May God forgive me, I love the New Jersey Turnpike._ While many make jokes about the highway and call it a “vast wasteland,” I have decided that it is really a mammoth joke, a satirical sculpture aimed at poking fun at the Industrial Revolution. Certainly, no one could ever allow the bewildering collection of oil tanks, derricks, reeking smokestacks belching pollution and huge electrical towers to proliferate on purpose.
I have a new friend, one Jeffrey Page who scribbles for the Bergen Record. Who knows Jersey better than a man from Bergen? He wrote, “The New Jersey Turnpike, at least the northern part, is an adventure. Its abstract expressionist shapes, strange lines and angles, concentration of various transport, kinetic energy and tumult, wildlife and history, the things you see from it, its concrete and iron and rubber, its noise and smells and speed, make it a thing of gritty beauty.
“South of New Brunswick, it’s just another highway in a countryside so self-righteously rural it might as well be in Oklahoma,” Page insists.
My man, Jeff.
Of course, part of my attraction is that the pike is a vital, 122-mile link between the George Washington Bridge and the Delaware Bridge, between Cobb Manor and Fort Myers, between zero wind-chills and 80-degree, balmy weather, between six-foot ice piles and the Red Sox playing in a shockingly green field.
I cannot be alone in my appreciation for the toll road. Chuck Berry, way back in the 1950s started his song “You Can’t Catch me” with the lyrics, “New Jersey Turnpike in the wee, wee hours, I was rollin’ slowly cause of drizzlin’ showers.”
Every “Sopranos” episode starts with Tony S. getting his ticket for the turnpike.
In the first (and best) “Godfather,” guess where the tollbooth was where Sonny Corleone was cut to pieces? The Jersey Pike. When Clemenza says, “Take the gun, leave the cannoli.” It looks like Jersey Turnpike land to me.
In Goodfellas, they had to be driving on the pike to get rid of at least one of those bodies, “to be compacted by our friend in Jersey.”
For your information, a section of the turnpike and the surrounding land between Elizabeth and Newark has been called “the most dangerous two miles in America” by New Jersey Homeland Security officials, due to the high volume of traffic in conjunction with the density of potential terrorist targets in the surrounding area.
The pike is among the most heavily traveled in the United States with a shade more than 200 million cars a year. Imagine. Surprisingly, the 122-mile project took only two years to complete. More than 450 homes in a dilapidated section of Elizabeth were razed for the project. Try to do that today.
The turnpike was considered the pinnacle of highway building in the 1950s. The Interstate Highway System took some of its design guidelines by copying the turnpike’s design guidelines.
A hint to the hidden artistic nature of the pike is the naming of some of the rest areas. Designees for this questionable honor are Walt Whitman, James Fenimore Cooper and Joyce Kilmer. But also famed are New Jersey residents Richard Stockton (died a pauper at 52 after signing the Declaration of Independence), Woodrow Wilson, Clara Barton, pioneer John Fenwick, Molly Pitcher, Thomas Edison, Grover Cleveland, Alexander Hamilton and, of course, Vince Lombardi.
The turnpike generates revenue of $359 million a year and efforts to privatize the pike have been resisted, so far.
But to me, the most amazing facet of the New Jersey Turnpike is that it makes downtown Baltimore look almost pretty.
Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at firstname.lastname@example.org.