It always irks me to hear Newark’s Liberty Airport described as being one of New York’s airports. New Jersey, as any fule kno, is not New York. True, it’s only a short train ride to Penn Station. But it’s equally just a short ride to the heart of the most underrated state of them all.
The chemical stench that hits you on the New Jersey Turnpike is enough to put most people off, but I know different. It’s my favourite state.
Admittedly the favourite bit doesn’t begin till some hours after landing. It also relies on my taking the right route onto the NJ Turnpike first time, not ending up in Elizabeth, NJ, where I always have to do a U-turn at the Gulf station. The petrol pump attendant – there’s no self-service gas in the state – is used to me now. “You again, eh? Have a nice day.” But after that you need to step on it. If you hang around in Elizabeth, you get offered crack.
A Christmas pudding can delay all this, as it did when I last brought one in my carry-on. Americans don’t have Christmas puddings, so I was bringing one over for a friend. On arrival, the screening contraption did not like it one bit. Two Homeland Security officers approached. “Ma’am, is this your bag?” They gave me a stern look. Actually I don’t know if they do other kinds of look.
“Yes, it is. And I know what the problem is,” I said, reaching towards the bag to extract the pudding.
“Step away from the bag!” one of them bellowed.
“But it’s only a Christmas pudding.” Idiotically I added, “Here, I’ll show you.”
“Ma’am! Step away from the bag! I’m not sayin’ it again.” Her partner reached for his holster.
I got the message. They didn’t want me to blow up the pudding. And I didn’t want a bullet through my chest.
As carefully if it were a landmine, the two officers extracted it from my carry-on.
I finally got a chance to explain.
They were sceptical. “You mean you all eat this in England?”
I confirmed that we did, every Christmas day, though we generally got it out of the plastic first.
They said it was mighty heavy, ma’am. Yes, I agreed. Indigestion was usual, especially when you’ve already stuffed yourself on the main course.
They let both pudding and me through, all the while shaking their heads and averring that you learn something new every day, ma’am. Ain’t that the truth?
This year I brought no pudding, but I did take my husband. It was high summer, and the flight was full of Camp America kids, except for the seat the other side of us, where there was a walrus, snoring and taking up two arm rests.
Welcome to the United States of America, they say at Liberty Airport. We had ample time to savour the warmth of the welcome during an hour and a half waiting in line to exhibit our passports, in a hall without air con.
What did my very English husband find most disorientating in New Jersey?
1 The language. As half my family is American, conversations with them were a challenge. Americans do use many of the same words as the English. But then they do and pronounce them all wrong and use them to mean different things. ‘Chips,’ for instance, are not fries. They are crisps. And ‘being sick’ only means you’re ill.
Most puzzling of all, ‘breaking up’ has nothing to do with the end of term. This may explain why, when OH asked if they’d broken up, my 15-year old niece flushed bright red, and said Mommy didn’t even know she had a boyfriend.
2 Then there was the food.
He’d never had grits before. They tasted, he discovered, a bit like semolina.
You can use Smuckers preserve or maple syrup to make ‘em sweet.
Or you can smother them in Old Barney’s Hot Sauce if you like your tongue on fire.
A short stack is just two pancakes. But they make them pretty big at Mustache Bill’s Diner.
Either you take them back in a box if you don’t eat them all. Or, if you do, you go back in a box.
So taken were we with Mustache Bill’s that we queued up (translation: waited in line) for up to an hour to get in. And the OH was desperate to emulate him.
3 The beaches, contrary to popular belief, are not covered in medical waste.
Though there may be sharks. Nobody’s been killed by a shark here for nearly 100 years, but they’re around, or rather one in particular is.
Mary Lee is a thoroughly modern shark with her own Twitter account @MaryLeeShark and over 87k followers. We think she’s pregnant. Hard to tell as she’s a tubby lady, weighing in at over 4 tons, hence, people say, a real Jersey girl. She’s been tagged by OCEARCH so we know she gets around. The East Coast is Mary Lee’s usual hunting ground, though she has been as far afield as Bermuda. Well, a gal needs a decent holiday now and again.
Did we encounter any sharks? Did The Mob get us by the canal? And was my husband brave enough to uncork the hot sauce? Find out in my next post.