Monday, December 29, 2008

Devil, Defeated

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where holidays make hollow heads! It's hard enough to get everything done on a normal day. Along comes a holiday, you've gotta cram two or three normal day loads into a single day. Phooey.

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.


Aquila ka Hecate said...

I love maps.
One of my more enjoyable bouts of being employed was with the premier map company of South Africa.
I love how 3 dimensions gets transposed into 2, with all the information necessary to let you tranlsate it back again into a route you're driving.
Contrary to poular wisdom, women are better equipped to read maps than men-we have more of the part of the frontal lobe used in these exercises!
Remembering being hit by a flying hubcap when I lived in New Jersey -maybe it was on the demon turnpike.

Terri in Joburg

Emily Lilly said...

Great points about the NJ TP! I'd like to amend your statement about the speed at which the maniacs move: bumper-to-bumper traffic generally moves at over 70 mph, and woe betide anyone who attempts to leave more than one car length between themselves and the nearest maniac! Sometimes it is clear and goes much faster; sometimes it is stop-and-go.

I avoid driving that close to NYC at all costs! (Speaking of costs, the further-out routes actually cost less, toll-wise, and take more predictable times due to there being little traffic, even on holidays.)

--Emily of western MA, writing from the Phillie PA area, and formerly of northern NJ (so yes, I know that of which I speak!)

slayerboy said...

Great blog! I know on my GPS (VZNavigator on my cell phone) I can choose to avoid toll roads. I did this when I was on vacation in Florida. The only time it messed me up was when I was leaving the lighthouse down there and wanted something to eat. I found a nice restaurant a mile away (or so the GPS told me). 2 hours later I found out it was a mile across water on the other side of the river. DOH! Glad you navigated away form the devil though!

Servitor Lucem said...

And then, there's Route 80 (the Interstate one), and Routes 46 and 3, and 17... the list goes on and on...
How do we cram so much great stuff into such a small area?
Actually, the Parkway is "good" for any part South Along the Shore. I remember being stuck on that awful excuse for a highway for hours on end. I don't go "down the Shore" anymore for just that reason. I'll stay up in the Sussex County hills, and watch the McMansions that pushed the cows out get pushed out themselves by... I don't know... woods?

Joy said...

I kinda think there are two kinds of people. Freeway (or tollway, as the case may be) drivers and surface street (or state highway, again~the case)drivers. I be the latter myself, and go out of my way, but still often faster than my counterparts that do the freeway thing! (I also think there are two OTHER kinds of peope...pinheads and fatheads...but that's another story.)

May the gods get bored enough to bless you with unspeakable goodness!!!

Thalia Took said...

GPS systems do get snippy when you dare to take backroads, don't they? I knew one named Linda who, when you went by the exit she demanded you take, would say, "re-CALculating" in a very annoyed and slightly Valley-Girl-esque tone. My theory is that GPS systems receive some kind of funding/bribe from the highway department.

She was kind of fun to piss off, I have to admit.

Anonymous said...

The Garden State Parkway is one of the prettiest highways in the Northeast for about 150 of its 170-some miles. You must have a pretty limited perspective. (BTW, there are shots of the Turnpike and the Pulaski Skyway in the opening of the Sopranos, but no shots of the GSP.)

I am sorry that the Turnpike ruined your pleasant little jaunt to Croton-on-Hudson, but as someone who lives in New Jersey, I would rather have the smoke-belching chemical plants along the highway than in my neighborhood.

Anne Johnson said...

With all due respect, Anon, I've been on the prettier parts of the GSP, down around the shore points with the bridges and the marshes. Maybe it's my Appalachian upbringing, but the highway there is okay. Just okay. Again maybe it's just me, but I'll take 150 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, anyplace along it except the Northeast Extension, and compare it favorably to the GSP.

The Jersey Turnpike did not ruin my trip to Croton. It will never again ruin my trip to Croton. I have found a sure-fire way to bypass it completely and will never use it again to go to Croton. In fact, I might go to Croton more often.

I've lived in New Jersey for 21 years, and there's much to like here. But not the roadways. Don't even get me started on the Atlantic City Expressway. You've got to be hell-and-gone into Kansas before you find anything more boring than the Atlantic City Expressway. How boring is it? They have signs posted that say, "STAY AWAKE."

Alternate route: White Horse Pike. Found that one two decades ago.

yellowdog granny said...

that sounds like hell to me..but i live in a town of 2,000 where if i have to wait for more than 7 cars at a stop sign(usually during before school and after school)i get all pissy..
i mapped my way from texas to all points east and west...never got maps..

sott'Eos said...

There is a great Irish/Rock band in NYC (The Prodigals), and they named their GPS "Emily". I only know this because they wrote a song about her; driving around in CA, Emily stopped giving verbal directions. So the band wrote a song about how they never appreciated Emily, or told her that they loved her. It's cute.

Yvonne Rathbone said...

I just got back from St. Louis where my friends and I navigated across the length of the city, from the Missouri river to the Mississippi, using a AAA map to get around the interstate construction that lined the route from our hotel to the Arch. I love maps.