We’ve arrived at yet another Pride Month, secure in the gay-friendly bubble of New Jersey. Yes, we have the highest taxes in the country and yes, our public transit system is in a state of collapse, and yes, we have a dysfunctional governor who even Donald Trump has no use for, but I’d still far rather live here than in Mississippi (a low bar, I grant you) or quite a list of other states.
This being a celebratory month, let’s take a look at how we got where we are, and why we’re a better place to be than Mississippi. To begin with, almost anyplace is a better place to be than Mississippi, but they do have microscopic taxes, which is great until you realize it’s because they have no money and the worst educational system in the nation.
We on the other hand have lots of money, and some of the best public and private schools, colleges, and universities in the world. In New Jersey, even people with little or no money can usually find a way to attend college if they really want to. As a college professor, I’ve seen it time and time again, and I am so proud of having been given the privilege of teaching so many students from seriously disadvantaged backgrounds that work so hard to overcome obstacles and achieve dreams. It doesn’t happen everywhere in the world, but it does happen in New Jersey.
We do have our problems, of course, and public transit is one of them. There was a time when you could get to pretty much any town or village in the state by rail. Imagine a system statewide like the New York subway, which can get you within a couple of blocks of any address in the city. We once had a surface rail system that comprehensive. By the mid-20th Century however, our leadership decided the future was nothing but cars and the rail system was allowed to vanish as an ever-expanding highway network was built at vast expense. The result has been traffic nightmares and serious air pollution.
The state’s response has been to build more highways. This is similar to trying to deal with over population by producing more food. It is a historical/sociological axiom that population will always slightly outstrip food supply. No matter how much food you produce, someone is always going to be hungry. Likewise, no matter how many highways you build, there will always be too many cars. New Jersey has way too many cars and way too few trains. This equation isn’t rocket science, and one wonders why our state leadership seems to have such problems comprehending it.
That brings us to the dysfunctional governor. The Honorable Mr. Christie has spent a large part of his present term of office energetically trying to be anything — anything at all — other than the governor of New Jersey. His lap dog adulation of Donald Trump transparently motivated by the hope of some sort of job in Washington caused him to tag along behind the Trump campaign band wagon for the best part of a year — always maneuvering for a platform appearance, even if in the background. No other state employee could have gotten away with so much out-of-office time without being summarily fired, but the governor gets to declare that the office is wherever he happens to be. It’s sort of like being a king. Whatever chair the king sits in is, for that moment, the throne, even if it’s a campstool.
But wait! We got rid of the king in 1776 (possibly a mistake, but Queen Elizabeth has been adamant that she will not take us back regardless of Donald Trump.) Christie isn’t a king — he’s an employee of the people — a people for whom his contempt was made obvious by his pathetic begging for scraps from Trump’s table. Considering the woefully unqualified nature of Trump’s appointees, it speaks volumes that Christie couldn’t even get a job as the kid who goes for coffee.
Christie will be gone soon and already some attention is being paid to the lamentable state of the Railroads. We have our problems in New Jersey, but we do know how to fix them, sometimes. Then again, maybe not. Our response to rising sea levels and increased hurricanes as demonstrated by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy has been to rebuild all along the shore with the courageous motto “Jersey Strong.” Newsflash: we aren’t stronger than the Atlantic Ocean. It’s really not a contest. The ocean will win every time. If you build houses along the shore, they WILL be washed away sooner or later. Clearly we need to re-think our entire approach to land usage along the coast, and that isn’t happening except by insurance companies who either won’t insure such houses, or charge a fortune to do so. As a rule, I view insurance companies as slightly lower on the moral scale than dog thieves, but I have to admit, they got this one right.
Complaining about New Jersey is our sovereign right and ancient tradition as citizens thereof, so why are we all still here? Because we love the place. Call us crazy but we do, and we wouldn’t live anywhere else. Why? The list of reasons would fill this magazine, and there still wouldn’t be room, but most of all because it’s home, and that’s where the heart is.
Toby Grace is Out In Jersey magazine’s Editor Emeritus