We New Jerseyans share a common understanding about many things that the rest of the country may not.
First of all, we are not loud or obnoxious – we are passionate and truthful about what we say. We may not have a grand, big city, but being sandwiched in between two of the largest ones in the country, we appreciate the close proximity as well as the distance. We basically have a direct approach to life and that translates into most all things that we do.
And that includes driving.
Everyone’s heard the joke, You live in NJ? What exit? Well, to us, its not a joke. I live at exit two. I grew up between exits 5 & 7 and I work at exit 8. It’s just basic geography. But for those who do not understand, let me break it down:
Exit 1 is the first exit into NJ from Delaware.
I start at exit 2 where I now live and I know that when I get on that I have a bit of a distance before I get to exit 3.
Exit 4 comes faster with an extra lane added. So even though more traffic flows in, it also starts to move a bit faster.
The flash mob hits at exit 6 where the Pennsylvania Turnpike merges with us and then by exit 7A you get the shore and Great Adventure traffic.
But just past exit 8 we get relief by the wonderful invention of the truck lane – which, depending on the time of day or year, may or may not be the lane to be in – regardless of the vehicle that you’re driving.
Once past exit 9, the exits start coming faster.
The Garden State Parkway merges at exit 11, Newark Airport at exit 13A, Lincoln Tunnel at 16 and so on until you leave NJ for Connecticut or NY state.
But, as New Jerseyans, we usually hop off somewhere in between.
To drive the NJ Turnpike means to get on, drive fast, and then get off. And although I’ve never driven it, I liken it to the German Autobahn, which posts no general speed limit (although local laws may limit it to about 81 mph).
When I get on the turnpike, I crack my windows. The fresh air keeps me awake, but the thunderous ocean sound of the wind relaxes my mind like my own Ujjayi breathing. With hands at ten and two, or maybe just one at five, I zone in. Yes, I become one with the turnpike. This is why I rarely listen to music – because I want to hear and connect to the sound of the road. For me, on any given day, somewhere between exits 2 and 8 I lose myself to the drive. I’ve lost many conscious hours of my life arriving at my appropriate exit without the memory of how I actually got there. Was I zoned out and unaware? No, I was zoned in and completely connected.
To me, growing up in NJ and driving the NJ Turnpike is a way of life. I know that somewhere around April when it turns to construction season that I will have lane closures and delays. I understand that on a rainy day I can anticipate an occasional jack-knifed tractor trailer at an exit ramp. I know to listen to 101.5 for traffic information and when to jump off on to 295 before I get stuck between exits in gridlock. It’s all good – it’s all part of turnpike driving. Well, everything except for one little thing…
…out of staters on vacation using the NJ Turnpike as a scenic drive through.
You know who they are. These are the mini-vans with kayaks, bikes and camping equipment on the top. These are the silver-haired seniors driving gas-guzzling Mercury’s. These are the college kids on break in their Hondas, singing songs, laughing and being totally oblivious to the fact that they are driving 62 mph – in the left lane! And I’ve yet to see a NJ license plate on their vehicle.
My yoga practice tells me to breathe, accept and to use this as a tool for letting go. But my ingrained Jersey-girl etiquette has me flash my lights, curse, then when they do not respond, pass on the right while shaking my head. Once around the violator, I can once again take a deep breathe and resume my oneness with the road.
Accepting vacationers on the turnpike is like a deer accepting a bulldozer clearing out the land where it beds down. Alone with the wooded area, the deer thrives and survives, but pushed out by an unwanted visitor, it can run into traffic on a nearby road. New Jerseyans on the turnpike have one mission: get to a certain exit in the least amount of time. Drop in some slow moving left-lane hoggers and we are forced to drive around them because they like to do unnatural things like slam on the brakes or move slower than the traffic in the other lanes. If you’re asking why we can’t just slow down and be patient, it’s because it goes against our very nature – like a deer moving away from the threat.
I’d like to offer up a more viable option to those of you who are not from NJ: Use many of our great state roads like 295, 206 or Rt. 1. Here you can stop at any McDonalds or Applebees that you want, stop by any such-and-such Commons for a pair of sandals at T.J. Maxx and just take all the time that you want…because the lights are going to give it to you anyway. And, not for nothing, but if you look, there are actual signs on the Turnpike that say, Stay Right Except to Pass. I didn’t make it up – we (New Jerseyans) all agreed on it because we get it.
Driving on the NJ Turnpike is a natural, organic experience if you let it be. You can get where you need to be faster and safer when you tune in and become aware. But for the love of Krishna, if you’re a visitor and must drive on the NJ turnpike, please heed my call and stay in the right lane – except if you are passing!