I’m hopelessly compromised in this debate (deep Jersey roots back to the 1600s, lots of beloved relatives still there, yet just as smug about New Jersey as any New Yorker). But most of all, I’ve never actually lived there. So for my Tantrum, I’m calling in my good friend, art-n-culture journalist Carly Berwick, who is proud to live on the Sopranos’ side of the Hudson.
Welcome, Carly. Thanks for talking to DadWagon.
I’d like the record to note that I am getting all jacked up on my son’s Halloween candy
Noted. So what exactly are your Jersey credentials?
I myself am tri-state native, who only left the area once, for four terrible, sun-drenched years in Northern California [ed. note: that’s where I met Carly, and she didn’t seem that miserable]. I have lived here in Jersey City for 8+ years, after doing time in Brooklyn. About a year ago, I started up Bike JC, a bicycling advocacy group, because I was tired of being gunned at by Navigators while trying to cross the street or ride to the PATH* (definitions to follow) with my kid(s). I also like to write about local happenings, such as Barack Obama’s campaign stop a few blocks away or a shoot-out with cops another few blocks away, for Next American City.
So right to the question: Should DadWagon Move to New Jersey?
Yes, but leave your fleur-de-lis-cappuccino-milk-patterns-and-all-night-yoga-session requirements at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel.
You perceive a certain negative tone about New Jersey here on DadWagon?
I’m just naturally defensive about everything, apologies in advance. I too had qualms about leaving the Best Place on Earth some eight years ago. I tried to drop the whole Sixth Borough concept into conversation and point out over and over again that the PATH (NJ’s subway, which runs through Hoboken, Jersey City, and Newark) runs all night, just like the subway, and like few other metros in the world. But over time, the need to reference the City (which remains the City, even when you live halfway to Pennsylvania), fades, and the charms of going fully Jersey (not to be confused with going fully Jersey Shore) wax. There’s a whole host of new references to reconstitute a world unto itself: William Carlos Williams, Robert Smithson, the White Mana Diner on 1/9, the Spanish-language corridor of the Bergenline, the Pine Barrens, and yes, Turnpike exits. Any negative tone from NYers about Jersey tends to reinforce stereotypes about NYer’s parochialism, their love of three-syllable words when two or one will do just fine, their obsession with local food grown in, yes, New Jersey, their willingness to commute 45 minutes on the subway and say that it’s ‘just’ a subway-ride away. Wait, I’m getting distracted. What was the question again?
No, that pretty much addresses DadWagon’s take. But isn’t moving to Jersey just about buying a house? And isn’t home ownership so… 2007?
Yes! And Yes! Good points. But you can also rent for cheap, especially in Trenton.
Oh Lordy, Trenton? I’m ready to listen to the merits of Near Jersey, but I don’t know that anyone is suggesting Trenton.
But don’t you want to be a pioneer? A real artiste? Because Detroit has received too much attention lately? Actually, there are also cheap places all around me where I sit in Jersey City. They are big, often beautiful, near public transit, near parks. It’s more like Brooklyn (the Fort Greene to Bed-Stuy corridor) circa 1999. We still have Chinese takeout and pizza places—plus awesome halal chicken and Indian food—but it’s not far to a good arugula salad. But that’s just Jersey City—and much of the north Jersey corridor, that runs from Bayonne to Teaneck. The rest of north Jersey would be small cities in any other state. Maplewood, for instance, has something like 23,000 residents [ed. note: one of whom is our guest-blogger Todd Pruzan], which I think would make it the second largest city in Idaho. All to say, for urbanites scared of change, the ‘suburbs’ don’t really exist in North Jersey anymore. New Jersey is the most urbanized state in the country.
But seriously, no regrets about having left Brooklyn? The hipsters freaking love it there.
I had lots of regrets every time I went back to visit Fort Greene for the first three years or so. But now Jersey City has hipper hipsters so I feel ok. They don’t even need cool day jobs to be hipsters—they just are. They are zen hipsters who actually have time to sit around coffee shops without a secret trust fund in their back pocket. So, I have reconnected with that early-90s proto-hipster-in-Brooklyn vibe simply by watching JC absorb the DIYers who are truly sick of paying too much to live. But even outside JC, I am surrounded by real adults who have real world responsibilities, which is kind of cool.
If DadWagon had three hours to taste Jersey for real instead of just pontificating from this side of the Hudson, what’s the itinerary?
Trip A, head out to Ort Farms, outside Chester on a crisp fall day, for pumpkin and apple picking and hay maze-ing; or trip B) Bike over the GW and drop down onto River Road, all the way to the first light rail stop. Take the light rail one stop toward Tonnele and get off on Bergenline, then ride slowly down Bergenline, stopping in at some of the empanada shops (you can get back by reversing directions or taking the light rail to the PATH in JC or Hoboken). If you are up for a slightly longer ride, google-map the ride so you end up in downtown JC, get a snack at one of the cafes or a beer at Zeppelin Hall, and take the Grove Street PATH or the ferry at Warren Street or Exchange Place back to Manhattan. Bring helmets; riding the streets is a little hectic—just like NYC.
What’s the best food in your neighborhood?
It’s a toss up between a Filipino place and halal whole-chicken-on-a-spit storefront, both on West Side Ave near Lincoln Park in JC. I don’t know the names of either. In downtown JC (near Grove Street PATH), best restaurant is Marco and Pepe on Grove, best coffee and homemade croissants are at a tiny place called Two Aprons on Warren Street.
A miniature cafe called Two Aprons serving homemade croissants sounds incredibly yuppie and possibly homosexual. Isn’t the point of Jersey to get away from that kind of thing?
Yes, you’ve hit on the problem of downtown Jersey City, which has perhaps perfected its emulation of NYC/Brooklyn too well. For a less precious experience, there is always the VIP diner near Journal Square, which is reportedly where the 9/11 plotters met to eat over not-too-hard scrambled eggs just days before the event.
A suitably ghoulish note to leave this interview on. Thanks for chatting with us, Carly.