It’s Saturday night and I’m behind the wheel as my roommate and I travel down one of the most dangerous roads on Earth. Previous hard won experience has told me that If I take my eyes off this perilous road for a nanosecond, disaster will inevitably follow. No matter where I look, deranged individuals dedicated to spreading chaos and terror travel right alongside me. No, my roommate and I aren’t motoring down Highway Eight in Baghdad – we’re driving on Route 17 in Paramus, New Jersey.
For those of you unfamiliar with this twenty-seven mile stretch of state maintained asphalt, Route 17 starts out near Newark and ends up in Rockland County, New York. For most of it’s length it’s your average traffic laden Garden State eyesore. But when “17” hits Paramus, that’s when the real fun begins. With over one hundred retail stores and several shopping malls lining it’s route, the bad driving displayed on this three mile patch of highway strikes terror into the hearts of even the most experienced drivers. Because motorists are desperately scanning each side of the highway looking for a particular store in a sea of stores, they’re not paying attention to what they’re doing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a car jump three lanes without signaling so they wouldn’t pass the entrance to Pier One or The Container store. God forbid if people should have to make a U-turn.
The worst offenders are, of course, the drivers with New York plates. New Jerseyites look upon their motoring New York brethren with a distaste bordering on outright hostility. If the Empire State plate holders are not Rockland County residents clogging our highways in search of cheap gas, they’re drivers from Manhattan, who, truth be told, should keep their cars the fuck out of my state. Because you can’t really drive in Manhattan, just crawl along at 5 MPH, the driving skills of Gotham’s residents inevitably atrophy from disuse. You can always spot the Manhattanite driving to the Paramus IKEA. They’re the heavily sweating people driving ZIP cars looking like they’re about to have a full blown panic attack. Do me a favor and spread your brand of incompetent driving to Long Island. Their driving’s not much better either.
We New Jersey drivers, on the other hand, all have black belts in the motoring arts. If you want to survive the Garden State’s mean streets you have forget all that defensive driving crap you learned in high school and become an offensive driver in every sense of the word. The moment an adolescent New Jerseyan gets his or her learning permit they automatically know how to speed, blow through yellow lights a millisecond before they turn red, dodge State Troopers, flip people the bird, thread the EZ-Pass tollbooth doing fifty, and bob and weave through traffic like a NASCAR driver. Manhattanites may look down their noses at us “bridge and tunnel” people, but when we drive in Manhattan it’s like throwing piranhas into a goldfish bowl. Even the taxi drivers fear us. And if you think I’m exaggerating, just talk to the governor of my fair state. He knows all about his constituents’ aggressive driving habits. And we wonder why have the highest auto insurance rates in the nation? Go figure.
My roommate and I are on Route 17 because we’re dumping our cable company’s overpriced and erratic internet and television service for the fiber optic system offered by Verizon FIOS. Instead of signing up for the service over the phone we’re traveling to that retail colossus known as the Garden State Plaza so we can deal with a live human being at the Verizon kiosk near JC Penny. If you deal with someone one the phone and they lie to you about pricing, well, you’re out of luck. But if you know where to find the living breathing person who sold you the plan, well, that makes things much easier to rectify when they go wrong. Of course, as we get into the entrance lane for the biggest retail mecca in North Jersey, the traffic slows to a crawl.
“Jesus,” I mutter, looking at the line of cars. “It’ll take twenty minutes to get a parking spot.”
“It could be worse,” my roommate replies. “We could have come here around Christmas.”
“Screw that,” I reply. “The only way I’d travel to the Garden State Plaza during the holidays would be in an Abrams.”
“What’s an Abrams?” my roommate asks.
“The main battle tank of the US Army.”
Suddenly a beat up Chevy with New York plates tries cutting into line of cars waiting patiently to get into the mall. As he tries to wedge himself between my car and the Mercedes in front of me, I deter his effort in the normal profane New Jersey fashion. The driver, a pale sweaty looking fellow, starts gesticulating angrily in his car.
“I’ll bet you he lives in Manhattan.” I say, “Maybe Brooklyn.”
“Why do you say that?” my roommate asks.
“Look at all the dinks and scratches on his rear bumper. Scars from too many bad parallel parking jobs.”
“Ugh,” my roommate says, “When I lived in Inwood the parking spaces were so tight. It was murder.”
“Aren’t you glad you live in Jersey now?”
“At least I can park my car when I get home.”
The hapless driver of the Chevy reattempts his evil line cutting several car lengths ahead of me. He too is rebuffed by a New Jersey driver who employs some colorful hand signage as well as his horn.
“Man,” I mutter. “What I wouldn’t do for an Abrams tanks with a fifty caliber machine gun right now. Teach that guy a lesson.”
My roommate looks at be balefully. “I think you’ve been watching the Military Channel too much.”
“They better have that channel on FIOS or the deal’s off!” I shout.
“What can I say? I love watching stuff get blown up.”
“You have problems.”
“Just let me shoot up cars like Jeremy Clarkson,” I growl. “That’ll make driving fun again.”