If you were asked, I’m sure you have some idea of what you would say is the greatest road in the United States. Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. That is, unless your answer is the New Jersey Turnpike.
No, it is not the best road to test the limits of your car or to see slices of heartland Americana, but it’s home. You might disagree, but this is my post, so you’ll have to save it for the comments.
I grew up in Northern New Jersey, about five minutes from the northernmost entrance of the NJ Turnpike. To get on that road meant you were going somewhere. No matter where your destination may be, memories were going to be made. And, if you were lucky enough — as I was many times — the trip itself would provide those memories as well.
The Turnpike was a gateway to places beyond my hometown. In my mind, it represented freedom. Just get in your car with a couple of buddies, grab some Arizona Iced Tea and snacks, and in a few hours you can be anywhere else you want to be.
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It’s a road I’ve traveled up and down hundreds of times in my life. Whether it was trips to Florida as a kid in the back of my mom’s minivan, to driving down the shore (yes it’s a real New Jersey phrase) with friends to enjoy the lovely Jersey Shore boardwalk, to blasting down the road in my Z4 on my way to my girlfriend’s apartment in Washington, D.C. for a weekend. Each trip has meant something to me in some really intangible ways.
The New Jersey Turnpike often reminds me of the phrase, “Go west, young man.” Though it is decidedly a north-south highway, the meaning of the phrase still rings true: It’s about going somewhere new, seeing something new, and becoming something new because of it.
A fun little bonus to the Turnpike? It’s the titular road in the opening of one of my favorite TV shows, another New Jersey institution, The Sopranos.
In fact, every time my friends or I pass the iconic “DRIVE SAFELY” sign that appears in the show’s opening credits, we snap a picture and send it to one another.
For many, the New Jersey Turnpike is really a gateway to the rest of the country, even if it does cover only a portion of one of the nation’s smallest states. I’m not alone in this feeling either.
As Simon and Garfunkel wrote, “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, They’ve all come to look for America.” We’re all just here looking for something, be it the country, somewhere to eat, or some gasoline or ourselves.
All of this being said, I totally understand if you still don’t get the New Jersey Turnpike. I’m sure you have your own hometown road that means just as much to you as this one does to me, and that’s okay. The truth is, we all have our own NJ Turnpikes, and I hope you’ll get to take a trip down yours again soon.