Returning from West Berlin (that's West Berlin, New Jersey, not West Berlin, Germany), I had some time to check out the City of Philadelphia, but my only experience there was getting stuck in traffic, first here, then there. I couldn't even find a place to pull the car over and get out to walk around. Above, barely moving on 15th Street.
A couple of observations about the New Jersey experience on the other side of the river:
- For some reason, they make it incredibly inconvenient to buy beer. Not that buying beer is a life-style priority for me, but after a long day working under the hot sun, a cold one back in the hotel room is a welcome relief. In Georgia, you can buy beer just about anywhere: gas stations, convenience stores, supermarkets, liquor stores, just about anyplace there's a cash register. If I want to give someone some money for beer, and if that person wants to take my cash in exchange for that beer and has at least some controls in place to assure that I'm not a minor, it's perfectly legal in Georgia, and Chris Christie doesn't need to get involved. But in New Jersey, beer is not sold in gas stations, convenience stores, or in supermarkets (except, I'm told, for a very select few), and you have to go to these liquor stores, most of which operate at "warehouses" and "outlets" and keep limited hours, so if it's after 9 pm, you're pretty much out of luck.
- Each day I was there, someone would approach me at a gas station or at one of those beer-less "convenience" store and ask me for a ride somewhere. Once it was a woman, and in most places I've been, women go to great lengths to avoid getting into cars with strange men. I hesitated to give her a ride at first, not knowing if she would then accuse me of some unseemly crime, but decided to drive her the requested two or three miles anyway so that she wouldn't end up accepting a ride from someone else who did have criminal intent. The next day, it was a young man who was asking each person leaving the store for a ride. It was sort of like hitch-hiking, but without the standing-by-the-roadside aspect. I gave him a ride as well, and in both cases they each got out at the requested spot without any incident or further requests, and acted as if begging for rides was a perfectly normal event.
- Zoning, if it existed at all, seemed like an afterthought at best. I saw expensive McMansion-style houses next to some beat-down shanties; automobile repair and maintenance businesses next door to homes, fast-food restaurants, and municipal buildings; a cemetery on both sides of a four-lane road with no fence or shoulder separating traffic from graves; and parks and playgrounds surrounded by industry. I'm all for free enterprise and letting the market decide land use, but the haphazard distribution of things in New Jersey appeared to drag down the value of all real estate and reinforced to me the value of at least some degree of civic planning.
- I never really figured out the roads, other than a rote memorization of how to get from my hotel to the job site and back again, which made finding my way back after giving those rides to strangers so much more interesting than it needed to be. Roads came and went at haphazard angles, had no apparent names other than their numerical designations ("73," "30," and "295," etc.), and to go anywhere required a turn in the opposite direction in order to access a jug-handle lane or an entrance ramp. If you find yourself northbound on one of the many divided highways and actually need to be somewhere south, you may have to drive all the way north to New York State before you can turn around.
Strangely, none of these things really bothered me or made me angry, as much as they amused me. It was sort of like visiting a parallel universe where everything was both very familiar and also strangely different at the same time.
Or maybe I've been living in Georgia for too long.