Thu, Dec 18, 2014 ●
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No Sugar Added: You can't take New Jersey out of the girl

Opinion

No Sugar Added: You can't take New Jersey out of the girl

This past weekend, I once again took my life in my hands and drove south, through the maze of highways that leads to my homeland: New Jersey.

The first leg of our journey took us through southern Maine, a tiny sliver of coastal New Hampshire and then into Boston to pick up child No. 1 from her college abode.

The second leg (after a pit stop for cheap yet filling Mexican food) took us through the driving hell that is southeastern Connecticut, over the Hudson River, and then through the woods to grandmother’s house in the “Garden State.”

I know, not many people from Maine believe New Jersey is home to anything edible. Had I not picked blueberries there as a child, and dined on Jersey-grown, scrumptiously tender and sweet corn on the cob, juicy red tomatoes and downy-skinned peaches, I, too, would have trouble believing this.

One of the things I’ve appreciated about Maine – in addition to its coast – is its lack of traffic. Now, I know true Mainers consider it a bad day when they have to wait in back of three cars at a traffic light. They complain that “these days” it takes a whopping eight minutes instead of six to get into Portland from, say, Cape Elizabeth. And, as a group, they’d also rather drive in endless circles searching for a space than pay the $2 an hour to park at a local parking garage.

But these people clearly have no idea what real traffic is, and they have obviously never coughed up $25 to park for a handful of hours in Boston or New York.  

When I first moved to the Portland area and paid a mere $3 to park while having a dinner date, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I couldn’t understand what all of the whining was about, and found myself feeling increasingly thankful for the perspective (and skills) I acquired growing up in the tri-state New York metropolitan area.

For instance, when you learn to drive in northern New Jersey, it’s on par with having been thrown into the deep end of the pool by a cruel parent as a method for learning to swim; it’s “tough love," but forever after you can drive fearlessly and confidently in any city, state (or on any racetrack) and never feel ill-prepared.

I witness my children learning to drive here in Maine and I fear their little heads will explode the first time that they venture into Boston. Or heaven forbid, New York. I mean, those are crazy places to navigate and if the pinnacle of driving drama for you consists of Friday afternoon on Congress Street or coastal Route 1 at the height of tourist season, you’re probably not going to fare too well when driving into a proverbial lion’s den of conditions and drivers so intimidating they could make your mother cry.

Now, I myself love to drive in slightly chaotic situations. I find it exhilarating. It gives me an adrenaline rush. I’m in denial about this, however, until I do the N.J. trip, and then – boom! – I’m zipping in and out of traffic, braking, accelerating, mumbling thoughtfully chosen expletives at the gentleman who just kept me from reaching the light before it cycled to red, and generally having a disturbingly good time.

The longer I live in the relative calm that is Maine, the more I appreciate the opportunity to use my driving skills when I’m in more challenging landscapes. I inevitably experience that “Yes! I’ve still got it!” feeling, and find myself delighted by my inner Mario Andretti.

Like everything in life, it’s all about balance: the yin and yang. I moved north to escape the craziness. But lately, frequent injections of craziness seem more and more welcome. I still don’t relish getting stuck on the Tappan Zee Bridge for half an hour, but as the years go by, driving to New Jersey for some corn has an increased appeal.