the city.

7) The New York Giants play in New Jersey, as do the New York Jets. Why don’t they call them the Jersey Giants? Because New Jersey is not cool and New Yorkers don’t want to root for a team from New Jersey. If they want to do that, they’ll root for the New Jersey Devils. What does this have to do with driving? Nothing, unless you are trying to get to a Giants game.

8) There are many cities in New Jersey: Trenton, Newark, Atlantic City, etc. But when people in NJ refer to “The City” they mean New York City. New Jerseyans have conceded that it’s all about New York, has always been about New York, and will always be about New York. So if you are in the country in New Jersey and ask for directions on how to get to “the city” in New Jersey, you will get directions to New York. Pay extra attention to the tunnel or bridge recommended. It will likely be the worst one and everyone else but you will know it.

9) Gas is dirt cheap in New Jersey. This is especially surprising given that they are only one of two states that do not trust you to put it in your car by yourself. If you pull into a Shell station and hop out of your car to fill up, you’ll be greeted by a professional gas dispenser (I had this very job in New York back in the seventies. It’s pretty much the fast track to the Executive Suite.) You may be thinking, “I am gonna pay through the nose for ‘Full Service'” but, you will be wrong. Full Service in New Jersey is about $1 less per gallon than no service in California. Things like this will make you wonder what else you are getting screwed on in California.

10) There are places in New Jersey that can not be gotten to, if you happen to already be in certain other places. A phenomena originally limited to locations in Maine, this problem has migrated down the coast and has now established itself more or less permanently in the tenth colony. The solution to this is to first go to a designated third place, in which you may not have any immediate interest, and then from there, proceed to the place you actually intended to go. It is generally best to not even ask for directions directly from the original place to the original desired (but hitherto unattainable) destination as you may cause some sort of quantum navigational vortex and kill Schrodinger’s cat.

11) The State Bird is The Giant Pothole.

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