New Jersey. The Garden State. Every time I see this slogan on a license plate, I think of Sandra Bullock in “Miss Congeniality,” when asked a sample question about her home state, “Why is New Jersey called the Garden State?” answering “Because ‘Oil and Petrochemical Refinery State’ wouldn’t fit on a license plate?” That, and SNL’s Governor Patterson sneering when he says the words “New Jersey.” Oh, yeah, and “Jersey Shore.” Never seen an episode. Don’t have to. Snookie makes enough news that I don’t need to watch.
Before Friday, I had never been to New Jersey. The only reason my family and I found ourselves traveling through the Garden State was because access to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty seemed easier for us, coming from Pennsylvania, than to drive into New York City. So I was surprised by a number of positive and curious points of our trip.
Curious point No. 1: It turns out these two national monuments are at least partly part of New Jersey. My husband was alerted to this when he saw that the Statue of Liberty was going to be on a New Jersey coin (quarter? dollar? I can’t remember.). All this time, when I heard Statue of Liberty, I thought New York. Not so. Not so. And according to a native New Jerseyan I know, getting to the statue is nicer from the Jersey side. At right is a picture of the old train and ferry station that now is used for ferry tickets and boarding. Pretty neat.
It certainly was easy to get there from the Jersey side. And I must say, the view of the New York City skyline was striking. Like, all of a sudden, it was there and I didn’t realize it. And I didn’t think it would be as close as it was. We considered for a moment taking the Holland Tunnel into the city just so we could be IN New York City but time didn’t allow. Phil and I desperately want to go to New York. We love cities and being from near Chicago, we have to check out the “competition.” (Your pizza will never beat our pizza, though. Sorry. It’s true.)
We picnic lunched in the park before lining up to board our ferry. Before boarding our ferry, we had to succumb to an airport-style security screening. Fact: I have not flown on an airplane since 9/11. Fact: Security screenings sort of scare me. I was holding Corban. I had to remove his hat and lower his hood. (Warning: Rant. I don’t even want to think about the kind of people who would use their kids to smuggle stuff illegally. OK. I’m done.) My dad had to take his boots off. My mom lost a pair of fingernail scissors to the Great Beyond of Illicit Carry-Ons. Phil had to take his belt off. I quote: “If I wasn’t losing weight, I wouldn’t even be wearing a belt.” Losing weight is good. Having to take your belt off in a room full of people waiting to board a ferry, not so much.
So much excitement and we hadn’t even left New Jersey yet! We bundled up and boarded the ferry, choosing to ride in the open, even in the cool air because the views were unbelievable. As you can see, Corban is all set, having survived the screening just fine.
We had checked the map on the way in and I was certain we’d be able to see the Brooklyn Bridge. Another fact: Phil is obsessed with the Brooklyn Bridge since reading a book about its construction a few summers ago. So I took a bazillion pictures of it, most of which looked like this:
A short ferry ride and we arrived at Ellis Island. This was our boat. Just kidding. Ours was much nicer.
I didn’t know what to expect going in. I don’t know if I have any ancestors who came through there. Phil’s great-grandparents came through Ellis Island from Germany. We knew that. Here’s what I can say about the experience: I was moved beyond words and inspired to read more about the island’s history. In the crowds of tourists, I could feel the confusion of being dropped into a place where you didn’t know what would happen. With the skylines of New York visible from the windows, I could feel a longing to be there. So close, yet still so far from your hopes and dreams. With my son wrapped on my husband’s back, I could identify with the women in photos with babies wrapped to their chests, carrying so much more than what they could fit in a trunk or a basket. And those trunks and baskets, holding everything important to them in the world. What would go in my trunk, my basket? We need a U-Haul and a truck to move all our stuff when we change locations.
There’s not a lot to see at Ellis Island, but I could see and feel the history in that place. Maybe it’s the connection with Phil’s family. The young couple in his family who arrived at Ellis Island from Germany are not related to me, but they are part of my children’s ancestry now. That excites me.
Isabelle fell asleep on Phil’s shoulders (he wasn’t wearing Corban at the time … he’s a great dad but even that would be asking too much and might be next to impossible). A brief nap before catching the next ferry to the Statue of Liberty. So long, Ellis Island.
The Statue of Liberty is such an icon for this country that I didn’t know how to respond to seeing it in person. Before we left the shore, I was giddy with excitement. I told Phil that I tended to geek out when seeing a famous landmark for the first time. In our three years of marriage we hadn’t had this experience yet. It reminded me a little of Paris when I was in college. Every time I saw the Eiffel Tower anywhere in the city, I took a picture. It was THE reason I wanted to go to Paris and it was the symbol of the city to me. I might have annoyed the friends who were traveling with me. Seeing Lady Liberty was a little like that. I peeked out a window at Ellis Island and saw the statue. Of course, I took a picture. When we actually arrived on the island, though, the statue was sort of a letdown. We didn’t have monument access, so we just walked around the island. How long can you look at a statue? I wondered. People-watching, though, could have gone on for hours. Do you know how frustrated people can get trying to get a group picture in front of the statue that includes the entire statue and no other people? It’s no easy feat. Here’s our offering:
Now that I look at the pictures, though, I’m pretty excited that we had the opportunity to see this landmark. Next goal: to set foot in New York City.
Our trip home offered more curious points of New Jersey. Like roundabouts and all turns from the right. And full-service gas stations. Apparently it’s illegal to pump your own gas in New Jersey. (I don’t think it’s actually illegal, but all the gas stations we saw were full serve.) My husband was surprised when a man approached the driver’s side window and asked for a credit card. He then pumped the gas and returned the card so we know it wasn’t a scam. My New Jersey friend said it’s to give people jobs. My dad theorized that it had something to do with drive-offs. Anyone else want to weigh-in?
We ate at a Perkins where the wait staff was entirely of an undetermined ethnicity. But we ordered enough entrée food to receive two free appetizers — more food than any of us could finish easily.
And I don’t know if this is a curious thing about New Jersey or Pennsylvania, but you don’t have to pay a toll to enter New Jersey from PA, but you do have to pay a toll to re-enter PA from NJ. Weird. Or smart. The jury’s still out.
All I know is we had a great day, tired though we were, and my opinion of New Jersey has improved. Maybe next visit we’ll actually check out the shore.