I’m standing in the middle of a corn maze in Chester, New Jersey and I’m pissed.

“I hope you’re happy,” I say to my friend Alicia. “We’re lost.”

“What’s the point of going to a corn maze if you don’t get lost?” she says. “That’s the fun part.”

When a guy goes into a maze he wants to get out of it quickly. It arouses our competitive urge and desire to prove our superior sense of direction. Women? They think it’s romantic to get lost. If men are from Mars then women are from a planet in the Magellanic Cloud. It amazes me that we ever reproduce at all. That’s probably why God created alcohol.

“I wonder how many couples breakup in here,” I say.

“Don’t be a jerk.”

When I looked at the map prior to heading into this maize labyrinth I got a good sense of the direction we should travel. I was a Boy Scout. I know how to use a map and compass. I seldom get lost. But Alicia wanted to go her way. After a little spat I caved in and plunged off what I knew was the beaten path.

“Did you hear Matt Damon was here last week?” I say, trying to ignore the people going in the other direction muttering that they’re lost.


“I wonder if his wife wanted to get lost.” No response.

I look up at the sky to get my bearings. We’re heading away from the exit. Oh well, at least we have donuts and warm apple cider to keep us nourished.

“Look,” Alicia says, pointing to a sign that reads, “No Smoking in the Maze.”

“Setting this maze on fire would certainly motivate people.”

“Don’t be so mean.”

“It could be a reality TV show,” I say. “You have ten minutes to get out of the maze before they napalm it. Now that’s entertainment.”

“Maybe they could have a Minotaur running around here.”

Somewhere in the maze I hear a small child having an epic meltdown. “Cheetahs,” I say. “Cheetahs who haven’t eaten in a week and have acquired a taste for little kids.”

“You’re horrible.”

“How about wolves? Demented guys in hockey masks with sharp cutlery? It would be glorious.” Alicia sighs.

“And all the girls who thought it’d be cool to get lost would perish,” I say. “Evolution at work.”

“What would you do if that happened?” Alicia says.

“I’d cheat,” I say, “Cheetah coming after me? I’d crash through the maze and get out.”

“Better have a machete.”

After a few minutes of bewildering turns and dead ends Alicia decides she’s sick of being lost. It was only a matter of time. Of course, now she wants me to get us out of here. Typical.

“Oh no,” I say. “We’re lost. It’s so romantic.”

“There’s a map station over there,” she says. “Lets see if we can make sense of this place.”

When you enter the maze you’re given a map that can only be read when you slip it under a piece of special plastic at one of four way stations. I know I can get us out if I can read the map, but I can’t – some yuppie couple is hogging it.

We wait patiently for a few minutes but the couple won’t budge and I begin to tap my foot impatiently. It’s getting dark and a light rain is falling. I notice the guy’s fashionably dressed in an autumn hip suede jacket with an expensive camera hanging from his neck. He must be from Manhattan. Truth be told, I saw a lot of New York plates in the parking lot. He better get a move on. Rain wrecks suede.

“Did you see that cartoon in the New Yorker?” I ask Alicia. “It shows a bunch of zombie-like Manhattanites going, ‘Must see foliage! Must buy cider! Must buy gourds!’”

“Yeah I did,” Alicia says.

“These people make fun of our state but then come out here to play. Ugh, why can’t they leave us in peace?”

“Because they don’t have enough trees?”

Sick of waiting for the yuppies to tear themselves away from the map I decide to take matters into my own hands. Because the maze is closing in half an hour, the kids who work here are helping people get out.

“How do we get out of here?” I ask a thin teenage boy.

“Go behind that way station you just passed,” he says. “Make a left and then nothing but rights.”

“How many couples have broken up in this maze?”

The boy smiles broadly. “We’ve seen a couple of disagreements in here.”

As Alicia and I begin our trek out of the maize we pass by the hapless Yuppies still gazing at the map. I decide not to clue them in on the way out. I don’t like suede jackets.

“The way you wanted to go wasn’t the right way out either,” Alicia says as we head towards freedom That’s true. After we got off my path I got totally disoriented.

“I guess I’m not as Natty Bumppo as think I am.”

Finally we exit the maze and head to the bakery to buy more donuts. I’m on such a sugar high it’s not funny. But damn if those doughnuts aren’t good.

“Did you have fun?” Alicia asks.

“Yes,” I say, eating my fourth doughnut of the afternoon. “And the doughnuts were the best part.”

As we silently chase our fat and glucose treats with sugary cider I look around me. The trees swaying in the breeze make the forest look like a gently rippling sea of red and golden fire. New Jersey is such a beautiful place. It’s shame some people from Manhattan look down on us. We’re not just IKEA, corruption, shopping malls, The Turnpike and the Sopranos. We’re horse country, gentle rivers, glorious beaches, deep woods and small towns. A couple of days ago I climbed a small mountain in Morris County and saw a white church spire gleaming as the setting sun cast it’s light on the burning valley below. It took my breath away. New York City’s a fun place, but next to the Jersey countryside Central Park looks like a backyard.

“Ready to go?” Alicia asks.


But as we drive out of the parking lot I can only wonder. Are Matt Damon and his wife still together? Hmm…….

32 thoughts on “Labyrinth”

  1. Jimmy Rogers says:

    Fun fall story….but you did come off as kind of a jerk throughout….

  2. 5hortBu5 says:

    Yeah Jersey!

  3. admin says:

    LOL. It’s a rant. And yes, I can be a jerk. Mea Culpa.

  4. thatgirl says:

    you know i saw a Simpsons episode where everyone in springfield was mad about the new yorkers coming to watch the leaves change for fall. i didn’t really get it (not being from anywhere near new york or jersey). is it really like that?

  5. Whitney says:

    Matt Damon and his wife just had a baby. I’d be shocked as hell if they really were there. The last thing I’d want to do at 9 months pregnant is go through a corn maze, but to each his own…

  6. Lisa says:

    Haha, this post was great. I had a similar thought to your cheetah comment when I was in a corn maze last week. Yeesh, you’d think they put kids in there so that the adults get out quicker.

    I love the ode to NJ toward the end (we don’t get too many comments about the beauty of the garden state, do we?)

  7. Delraygrrrl says:

    FRIGGIN’ HYSTERICAL! Steve, that’s the funniest thing you have written in a long time — cheetahs!! Wolves! Ten minutes to napalm! Your writing friggin’ SLAYS me.

    The way you escalated the — guys in hockey masks!!

    Okay, I am done, and I have never, EVER used that idiotic abbreviation and never will, but you absolutely had THIS former waitress “laughing out loud”.

  8. Mungo says:

    Great post, as per usual! You should pay a visit to the original Jersey one day, you’d love it…

  9. Elizabeth says:

    As a year-round resident of a tourist haven (Maine) I can relate to Steve’s frustration. It’s not always easy to deal with tourists who treat me like an illiterate hayseed, and my state like an amusement park. I’ve had families park in my driveway so they could hike and picnic in the forest behind my house- which is clearly marked as private property. I’ve had tourists patronizingly ask me if I’ve ever travelled by plane, ever seen a computer, if any of my family have finished high school, or do they all work as fishermen? I don’t bother to tell them I have an advanced degree, work on a computer all day, and have travelled overseas pretty extensively. Instead, in my very best Downeaster accent, I give them lousy directions and forget to tell them where all the really good restaurants and antique shops are.

  10. Joan of Argghh! says:

    I just heard today that Men are from Bacon and Women are from Cupcakes. . .

    On a recent and first-time maze walk, I left the others,and I found a poorly tended part of the shrub wall and exited there, then went back to the viewing platform to watch them wander about and taunt them. You don’t have a corner on the jerk market.

  11. Laurie says:

    I’m from NY and living in NJ and want to thank you for the nice words about our state. I was dragged here kicking and screaming due to hubbys job 10 yrs ago, but have come to really appreciate the beauty and the perfect location of where I am – 15 minutes from the amazing ocean, an hour from NYC, friends and family, and surrounded by the most beautiful woods and adorable towns anywhere. There’s really nowhere else I’d rather be. Thanks you Steve, for helping me remember and appreciate that!

  12. Steve says:

    Hey Steve … i hope this story (and all those doughnuts) were before you got your Gall Bladder out !!!


  13. Laurie says:

    I live in a condo development (that has a pool)on the beach at the Jersey Shore. During the summer we are taken over with Bennies. You won’t believe the number of people we have to ask to leave our pool, reminding them that it is private property, even though there are signs posted ALL OVER. Their responses vary – “But, I’m hot and don’t want to go in the ocean”, “What, this isn’t included as part of the charge to get on the Beach???” “I’ll just be another minute”, “But my kids wanted to go in” “So I’ll just pay you to use it, how much you want?” Can’t I just buy a day pass?. My neighbors agree that we could have our own reality show, the “Jersey Shore” got nothing on us.

  14. Cassie says:

    I think I know that corn maze…is it the one where it has a theme each year where you have to find all rubbings and such? And there are color-coded sections to the maze? That was how the one I used to go to got around the fastest way out approach…the competition aspect of finding all the stuff on the map…

  15. Kate says:

    As a native New Englander, I’m kinda ashamed to say I’ve never been in a corn maze. I’m in CT, and we have our share of people from places that don’t have trees.

    My husband now lives and works in NJ during the week, coming home only on the weekends. He works in the city and is currently staying in the “country” with friends, and is unhappy about both. I’ll have to tell him to go peep some NJ leaves. 😉

  16. Miss McDermott says:

    Hi Steve,

    I wanted to share this newspaper article with you, but couldn’t see a way here to email you.

    It states that Sacramento (CA) ranked second-to-last in the Zagat survey with an 18.6 percent average tip, a figure that tied with San Francisco and Seattle.

    Read more:

    As a Sacramentan, I’m so ashamed…
    By the way, I thought you were being a little harsh in this essay, very un-Steve-like.

  17. Vincent Eagan says:

    I visit a friend who lives in Jersey City quite regularly. I learned early on that residents of New Jersey get upset if you say they live in New York, even if it IS just 5 minutes away on the PATH.

    I have been all around New Jersey and have seen all the rustic nature you mention. I have also seen the suburbs and think them quite pretty. But I want to mention that New Yorkers should not need to go to New Jersey … if they simply go North and West into their own state they will find some of the best foliage in the country right there. And Upstate New York is WAY more rural than New Jersey. Just saying. lol

    I once lived in a town that was becoming a tourist town. The regular residents hated it. My first month living there I had not changed my license plates yet and every time I drove around the square the teens would holler at me to “go home”. Which was what I was doing… it was just a lot closer than they thought! But I wasn’t long living there before I started thinking of our “summer residents” as “Floridiots” too! (Apologies to any Floridiot … ummm … I mean, Floridian readers…[I think some of them can read… 😉 ] )

    BTW – I’m a guy and I kinda agree with Alicia. But maybe that’s why I am still single. Women SAY they want to marry a “sweet” guy who understands them, then they marry jerks.

  18. Waiterrant Fan says:

    You should get a job with the New Jersey Tourism Board.
    I think becoming a successful author has made you a little more hard-hearted than you used to be.

  19. Heidi says:

    On the Monterey Peninsula (Central Coast of California) there’s a popular bumper sticker that reads: “If it’s tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?”

  20. nunya says:

    Whose idea was the maize maze anyway? Tourist traps, oy.

    I used to have a bumper sticker that said “Welcome to San Diego, Now Go Home.”

  21. Vincent Eagan says:

    I have a magnet from Smoky Mountain National Park that has a picture of a bear on it and says, “Please send more tourists. That last ones were delicious!”

  22. Mikey says:

    I believe that most people, no matter where they are from and where they go, tend to forget to pack their brains while on vacation. I’ve seen people try to hug a deer just because they look friendly, try to get a good picture of a bear by putting honey on their kids hands for the bear to look off (that one my dad saw), and for people to just totally disregard any posted signs. Often Common sence seems out the window when people go on vacation. I havn’t been to New Jersey yet, but it sounds like it could be a nice to visit from your last words steve. Great post as always

  23. Old Sarge says:

    Here in southern AZ, we have our “snowbirds,” otherwise known as “winter visitors” or “winterlopers.” A popular bumper sticker is “So many snowbirds, so little freezer space.”

  24. meme says:

    Steve –

    I’m wondering how many people got the Natty Bumppo reference. Being from Cooperstown, one of the biggest tourist and leaf viewing capitals in upstate NY, it was kinda cool to see the Cooper reference! Excellent writing! and if you liked the leaves – well – come for the snow!

  25. Mike says:

    Whatever your frustration at NYers on your home turf in NJ, I can guarantee you it’s not even one-tenth the frustration NYers experience over obnoxious B&T’ers and tourists in the city.

    Large group of people walking on the sidewalks in a horizontal line blocking anyone else from passing by? Midwesterners for sure. Some jerk in his car blocking the intersection or crosswalk at a red light? Plates are definitely Jersey plates. Idiots screaming and yelling on the subway and snapping pictures as if its an amusement park ride rather than a form of public transportation that millions of people are trying to use to get to work? You get the idea….

  26. Vincent Eagan says:

    Interesting thing I noticed. “Alicia”. You used her name. In every blog I read of yours you simply use, “my date”, you NEVER give a name.

  27. Daniel says:

    I see that you think you climbed a small mountain. Take it from a Coloradan–there are no mountains east of the Mississippi. 🙂 I think you meant a “hill.”

  28. Georg says:

    There is so much more to NY north of Yonkers – it’s a beautiful state when you don’t confine yourself to Manhattan. I’ve been every where in our state except Long Island. Once you get out of the City the traffic improves greatly too, and upstate New Yorkers actually know how to drive.

  29. Ash says:

    I’ve wanted to go to New Jersey since forever. I really don’t know why New Yorkers always make fun of it.

  30. Jon says:

    i am so glad you used Natty Bumppo as a reference. I love the book series. Did your date get it?

  31. Me says:

    “If men are from Mars then women are from a planet in the Magellanic Cloud. It amazes me that we ever reproduce at all. That’s probably why God created alcohol.”

    Simply Awesome

  32. Jeannie says:

    what a delightful story.I laughed so hard,my 12 year old thought I had lost it.
    we live in TN,and I never had a desire to visit NY city. Well put story,thanks Jeannie.
    Coming from former eastberlin I don’t like big flashy cities anyway!!!

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