Nine in the suburbs: How to drive in Basking Ridge

OldWomanDriving

Average Basking Ridge driver, give or take a denture

We moved from Hoboken, N.J., to Basking Ridge, N.J., at the end of August 2012, and the adjustments have been plentiful, particularly for yours truly, a lifelong city dweller experiencing the suburbs for the first time.

One of the biggest differences between the New York metropolitan area (obviously including Hoboken, but I grew up in Manhattan) and Basking Ridge is the way people drive. To put it simply, people in the immediate area around the city drive like assholes, while people out here drive like pussies.

After one year and a few months out here, I have put together a set of rules for how to drive if you want to fit in with the norm here in Basking Ridge:

  • The speed limit is merely a suggestion for the pace you should maintain in the case of unusual events, such as having to take an enormous shit, or transporting a woman in labor. In normal circumstances, it is perfectly acceptable to drive 15 miles per hour under the speed limit, or maybe 10 MPH, if you’re feeling exceptionally spry, but don’t get carried away. Remember, if the sign says “Speed Limit: 40,” 25 MPH will suffice.
  • The newer your car is, and the larger the price tag is, the slower you should drive. Despite the fact that safety is built into the exorbitant costs of your vehicle, you can’t be too careful. I recommend a top speed of 25 MPH, and whatever you do, don’t let that high rate of horsepower tempt you. Horsepower is the bait used by Satan.
  • When making a turn, it is best to come to a complete stop, and not simply glide into the turn. You wouldn’t want your $75,000 Audi to end up on its side like a rickshaw, would you? The people behind you will understand.
  • When stopped at a stop sign, the safest policy is to remain there until no car is visible in either direction, no matter how long that takes. The mail truck may be a half-mile down the road, but as long as you can see it, it represents a clear and present danger, and it must be avoided at all costs.
  • By no means should you ever flick your brights off, no matter how many cars are oncoming or directly in front of you. Being able to see is half the battle! Take solace in the fact that if a blinded driver smashes into you head-on, the insurance company will probably declare that driver at fault, and not you.

“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” — George Carlin, R.I.P.

Going through hell to get a license to drive in Hell

If you’re going to have a Web site that lists inaccurate and incomplete information, why have one at all? That question can easily be directed to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission after what should have been a simple (albeit long overdue) trip to exchange my New York driver’s license for a New Jersey driver’s license turned into three trips, one-and-a-half wasted days, and a keg of aggravation.

WTF???

According to the wonderful state of New Jersey, there is a six-point ID verification process for obtaining a driver’s license. I completely understand this and have zero objections. Running the risk of granting official credentials to a terrorist would be foolhardy. However, people consult this list so that they bring the proper documents to the Motor Vehicle Commission and make the trip only once, so shouldn’t the list be accurate and specific?

More and more people are switching to electronic billing to pay for their utilities. It’s more efficient, and it helps the environment by not creating unnecessary paper documents. If you choose not to accept electronic bills as proof of residence, shouldn’t you mention that somewhere on your Web site? I don’t have a problem with the policy. I have a problem with not having a clue, despite consulting the Web site, and being turned away after showing up with a document that satisfied the published criteria. The woman I spoke with said, “It happens all the time.” Well, there’s a reason for that. There is not one word on the Web site that indicated that electronic bills are unacceptable. Thanks for wasting my Friday afternoon.

On Saturday, my landlord was kind enough to meet me at his office, prior to leaving for vacation, to print out a copy of the lease for our apartment. A lease is also on the list of one-point documents that satisfy the proof-of-residence requirement. However, as I found out Tuesday, on my second trip to the Jersey City office of the Motor Vehicle Commission, if the lease was signed more than 60 days ago, it doesn’t qualify. Again, there is not a single word about this restriction anywhere on the Web site. I wouldn’t have even attempted to use the lease had I known it wouldn’t be accepted. This marked my second wasted trip to Jersey City.

Fortunately, the supervisor I spoke with was very helpful and made some suggestions that would enable me to complete the torturous task of getting a driver’s license on that day, rather than wasting time on another day. I was able to get PSE&G to print out my bill, along with an official stamp, and I was also able to locate some tax-related documents that were sent to my address, so on trip No. 3, I emerged with a New Jersey driver’s license. But it should not have taken three trips. As I said at the start of this blog, if you’re going to have a Web site that lists inaccurate and incomplete information, why have one at all?

Then again, based on how useful the road signs in New Jersey tend to be, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that the Motor Vehicle Commission’s site was equally useful (read: useless).

On a humorous side note, the helpful supervisor (in a rare occurrence, no sarcasm from me whatsoever — he truly was helpful) suggested PSE&G and directed me to its office in the Journal Square transportation complex. What a freaking nightmare. It was packed when I walked in, and I took a ticket with No. 11 on it, only to look up at the screen and see that No. 54 was being served. When 10 minutes had passed and No. 56 was being served, I got the hell out of there and went several blocks out of my way to PSEG’s Hoboken office, where I was in and out in three minutes. When I finally left the Motor Vehicle Commission with my driver’s license, about three-and-a-half hours after leaving the Journal Square PSE&G location, I peeked in out of curiosity to see what number they were up to and saw No. 24. I would have spent about three hours sitting there. Word of advice: Never, ever go to the Journal Square PSE&G office. Wow.

Anyway, after three trips and almost 10 hours of time spent, my story finally reached a happy ending (not THAT kind, you pervs!). I am now the proud (OK, probably not so proud) owner of a New Jersey driver’s license. As a result, I immediately forgot how to parallel park and use my turn signals, but I was suddenly enlightened as to the mystical ways of negotiating a traffic circle, a roundabout, a jughandle, or whatever you want to call those atrocities. Yay, me!

Another Springsteen fix

I blame my Hebrew-school tutor for all of this. As a reward for successfully making it through the Torah portion of my Bar Mitzvah without puking on the sacred parchment or tripping up over the Hebrew words and accidentally telling the congregation to go sodomize sheep, he bought me the album — yes, the actual 12-inch, vinyl record album — of Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Born to Run

Born to Run

At the time — the time being 1981 — I knew a few Springsteen songs, but I wouldn’t have called myself a fan. I knew “Hungry Heart” because it was all over the radio, and I knew the title track from Born to Run, but that was about it.

Then, I brought the record home and put on the first track, “Thunder Road.” I was an instant Springsteen junkie about three minutes into the song, and it’s only gotten worse.

Thank you, Mark Elber, wherever you are.

I went to see the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, earth-quaking, nerve-breaking, Viagra-taking history-making, legendary … E-STREET BAND at the debacle of a facility currently known as the IZOD Center last night. Between how bland the home of my beloved New Jersey Nets is and how pathetic the half-finished Xanadu God-knows-what project looks, they really should drop a nuclear bomb on that part of the Meadowlands (the two football stadiums and the track can be spared).

Anyway, for whatever reason, I wasn’t as fired up as I usually am to see The Boss. I was excited, but I didn’t have that all-day adrenalin surge. I guess part of it is that I know I always like the end-of-summer Giants Stadium shows better — speaking of which, the final concerts at Giants Stadium will be performed by none other than Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with three shows wrapping up Oct. 3. And part of it is that things have been crazy in my life, but in a good way — working part-time, tons of visits to the new Yankee Stadium, lots of softball games and, most important, my girlfriend moving in soon.

Photo by A.M. Saddler, from Backstreets.com

Photo by A.M. Saddler, from Backstreets.com

But as usual, the boys didn’t disappoint. This was yet another fantastic show, with some songs that I hadn’t seen played live since the Born in the USA tour in 1985. Pleasant surprises included “Seeds,” “Johnny 99” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” — it seemed like a mini-set tribute to the unemployed — and always welcome classics included “Thunder Road,” “Jungleland” and “Rosalita.” And I saw the band play one of my personal favorites, “I’m Goin’ Down,” for the first time since the previously mentioned Born in the USA tour.

I am exhausted and drained, but I will be sure to get my energy back by June 1, when tickets for the next assault on New Jersey go on sale. What a fucking great show.

The set list (thank you, Badlands.com):
Badlands
Adam Raised a Cain
Outlaw Pete
Radio Nowhere
She’s the One
Working on a Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Raise Your Hand
Growin’ Up
I’m Goin’ Down
Prove It All Night
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Kingdom of Days
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born to Run
* * *
Hard Times
Thunder Road
Jungleland
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Rosalita

Unemployment Nine: No LBI = summer bummer

Among the many things that absolutely suck ass about not having a job, the fact that (barring a last-minute miracle hire) I will not be a part of the beach house on Long Beach Island for the first time since 2002 royally blows.

5th Street, Beach Haven, Long Beach Island, NJ

5th Street, Beach Haven, Long Beach Island, NJ

LBI has been my summer mainstay for years and, while I know I’ll still visit a couple of times, it’s not the same as being a part of the house, and I hate that.

The only bright spot, as my girlfriend pointed out, is that we’ll get to do some different things that we ordinarily might not have done. When you’re part of a beach house, you almost feel obligated to go down every weekend, because you know in the back of your head that it’s already paid for.

But I’m still having a lot of trouble coming to terms with this. After seven straight summers of being in the same house, with pretty much the same core group of people, many of whom will likely be lifelong friends, the fact that I’m not already thinking about which beers to bring down to the house, or how many cases of G2 to fetch from BJ’s, is very, very strange.

We’ll salvage our summer. Ideas already being tossed around include Newport, R.I.; Reading, Pa., for outlet shopping and minor-league baseball; Philadelphia, to visit my girlfriend’s sister, get my ass kicked by her pit bull mix, eat a Tony Luke’s cheesesteak (or several) and hit Citizens’ Bank Park for a Phillies game; Cape May, N.J., just for the hell of it; and (for me, anyway) lots of softball and Yankees games.

I’ll do my best to prevent my summer from being another casualty of this economy, but all things being equal, I’m really, truly going to miss being a part of that beach house. Change is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to bitch about it!

More New Jersey wine

Back in June, I wrote about a stop at Cream Ridge Winery and how much I enjoyed drinking wine produced in the Garden State.

Today, I made a return visit to Cream Ridge, enhanced by the always lovely company of my girlfriend, and we hit two other New Jersey wineries, as well.

The last time I stopped by Cream Ridge, I picked up American Merlot, Riesling and Gewurtzraminer. I enjoyed all three, particularly the latter two. On this visit, we were both big fans of the Kiwine (Chardonnay with Kiwi flavor — I know it sounds hokey, but it’s really, really tasty) and the Fredonia (a really unique red).

Laurita Winery

Laurita Winery

Our second stop was Laurita Winery. This place is absolutely gorgeous. You really feel like you were transported to Napa Valley, even though you’re much closer to the New Jersey Turnpike than the Pacific Ocean. Both the tasting room and the vineyards were beautiful.

We enjoyed everything we tried at Laurita but actually took home the Classic Chardonnay (exactly what it sounds like), the Chambourcin (a red and my favorite wine of the day) and the Tailgate Red (a very tasty table wine).

Our final stop was Silver Decoy Winery, as charming for its tiny tasting room as Laurita was for its palace. We liked a few Silver Decoy selections, too, but were especially taken with the 10 Maréchal Foch, another outstanding and different red wine.

All in all, it was an excellent day. We left Hoboken just before noon and were back by a little after 5 p.m., including a quick tour at Cream Ridge. Everyone at all three wineries was very friendly and helpful. And everything we bought was both reasonable and good.

Next up, hopefully soon: Long Island.

New Jersey wine? Why not?

When does a beach day that gets wasted for no reason turn into a blessing? When it ends with a couple of glasses of merlot — and locally produced merlot, at that.

I left beautiful Beach Haven on Long Beach Island today to play softball. The Garden State Parkway was a zoo, so I decided to take Route 539, a back-roads way that eventually puts you on Route 195, right near exit 7A of the New Jersey Turnpike.

About 15 minutes into my journey on 539, I got a text message that our doubleheader was canceled due to a flooded field. What to do? I was already too far into the drive home to even think about heading back to the beach.

Then, inspiration struck. I remembered that there was a winery on 539 that I hadn’t passed in a couple of years — there’s a new shortcut at the end of the trip to 195 that avoids a small town and gets you on the highway faster. So I took the “old way” and pulled into Cream Ridge Winery.Cream Ridge Winery

There was a violin recital going on (those kids were pretty damn good, too), and everyone I encountered was exceptionally friendly. As I type this, I’m enjoying a glass of Cream Ridge American Merlot, and I also picked up some Riesling and some Gewurztraminer. I haven’t tried the Riesling yet, but I sampled the Gewurztraminer at the winery and it was fruity and delicious.

So although I wasted a beach day and never got to play softball, I salvaged the day with a nice nap with the two cats and two glasses of tasty merlot made right here in sunny New Jersey.

Hoboken’s Hudson St. – memory lane

I rekindled an old romance the other night. I walked up my absolute favorite street in Hoboken, Hudson St., for the first time in about three years.

My first Hoboken apartment was on Hudson St. Actually, my first two were, but in the interest of accuracy, the second one, where I only lived for a few months, was more the size of a filing cabinet than an apartment, so I tend to selectively edit it out of my list.

But I’ve since moved pretty far into the west end of Hoboken, so I haven’t really had a reason to walk up Hudson St. until the other night, when I headed straight from the PATH station to Liberty Bar for a beer tasting.

I used to walk up Hudson St. whenever I headed anywhere uptown (which, starting off on 3rd St., was a great deal of the time), and I always tried to imagine what it would be like to afford to own an apartment there.
The buildings just have so much character. My personal favorites are the former social club on the corner of 6th St. and the converted church, which, I believe, is between 8th and 9th (I could be off a block or two on this one). I always chuckled to myself at the thought of Slayer blasting out of my PC speakers in an old church, but I digress.

Once you get past the newer skyscrapers and get to the area between 4th St. and 10th St., I just love the entire area. The older apartment buildings on the left and the mansions on the right, including the ones up on the hill by Stevens Tech, are just beautiful. It’s just such a gorgeous, peaceful area. Even though Washington St. is one block away and Manhattan is just across the river, it just doesn’t feel like you’re in a city (and I mean that in a good way).

Of course, economics get in the way once you get past 10th St., and what used to be fantastic views of Manhattan are now fantastic views of some financial analyst putting his ties away in one of the Maxwell House buildings. But it’s hard to complain about that. In a romantic way, you wanted the Manhattan views to always be there, but looking at it practically, I’m amazed that prime, valuable waterfront property stayed vacant as long as it did.

So, my tip for the day to those unfamiliar with Hoboken: If you have the time and it’s on the way, head uptown on Hudson St.