Everyone in New Jersey talks about the Jersey Devil, a strange creature that lurks in the Pine Barrens, biting the heads off who-knows-what. I'm here to tell you that the Jersey Devil is not a lurking creature. It's a highway.
The celebrated Jersey Turnpike is the route of choice between All Points South and New York City. It is eight (some places twelve) lanes of asphalt mayhem, populated by millions of people who would rather be anywhere else but where they are at the moment. When it moves, it hurtles along at heart-stopping speeds. When it crawls (most of the time), it's hell on Earth.
I will not dwell upon the landscape lining this thoroughfare. It's either large swaths of trackless bog or larger swaths of smoke-belching chemical plants. At Newark there's an airport. At New Brunswick you glimpse a few high rise buildings. But glimpse at your peril, driver. Better keep your eyes on the road.
The ultimate irony: You've got to pay to use it. Like you pay the doctor for that painful root canal.
Two days ago the Johnson family set out on the dreary trek to Croton-on-Hudson, New York, a tony suburb of Manhattan located in the picturesque Hudson Valley. We have family there. (Actually it's Mr. Johnson's family, I lay no claim to these persons.)
In order to get from here to there, it is necessary to take the New Jersey Turnpike. A long way. Right up to another, even more pestilential roadway, the Garden State Parkway. You might ask what's grown along the Garden State Parkway? Rowhouses. If you've seen the opening credits of "The Sopranos," you get the picture. (If anything, the GS Parkway is worse than the turnpike, because it has toll booths every three miles right on the highway.)
We Johnsons piled into our car and set out on the Turnpike, and as the bored gods are my witnesses, we got exactly two exits from home when we saw the dreaded message board looming over the highway: DRIVE WITH CARE ... CONGESTION AHEAD.
Looking ahead, we could see the congestion. Miles and miles and miles of it.
And so I said to Mr. Johnson: "Get off this road. We'll chart another course." We were right by an exit, so that's what we did.
We were still close enough to home that we quickly found Route 130 North, one of those old four-laners that's lined with diners and no-tell motels and gas stations and landscaping shops and auto parts stores.
Our little GPS device went nuts. "Make a U Turn. Make a right. Then make another right. Turn around when possible."
And then I did the unspeakable. I reverted to the primitive times of the 20th century. I opened the glove box and within found a paper map of New Jersey. Unfolding the map, I quickly charted a new route to Croton that not only avoided the Evil Turnpike, but also bypassed the Smokestack State Parkway!
The GPS bleated in vain. "Make a U-Turn! Turn around when possible!" Finally The Spare said, "Oh, shut up, Celeste," and turned it off. (I dubbed the GPS "Celeste," and usually she's very helpful.)
To recap, we made the trek from South Jersey to the Hudson Valley without resort to the New Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway. We still got in heavy traffic on I-287 going up, but coming back was a pleasant little drive ... and timely too. It was with great satisfaction that we listened to all the dire radio reports about backups on the turnpike, spiked by Jets fans and holiday travelers such as ourselves. We had nothing more than the stop lights on 130 -- lots of them, but hey. We moved.
Say what you will about our modern times, but there's nothing quite like a good ol' road map made of paper. The hardest part is folding it back up, and a former boss of mine showed me how to do that eons and eons ago.
Safe traveling to you. And remember, sometimes the four-laner with stop lights moves faster than the interstate full of stressed maniacs.